A Travellerspoint blog

What a difference a Bay makes

Two peninsulas cradle Port Phillip Bay – two very different stories

sunny 27 °C

The first recorded shot of World War I, the 'Gibraltar of the South', dozens of shipwrecks and entrance to the richest port in the world. All part of European history? Far from it! The other side of the world in fact. Down under, down south and down at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

large_TheRip2.jpg
Port_Phillip_Bay_Aerial2.jpg HeadsMap.jpg

The entrance is a mere three kilometres of deceptive, treacherous water with a navigable channel of only one kilometre…better known locally as “The Rip”. Peninsulas each side of the Rip lay sentinels to Melbourne’s ocean gateway and offer two of Victoria’s most popular and interesting coastal destinations – Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninisula.

With thundering surf on the ocean side and safe, calm water on the Bay side, they could be mirrored reflections of each other. But, the differences are deep and reach far back. As far back in fact, to the origin of the state of Victoria.

In 1803, Sullivan Bay, one kilometre east of Sorrento, was Victoria’s first, and unfortunately very short, European settlement. Under control of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins, the penal settlement was abandoned in less than a year due to the scarcity of fresh water, unsuitable soil, fear of Aborigines, lack of discipline and the escape of many convicts. The settlement was moved to Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, later to be known as Tasmania. One escaped convict was William Buckley who lived with aborigines for more than thirty years on the opposite peninsula.

large_800px-Fred..ckley__1861.jpg
Frederick William Woodhouse, The first settlers discover Buckley, 1861, State Library of Victoria

From Van Diemen’s Land, a young settler by the name of John Batman led an expedition back to the Port Phillip Bay area, and laid the founding stone of Melbourne in 1835. This meant Sorrento was again settled by Europeans. The grab for land claims and family holdings, of which many still remain, are the reason Sorrento is like it is today.

On the other side of the Bay, in 1853, Lieut. Governor La Trobe named the fishing village, Queenscliff . As the town prospered it was proclaimed as the Borough of Queenscliffe – the added’ e’ is now only used in reference to the Borough.

large_Borough_head.jpg

It soon became clear by the growing number of ships being wrecked, the Rip – named after the combination of tidal turbulence and dramatic variations of depth – was, and still is, one of the most hazardous channels in the world.

E3AC3E0A2219AC6817C2CCD43DE7EE48.jpg E3AC988D2219AC681759B8517DB69267.jpg
Marine disaster bell, Queenscliff and the wrecked SS Cheviot breaking up at Point Nepean in1887.
Thirty-five lives were lost making it the worst shipwreck in Victoria's history.

To protect the vital shipping for this growing colony, each ship needed directing through these dangerous waters. In 1838, four men risked their lives by venturing out in an open whaleboat to steer ships through the Rip. This was the start of the pilot service that continues to this day. No longer in open whaleboats, but in fast, sleek, bright orange boats equipped with the latest technology. Despite the heroic efforts of the earlier pilots, more than 100 shipwrecks lay beneath the waves in this area of coastline.

large_RIP_disaster.jpg
An artists impression of the Sea Pilot's worst disaster when the pilot schooner Rip capsized in 1873 killing the pilot and three crewmen.

Pilot_b_house.jpg Pilot_boats.jpg
A modern pilot boat heading out to the Heads and their berth at Queenscliff Harbour.

While the marine importance of Queenscliff was to set its character, a more important role would establish its style.

"Gold!" The word cried out around the burgeoning state. Gold seemed to be everywhere creating vast riches. At the height of the Gold Rush, Melbourne was the richest port in the world which meant a greater need for defence. A list was established of potential external enemies with plunder on their minds and an easy escape through the lightly defended Heads of Port Phillip.

large_An_Austral..ld_Diggings.jpg
An Australian Gold Diggings, Edwin Stockqueler, 1855, National Gallery of Australia

It was recommended in 1877, that fortification on both sides of the entrance to Port Phillip was of utmost importance. Queenscliff had, at that stage, a small contingent of army personnel to protect the growing pilot and customs activities as well as the vital lighthouse. The main fort was built on Shortland Bluff overlooking Queenscliff, which, to this day, is Australia’s largest preserved fort. Another fortification was established at Swan Island, situated just inside the bay, and others at Portsea and Point Nepean on the other side of the Rip.

large_Fort1.jpg
Fort Queenscliff.
The Black Lighthouse in the background is built of black stone and one of only three black lighthouses in the world.

By 1886 the initial defence of Port Phillip was complete and regarded as the most heavily fortified port of the British Empire in the Southern Hemisphere – The Gibraltar of the South.

The establishment of Fort Queenscliff brought new growth and wealth to this seaside village. The military personnel had to be catered for and the added protection enticed new businesses that led to Queenscliff becoming a holiday resort.

At Portsea and Sorrento, the story was similar. The added protection of the Landed Gentry, made Sorrento the favoured, fashionable escape for the ‘rich and famous’.

E3AD9E722219AC681756CCDE0735EFC0.jpg E3AE3ECA2219AC6817D05D937688B975.jpg
Affluence lines the foreshore from Portsea to Sorrento.

