Healesville is a very historic town with a fine history. Located in the beautiful valley of the Watts River, surrounded on several sides by the stunning mountains of the Great Dividing Range, Healesville lies on the ancestral land of the Wurundjeri people.
Prior to the founding of Healesville, a settlement at nearby New Chum had existed for two or three years, and had become a thriving base for miners and others en route to the goldfields at Woods Point and Jericho. Stores were brought from Melbourne along the Yarra Track, unloaded at New Chum and transferred to pack horses to continue their hazardous journey to the diggings.
As thousands made their way to the goldfields it became obvious that a 'proper' road was necessary. The route chosen for the new road avoided the flood-prone flats of the Watts Valley and kept to the higher ground to the south of the river where a new town was planned, however those seeking their fortunes still faced the difficult trek over the mountains of the Great Divide.
The site of present day Healesville was surveyed in 1864 by government surveyor, George McDonald, and the first
land sales took place in June 1865, when the price of blocks of land started at
one pound each.
The township was named after the well respected Richard Heales, Premier of Victoria from 1860-1861 and who died aged only 42 in June 1864. According to the Australian National University Dictionary of Biography:
"Heales was one of the first of Victoria's public men to die in office, but the crowds who lined Swanston Street to watch his funeral procession from the Alma Road Congregational Church to the Melbourne general cemetery were not merely seeking a spectacle. He was a popular figure, honoured for long devotion to the temperance cause, respected for his unselfishness, humility and honesty, and admired for his business success and his increasingly important political work. Even the conservative Argus regretted the loss of a serviceable politician; to the Age his death was a public calamity."
By 1866 over thirty business premises were operating in Nicholson Street Healesville, including six hotels, a post office (which opened in 1865), a saddlery, and a blacksmith. The Grand Hotel on the corner of Green Street, has looked over the township since 1888.
The arrival of the railway in 1889 led to increased visitors and then the formation of a Tourist and Progress Association who in the 1920s declared "Healesville, The World-famed Tourist Resort" and published a listing of over 40 beauty spots and 20 hotels and guest houses.
Healesville Sanctuary was founded in 1920 as the Institute of Anatomical Research by Dr Colin McKenzie. It became the Sir Colin McKenzie Sanctuary in 1934 and is now known around the world simply as Healesville Sanctuary.
The construction of the Maroondah Dam in 1927 brought further investment to the town but eventually the guest house and tourism boom era died away, as did the substantial timber industry which was heavily impacted by fires, in particular those in 1939. The railway also closed in late 1980 but has been revived as a successful tourism operation and is expected to reopen to Yarra Glen in 2021.
Healesville has over recent years experienced a resurgence and is now the centre of the hugely popular Yarra Valley tourism and winery region. This has made Healesville a 'must stop' not only for visitors to the wider Yarra Valley but also for those on the way to and from Marysville, Lake Mountain, Lake Eildon and beyond. With a bustling main street filled with dozens of cafe's, hotels, restaurants and speciality shops plus the world famous sanctuary, beautiful parks and tourist railway, Healesville makes a great place to visit and explore any time of the year.