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Queenscliff, Maritime Town in Victoria
The Town of Queenscliff
The town of Queenscliff is situated on the Bellarine Peninsula, south of Swan Bay and close to Point Lonsdale at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, Australia. The permanent population is only around one and a half thousand, but it is a very popular tourist destination.
Queenscliff has always had a special place in my heart as it is where one of my grandfathers, Thomas Bate, first landed in Victoria. I have his notebook and in it he wrote "Arrived Queens Cliff Feb. 26, 1884, Melbourne Feb. 27, 1884, got work on 29, started March 3, Joining Hotham at Thurgoods." I have never been able to discover which ship he arrived on, so possibly he travelled as the ship's carpenter and was not on a passenger list. He had done an apprenticeship at the Plymouth Dockyards in England and after coming to Australia studied architecture.
By the time that my grandfather arrived, Queenscliff was well settled.
- 1836: Squatters had begun taking up land there in 1836 and it was first named Whale Head, because of the shape of a particular bluff there. Whale Head grew into a fishing village and then developed into a cargo port for steamships that plied around the bay.
- 1841: A pilot service for ships entering Port Phillip Bay began.
- 1853: The village was renamed Queenscliff near the beginning of the gold rush.
- 1863: By 1863, following a number of shipwrecks on the rocks at the Heads, the narrow entrance into Port Phillip Bay between Point Nepean on the Mornington Peninsula and Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine peninsula, two lighthouses had been built. The most usual way of travelling to Melbourne soon came to be by the paddle steamer, the Ozone, as this only took a couple of hours. This convenient method of travel made Queenscliff a popular destination for holidays.
- 1879: By 1879, a railway had been built to Geelong, so passengers could travel to Geelong and then change trains to reach Queenscliff. This resulted in more tourists and the building of more guest-houses and hotels.
- 1889: To protect the Bay from invasion, a fort was commenced in 1879, and was completed in 1889, so by the time my grandfather arrived, the fort was well under way, there were several places to stay, and a choice of transport to Melbourne.
A very elderly man I knew years ago told me how, as a boy, his whole household travelled by the Ozone to their holiday house in Queenscliff each year for the summer. The day before, their horses, trunks and some of the servants were sent to air the house and prepare for their arrival. On the day, the family, with the children and their Nanny, embarked for their exciting trip. Sometimes the sea could be quite rough. Their time there, with the relaxed discipline, was the highlight of their young lives.
Queenscliff: a Maritime Town
Queenscliff gradually declined as a holiday destination and the railway was closed in 1976.
The town is now popular again with tourists. It has a delightful maritime ambience with its fishermen's cottages, wonderful seafood restaurants that serve fresh seafood as it is still home to a fishing fleet, accommodation ranging from spacious luxury hotels to bed and breakfast places, and, of course the boatyards and the Maritime Museum.
The Queenscliff Pier and the Ferry Terminal
The Queenscliff Pier used to be where the boats came in. It is quite accessible and is very popular for people with fishing lines and rods, or for others who enjoy simply standing and watching them. Catches include sweet flathead and squid, as can be seen by the many dried 'ink' marks on the timbers of the jetty.
Close by is the terminal of the Searoad ferry. This has a very busy timetable in the summer months, although it sails all year around. One of the things I enjoy doing with overseas visitors is a day trip around the Bay.
- I begin from Melbourne and follow the road to Geelong, then on the Bellarine Highway to Queenscliff for a seafood lunch.
- Afterwards we drive onto the ferry and are taken across to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula.
- We may stop there or in Rye for afternoon tea before continuing on back to Melbourne. It makes a delightful day out, especially if the weather is fine and the sea calm.
Queenscliff's Maritime Museum
There is much to see at the Queenscliff Maritime Museum, which is within easy walking distance from the main part of the town and can be visited after a stroll along the pier.
From among the items on display I have photographs of a bathing box. These were very popular in the Victorian era and, after a time of decline, have become expensive to own. They may be seen, painted in brighter colours than they ever knew in their heyday, in many seaside towns around the Bay. When I was a child, my grandparents had one in Half Moon Bay. It was very useful as deck chairs, a game of quoits, a small canoe, picnic things and a small stove were all stored there, ready for fun on the beach, and there was a curtained corner for changing.
In Queenscliff oday there are many facilities for holiday makers and tourists, ranging from three museums, bicycles to hire for exploring the surrounding district, a Golf Club at Swan Island, an aquarium, art galleries, historical churches, and the extensive Fort even now offers accommodation as well as a museum, tours and lovely views. The shops are interesting, some of them selling goods and sweets that we mostly think of as belonging to yesteryear, items that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.
Queenscliff also boasts a Seafood Feast held once a year on Good Friday, to raise funds for the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, and an annual Music Festival, also held annually - on the last weekend of November.
Finally, I just had to add the photo below. Although the sea is not very far away, I think it might be very dangerous indeed to attempt to dive within 250 mtrs of this float!