Forrest & District Community Profile
Many of the communities that populate The Otways are in the midst of transition and the hamlets of Barwon Downs, Forrest and Gerangamete are no exception.
Driving from Birregurra or Colac you pass through the verdant, gentle, undulating farm lands of Barwon Downs or Gerangamete with the treed hills of The Otway Ranges beckoning from the horizon. There is a real sense of entering through a gateway to the forest when you reach the town of…….Forrest.
The combined population of this area, according to the 2011 census is 600.
Since European settlement in the late 19th century to the present day, there have been many shifts and changes in the industry and lifestyle of the inhabitants of these hills and plains. Populations have come and gone as the towns swelled when work was plentiful, then diminished when it dried up due to changes in government policies and global economic demands. At one stage there were 150 students attending the Forrest Primary School!
In less than 150 years, the area has gone from the mainstays of agriculture and forestry to the emerging and growing economy of eco-tourism and related service industries.
Back in the day, central to the development of the timber industry was the extension of the railway to the town of Forrest, previously named Yaugher, which was opened in 1891, as a branch line from Birregurra. The railway serviced the townships of Deans Marsh, Maroon, Barwon Downs, Yaugher and Forrest. At Forrest numerous tramways ran off into the nearby bush. These lines were used to bring the freshly cut timber to the railhead, and the associated sawmills, of which there were four in Forrest.
The Victorian Labor Government established the 102,000 hectare Great Otway National Park in 2005. Logging was banned from the Otway Ranges in 2008 and 40,000 hectare Otways Forest Park was created. At the time, the timber industry employed seventy people.
There were many reasons that logging needed to cease in The Otways. About half of the Otway State Forest is the domestic water supply for over 250,000 people in South West Victoria, including the major regional cities of Geelong and Warrnambool. Scientific research had demonstrated that clearfell logging was reducing both the water yield and quality from the Otway water supply catchments.
One of the government’s strategies to replace the logging economy in The Otways with eco-tourism initiatives was to make funds available for the creation of dedicated mountain bike trails in the Yaugher area.
With over 60 kilometres of sign posted as “single track”, Forrest is now seen as one of Australia’s best mountain biking destinations.
There are now three cafes to complement the pub and micro- brewery and there is a definite ‘buzz’ about the place. People are moving to the township and smaller holdings on the outskirts, looking for respite from the hurly-burly of the city. The challenge is to be able to create a regular income while living in a rural, and sometimes remote, area. Many people commute to Geelong, and even Melbourne, spending part of their weeks in both places. With the advent of the world wide web and improved internet services, and yes it could be better (where’s our National Broadband Network?), some people have the option of working from home. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and residents are having to think creatively in order to make their life in The Otways comfortable and sustainable over the longer term.
The West Barwon Dam, also known as the Barwon Resevoir, is the result of the damming of the west branch of the Barwon River and is the main water supply for Geelong. It is also a great spot for walks, picnics and fishing.
The Forrest Football Club was established in 1891, and is still going strong to this day, competing in the Colac & District Football League.
Forrest is now also home to the following annual Mountain Bike Events:
Forrest Festival – 2 day multi stage event
Otway Odyssey – 100k event
Forrest 6 Hour – 6 Hour event by teams and individuals
The Forrest Art Group has been going strong since the first art course started in 2008 and operates form the Forrest Public Hall every Friday. The group is hopeful of one day establishing a permanent gallery and studio space in the town, which would be operated on a cooperative basis by the local artists who are growing in number every year as accommodation in this part of The Otways is still affordable.