The name ‘Boolarra’ is aboriginal, meaning plenty or ‘abundance’and is thought to be taken from the language of the Wumman Tribe, a sub-branch of the greater Briakalong Tribe of Gippsland. The name Boolarra was first applied to the general area where the first settler, W.H. Penaluna, arrived around 1878 to take up land along the Morwell River and in 1884 erected the Settlers' Arms Hotel.
In the early 1880s, selectors began penetrating more southern regions of the area, selecting land in Boolarra, Budgeree and Callignee among other districts. The rainfall was higher in the densely forested Strzelecki Ranges and it was assumed the land was fertile because of the giant trees that grew there. Many of the selections in the steeper areas of the Strzeleckis proved to be unviable and were later abandoned as the task of clearing the giant trees and trying to get their produce to market proved to be almost impossible.
The less rugged hill country south and east of the Morwell River however, soon began to be cleared of forest to develop farms and a series of small communities such as Gunyah, Ruyton Junction, English’s Corner and Darlimurla began to flourish as goods and services flowed to and from the area. Initially, the early settlers depended on timber and mixed farming for their livelihood. Several sawmills operated and paling splitting was also widespread, with palings and blackwood logs later being sent out by rail to areas as far away as Melbourne. Saw mills operating at Darlimurla from the 1880s also produced significant numbers of sawn logs. While some black and brown coal was mined in the area, the conditions proved too demanding and the attempts were short-lived.
The disastrous 1898 bushfires burned large areas of scrub in the area and hundreds of homes and thousands of head of cattle were lost throughout Gippsland. The only good to come out of the fires was the bed ash that enriched the soil and stimulated the rapid growth of grass, further enhancing the land’s suitability for dairy farming.