The small farming township of Dumbalk lies in the hilly catchment of the Tarwin East River, 8 km north-east of Meeniyan in South Gippsland and about 150 km south-east of Melbourne.

In the late 1870s selectors pushed south from Moe and Morwell into the Strzelecki Ranges, settling in the Mirboo district and entering the upper reaches of the Tarwin Valley. Land along the river was soon occupied but the district was isolated, with all supplies carried by packhorse or foot from Morwell. Clearing the dense forest with axe and saw was a herculean task, but by 1885 crops of hops and arrowroot were grown, and later onions. Sheep were grazed but dairying, with associated pig raising, became the most profitable farming activity. At first butter was made on the farm, but in 1893 a dairy cooperative was formed and a butter factory built, supplied by several creameries.

A settlement developed around the butter factory, with a hall built in 1900 and a general store in 1904. The name Dumbalk, according to Bunce's Language of the Aborigines of the Colony of Victoria (1859) was an Aboriginal word meaning bleak or chilly, and was used when a post office was established at a settler’s home in 1890. There were several schools established in the valley. Nerrena East School opened in 1902, west of the Tarwin River. After a fire in 1936, the school was renamed Dumbalk and located in the township. The district of Dumbalk North, with school, church and hall, was about 7 km to the north.

Dairying was the mainstay of the valley, with herd testing introduced in 1922 and an artificial breeding centre established in 1957. New butter factories were built in 1903 and 1930. In 1941, the factory began to manufacture cheese, and in 1958 a skim milk spray dried powder plant was installed to make calf food. By 1964, all milk was collected by refrigerated bulk tanker. From the early 1960s several mergers eventuated in Murray Goulburn owning the cooperative. Manufacture was gradually phased out and the factory closed, all milk going to Leongatha.

Dumbalk retains a role as service centre for the agricultural community. The dairy cooperative established a produce store, and later a general store. Garages, stock carrier, agricultural contractors, fertiliser spreader, builder, plumber and veterinarian have been based in the town. There is an Anglican church (1937) and an infant welfare centre and kindergarten. The primary school now operates with Meeniyan as Tarwin Valley school (103 pupils, 2014). A new hall was constructed in 1969, the old one being removed to the recreation reserve for use by scout groups. Social, service and sporting clubs have flourished over the years.

Census populations for the Dumbalk district have been:

area census date population
Dumbalk district 1911 395
  1933 253
  1961 289
Dumbalk town 2006 163
Dumbalk North* 2006 254
Dumbalk and environs 2011 412

*Dumbalk North is a farming area north-east of Dumbalk

Further Reading

The centenary of Dumbalk: a souvenir of the Dumbalk Valley centenary celebrations, Easter 1978, 1978

Dumbalk saga: a souvenir of the Easter 1970 ‘Back-to-Dumbalk’, 1970