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Disaster Tourism Spots in Victoria

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is a retired accountant and a photography enthusiast living on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. Gayle is passionate about writing and keen to showcase Aussie culture to a global audience. Gayle loves her family, dogs, sunsets, and chocolate.
Published August 12th 2016
Visiting the Remnants of Disasters That Shaped Our History
Disaster Tourism Spots in Victoria
What is disaster tourism? Wikipedia defines it as "the act of traveling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity." It's leisure travel to disaster zones and although it does happen I am not suggesting travelling to the scenes of current disasters; let's leave that to the affected folks and the emergency services assisting them.It is suggested that the premier disaster tourist destination is Pompeii, the remains of the ancient Italian city buried in volcanic lava and ash in 79 A.D. But if Italy isn't on your agenda, Victoria has its own disaster tourism sites. Here are just a few to whet your appetite.

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Blood on the Southern Cross Sound and Light Show (Photo from Sovereign Hill Facebook Page)


No. 20 Coal Shaft Explosion (1937)

In 1937 a horrific explosion rocked the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine, taking the lives of 37 men. The explosion was thought to have been triggered when an open flame light ignited coal dust and methane gas. In a horrible twist of fate the men killed were not mine workers but were a team of Deputies and the Undermanager of the No. 20 Shaft who had gone to inspect the mine. The workers were on strike. The accident paved the way for the introduction of safety helmets and electric lights.

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The Wonthaggi State Coal Mine c1920-1954 (Photo in the Public Domain via State Library of Victoria)

A monument to the 1937 disaster and to an earlier explosion in 1931 which killed 4 men has been erected on the Bass Highway at South Dudley, just before entering Wonthaggi from the west. The monument, set in the hillside, takes on the appearance of a dual entrance to the underground. Tourist signs mark the spot.

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The two plaques commemorating the 1931 and 1937 explosions at Number 20 Coal Shaft (Photo from www.monumentaustralia.org.au)

After you've taken in the monument drive on to Wonthaggi to the State Coal Mine Heritage Area. Here Parks Victoria maintains the only coal mine experience in the Southern Hemisphere. An underground tour into the tunnels gives and insight into the working conditions in the early 1900's and allows visitors to examine the coal face up close. Above ground are heritage buildings including a residence, workshops, tack rooms, wash rooms and railway memorabilia including steam engines. The visitor centre includes a theatrette, a museum and a café. Employee records can be searched. Did your relative work at the mine?

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Inside the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in 2015 on the Underground Tour (Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge)

The Wonthaggi State Coal Mine Heritage Precinct is open 10am to 4pm daily with mine tours running at 11.30am and 2.00pm. Additional tours run in school holidays. It is closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Anzac Day. The Park is at Garden St, Wonthaggi VIC 3995. They can be contacted on (03) 5672 3053. More details and on-line bookings can be found on the Parks Victoria website. Wonthaggi is around one and half hours from the Melbourne CBD via the South Gippsland and Bass Highways.

The Wreck of the Paddle Steamer Clonmel (1841)

In 1841 the PS Clonmel ran aground near Port Albert on the Victorian coast at what is now called Clonmel Island. The PS Clonmel was among the last paddle steamers to be constructed of wood rather than iron and one of the first steam-powered vessels on the Australian Coast. She was a luxury passenger steamer intended to ply the sea-route between Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston.

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The makeshift huts of the survivors of the wreck of the paddle steamer Clonmel (Drawing by Robert Russell, April 1841 From the State Library of Victoria's Manuscripts Collection)

The passengers escaped the wreck and reached shore where they established a makeshift camp. They were subsequently rescued taking with them tales of a viable port and arable land. This led to the formation of the Gipps Land Company and so as a result of the wrecking of the PS Clonmel, East Gippsland was opened up for trade and pastoral settlement.

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Divers beware treacherous conditions at the wreck of the PS Clonmel (Photo in the Public Domain via Pixabay)

The wreck of PS Clonmel is considered to be one of the most significant archaeological sites in Victoria. The steamer's flue type boiler, which is exposed at low water is believed to be the only example of its kind in Australia. A 50 metre Protected Zone has been declared around the boiler. A permit from Heritage Victoria is required for access.

Most of the wreck now lies buried in the eastern sand bars outside the mouth of Port Albert. Divers beware; these are treacherous waters with poor visibility. Diving the wreck should be restricted to slack water on calm days. Click here for the precise location of the wreck site.

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Shipwreck artefacts at the Port Albert maritime Museum (Photo from Discover Wellington Gippsland Facebook Page)

The Port Albert Maritime Museum houses artefacts and relics not only from the PS Clonmel but also from the Blackbird, the Cambridge and the Gulf of Carpentaria. The museum runs a sound and light show titled 'Shipwreck Alley' in which some of the artefacts are featured. The museum also houses many exhibits relating to Gippsland maritime history, past and present. A relatively new exhibition details 40 years of Bass Strait oil and gas exploration.

The Port Albert Maritime Museum is open daily from 1st September to 31sy May inclusive, 10.00am - 4.00pm. From 1st June to 31st August it is open only on weekends, public holidays and school holidays, 10.00am - 4.00pm. Entry costs (August 2016) are Adults: $6.00, Concession: $5.00and Children: $1.00. The museum is at 78 Tarraville Rd, Port Albert VIC 3971. They can be contacted via their website or by telephoning (03) 5183 2520. Port Albert is around 3 hours' drive from the Melbourne CBD via the South Gippsland Highway.

The Rebellion at the Eureka Stockade (1854)

In 1854 the 25,000 diggers working claims on the Ballarat goldfields were subjected to twice-weekly mining licence checks. This onerous expense and corruption amongst law enforcement officers led to an uprising of the miners. The diggers demanded the abolition of mining licences and the vote for all men. At a meeting on 29th November the diggers burnt their licences and for the first time the Southern Cross Flag, also known as the Eureka Flag was flown.

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Miners meeting at the Eureka Stockade (Image by Charles Doudiet - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The situation worsened and on 30th November 1854, under the leadership of Peter Lalor, the diggers marched to the Eureka diggings where they erected the makeshift wooden barricade that we now know as the Eureka Stockade. On 3rd December, 22 diggers and five troops were killed in the confrontation that ensued. To learn more of the history and why the Eureka Stockade is claimed to be the birthplace of Australian Democracy head to Ballarat.

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'Blood on the Southern Cross' Sound and Light Show (Photo from Sovereign Hill Facebook Page)

Sovereign Hill runs an evening sound and light show titled Blood on the Southern Cross which tells the story of the Eureka Stockade. The open-air show takes place across the site with most of the show at the recreated Free Trade Hotel and Eureka Diggings. The show can be packaged other Sovereign Hill attractions. Sovereign Hill is in Bradshaw Street, Ballarat. They can be contacted via their website or by telephoning (03) 5337 1199.

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The remains of Southern Cross Flag on display at M.A.D.E. (Photo from Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka Facebook Page)

The Museum for Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E.) has been erected on the site of the 1854 Rebellion. It not only details and remembers the story of the Eureka Stockade and its part in Australian democracy but explores democracy and people's rights the world over. Also on display at M.A.D.E. are the remains of the Southern Cross Flag, the very flag raised at the Eureka Stockade. M.A.D.E is at 102 Stawell Street, Ballarat. They can be contacted via their website or by telephoning (03) 1800 287 113.

So significant is the Eureka Stockade in our history that a number of monuments have been erected in Ballarat; Eureka Circle, Eureka Diggers Memorial, Eureka Soldiers Memorial, Eureka Stockade, Eureka Stockade Memorial, Eureka Stockade Memorial Park, and the Eureka Stockade Plaque on the Peter Lalor Monument.

Ned Kelly's Last Stand – The Siege at Glenrowan (1880)

In 1880 Ned Kelly and his gang held up the Glenrowan railway station and took 60 of the town's residents hostage in the Glenrowan Inn. The police surrounded the Inn and laid siege to it while Ned Kelly, now clad in his iconic armour, and his men fired back. Following the release of the hostages the police set fire to the building, killing the two men left inside. Ned Kelly was no longer there having escaped into the bush but returned in the morning, opening fire on police. Police fired at Ned's lower legs which were not protected by his armour, and badly wounded, he was captured.

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Jones Hotel burnt during the siege between police and the Ned Kelly Gang (Photo by Bray, John (State Library Victoria) - Public domain - via Wikimedia Commons)

The siege claimed nine lives and saw the Glenrowan Inn razed to the ground. Of the four gang members only Ned survived the siege. Also killed were three police, two bystanders and an informant. Five other people were injured. Ned was sentenced and hung at Melbourne Gaol later in 1880. The site of the Glenrowan Inn remains vacant to this day.

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Site of the Glenrowan Inn today (Photo by Peterdownunder CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Glenrowan Heritage Precinct which incorporates key sites in the siege was included on the National Heritage List in 2005. The precinct includes the railway line and railway station, the site of the Glenrowan Inn, the place where Ned Kelly was finally captured and the site of the former McDonnell's hotel where Kelly Gang sympathisers had gathered. The Stationmaster's House and Railway Platform remain today. A map of the Siege Site walk can be obtained from the Glenrowan Tourist Centre at 41 Gladstone Street, Glenrowan.

