Then to bed. To sleep and dream until 3.00AM for this was the peak of the Eta Aquariid meteor storm. This is debris from Halley’s Comet. This little time lapse was shot in Victoria’s Western District from about 4am until just before dawn. The sky is at it’s most frenetic just as Venus comes up behind the gum tree.
So it’s new moon and I’m at the coast. The Night Augmented Reality module of Photopills shows the milky way emblazoned across the night sky with the lighthouse beneath. All that stands between me and a photogasm is a dense layer of cloud. The lights of Warrnambool are a poor substitute …
Isolated locations, slippery and uneven surfaces and the unpredictable nature of the ocean, makes rock fishing the most dangerous sport in Australia. In just eight years, between 1992 and 2000, 74 people drowned while rock fishing just in New South Wales and the numbers are consistently high right around the country.
As beautiful as the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Peterborough is, it does mean that there are no secluded hideaways along the coast. It’s one of Victoria’s top tourist attractions but I can’t help feeling that an inland road with dead end offshoots would have given the magnificent coastline more of a Cornwall feel. For me the adventure starts where the road stops and this road goes on and on.
But at least there is access. Continue west beyond Peterborough and the highway ducks inland. It hits the coast at Warnambool, very settled and domesticated but a good place to see whales in the winter. You can get to the sea again at Port Fairy, more rugged and way more charming. After that access to the coast is extremely limited until you get to Portland. Tourists can look across privately owned farmland to the distant ocean and wonder what they’re missing.
In fact they’re missing scenery that is the equal of the Great Ocean Road.
From the Crags and from Yambuk Lakes you can see Australia’s only off shore volcano, Lady Julia Percy Island. It’s been fairly quiet for the last 6 million years but you could get lucky. The island is home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony – about 27,000 strong. Sea Lions and Elephant Seals are occasional visitors. A number of different sea birds nest there. It’s the long flat topped one on the horizon …
Ship wrecks are a dime a dozen along Victoria’s coast but plane wrecks are not so common. There is a memorial at the Crags to four airmen who lost their lives in 1944. They were the crew of an Avro Anson thought to be looking for submarines. For reasons unknown it failed to return to its base in Mount Gambier. Wreckage was found on Lady Julia Percy Island and in the sea nearby. The bodies of the crew were not found.
The early history of the European settlement of the Victorian coast is shrouded in mystery. Most of the early players came across Bass Strait from Van Dieman’s Land to explore and exploit what was then the Port Philip District of New South Wales. By ship it is less than half the distance from Launceston to any part of the Victorian coast than it is from Sydney. Settlement was forbidden and mostly went undocumented.
Port Fairy gets its name from The Fairy, a cutter that visited the Moyne River in search of fresh water in about 1828. Sealers and whalers from Van Dieman’s Land were probably using the area from about that time on.
There were three islands at the mouth of the Moyne. Some characters named Penny and Reiby established a whaling station on the largest of them.
In 1834 the Henty brothers settled an area about 70 km to the west which would become Portland. They were the first settlers to come to the government’s notice, their presence being discovered by an exploring party commanded by Major Thomas Mitchell. By the time officialdom, in the form of Foster Fyans reached the area in 1839 there was already a settlement at Port Fairy catching whales and growing potatoes. Captain Foster Fyans, magistrate and Commissioner for Crown Lands arrived in Geelong in 1837 charged with the virtually impossible task of overseeing the orderly settlement of all of south west Victoria. Geelong and Portland are 240 km apart. Fyans and his party made the first recorded overland journey between the two.
In 1835 a gentleman named John Griffiths purchased the whaling station at the mouth of the Moyne and the island acquired his name. The station operated until about 1843 by which time Southern Right Whales were too scarce to warrant such an establishment. But as whaling declined the importance of the port increased.
Melbourne was also pioneered by adventurers from Van Dieman’s Land. The founding of a town wasn’t approved until 1837. Until Melbourne eclipsed it Port Fairy was the busiest port in the district. It remained busy until 1960 when the harbour at Portland opened for business. It still is a working port – 30 tonnes of squid were landed during my stay.
Victoria gained its independence from New South Wales in 1851. Van Dieman’s Land became Tasmania in 1856.
A lighthouse was built on Rabbit Island in 1859. Various improvements were made to the mouth of the river which combined with natural build up of sand caused Rabbit, Goat and Griffiths Islands to coalesce into one, still known as Griffiths Island.
The lighthouse was manned by two keepers until it was automated in 1954. The keepers’ cottages were demolished soon after but some plants from their garden linger on.
The island is home base for a colony of Short-tailed Shearwaters. They nest in burrows during the summer. They spend the remainder of the year on an extraordinary journey that takes them way into the northern hemisphere.
A stroll around the island takes about 45 minutes. You are quite likely to meet one of these on the way …
In the old joke an Arab goes to Blackpool for his holiday. On his return to the desert he’s asked how it was. He replied “Perfect, it rained every day”
It hasn’t rained at home in the Goldfields for two months, three days in Port Fairy and two cold fronts later has me wondering if the grass will be green by the time I get home. I doubt it but the sea looks even more exciting in a gale …
… and the sun has been out between showers. A bit of bad weather can’t spoil Port Fairy. Stay at Doc’s at the Mill, it’s right on the wharf. You book through Langley’s (03 5568 2899), tell them I sent you and I’ll get a discount next time! A morning walk on East Beach and lunch at Rebecca’s. You can’t beat it.
The mill was built in 1860 and enjoyed a relatively brief career as a steam driven flour mill. It’s right on the wharf and the tallest building in town.
In the evening as the lights come on …
The town is situated where the Moyne River reaches the Southern Ocean. It is one of the oldest settlements in the state of Victoria and was once an important port.
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