The Dandenong Ranges is a set of low mountain ranges, that rise to 633 metres at Mount Dandenong, approximately 35 km east of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
More than 300 million years ago, a great volcano welled up as a cauldron in the crust of the earth in the area near the present town of Olinda. From this cauldron, four series of lava flows ran out. The first massive flow spread as far north as Coldstream. The second flow spread southwards past Ferntree Gully and is now the base of the ranges seen from Melbourne. The third lava flow was a thinner one that formed a platform between the first two flows. The fourth was a thick lava flow, full of volcanic ash, that reached as far as Emerald. After centuries of weathering, these rocks broke down to form the rich soil of the forested ranges.
As a result of its elevation snow typically falls one or two times a year at higher elevations, mostly between the months of June and October (a rare summer snow even occurred on Christmas Day in 2006).
Prior to settlement, the Wurundjeri people used areas included in the region for hunting and gathering food. The Wurundjeri are a people of the Indigenous Australian nation, in the Kulin alliance, who occupy the Birrarung Valley (or Yarra Valley), its tributaries and the present location of Melbourne.
Two names have been used to refer to the ranges; Corhanwarrabul and Dandenong, both derived from the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people.
It is believed that the name Dandenong was adopted for the ranges as the Dandenong Creek originates here, although, the original name for Dandenong Creek was Narra Narrawong. It is not known where the name Dandenong came from nor exactly what it means. What is clear is that, both names relate to waterways in general, and not to mountains or ranges, as indicated by the “ong” ending.
After European settlement in the region in the 1850s, the area was used as a main source of timber for Melbourne and hunting for game, with the townships of Mt. Dandenong, Sassafras and Olinda originally settled for this purpose.
It wasn’t long before the area started to become a place of respite and retreat for Melbourne’s workers, who were drawn to the area as a popular holiday destination during the early 1900s. They stayed in the guesthouses and resorts that were dotting the hillsides. Visitors would wander amongst the gardens and enjoy picnics in the orchards of Silvan and amongst the waterfalls found along the many creeks and streams.
Timber harvesting actually continued, in some areas until as late as the 1960s. Numerous tracks created by forestry operations and sites originally cleared for timber tramways and sawmills are now used by visitors for recreational activities like picnicking, walking and experiencing the stunning scenery and wildlife.
Other areas of the region provide very productive land for horticultural production owed to its reliable rainfall and rich volcanic soils such as flower farms, orchards, berry farms and herb farms. While other blocks have been planted as spectacular gardens with exotic trees and shrubs. Large formal gardens with mature stands of exotic trees are a feature of the area.
In 1909, Daniel Camm a local pioneer settler and successful berry grower set up a jam factory to sell to Melbourne when prices were high. He later began to make jam commercially and built his factory in The Patch. During World War 2 he obtained a contract with the British Ministry of Food, which made the “Monbulk” jams a household name in the British homes for years. Today the factory is used to make plastic nursery pots for the surrounding industry.
In 1930, Alfred Nicolas constructed “Burnham Beeches” in Sherbrooke and in 1955, the Nicholas Institute for medical and Veterinary Research is established. Alfred Nicholas and his brother George developed the 'Aspro' painkiller. The property's hill station garden was later handed over to the State Government n 1972.
In the 1950s it became fashionable to own your own piece of the Dandenong Ranges paradise and little bungalows and shacks soon popped up across the villages of the hilltop.
In 1956, television came to Melbourne when the transmitting mast was built at the top of Mt. Dandenong, just in time for the Melbourne Olympics.
Much of the Dandenongs were protected parklands as early as 1882 and by 1987 these parklands were amalgamated to form the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Over the years various freehold blocks that were once cleared of vegetation have been acquired by the State Government and added to the park.
Parts of the region are home to special breeding and protection areas for fauna including Leadbeater’s Possum and Victoria's bird emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater.
Over the years, the Dandenong Ranges has been home to many famous artists including Arthur Streeton, C.J. Dennis, William Ricketts (visit his work at the William Ricketts Sanctuary), Tom Roberts and Lin Onus (whose collection can be seen today at Burrinja).
For the modern day historic experience, visitors from all over the world continue their love for the region with a ride on the much-loved Puffing Billy Railway. A heritage steam railway that runs from Belgrave to Gembrook it was one of four low-cost narrow gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900s. The line closed in 1953 due to operating losses and landslide that blocked the tracks. Thanks to the dedication and work of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society the line was reopened in 1962 to Menzies Creek, then to Emerald in 1975 and finally to Gembrook again in 1998.
Today the Dandenong Ranges remain a popular tourism destination and is well known as a place to get back to nature in a place that provides the perfect sense of natural, warm, charm for a romantic getaway.