In 1970 a new town had been established by the Housing Commission in the Parish of Hazelwood, to supply accomodation for State Electricity Commission workers and their families. The town was planned with the Morwell shire, with provision for shopping and civic amenities. An optimum population of 40,000 people was envisaged for the year 2000.
The Hazelwood Planning Scheme was approved in 1964. The site was chosen for its pleasant location at the foot of the Strzelecki Ranges, overlooking Hazelwood pondage. It was relatively free from air pollution, is not over rich coalfields and is in close proximity to the larger towns and power stations in the Latrobe Valley. The town was to include private as well as Commission estates. The houses were to be all brick and of varied designs. Residential areas were to be grouped around the town centre so that people could walk through parks and under main roads to the town centre. There were to be eleven neighbourhoods named after the district’s pioneering families. Each neighbourhood would consist of about 600 homes grouped around parks, a school and corner shops. There was to be an area for light industry. The proposals were ambitious, with plans for a shopping mall, large department store, market, theatre, civic centre, cultural centre, hotels, offices, bus terminal, racetrack and golf course.
Land was compulsorily acquired and house construction commenced in late 1964. The first families took up residence in late 1965. The town had been known as Hazelwood, the name of the surrounding district and the original pastoral run. But in February 1965, the government changed the name to Churchill to honour the English statesman, Sir Winston Churchill. The local response was very negative and very vocal and it was November 1966 before the issue was definitely settled in favour of Churchill. A bronze coloured structure 102 feet high represents a “cigar”, symbolising the town’s link with Churchill. The issue of the town’s name re-emerged in 1987. After much lobbying, a survey was taken and a close result favoured retaining the name Churchill.
Growth of the satellite town was initially slow so purchase conditions were relaxed. By 1968 the shopping centre was constructed. Progress accelerated by 1969 with more than 100 homes being built each year. Community spirit was strong, with the Citizens’ Association formed in 1966 being a strong force in town affairs.
But then development in the Latrobe Valley slowed, consequently slowing Churchill’s rate of development. Most residents had young families and were critical of the lack of community facilities. During the 1970s and 1980s, a Community Health Centre was established, as well as a Leisure Centre, hotel and secondary school with community library. In 1972, the newly established Gippsland Institute of Advanced Technology began operations at its new site at Churchill. Now merged with Monash University, it has expanded greatly, with approximately 1,800 internal and several thousand external students.
By 1976 the population was 3,500, by 1981 about 4,800 and by 1991, 5,600. Churchill is identified as a University town situated on Monash Way, 9kilometers south-east of Morwell. Monash University Gippsland is located on a 64-hectare campus at Churchill. The town is attractively set out on the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges adjacent to the 520 hectare man-made Hazelwood Pondage. There are three primary schools, a church, secondary school, four pre-school centres and health and recreation facilities.
Although the town now has many facilities, it is not as grandiose as originally planned. In 1991, the population was only slightly more than in 1986, well short of original projections. A large proportion of Churchill’s workforce was employed by the State government, so that the rationalisation and privatisation of the power industry has had a negative impact on the town. The general economic recession has also been felt severely, with the closure of a lingerie manufacturer previously employing 250 people. However the staff and students of the university contribute to the economic and social welfare of the town. Rather than a self contained town, Churchill has become a pleasant dormitory suburb with people travelling to the larger nearby towns for major shopping and entertainment.
- Housing Commission, Victoria. “Churchill: strategy for urban management”. 1979.
- Housing Commission, Victoria. “Exciting things are happening”. c.1965.
- Legg, S.M. “Heart of the valley: a history of the Morwell municipality”. 1992.