BATTERY HILL & THE MOYNE RIVER - WORTHY OF EXPLORATIONby PORT FAIRY & REGION VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
Come along with our VIC Tour Guide and enjoy one of the many picturesque walks around historic Port Fairy!
Located across the bridge from Port Fairy's picturesque harbour, Battery Hill is worthy of exploration, with cannons and fortifications positioned here in 1887 to protect the town from the then perceived threat of Russian warships.
We start our tour outside the Port Fairy Information Centre.
Of course you don’t have to start here – you can join our walk anywhere along the path to Battery Hill and the mouth of the Moyne River.
Here is the front door to our Visitor Information Centre in Port Fairy on Bank Street.
Normally there are many people walking in and out of the centre … but not at the present time!
Before we start our walk let’s remember the first people to live in this area of Port Fairy – the Gunditjmara. This Memorial stone near the Visitor Information Centre has the following inscription reminding us about what happened to many of them soon after the arrival of European settlers:
“In memory of the thousands of Aboriginal People who were massacred between 1837 and 1844 in this area of Port Fairy. Today we pay our respects to them for the unnecessary sacrifices they made. Your spirit still lives on within our people. Wuwuurk.”
This sign tells us that a wealthy Irishman by the name of James Atkinson was granted 5,120 acres of land in this area of Port Fairy for the very reasonable price of one pound per acre!
(Atkinson also bought land in other parts of the colony – he had serious “land hunger”!)
In 1843 Atkinson started drawing up plans to build a town he called Belfast.
In the background you can see what is left of our train station in Port Fairy – the Railway shed. The railway arrived in Port Fairy in 1890. Unfortunately it was removed in 1977 – just when Port Fairy was taking off as a major tourist destination after running water, flushing toilets and a music festival arrived in the town!!
On the other side of Bank Street from the Information Centre you can see the open space where the railway continued on its way to the wharf on the Moyne River.
The railway line crossed over Gipps Street and Cox Street.
Let’s start our tour by walking down Bank Street towards Gipps Street.
Gipps Street is named after Sir George Gipps who was Governor of New South Wales from 1839 to 1846.
It was Gipps who granted Atkinson his Special Survey of 5,120 acres and the rest as they say is history!
The red building at the end of the street is Goble’s Mill. It has become an Essendon supporter’s shrine as AFL legend John Coleman’s father managed a Cream and Butter factory on the site.
Apparently John Coleman kicked his first goal in Port Fairy – right through the left window on the ground floor of Goble’s Mill!
Travelling south along Gipps Street we can see Norfolk Island pines lining either side of the street.
The early settlers cleared the area of all the vegetation and then started planting pine trees!
The Norfolk Island pine trees along Gipps Street were planted around 1900.
The first Norfolk Island pine tree was planted in 1848 behind this house at 64 Gipps Street. Unfortunately it was cut down in the 1960s! The town is still pining for that lost tree!
61 & 63 Gipps Street: Notice something odd about these two prefabricated houses from the 1850s? Yes – they share a chimney and if you look carefully their weatherboards are of different widths. Building materials were scarce in the 1850s and particularly bricks.
How do you overcome that problem?
Simple – you share a chimney with your next door neighbour!
57 & 59 Gipps Street: In the early days of Belfast the river bank was not a desirable place to live. Children who did live there were often referred to as ‘river rats’ as there was always a problem with vermin.
Today is a different story and properties on the river bank sell for seven figure sums!
Here is the entrance to the pathway leading to the footbridge over the Moyne River.
The reason for the warning on the left is that the river is quite shallow near the bridge.
In the early days of the town there was another danger – sharks!
Sharks were often seen cruising up and down the Moyne River feeding on the rubbish that the early settlers dumped into the river!
Wow – it doesn’t get much better than this!!
Here is a spectacular view of the Moyne River looking south towards the wharf from the footbridge. Picture postcard perfect!
The view looking north towards the car bridge is pretty cool too!
