Although all of early settlements along the Southern coast of Australia relied totally on the sea, today there are very few remnants of our seafaring past left, in fact there are only two townships remaining which could be described as historic fishing villages, and in both cases they are towns which have suffered misfortunes, which have crippled their growth and left them as the time capsules we see today
Port Fairy is one such example and the area around King George square in Port Fairy is a typical picture postcard view of a seaside fishing village of the 1870's, with clusters of century old buildings and a multitude of sailing vessels moored at the pier.
Port Fairy started life in the 1830's as one of Victoria's first settlements and grew steadily as new settlers arrived, however in 1843, just as the town was beginning to prosper it fell into private ownership. The new owners James Atkinson and William Rutledge set about improving the port facilities and layout out their vision of a new township, and everything seemed to be going nicely, until 1862 when James Atkinson died and later that year the company run by William Rutledge was declared bankrupt which dealt a crippling blow to the new township.
After James Atkinson's death the family held onto his estate and all building and investment ceased, and it was not until 1886 that freehold land became available to purchase. By then settlers has moved away to other towns in the region and virtually all growth in the town came to a halt. Port Fairy today is almost the same size it was in 1860. The events which slowed Port Fairy’s growth has created a quiet seaside fishing village that now attracts visitors looking for relaxing holidays by the sea.
In the past few decades, Port Fairy has also attracted many retirees looking to retire in a quiet seaside community, with the result that Port Fairy now has a distinct over 50’s feel, which reflects in the attractions and activities around the town. There are book fairs, classical music weekends, lots of antique shops and coffee and cake restaurants
Robe was officially proclaimed in 1847, and named after Major Frederick Holt Robe, Governor of South Australia, who had selected the site in 1846. Soon after the town was proclaimed, woolgrowers moved in and the surrounding area became dotted with homesteads. Business was brisk and bullock teams, bringing in the wool or wheat were a common sight. In the late 1850's, during the Victorian gold rush , approximately 17,000 Chinese landed in Robe on their way to the Victorian diggings. They preferred to walk the 150 km to the gold fields across the Victorian border and avoid paying $20 tax, which they would have to pay if they had disembarked in Melbourne. The town grew quickly and many fine building were erected in the anticipation of continued prosperity. The decline in the Gold rush and the decision not to bring the railway line to Robe bought development in Robe to a standstill. Today many of Robes fine historic buildings survive and in terms of the number of historically important buildings recognised by the National Trust, Robe ranks foremost in South Australia. Robe has become a very popular seaside resort but fortunately the new development are away from the centre of the township, which has managed to retain is historic idenity
It is probably a bit of a stretch to describe Port Campbell as an historic fishing village, as there is virtually nothing historic in the town and with only one fishing boat operating from Port Campbell the term fishing village is a bit of an exaggeration. However the township still manages to preserve the small seaside village atmosphere.
The name of the bay dates back to the 1830’s when Captain Alexander Campbell was working for the Henty Brother sailing cargo and supplies between their main base in Launceston to their outlying settlements at Portland Bay, Port Fairy and King island.
Story has it that during one of these trip he encountered a storm at took shelter in a small bay about 70 kilometres west of Port Fairy, however there are rumours that he had used this bay quite frequently and not all of the cargo he carried actually reached its destination. It either case his exploits went undetected and he has been remembered with the naming of a street in Port Fairy and more importantly the naming of a village which lies close to one of Australia’s most recognisable tourist icons
By the mid 1840’s farming had commenced on land surrounding the bay but it was 1875 before the township of Port Campbell was surveyed and 1880 before was any houses were built. For the next 100 plus years it remained a small fishing village and the population never grew beyond a few hundred people.
While not strictly not a village, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is a very accurate recreation of what would have been like in the 1870’s in many of the coastal towns along the Southern coast of Australia, it is also Warrnambool’s major tourist attraction.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime village is similar to Sovereign Hill in its presentation but on a smaller scale, and heads the list of Warrnambool’s “must see” attractions, It was established during the 1970’s to serve two roles, the first as a local tourist attraction and also to preserve the maritime history of the rugged ( and dangerous) coastline along the Great Ocean Road.
The village is a recreation of what a typical coastal port would have looked like during the 1870’s and while quite a lot of the buildings are new, there are a number of historic buildings that have been dismantled and reassembled on the Flagstaff Hill site. Highlites include the original lighthouse, plus the lighthouse keeper's cottage and chartroom which were moved here from Middle Island in 1872, and you can see the original cannon and fortifications built in 1887 to withstand the perceived thread of Russian invasion.