Boolarra forms part of the Latrobe City area, which lies at the heart of Gippsland, nestled between the Strzelecki Ranges and the Baw Baw Plateau. Although Angus McMillan was the first European to visit the region in 1840, it was Polish explorer Paul Edmund de Strzelecki who led the first expedition to enter the area now known as Boolarra. What he found was a diverse landscape of valleys, mountains, forests and wetlands. Their journey through the scrub and hills became so tough that they abandoned their horses and equipment at a spot near Boolarra and proceeded on foot until they struggled out at Western Port Bay three weeks later. Although the Boolarra area was one of the first places reached in the southern districts, it was not settled until almost forty years later in 1878.
The area that is now Latrobe City formed part of the traditional lands of the Gunai Kurnai people. The Brataualung, a clan of the Gunai Kurnai, claimed the land south of the Latrobe River, while the Briakalong people occupied land to the north.
Reliable food sources were to be found on the plains and in the river valleys and the people had a valuable supply of silcrete from quarries found in the Haunted Hills. This was used to make tools for hunting kangaroo and wallaby on the open plains. The rivers and swamps supplied abundant food such as fish, eels, reptiles, freshwater mussels, waterbirds and eggs. The women gathered plants and small animals. Recent archaeological surveys along the Morwell River valley provide an insight to how people lived and where they camped. Besides camping close to water, higher sites such as Macmillan’s hill were also important places. From these vantage points, Aboriginal people had good views of the surrounding plains where they could keep an eye on their campfires and other clans’ movements.
By 1843 the region was known as Gipps Land and had been proclaimed a squatters district where settlers were able to buy runs (land) for an annual fee and as more squatters occupied their runs, European names began to replace the traditional indigenous names.
In 1874, Henry Godridge, who was looking for gold, found brown coal instead. This led to the formation of the Great Morwell Coal Mining Company in 1889. The mining of brown coal commenced and the provision of a reliable, abundant fuel source for the eastern regions was established. The discovery and excavation of brown coal led to the development of new towns, increased population and prosperity in the district. As the population of the district continued to increase and with the commencement of the construction of a railway network in 1883 the focus began to change from agriculture to industry. This new direction of growth led to the establishment of several new population centres and the inevitably demise of others.