The wealth from gold and business successes allowed more time for excursions and relaxation. This created new enterprises. Paddle steamers joined the trading schooners that linked Melbourne to Queenscliff and Sorrento, the forerunners of the little steamers of Port Phillip Bay.

large_Ozone_Painting.jpg
Ozone passing Pile Light, Port Phillip (Unknown c.1910).

on_ferry_circa1920.jpg
Passengers on steamer ferry, circa 1920, Museum Victoria

Grand hotels were erected to cater for the visiting ‘well-heeled’ pleasure seekers. Music and gaiety, mixed with the invigorating sea air, established the southern-most part of Port Phillip Bay as the Queen of Watering Places. The hotels are still there, and most certainly, the reputation has survived.

large_Continental1.jpg
Continental Hotel, Sorrento

large_VueGrand.jpg
Vue Grand Hotel, Queenscliff

large_Q_cliffHotel.jpg
Queenscliff Hotel, Queenscliff

A trip ‘down the Bay’ from Melbourne was a great delight. The wealthy purchased land and encouraged their professional friends to follow suit. Sorrento, in particular, made the most of this wealthy occupation, and continues to do so. Queenscliff also attracted the wealthy, but remained a fishing village offering safe anchorage for visiting yachts.

large_Boatshed_towers.jpg
Boat shed and Queenscliff Pier

Boats.jpg Port_tower.jpg
Queenscliff Harbour

In 1914, these peaceful, romantic destinations were to enter the annals of war.

At midnight GMT on the night of August 4, declaration of war was made in Europe. As news of war reached Australia twelve hours later, a German steamer, the Pfalz, was rushing to reach the Heads and open sea. Not being fully coaled up, the Pfalz was approaching Sorrento when the order was given to halt the German steamer. The captain of the Pfalz ignored signals from Fort Nepean to stop until a shot was fired across the vessel’s bow – the first recorded shot of WWI.

SS-Pfalz.jpeg
SS Pfalz

History has a habit of repeating itself, and so it was to happen again, though less dramatic, at the beginning of the World War II.

On September 4, 1939, a small Bass Strait freighter, the Woniora, attempted to enter Port Phillip Bay without responding with a code word of a friendly ship. A warning shot was fired – the first official Australian shot of WWII. The Woniora quickly identified itself and was allowed to proceed through the Heads.

Peace returned and Queenscliff went into a state of dormancy as the popularity of the motor car opened up new holiday destinations further and further from Melbourne. This resulted in preserving the 19th century atmosphere of the unique fishing and maritime hamlet – its greatest asset.
Rather than slumbering, Sorrento took a short nap during this car invasion. Being populated mostly by wealthy land owners, the car took on a new role. The relatively short drive from Melbourne meant Sorrento was to become the ‘weekender’ haven.

The pleasure still remains in capturing the unique relationship between these two guardians of Melbourne’s ocean gateway. Both an easy ninety-minute drive from Melbourne, or alternatively, train to Frankston then bus to Sorrento or Train to Geelong and bus to Queenscliff. A car ferry operates every hour during daylight hours between Queenscliff and Sorrento. The forty-five minute drip is comfortable, scenic and quite often accompanied by playful dolphins.

B80FEA202219AC6817C84220800C652F.jpg Ferry_Sorrento2.jpg
The Searoad car ferry on the water and at Sorrento

Station2.jpg TrainStation.jpg
Queenscliff Station was once on a branch line from Geelong.
It is now run by volunteers operating a tourist train to Drysdale and the popular Blues Train.

Both Queenscliff and Sorrento have a range of accommodation to suit any budget. Some of the old hotels are restored to their original grandeur and offer excellent weekend deals.

Dining is one activity that blends the locals with visitors. This is more evident in Sorrento. Here, meeting your neighbour for coffee or having an alfresco lunch on the sunny sidewalk with weekend guests is the norm.

alfresco.jpg
churchdining.jpg PuntRoad.jpg

Queenscliff dining is more indoors. The wide streets are more for traffic than eating. A reflection of the fact that this is still a working village. But dining here is no less an experience. In fact, the elegant grand hotel dining rooms offer an ambience that absorbs you into the regions historical significance.

HesseSt.jpg TheQ_Inn.jpg
Hesse Street, Queenscliff and The Queenscliff Inn

People on both sides of the Bay are at peace with their minds and their stomachs.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

IMAGES OF SORRENTO

large_Sorrento_jetty1.jpg
Jetty-side_hotel.jpg bandstand.jpg
Streetscape.jpg street_benches.jpg
pier_boats.jpg passing_ship.jpg
fishing.jpg ViaSorrento.jpg

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

IMAGES OF QUEENSCLIFF

park_b_house.jpg
PostOffice.jpg Seaview_Gallery.jpg
BookSeller.jpg Church.jpg
ladyFishing.jpg BoatShed_ferry.jpg Beach_ferry.jpg
MaratimeMuseum.jpg rope.jpg
Queenscliff Maritime Museum

large_Ferry_heads.jpg

According to the 2011 Census, the Mornington Peninsula had grown to 144,608 residents made up of 39,201 families and 83,526 private dwellings. The Bellarine Peninsula (including the Surf Coast) falls well short with 60,584 residents, 16,524 families and 38,065 private dwellings.

Posted by DenOS.08 21:12 Archived in Australia Tagged churches boats trains melbourne victoria restaurant cruises museum dining transportation seaside sorrento peninsula car_ferry queenscliff alfresco port_phillip_bay pilot_boats

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Comments

What an extraordinary post – thank you for sharing! I'm Geelong born but did not know the details of Queenscliff's history.

by KellieBarnes

Very interesting comparison of the two towns -- Melbourne people should know more about this history. Thanks for telling us about it and showing those great pictures!

by ZooMouche7

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint