This Irish heritage town certainly knows how to have a ‘craicing’ good time.

Story John Dunn   Photos Neil Newitt

A signpost at the main intersection of the tiny rural town of Koroit, in Victoria’s south-west, points to several places in Ireland and none in Australia. It shows the direction of Dublin, Kilkenny and Tipperary, but not Melbourne or even the adjacent towns of Warrnambool or Port Fairy. 

The area around Koroit has often been called the “beating heart of Australia’s Irish heritage”, and the town was once in a shire called Belfast, although the town’s name is from a Koroitch Gundidj word. The potato famine in the 1840s caused families to flee Ireland and many migrated to Koroit, encouraged by Billy Rutledge, an entrepreneur from Ballymagirril in County Cavan, who provided land and tools. They grew potatoes on the slopes of the 34,000-year-old dormant volcano Tower Hill, in similar, rich, dark-chocolate-coloured soil to the fields of Ireland. Their descendants remain – the Kellys, the O’Briens, the Murphys – in a district where back lanes, green fields and 19th-century bluestone worker’s cottages provide a setting that could easily be Kilkenny or Kildare. 

The main pub in town, Mickey Bourkes, has Irish food and character, and Guinness on tap. The nearest beach is called Killarney and even has its own Blarney Stone. Every year in April or May the locals put on a rollicking Irish festival. There’s Gaelic games, Celtic ballads, a Danny Boy contest, Guinness-brewing, a competition for redheads and, of course, a potato-picking and peeling championship.

This story excerpt is from Issue #136

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2021