Attractive historic township with a National
Trust listed main street.
Located 280 km west of Melbourne, Koroit is a
tiny township which has developed into one of
Australia's foremost potato producers.
It is a charming rural town of some 1500
people located amidst rolling green pastures on
the northern slopes of Tower Hill, an extinct
volcano. The settlement is situated just a few
kilometres north of the Princes Highway, 18 km
Warrnambool and 278 km west of Melbourne.
The tone of the town benefits much from its
heritage buildings and its Botanic Gardens.
Potatoes, onions and dairying form the backbone
of local industry.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area
was inhabited by the Peel Whurrong Aborigines
and the town's name is said to derive from an
indigenous phrase although its meaning is
The first Europeans took up land in the
district in 1837. The Bolden brothers leased a
station here in 1840 and they overlanded their
stock to the site in the company of novelist
Rolf Boldrewood (nee Thomas Alexander Browne)
who, it is argued, based 'Terrible Hollow' (from
his most famous novel Robbery Under Arms) on
nearby Tower Hill. They were soon followed by
the Ryrie brothers and David McLaws who later
built the Koroit Hotel.
Another early landholder of great importance
to the district was Irishman William Rutledge
who took up 5120 acres in the 1840s. He imported
Irish labourers to work on his property at a
time when the Irish potato famine was prompting
his countrymen and women to look for
opportunities abroad. Settlers from Scotland and
Yorkshire also emigrated to the area at this
time, although the Irish contingent dominated at
Koroit and set the tone. Some of their old
cottages still fleck the local hills. Most of
their efforts were directed towards the potato
which had failed them at home and Koroit soon
became known as a major potato producer.
The townsite of Koroit was surveyed and the
first town allotments were sold in 1857. The
Koroit Hotel had been erected in 1853 and it is
still standing today, along with some other
early buildings, such as the Presbyterian Church
(1859) and the former Tower Hill Lake National
School (1857). The National School had been
preceded by denominational schools in the area:
the first being a Catholic school at Crossley,
on the western side of the Tower Hill lake.
Koroit was declared a borough in 1870.
Novelist Henry Handel Richardson (born in
1870 as Ethel Richardson) moved to Koroit with
her family in 1878 at a time when her father's
mental and physical health were declining. His
condition had caused a deterioration in the
family's finances, forcing his wife to take a
position at Koroit as a postmistress. Apparently
young Ethel was not impressed with the township,
which she described as "mean and ugly" with "a
few mingy shops", or the countryside, which she
referred to as "flat and treeless". During that
time, her father, a doctor, died at Koroit after
a period of mental illness. It was his life that
inspired her most famous work, The Fortunes of
Richard Mahoney. It is thought that Koroit was
the model for 'Gymgurra' in that trilogy. In
Ultima Thule (1929) Gymgurra is described in the
following manner: 'Two wide, ludicrously wide
crossroads, at the corner of which clustered
three or four shops, a Bank, an hotel, the post
office, the lock-up; one and all built of an
iron-grey stone that was almost as dark as the
The railway arrived in 1880, facilitating
trade with the outside world. Dairying
subsequently emerged and a butter factory was
established in 1888.
In 1881 the population of the town was
recorded as 1644. The fact that it is now
slightly less reflects the fact that Koroit has
not grown over the years. This stagnation was
partly due to the development of modern
transport which facilitated access to the
growing commercial centre of Warrnambool. This
has its upside for visitors who can enjoy the
charm of what has remained a very pleasant rural
centre with old-fashioned shop fronts and
Novelist Frank Hardy was born in 1917 in the
nearby hamlet of Southern Cross where he passed
his first few years.
Things to see:
Tourist Information and Tourist Drive
The nearest information centre is located at
Warrnambool, tel: (03) 5564 7837, or free-call
(1800) 637 725. A 12-km tourist drive starts at
the Koroit sign on Lake View Road.
Heritage Walk - Civic Buildings
If you are interested in examining the town's
architectural heritage, start at the State
School in Commercial Rd, just east of the
intersection with High St. The school was
established in 1878. The present building dates
Head west, towards the High St intersection.