Notice the big chunk that has been cut out of the river bank on the left?
In the days when steam packet ships sailed up the river, the river wasn’t wide enough to allow the ships to turn around easily.
So they “took a big bite” out of the bank and called it a “swinging basin”!
Here’s a closer look at the “swinging basin” and the marina.
Famous steam ships like the SS Casino and SS Coramba sailed up the Moyne River and were able to turn around using the ”swinging basin”.
Turning right from the path and looking back at the footbridge we have just walked over.
Not the most aesthetically pleasing bridge … if we are being honest!
Apparently, a previous bridge was more attractive but was destroyed during the 1946 flood.
During this major flood the river level rose by about three meters to the height of the bridge!
Needless to say most of the town was flooded too – right up to ”The Stump Inn” on James Street!
The marina has a great range of vessels – mainly pleasure craft. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a couta boat. Couta boats are a wooden boat with a curved bowsprit – you can’t miss it when you see one.
Up until the 1920s the Moyne River had a fleet of about 30-40 couta boats as they were the most popular fishing boats at the time. Port Fairy’s fishing fleet was one of the largest in the state.
This old wagon on Charles Mills Park has seen better days!
But in the early days of the town these bullock wagons were vital to the trade on the wharf as they were the principle means of transporting cargo to and from the wharf.
The boat launching slipway is usually a busy place most days.
Port Fairy is one of the most popular recreational fishing places in Victoria!
Let’s walk south along Griffiths Street and see what we can find!
Griffiths Street was named after John Griffiths who established the first successful whaling station in Port Fairy in the mid 1830s. Whereabouts?
On Griffiths Island of course!!
This impressive “little” cannon - wearing its favourite red colour – was sent down to Port Fairy in the 1880s to help protect the coast of Victoria from the possibility of an invasion by the Russian Pacific Fleet!
Not sure what sort of damage our little red friend could inflict though!
Maybe chip some paint off a warship?
Guess what the blue fishing ship fishes for?
Hint: see the set of hanging lights on board? Yep – these fishermen catch squid!
The other main catches today are shark, abalone, crayfish and barracouta.
Guess which building stores a life boat and a rocket launcher?
The bluestone building on the left has the equipment from the early days when people had to be rescued from ships in the bay. By firing a rocket - which had a rope attached – it could help rescue people aboard a floundering ship.
The curved roof building on the right contains a lifeboat that was never used to save a single life!
But it is famously historical!
Before the river became the port in Port Fairy in 1872, the bay was used as the port – the river was too shallow!
A tramway connected the bay to the river for transporting people and cargo.
The boat launching slipway you can see is the place where the tramway met the river.
A tramway bridge was built over the river from here.
Finally – we made it!
This is where the “big boys” are found – 68 and 80 pounder cannons.
That would have scared off the Russians wouldn’t it?
Only problem was … they didn’t work – they were very old and past it!
The other cannons will be returning… soon!
But all is not lost! During January each year this cannon is fired every Sunday morning.
Although the cannon doesn’t fire cannon balls - I hasten to add!
If it did your leisurely stroll round Griffiths Island might be rudely interrupted!
Great views of Port Fairy Bay from the top of Battery Hill can be enjoyed!
Griffiths Island close by, beyond the river, and Warrnambool in the far distance.
More of the same – and this time Tower Hill can be seen in the distance.
Now looking southwest across the Moyne River and towards … the Great Southern Ocean!
A picturesque spot to take a break from our walk and enjoy the vista of the Moyne river and wharf!
Here’s where the southwest passage - seen on the far right - joins the mouth of the Moyne River.
Griffiths Island’s major sand dunes can be seen on the left. And a lonely Norfolk Island pine tree!
The training walls of the river were constructed about 1870 to extend the river mouth into the bay and control the silting up of the river mouth to allow ships to sail up the river.
Looking back over the mouth of the Moyne River to Martin’s Point.
The grove of Norfolk Island pines is a rarity in this region and the trees were planted in 1939.
