1. Themes
  2. A to Z


(3810, 54 km SE, Cardinia Shire)

The former Shire of Pakenham extended from the Dandenong Ranges south to the Koo Wee Rup Swamp, west to Beaconsfield and east beyond Bunyip, with the Princes Highway running straight across it. The area was once known as Longford, the name of the peerage associated with the aristocratic English Catholic family of Pakenham. But 'Pakenham' may also commemorate an English general who fought in the Peninsular War, or possibly a Dublin churchman.

European explorers tried to investigate the area, but George Bass (in 1798) and William Hovell (in 1826-27) found the Koo Wee Rup Swamp an impenetrable barrier. Pastoral runs were rapidly taken up in the late 1830s and 1840s. Among the first European settlers in the Pakenham area - who came from Tasmania rather than overland from Sydney - was Dr William Kerr Jamieson, whose run, established in 1838 or 1839, was on the north side of the swamp. After a few settlers took up their pre-emptive rights in the 1850s, the subdivision of the land began. The influx of hungry goldminers to Victoria stimulated the growth of Pakenham as a farming district. The Land Acts of the 1860s accelerated the process of subdivision, and the arrival of the railway in the late 1870s boosted local agriculture. Dairying, vineyards, market gardens and orchards proliferated. While the 'Old Pakenham' township had developed along the highway, servicing the coach traffic, the station was at Pakenham East near the racecourse, which has been an important feature of local life since the Pakenham Racing Club was formed in 1875. Gradually businesses moved closer to the station, but subsequent expansion meant the two settlements eventually become one town.

Sawmilling became widespread in the wooded ranges north of the present Princes Highway. Narrow-gauge timber tramways were constructed to link the sawmilling areas with the rail system. Railway access also boosted tourism. From the 1880s rich Melburnians built substantial summer residences in the mountain areas, and smaller weekenders and guesthouses were established in Beaconsfield Upper and Gembrook.

Pakenham Upper, about 6 km north of Pakenham, was first settled in 1872 by J. Matters. Rythdale, a school catering for the children of two local properties, lent its name to the immediate locality, although virtually nothing remains of the settlement. Local industries included dairying, pig-farming and timber-cutting. A packhorse track was cut to link Pakenham Upper and Gembrook with Pakenham, as north-south linkages were often very difficult in these thickly forested areas. Many orchards were established before World War I, though few remain. After the war several of the large properties in the district were purchased for soldier settlement. Pakenham South also originally included Cardinia.

Another focus for settlement was the Koo Wee Rup Swamp. From the mid-1870s, vast drainage works were carried out, and when, by 1892, a reasonable amount of land had been reclaimed, the Public Works Department took over and used unemployed workers to labour alternately on the drains and on improving blocks of land, which they were given in a village settlement scheme. This experiment was not successful, but some of the drained land was allocated later under soldier-settlement schemes.

With the formation of a new Riding of Iona, the centre of the shire shifted westwards, and in 1902 the shire offices moved from Berwick to Pakenham with purpose-built offices completed in Pakenham in 1912. In 1973 Pakenham was declared a shire when the Berwick and Doveton ridings of the Shire of Berwick became part of the new City of Berwick. In 1995 the Shire of Pakenham, together with parts of the former Shire of Sherbrooke and the City of Cranbourne, became part of Cardinia Shire. One of Melbourne's fastest growing residential areas in the latter decades of the 20th century, Pakenham's population increased by more than 150% between 1981 and 1996.

Jenny Keating

Berwick–Pakenham Historical Society, In the wake of the pack tracks: A history of the Shire of Berwick now the City of Berwick and the Shire of Pakenham, Berwick- Pakenham Historical Society, Pakenham, 1982. Details