To the left are the courthouse (1872) and the
police station, built c.1885 as a police
residence. At that time there was another
building on its eastern side which served as the
On the corner is the post office which
carries a plaque recalling the early
postmistress Marie Richardson, the mother of
novelist Henry Handel Richardson. In Ultima
Thule (1929) Richardson based the town of 'Gymgurra'
upon Koroit. In it she refers to the post office
'built of an iron-grey stone that was almost as
dark as the earth itself...with on its front the
large round clock by which the township told the
time'. The western and central sections were
built in 1872 as a residence and telegraph
Heritage Walk - The Olde Courthouse Inn
Over the road from the post office, at 100
Commercial Rd, is the Olde Courthouse Inn - a
former hotel built in 1901 to carry on the
licence granted to the Dunfermline Inn which was
built on an adjacent site in 1857. The
Courthouse Inn is now a bed-and-breakfast and
curiosity shop. It is open Tuesday to Saturday
from 11.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. and Sundays from
1.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5565 8346.
Heritage Walk - Carwicks House of Antiques
Opposite, at the north-western corner of
Commercial Rd and High St, is Carwicks House of
Antiques, which sells antique furniture,
decorative pieces, early 20th-century prints,
estate jewellery, collectables and bric-a-brac.
It was built as a general store and adjoining
residence c.1857, making it one of the first
stores in town. Carwicks is open weekends and
holiday periods from 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. or
by appointment, tel: (03) 5565 8548.
Heritage Walk - Former Railway Station
Head north along High St and turn left into
Bourke Ave. At the corner with Station St you
can see the former railway station which was
built c.1880. The line to Koroit ceased
operations in 1977.
Heritage Walk - Commercial Rd
Follow Station St to its southern end then turn
left, back into Commercial Rd. As its name
suggests, Commercial Rd was always the town's
major business avenue. Note the verandahs
fronting onto the kerb and the shop fronts.
At the corner of Station St and Commercial Rd
is a store built c.1883. Head east towards the
intersection with High St. To the left are a
large double-fronted shop built c.1906 and the
National Bank. This building was erected as a
single-storey structure in 1868. The facade and
upper storey were added in 1872.
Over the road is the State Bank of Victoria
in a building constructed in 1876 as a doctor's
residence. It became the Colonial Bank of
Australasia and, in 1920, the State Bank.
On the south-western corner of Commercial Rd
and High St is Bourke's Koroit Hotel, erected in
1853 (other sources suggest 1856). At that time
it was a simple two-storey bluestone structure.
The elaborate Art Nouveau facade was added in
the early 1900s. The interior is furnished with
antiques to create a period feel.
Heritage Walk - High St
Turn right, heading south along High St. To the
left, just before the bend in the road, is the
Guide Hall, built in the late 19th century as a
fire station. On the same side of the road,
slightly further along, is the civic centre and
library. The north wing was built in 1870 to
house the Koroit Borough Chambers. The south
wing was added in 1970.
Further along High St, on the other side of
the road (over King St) is the former Tower Hill
Lake National School, built of sandstone in
1857. The school has an unusual design with the
central section being used as the teacher's
residence while the two wings were used as
classrooms. It is one of the oldest national
schools in the state.
Heritage Walk - Botanic Gardens
Proceed south along High St. To the right are
the Botanic Gardens which were constructed on
land set aside in 1862. These are no ordinary
rural town gardens. They were designed in 1880
by William Guilfoyle who at the time was the
curator of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. He
designed the winding paths and sweeping lawns.
Today only five conifers remain from the
plantings that took place in the 1880s. However
the gardens do have some genuine rarities. Six
of the trees are registered with the National
Trust and the Dragon's Blood Tree is on the
World Rare and Endangered List. There are
children's play facilities and electric
Heritage Walk - Garden St
Return to High St and proceed a short distance
southwards to the intersection of High St and
Garden St. On the eastern side of the road are
'Old Hillcrest' (1910) and an early cottage
built in 1860. It has been considerably altered
over the years although the thatched roof
remains under the galvanised iron. Over the road
is the former Methodist Church (1865-67) which
is now a scout hall.
Walk along Garden St to the Scots
Presbyterian Church (1859). The manse dates from
Cross over Anzac Ave. Slightly further along,
on the right-hand side of the road, is an
antiquated horse trough. It was one of many
placed in country Victoria by Annis and George
Bills in the late 19th century.
Further west, on the other side of the road,
are a couple of early settlers' cottages.
Heritage Walk - Catholic Precinct
Return along Garden St then turn right into
Anzac Ave. To the right is the former Convent of
the Good Samaritan, now an hostel. Opposite is
St Patrick's School. The oldest of its buildings
dates back to 1890.
