The name is probably a contraction of Whitefields, which was a pastoral run taken up by a William Clarke in 1845 (not William "Big" Clarke, Port Phillip's most famous squatter). Although there are several Whitefields and Whitfields in British gazetteers, the most likely origin of the name was seasonal white ground-cover flowers at Whitfield.
The land along the King River was suitable for growing many types of crops, and tobacco and hops were among the most productive. Schools were opened along the Whitfield part of the valley during the 1880s. A church was opened at Whitfield in 1887 and in 1899 a narrow-gauge railway line from Wangaratta to Whitfield was opened. A mechanics' institute and hall were opened in 1902 and within a few years a government tobacco research farm was transferred to Whitfield from Edi. In 1909 the Victorian Municipal Directory described Whitfield -
Whitfield, along with Cheshunt, King Valley and Edi, became one of the four north-eastern valleys in Victoria which grew tobacco. Large numbers or Italian, Yugoslav and Spanish farmers or sharefarmers entered the tobacco-growing industry during the postwar years. In King Valley, ten kilometres north of Whitfield, 82% of the farms were owned by Italians in 1978.
Since the late 1970s tobacco growing has declined. (Total farm areas in Victoria fell from 3,436 ha. (1978) to 1,240 ha. (1994).) Some land has been taken for wine-grape growing. Brown Brothers, Milawa, have expanded their vineyards to King Valley and Whitlands. Tobacco farmers have diversified into chestnuts, hops, berries, timber-veneer trees and grazing.
Whitfield has a school, three churches, two general stores, a National Parks office, a hotel and a caravan park. It is at the junction of roads from Mansfield and the upper reaches of the King river, and attracts campers and tourists.
Jones, Graham, Memories of Oxley, Charquin Hill Publishing, 1995.
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