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The 'Big Ned Kelly' at Glenrowan (Photo Copyright Gayle Beveridge)

There is more to the Ned Kelly story in Glenrowan than just the siege. In Gladstone Street, the 'Big Ned Kelly', amour clad and gun in hand offers a clue to what's in store. Across the road from the statue is Kate's Cottage and Ned Kelly Museum. Behind the museum is a replica of the Kelly homestead presented as it would have been in Ned's day, prior to 1880.

A theme park styled show using animatronics and computerised robots and telling the story of the siege plays in a theatre at the Glenrowan Tourist Centre. The show which runs for 40 minutes moves through a number of rooms and commences every half hour between 9.30am and 4.30pm daily.

The Glenrowan Tourist Centre is at 41 Gladstone Street, Glenrowan, VIC, 3675. They can be contacted via their website or by telephoning (03) 5766 2367. Glenrowan is around two and a half hours from the Melbourne CBD via the Hume Highway.

Creswick New Australasia Gold Mine Disaster (1882)

In December of 1882an accident in the New Australasia gold mine resulted in the deaths of 22 men. 2,000 feet underground at the working face, the reef drive wall burst because of a build-up of water pressure from behind. Initially 27 men were trapped. For three days rescuers toiled to free the men. The mines engines ran continuously at ten time's normal speed in an effort to lower the water levels. Equipment from the H.M.S. Cerberus and experienced divers were rushed to the site on a special train from Melbourne. Of the 27 men trapped by the accident, only 5 were saved.

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Scene of the Creswick disaster 1883 (Photo by Charles Rudd in the Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria)

A cairn and some oak trees mark the site. Only the mullock heap and the depression of the No. 2 shaft remain above ground. The site, managed by Parks Victoria is on Australasia Road. The turnoff is about 2kms along the Clunes-Creswick road toward Clunes. Signs mark the way. Click here for the detailed Parks Victoria Visitor Guide, Australasian No.2 Deep Lead Mine Historic Area.

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The Clifton Billy from the New Australasian mine disaster (Photo from Creswick Museum Facebook Page)

Exhibitions in the Mining Room at the Creswick Museum tell the story of the disaster. The museum houses the only known artefact from the New Australasia Mine disaster, the Clifton Billy. Three billies with messages for loved ones were recovered from the mine following the disaster. The billies or crib pails were the miner's lunch boxes. John Clifton wrote a message on his billy before he died in the disaster.

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Creswick Museum (Photo by Mattinbgn (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Creswick Museum is housed in the Creswick Town Hall Complex. In addition to The Mining Room, the Creswick Museum's permanent exhibitions include the Lindsay Room, Council Chambers, Our Communities People and Places, and the Colonial Art Room. You will find the museum at 70 Albert Street, Creswick, VIC, 3363. Opening hours are 11am to 3.30pm weekends and public holidays except Good Friday and Christmas Day. They can be contacted via their website or by telephoning (03) 5345 2845.

A Memorial to the 22 dead in the disaster was erected at the Creswick Cemetery in 1909. 15 of the 22 are buried in the cemetery on Clunes Road, Creswick. Creswick is around an hour and a half from the Melbourne CBD via the Western Highway.

The Westgate Bridge Collapse (1970)

Many Melburnians are too young to remember a time without the Westgate Bridge. They know nothing of the day, on 15th October 1970 when a 120 metre span on the partially completed bridge collapsed and took with it the lives of 35 workers while injuring 18 others. They may imagine an industrial accident of this magnitude to be unthinkable in Australia. Indeed it was as a result of the collapse of the Westgate Bridge and the resultant Royal Commission that led to the strengthening of our occupational health and safety laws.

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West Gate Bridge Melbourne viewed from the walkway near the Westgate Memorial Park (Photo By Kham Tran www.khamtran.com CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A plaque dedicated to the lost workers was erected at the site of the collapse beneath the western side of the bridge in 1978. In 2004 a Memorial Park was established at the site of the plaque. Within the landscaped park a pillar stands for each of the 35 men lost. The bridge itself towers above.

In addition to the memorial for the Westgate Bridge workers, those lost in the 1895 Spotswood Yarra Sewer Tunnel Collapse of 1895 are also remembered. An engineer and five workers lost their lives when a shield failed and waters from the Yarra River flooded into the tunnel.

Details of the Westgate Bridge disaster and of Memorial Park can be found on the Westgate Bridge Memorial website. The Westgate Memorial Park is in Douglas Parade, Spotswood beneath the western side of the bridge.
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Your Comment
What a great range of historical places to visit.
by Roger (score: 2|631) 1163 days ago
An interesting article. I really hadn't thought about some of these historic things as disasters but when you consider the lives lost and property destroyed then I guess they are.
by betty (score: 2|508) 1161 days ago
I would like to add Marysville in, for the 2009 bushfire. But this small town is quite lovely, especially in the autumn when trees on both sides of the road all turn yellow
by hienlt (score: 0|2) 417 days ago
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