What do you think of when you think of Gippsland? Green, rolling hills; snow fields; rainforest? Me too. And what makes Gippsland the way it is? Cold, cold weather, wind and rain. Lots of it. Which is why I’m slightly confused as to why I was convinced to go caravanning in South Gippsland in the middle of winter. Yet there I was, husband and three kids in tow, with layer upon layer of clothing to keep out the winter chills.
There were advantages, however. We had the run of the virtually empty caravan park. The roads were quiet and the beaches deserted.
We’d chosen to stay in Toora for its proximity to Wilson’s Promontory and the coastal towns of South Gippsland. Toora is a small town set at the foot of the Strzeleki’s Ranges as they tumble down to Corner Inlet. Usually quiet, as farming towns are, Toora transforms to a buzzing holiday spot over summer with tourists checking out all South Gippsland has to offer.
Unfortunately for us, the weather meant long walks on the beach or adventures through the bush were off the agenda. Instead we set about familiarising ourselves with the town. We followed the short, but well laid out history trail and found Toora has quite a diverse past.
It’s difficult to believe now, but most of South Gippsland was covered in dense rainforest before European settlement. The first major industry in the area was logging. The wet, hilly terrain made moving timber difficult so mills were established nearby.
Once the land was cleared, dairying became popular with small farmers supplying milk, cream and butter for the surrounding towns and mines. Larger scale dairying came to the area in 1877 with one farm milking 600 cows. By hand. That’s 2,400 teats, twice a day. The area is still a major dairy region. Fortunately for the farmers (and cows I suspect), the area now has an electricity supply.
Between 1911 and 1938 there were a number of failed attempts to establish Toora’s own electricity supply ranging from hydro-electric to a gas plant. Eventually Toora came “on grid” and connected to the SEC’s coal generated supply. Ironically, the town now hosts a wind farm, with 12 enormous turbines on the surrounding hills generating approximately 21MW of electricity. There’s a viewing area just north of town where you can get a feel for how massive the turbines are.
Although the hills around Toora showed promise for supplying tin and gold, a combination of bad market timing and, even in the early 1900’s, environmental concerns meant that mining never became a success in the area. A mural in the town’s main street, Stanley St, pays homage to a great engineering feat resulting from one of the attempts. In the 1890’s wooden water races were built from the Franklin and Agnes Rivers that were able to transport the water 13 miles to the mines purely by gravity. Amazing when you consider the landscape.
All these hard working types needed somewhere to relax and in 1889 the Royal Standard Hotel was built. It’s a typical pub of its era with a wonderful verandah shading the windows. The outside of the building is largely original and it’s the oldest remaining pub in the South Gippsland Shire.
It’s still a very popular place by all accounts. “Lots of people come to Toora for the weekend just to eat at there,” our caravan park hosts told me. I understood why later that night. It’s historic façade is somewhat modernised inside with a large dining room/bistro, long bar, excellent beer garden (with heaters and café blinds for comfort in the chilly Gippsland winter) and the best kids’ playroom I’ve ever seen. The reasonably priced menu was full of seafood as well as the usual pub grub. The food didn’t disappoint – very tasty and plenty of it without being too fancy.
Bellies full we made our way back to the thankfully cosy caravan and talked about what we’d do next time we came to South Gippsland. In the warmer weather. When it’s not raining.
Toora is 197km south east of Melbourne along the South Gippsland Highway.
Toora Tourist Park (4 star)
South Gippsland Hwy, Toora
Ph: (03) 5686 2257
Royal Standard Hotel
Stanley St, Toora
Ph: (03) 56862475
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