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Written by Annie O'Riley ( on February 7, 2012

Today when you see the townships of Berwick and Harkaway they blur into the  suburbs of Melbourne, but back in the 1840s, anything past Dandenong was referred to as “Beyond the Settled Districts of Westernport”. The aboriginals of the Burnurong tribe were the rightful owners and I can find two articles which mention them in old newspapers. In the first one, a Dr. Terrance met with and recorded a song and music sung by a man called Kurburu who was reported to live where the township of Berwick is today. The second mention is by Thomas Patterson whose father owned St. Germains station near Cardinia. He writes in a letter to the Argus in 1931 that” King Barak, the last chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe, was of peculiar interest to me, as it was from him I learnt the meaning of ‘Barnibyrnong’ the native name of St. Germains”. He also writes ” The vicinity of the homestead was a favourite camping-ground of the Boonerand (Burnurong) tribe of blacks, where I was bred and reared and learned a good deal of their language”.

The white settlers came in the 1840s and took up large pastoral or squatters licenses. The shops, businesses, and post office followed soon after. By 1856 a Lutheran school was built by the German settlers in Harkaway and the local children of Berwick were attending classes held in an old shepherd’s hut. It took a further 4 years before Berwick had a Catholic school. By late 1877 the railway was completed connecting Berwick, Beaconsfield, Officer and Pakenham with Melbourne and Gippsland.

On the 24th of December 1868, the first Berwick Police Station was opened. The men and women who worked there were to see some interesting cases over the next 130 years – including an attempted murder where the victim just wouldn’t die, a bootlegger who had all his alcohol confiscated, and a young man who spent three months in gaol doing hard labour for the crime of stealing potatoes. But one of my favourites is about the unlucky jockey who fell while riding at the Berwick race track and dislocated his shoulder and broke his collarbone, only to fall out of the cart on the way home.

The devilish Dubberke sisters grew up in Harkaway and Australia’s first ever Olympian lived in Berwick. Martin Boyd lived in and wrote about Harkaway in many of his novels. Jessie Traill had a studio in Harkaway and painted there for many years and parts of the Hollywood movie On The Beach starring Ava Gardiner and Gregory Peck was filmed in Berwick in 1960.

Today the population of Berwick is 36,420. In 1890 it was just 636, but the issues that plague the residents are much the same. Newspapers report controversy over payment of rates, arguments about road maintenance and reveal the latest cricket scores. The cost of milk gets a mention as well as complaints about public officials.  There are some things that just never change.

Written by Annie O'Riley. Annie is the author of and has been researching local history for over 30 years. She is constantly finding new stories and characters to write about.

Relevant Berwick/Harkaway Links


Spanish Influenza

Miner's Rights


An Unlucky Jockey

And he thought things couldn't get any worse.

Sly Grog

There were numerous sly grog sellers in the district during the 1870- 1890 period. Often the liquor was an inferior homemade product that was sold out of a tent or shanty and at a more affordable price. When the local excise officer arrested an offender it was big news and it seems that the alcohol wasn't necessarily destroyed.

Our First Hoon

Harold Skidmore was one of Australia's leading jockeys. He rode horses that reached speeds of 60 kilometers per hour. In 1933 he got into a bit of bother in Berwick for driving a car at a similar speed.


Courage, quick thinking and love are the attributes that made a good mother in 1908.

The Haunted Parsonage and Other Local Ghost Stories

This is a collection of new, old and revamped local articles about ghosts and hauntings, just in time for Halloween.

The Curious Case of the Dubberke Sisters

The Dubberke family were German immigrants who settled in the Berwick/Harkaway area. They milked 60 cows, took produce to the Dandenong market and carted goods and livestock for their neighbours. They were regarded as hard working and industrious. Mr. and Mrs. Dubberke had 10 children and from all reports they were brought up to be upstanding citizens. All, that is; except for two of the girls.