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(3789, 35 km E, Yarra Ranges Shire)

On the eastern fringes of Melbourne, Sherbrooke has for many years been identified with the Dandenong Ranges, Puffing Billy, lyrebirds and Sherbrooke Forest. Sherbrooke was named after the Canadian birthplace of early settler R.W. Graham. The Shire of Sherbrooke formed following a split with the more urbanised section of the old Shire of Fern Tree Gully (formed May 1889). Sherbrooke became an official local government entity in 1964, and was partly absorbed into the new Yarra Ranges Shire in 1994.

The locality's first white associations began in 1838, when Presbyterian minister the Rev. James Clow registered a pastoral run named Corhanwarrabul, the Aboriginal name for Mount Dandenong. For centuries before, the region had been a focus for indigenous peoples as a summer resting place. While bushfires periodically plagued the area in the 20th century (especially in 1962 and 1983), there is evidence that the hills were once regularly fired by Aboriginal peoples to improve access and encourage animal populations. Several significant ceremonial sites have been identified over the years, and early white explorers found a network of well-used tracks through the forested hills.

Clow's original run was divided by 1850 into a number of smaller runs. One of these, Glenfern, later gave its name to a street and the location of the Shire of Sherbrooke (1963-97) headquarters. During the latter part of the 19th century, settlement was sparse, with timber-getting the major industry, carried on by hardy men and women, most living a subsistence lifestyle.

Gold fever infected the region in the late 1850s. Diggings developed around Emerald, extending to Macclesfield and Menzies Creek. Short-term population increases did not greatly affect the region, gold being too scarce in comparison with other fields. However, some diggers stayed on to take up farming. They were supplemented by impoverished townies in the 1890s. A depressed economy saw the government open several settlements in the hills at One Tree Hill, Sassafras and Olinda. Pressure for improved transport led to the construction first of a railway branch from Ringwood to Upper Fern Tree Gully (1889) and later of a narrow-gauge branch from Upper Fern Tree Gully to Gembrook (1900). This narrow-gauge line later became the Puffing Billy tourist line. The railway brought change to the Sherbrooke region. For the first time, farmers could market their produce economically in the city. Berry-growing, well adapted to the hills, became a feasible activity, and tourists could visit the hills for a day out.

Tourism changed the Sherbrooke region almost overnight. Log houses were extended to become guest-houses, some of considerable proportions, and the Victorian Railways heavily promoted their popular weekend trains. Tired Melburnians flocked to the hills, the wealthy in their newfangled motor cars, the working classes by train. A dance floor was built at the entrance to the Sherbrooke Forest at Upper Fern Tree Gully, along with other attractions: a zoo, refreshment rooms, guesthouses and a billiard parlour.

Cheap land prices and the improvement of railway services saw increased settlement in the region after World War II. Between the wars, scores of small timber shacks were built as holiday houses. In the 1950s and 1960s these were replaced or extended to become family homes. Commuting became possible, especially after electrification of the railway to Melbourne in 1958. Coupled with electrification was the closure of the narrow gauge. Uneconomical for many years, motor traffic made the line a financial disaster. However, for generations of Melburnians, Puffing Billy was Sherbrooke and the hills. Popular pressure turned to volunteer labour, and piece by piece the line was reopened, with the final link to Gembrook opened in 1999.

Today tourism keeps the hills alive. Townships such as Emerald and Belgrave are taking on new 'olde' appearances, and locals tolerate what they cannot afford to refuse. The forest still exists, but in much reduced form, despite many well-intentioned attempts at preservation. The region is a focus for berry-growing, a thriving plant nursery industry, an annual Tulip Festival and Puffing Billy.

Arthur Winzenried