Mineral springs have been attributed with powers of healing since Antiquity. Drinking and bathing in mineral water is still valued as healthy as well as enjoyable. At the height of mineral springs' popularity, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, people turned to mineral water to cure many ailments including tuberculosis, arthritis and skin diseases. A 'professional opinion' given in 1868, claimed that Victorian mineral water was beneficial "in diseases peculiar to young girls with general debility" and "for gentlemen who have lived rather too freely".
There are over eighty mineral springs in Central Victoria, each prized for their different mineral constituents. Aborigines visited these springs before European settlement and a member of the Jajowurrung tribe is believed to have guided early European settlers to springs at Hepburn.
Central Victorian mineral springs became popular with settlers in the 1860s. Local entrepreneurs collected spring water in cans which they sold locally and transported to Melbourne. Commercial bottling companies continue to operate at some Victorian springs such as Drysdale (near Geelong) and Daylesford.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, tourist resorts grew in the vicinity of popular springs such as Daylesford and Hepburn. Numerous guest houses in spa towns accommodated visitors from Melbourne and other parts of Australia. Many of the springs had management committees which constructed buildings to enhance visitor enjoyment: pavilions, shelters, steps, pumps and pathways.
Hepburn Springs has the highest tourist profile of the Victorian mineral springs. Here a bathhouse was built in 1894 which provided hot and cold mineral baths and towels. 'Electric baths' were introduced in the 1930s with an electric charge to 'stimulate' bathers. An experienced nurse supervised visitors - although people with infectious diseases were not permitted in the bath house. Other popular tourist spas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries included Maldon, Vaughan Springs, Glenlyon, Ballan, Blackwood, Kyneton and Spargo Creek.
While some of Victoria's mineral springs are located on private land, many are protected by public land reserves. Reserves were declared at Hepburn Springs in 1868, at Blackwood in 1879 and at Kyneton in 1913. Extensive mining and timber felling in Central Victoria threatened many springs in the nineteenth century. Nearby mining operations at Hepburn Springs caused the pavilion spring to dry up in 1890 and again in 1911. Flow never resumed and water was later pumped to the pavilion from a nearby spring.
While the popularity of mineral springs declined after the Second World War, they have seen a resurgence of interest in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the historically important spa towns are still popular Victorian visitor destinations.