Warburton Historical Overview
It was the search for the source of the Yarra River that brought explorer Robert Hoddle to the Upper Yarra region, and more specifically Warburton, in 1845. Creating detailed maps of the region, Hoddle opened the way for a farming community to be established and grow to around 100 by 1879.
Outside of Warburton proper the discovery of large deposits of gold caused a population explosion in the mid-1850s. With this the area was no longer specifically agricultural and soon branched into tourism. The following statement (published in a travel magazine "The Visitors Guide" in 1888) reflected its appeal: "Here [in Warburton] are observable signs of progress in every direction, and in a very short time a township of some considerable importance will be manifest.
. . . The whole district abounds in the picturesque."
Because of the increase in population the Yarra Valley was officially recognised as an independent Shire in 1888. In 1901 the Lilydale railway was extended to Warburton, in order to support the further expansion of the timber industry in the area. In time more than 30 sawmills operated to deal with the large amounts of timber felled in the mountains and brought to the valley by bullock teams.
The year 1905 saw the arrival of the first Adventists to the area. With them they brought several industries that have supported the local community for many years, including the Sanitarium Health Food Company, Signs Publishing Company and the Warburton Health Care Centre and Hospital.
The 20th century left visible scars on the hills surrounding Warburton. The first of many large fires to break out around the town started on February 14, 1926. However, this blaze was tiny in comparison to the January 13, 1939, Black Friday fires. Although the town of Warburton was untouched, several outlying homes and 6,000 square miles of forest were destroyed. A heavy toll was also taken on the life of residents and wildlife.
On March 6, 1954, royalty came to Warburton. Queen Elizabeth II arrived in town by train and met with a rousing reception before worshipping with the local Presbyterian congregation. Her weekend stay encouraged those who still had unpleasant memories of the fires lingering in their minds.
February 16, 1983, will always be remembered as the beginning of the Ash Wednesday fires. Beginning in Millgrove on a Wednesday afternoon, the fires threatened Warburton but thankfully skirted the town on the dry fuel on the surrounding ridges. Warburton, and especially the Adventist community, played host to and supported the 750 firemen who came to fight the blaze.
The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st has been a tough time of change for Warburton. Following the closure of the Sanitarium Health Food Company factory and Warburton Health Care Centre and Hospital many residents have left the area. However, the picturesque surrounds and quaint feel of the town has generated renewed interest from weekenders and day-trippers from Melbourne and interstate.