Cross over Queen St. To the immediate left is
the Catholic Church of the Infant Jesus. It was
designed by William Wardell who was also the
architect of St Patrick's Cathedral in
Melbourne. The first section was completed in
1870 with additions made in 1915-16. The
adjacent presbytery dates from the late 1880s.
Heritage Walk - Conclusion
Continue south along Anzac Ave then turn left
into Anne St. At the corner of Anne St and Horne
St is a fine home built in 1918 (note the
shamrock in the stonework above the front left
Turn left, heading north along Horne St. To
the right is St Paul's Anglican Church (1870).
Slightly further north, where Horne St connects
with High St (on the right-hand side of the
road), is a fine Edwardian weatherboard home
built in 1900.
Tower Hill Pottery Collectables
Tower Hill Pottery Collectables, at 145
Commercial Rd, is an art-and-craft gallery which
sells folk art, paintings, pottery, glassware,
tapestries and restored antique clocks. Most
pieces are by local artists. They are open
weekends from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. or by
appointment, tel: (03) 5565 8888.
At the southern end of town, on Lake Rd (just
west of the intersection with Anzac Ave), is
'Rosebank' which started its existence as a
stone cottage erected in the 1850s. Substantial
additions were made later in the 19th century.
It is a Classical Revival stuccoed structure
with a verandah and attractive cast-iron
lacework which was built for David McLaws who
moved into the area from Port Fairy. He was the
original licensee of the Koroit Hotel (now
Bourke's Koroit Hotel).
Tower Hill State Game Reserve
Tower Hill State Game Reserve (614 ha) is
situated in the crater of an extinct volcano
which formed thousands of years ago when a
violent eruption created the funnel-shaped
crater which was later filled by the lake with
its various small islets. Aboriginal relics
found in volcanic ash indicate Aboriginal
occupation from the time when the volcano was
still active. The first known Europeans to sight
the hill were the party of Captain Baudin in
A detailed 1855 painting of Tower Hill by
Viennese artist Eugene Von Guerard depicted a
variety of flora and fauna which had virtually
disappeared by the end of the 1860s due to the
clearing practices of European settlers who used
the local soils for agriculture and who grazed
cattle on the islands. Remarkably, Von Guerard's
painting (housed in the Warrnambool Regional Art
Gallery) was used as the basis of a revegetation
program entailing 300 000 plantings since 1961.
This process encouraged the return of wildlife
and the reserve now features kangaroos, many
koalas, wombats, sugar gliders, possums,
echidnae, numerous waterbirds (including Cape
Barren geese, musk ducks, spoonbills and
chestnut teals) and some very bold emus which
enjoy the picnic area (feeding is strictly
It is located just 3 km from Koroit. Proceed
south along High St, which becomes Lakeside
Drive, until you reach the intersection with the
Princes Highway. Turn right, proceed past the
Tower Hill cemetery (see next entry) then up the
hill and there is a signposted turnoff on the
right. It leads past a lookout area before it
proceeds over a land bridge to the main body of
land which is virtually surrounded by Tower Hill
Lake. The road then continues on past a picnic
area with toilets and barbecue facilities and
the Natural History Centre which outlines the
geology and history of Tower Hill. Rangers are
occasionally available to help with enquiries.
Guided tours (nocturnal and diurnal) can be
booked. The centre is open daily from 9.00 a.m.
to 4.30 p.m., tel: (03) 5565 9202.
The picnic area is the starting point for the
Lava Tongue Boardwalk -a 30-minute wetland walk
which leads to a bird hide and a second
boardwalk. It also connects with the Whurrong
Loop Track (one hour) which focuses on
Aboriginal foods. The picnic area is also the
start of the Hat Island Habitat Loop Track (a
revegetation walk of 45 minutes), the Journey to
the Last Volcano (a geological walk of one hour)
and the Peak Climb (for orientation and
geological purposes). All are easy-going treks
except the latter.
From the centre, the access road leads on by
the inner lake shore, past another good
birdwatching area then reaches a junction from
whence there are good views. A right will take
you back to the highway while a left leads onto
a road that follows the rim of the volcano
around the outer edge of the lake.
Tower Hill Cemetery
The grave of Walter Richardson, the father of
novelist Henry Handel Richardson, is located in
Tower Hill Cemetery. Walter, a doctor, came to
Koroit in 1878 with his family when his mental
and physical health were declining. He died the
following year. 'Henry' was nine at the time of
his death. The first burial in the cemetery
dates back to 1856. It is located adjacent the
Princes Highway, en route to Tower Hill Reserve.