An attractive village with a decidedly English feel.
Berwick is a former township located on a hill 45 kilometres south-east of the Melbourne CBD. It was later declared a city but has recently been incorporated into the City of Casey which includes Berwick, Harkaway, Narre Warren, Hallam, Doveton, Endeavour Hills, Lysterfield South, Hampton Park, Lyndhurst, Cranbourne, Clyde, Devon Meadows, Pearcedale, Cannons Creek, Warneet, Blind Bight and Tooradin. Although it has experienced fairly rapid development in recent years Berwick, with its old-fashioned library building, prim gardens and distinctive boulevarde, retains something of its 19th-century English village feel.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Bunurong people who were soon displaced. They held their last corroborees in the area c.1858.
One of the first white landholders in the district was a Captain Robert Gardiner who probably sailed from Westernport Bay up Cardinia Creek. There he found good pasturage and, in about 1837, took up much of the land on which the township of Berwick would later develop. He appointed Terence O’Connor as his superintendent. O’Connor brought the district’s first sheep over from Tasmania and grazed them on the future townsite and took up residence on Gardiner’s property which was named ‘Berwick’ after Gardiner’s birthplace of Berwick-on-Tweed in the north of England. The area was initially known as Cardinia Creek which was an adaptation of the Aboriginal name for the waterway – ‘Kar-Din-Yarr’ – which means ‘looking at the rising sun’.
In 1841 a perceived lawlessness in the district – on the part of both whites and Aborigines – led to the establishment of a native police force barracks. It was located to the west of what is now the suburb of Narre Warren.
In the 1840s Gardiner, with a government subsidy, established a lookout on Mt Misery, at what is now Beaconsfield, in order to keep watch for ships which mistakenly entered Westernport Bay, thinking it to be Port Phillip Bay. At the time Berwick was the eastern border of the Port Phillip District (as distinct from the Gippsland district further east). A regular overland mail service from Melbourne to Gippsland was established in 1848.
A small community, with little claim to occupancy, developed on the eastern side of Berwick Hill. Surveys were conducted in the 1850s when the original land leases expired and the government set aside some of Gardiner’s run as a townsite which was initially known as ‘The Reserve’. The first land sales took place in January 1854 . At the time it was heavily timbered countryside.
With the arrival of the freehold era the large sheep and cattle stations were broken up, properties were improved and farming began to emerge. The heavy black volcanic soil was particularly suited to potatoes, barley and wheat and a stream-threshing machine and flour mill were erected on the townsite in 1858. In fact, the state’s oldest agricultural society – the Port Phillip Farmers’ Society – was founded in 1848 and one of its branches (the Mornington Farmers’ Society) centred on Berwick. A bluestone quarry, established on the Wilsons’ property at Berwick in 1859, provided steady local employment until it closed in 1918. Basalt from the quarry was used for roadmaking in Gippsland. Dairying and cheese-making emerged in the 1860s.
A store opened in the area in 1855 although the first store on the actual townsite appears to have been established in 1857 or 1859. It doubled as a post office. A blacksmith’s was set up in 1857, as was the first Presbyterian Church. A wheelwright’s shop and school were also opened in the late 1850s. The latter was situated within a wattle-and-daub shepherd’s hut, built for usage on Captain Gardiner’s run. A new school was built in 1861.
The Border Hotel (still standing) was licensed at Berwick in 1857 to Robert Bain who also owned the store/post office. He donated the land on which the shire hall was later built.
The Eumemmering Hotel had been established by 1851 on the Eumemmering run which was later subdivided into residential blocks. Part of it is now the suburb of Doveton. The Mornington Hotel opened in 1855 at what is now Narre Warren. The name derives from the Aboriginal term ‘Narree Nareen’ meaning ‘small hills’ – a reference to the fact that this land lies in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.
The Gippsland Hotel (now the Central Hotel) opened at Beaconsfield in the early 1850s. The owners had a track cut from here through to the new goldfield at Woods Point (see entry on Jamieson) in the early 1860s, thus facilitating access to the new diggings and, of course, encouraging custom at the hotel. They received compensation when the government cut a new track to Woods Point via the Launching Point (see entry on Yarra Junction). Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, stayed at the Gippsland Hotel in 1869 during a royal visit.
Berwick was proclaimed a town in 1861. Local government commenced the following year with the formation of the Berwick Road Board. Meetings were held at the Border Hotel until an office was built at the top of Berwick Hill in 1865.
In 1862 a mechanics’ institute cum library was built and a second general store was established. A recreation reserve for cricket and other purposes was set aside in 1863. Other tradesmen began to set up shop in the new town and the first local police court was held at the Border Hotel in 1865. The first licensed stage coach service from Melbourne to Sale in Gippsland began that same year. In 1868 the Shire of Berwick was proclaimed and a policeman was stationed at Berwick for the first time. A state school and a Catholic Church were constructed in 1870, a Church of Christ in 1874, an Anglican Church in 1876 and a Methodist Church in 1886, although the latter was soon removed to Dandenong
At Harkaway, just north of Berwick proper, the higher ground (a natural watershed between the Port Phillip and Westernport basins) was settled largely by German immigrants and a Lutheran church was built in 1869. It is suggested that bushranger Dan ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan was employed on a property at Harkaway before attacking his employee’s wife with a knife and fleeing in 1861.
The railway to Berwick opened in 1877, ending the coach-service era, but greatly facilitating the marketing of local produce and hence the growth of the area. Other proximate localities which benefited from the establishment of local railway stations were Beaconsfield (allegedly named after British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli whose title was the Earl of Beaconsfield) and Narre Warren. Both Beaconsfield and Upper Beaconsfield became popular holiday resorts after the arrival of the railways. Gold had been discovered at Upper Beaconsfield in the 1870s but returns were slight and the diggings soon abandoned.
In 1890 the population of Berwick was 636. Oats, peas, beans, potatoes, hay and introduced grasses were cultivated in the shire. Tea, hops and wine grapes were all briefly grown in the late 19th century. After World War I heavy industry moved into the area, particularly at Doveton where a lace and handkerchief factory opened in 1950, an International Harvester Company plant in 1952 and, in 1955, a General Motors car plant and the H.J. Heinz factory. The suburb was created by the Housing Commission in the 1950s to provide low-cost housing for the factory employees.
In January 1959 the farm scenes for the Hollywood film ‘On the Beach’ were shot on the Wilson’s property. 230 personnel were involved including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, Donna Anderson, Lou Perkins and producer Stanley Kramer.
Berwick was declared a city in 1973 with a view to becoming a satellite to Melbourne. It has recently been incorporated into the larger City of Casey.