The town of Stratford on the Avon River in Victoria, Australia is 232km east of Melbourne on the Princes Highway in Wellington Shire. The town services the local regional community of 1,330 people (2001 Census) and travellers on the Princes Highway. Stratford’s principal industries are dairying, sheep, cattle and horse breeding and vegetable crops. The town has numerous coffee shops and cafes, a cellar door for a local winery, Design Gallery, model railway shop, a pub, parks and playgrounds for car travellers to break their journey.
The origin of the town’s name is unclear, with some people claiming it to be a variation on “straight ford” while many others believe it derives from Stratford-on-Avon from England, William Shakespeare’s home town. Locals have embraced the connection with Shakespeare and a Shakespeare on the River Festival has been a successful annual event since 1989, incorporating works of Shakespeare and modern Australian plays. In 1998 the town formally became a member of the Stratford Sister Cities program to promote friendship and cultural exchange between participating countries. Participation is restricted to towns called “Stratford” that have a Shakespeare Theatre or Festival.
The River Avon has a local reputation as a source for river polished gemstones, particularly agate, and for rapidly rising during increased rainfall upstream.
Three kilometres south-east of Stratford is a 56-hectare park called Knob Reserve (formerly known as the “Forest of Arden”), part of the Gunai/Kurnai Bataluk Cultural Trail, which winds its way through East Gippsland, highlighting the places of cultural significance to the first inhabitants. There are picnic facilities and an annual country music festival is held at Knob Reserve.
Stratford is on the Bairnsdale railway line, which was reopened for passenger use in 2004. The Howitt Bicycle Trail passes through Stratford.