The Port Fairy Preserving Factory, or the Rabbit Factory, operated on this site producing cans of tinned rabbit meat as well as fish, poultry and vegetables.
Rabbits were in plague proportions prior to the 1946 flood, but then vast numbers drowned!
Blasting away the bluestone reefs from the mouth of the Moyne River required dynamite! Dynamite needed to be carefully stored in the bluestone Powder Magazine building.
Not a place to have a quiet cigarette! You might go up in a puff!
Coastal tea-tree vegetation below Battery Hill and along the bank of the Moyne River.
Close up view of the southwest passage as it joins the mouth of the Moyne River.
For many years it was it was an accepted historical fact that Captain James Wishart sailed up
the Moyne River in 1810 and named the area Port Fairy after his ship the Fairy.
Wrong!! Today we know that it was Henry Wishart and the year was 1828!
Also he couldn’t have sailed up the river because it was too shallow! But he did name the area Port Fairy!
Close up view of the training wall and the sand dunes on Griffiths Island.
Two landings on the river as we approach the mouth of the river.
On the far side of the bank is the entrance to the viewing platform where Mutton birds, also called
Short-tailed Shearwater birds, can be watched when they return to their burrows each evening.
They fly back to feed their chick in its burrow from September to April each year.
The extended entrance to the Moyne River created by the two training walls.
Tower Hill, the extinct volcano, can be seen in the distance.
Looking back down the river as we turn around and make our way back to the Visitor Information Centre.
Let’s go back a different way?!
Take the track to the right and we can discover and explore the
famously beautiful East Beach!
View from the seat you can see on the left side of the track in the previous photograph.
Beautiful views of the bay, training walls and Tower Hill in the distance can be enjoyed …
while you take a well-earned break from the walking tour!
And here is the start of the East Beach!
Battery Hill can be seen in the background.
Do you remember a previous photograph showing the slipway where the tramline and tram bridge crossed the Moyne River?
It was through this cutting in the sand dune below Battery Hill that the tramline originated.
This photograph looks directly out into Port Fairy Bay in front of the tramline cutting in the previous photograph.
In the 1860s a 600 foot pier was built in this part of the bay to connect with the tramline.
But it was useless!! Why? Because it was built in the shallowest part of the bay and large ships couldn’t sail anywhere near it to unload people and cargo!!
A picture perfect day – clear blue sky, expansive sandy beach, calm blue waters, and the beautiful Griffiths Island in the background with the lighthouse peeping out!
Doesn’t get much better, does it?
Another great sight along the East Beach looking north towards the Surf Lifesaving Club.
The groynes in the distance are a guide to a couple of important shipwrecks found in Port Fairy Bay. Looking directly right from the first groyne, about 100 meters into the bay is where the Thistle sank in 1837. The Thistle is probably Victoria’s most famous ship. The Henty family sailed in it to Portland Bay to set up the first permanent settlement in Victoria in 1834. Further north of the Thistle is the wreck of the Essington which was part owned by one of the famous Mills brothers – Captain John Mills.
This where we leave the East Beach and head back to Griffiths Street on our way back to the Information Centre.
For those of you who may need a comfort stop and maybe a shower after a swim there are changing rooms and toilet facilities at the top of Rogers Place.
Next to the Public Facilities is a small recreational area - Apex Park - so you can sit down, enjoy a relaxing break, have a rest and enjoy a flask of coffee?!
If you remembered to bring one!
Walk down the hill and you’re back on Griffiths Street. Turn right and head back towards the footbridge.
Here we are - nearly back to where we started! We’re sure you know your way back to the VIC from here!
We hope you enjoyed your walk and that our ‘Fun with History” Pictorial Guide was
helpful, interesting and a bit of fun!!
Happy walking and exploring around Port Fairy!
The narrative, descriptions, historical information and photographs supplied by Glen Foster, Volunteer Tour guide at the Port Fairy & Region Visitor Information Centre.