Tarpeena ( 37°37’S, 140°47’E, postcode 5277, altitude 112 m) is a town on the Riddoch Highway between Penola and Mount Gambier in the Limestone Coast region of South Australia. The town was named by Governor MacDonnell, after the aboriginal words tart pena which means red gum tree. The town was surveyed in October 1860.There have been two towns bearing the name Tarpeena, nearly three miles apart. In the 1860s there was enough population to support a hotel, a store, a blacksmith, a school and a post office. Then over the next two decades the district lost these services and for half a century Tarpeena was little more than the name of a locality. Harvesting and milling of pines signalled the recovery of the town and population levels and development took place shortly after the first thinning of the pines.
The history of Tarpeena begins, like that of the most southeast region of South Australia, with the establishment of sheep stations in the 1840s. The pastoralists rented vast areas of the land and ran sheep principally for wool. Many came from Victoria. By the early 1840s most of western Victoria’s sheep runs had been taken up in a wave of settlement that ran continuously from Melbourne. The pastoralists simply continued westwards establishing new stations.
One of the first areas in the South East to be subdivided into farming sections and opted for sale on freehold title was located a few miles west of the present day Tarpeena town. However, the attempts by the government to establish small farmers was thwarted; pastoralists who had been running their sheep on rented land bought up the freehold sections intended for mixed farming and continued to run their sheep. The only difference was that they now had the security of freehold ownership of the land instead of a lease for a fixed number of years.