Old, vintage, historical book archives at the Morwell Historical Society

Local Government History

A Journey in Time – A Resource for Local History

Local Government History

While Strzelecki was the first white man to explore the Morwell district in 1840, the squatters were the first permanent white settlers in the district. In 1844 the first run was taken up and the community comprised a few dozen people from five cattle stations and an inn. Over a period of over 40 years the pastoral occupation of the district involved five stations (with more than 30 different lessees) with their families and station hands.

The name “Morwell” is most likely of Aboriginal origin, the Gunnai language meaning “Inhabitants of the Swamp” but there have been alternative explanations suggested over the past 150 years. Sources show the first variation of the name “Morwell” from 1844.

Group portrait showing men in front of a brick shire office.

The Shire of Morwell was first established in 1892

The Shire of Morwell was first established in 1892 following a drawn out battle for severance from the Shire of Traralgon – a municipality it had been part of since the Shire’s own severance from the Rosedale Road Board years earlier.

Morwell’s severance was granted in May 1892 and the new Shire’s first council elections were held in August. Morwell dominated the new Shire with 60.5 percent of the vote, followed by Yinnar, Boolarra, Darlimurla, Driffield, Hazelwood and Middle Creek. Cr. Donald Shaw was declared Morwell Shire’s first president and councillors were John English, William Murdoch, William Murphy, Edmund Kelleher and Michael Mulcare. The first council meeting was held on 29 September 1892.

In 1907, people of smaller towns in the shire and selectors in the hill country called for formation of ridings in the shire and in June 1912 a decision was made to constitute four ridings each with three representatives which made for a new council of 12 members.

The second council of the Morwell Shire was constituted in August 1912.

By late 1940 the Shire of Morwell’s population was 9018 with a large farming population – at the time it was the most densely populated shire east of Warragul and encompassed 432 miles of roads.

By 1947, the shire’s population had grown to 11,277 including 2951 in Morwell. In the same year the Victorian Government excised 8.35 square miles from the north western corner of the Shire of Morwell to form part of the Yallourn works area under the control of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria.

In 1949 the Victorian Government approved the re-division of the Shire of Morwell’s Council and while the number of councillors remained at 12, the boundaries of the ridges substantially changed. Until local government amalgamations in 1994 however, the Morwell riding remained the only urban riding in the shire.

The third council of the Shire of Morwell was constituted in August 1949. The fourth council was later constituted in 1996 and Ruth Dean became the shire’s first female councillor in 1969. In 1987 Gloria Auchterlonie became the first female Shire President.

Particularly prominent councillors (with three or more terms as Shire President) included Les Hare OBE, Alan Hall MBE, John Hall, Dave White, Jack Vinall, Jim Pettigrew, Samuel Vary and Lou Bond. Another councillor, Martin Walker, spent 53 years on council.

On 23rd September 1990 Morwell Shire was afforded City status when the council amalgamated, four years later Cr Jack Vinall was Mayor while Cr John Guy had served as the last Shire President and first Morwell City Mayor.

Extract from the booklet “Local Government History” by La Trobe Shire

Currently known as Latrobe City Council with no City status for individual local towns.