I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published August 31st 2013
Celebrating Victoria's Shipwreck Coast
There can be few places more appropriate to locate a maritime museum than slap in the middle of the most dangerous stretch of coastline in the whole of Australia.
Flagstaff Hill is home to a great collection of shipwreck relics and memorabilia
Warnambool's Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village overlooks Victoria's infamous Shipwreck Coast and is home to what is often described as Australia's finest collection of shipwreck relics and memorabilia.
Flagstaff Hill itself is a State Heritage listed site, the location of two significant light houses and the former home of the Warnambool Garrison.
An anchor from the FALLS OF HALLADALE, one of the many ships lost on the Shipwreck Coast, stands in the grounds of Flagstaff Hill
The Lady Bay Low Lighthouse started life as an obelisk built in 1854. It was converted to a Lighthouse in 1872 when the light from Warnambool's former Beach Lighthouse was moved to the Flagstaff Hill obelisk.
During 1871-72 the Middle Island Lighthouse was disassembled stone by stone and reassembled on Flagstaff Hill to become the Lady Bay Upper Light. It's still in use to this day.
Through the mid to late 1800's Australia was gripped by fears of a Russian invasion and 16 defensive installations were built in Victoria covering the coast from Portland to Westernport. These included a fort built on Flagstaff Hill in 1887 and armed with two muzzle-loading cannon capable of firing shells over a distance of 5.5 Kilometres. The guns were mounted on granite blocks and concrete 1.2 metres (4 feet) thick and surrounded by solid stone parapets 1.8 metres (6 feet) high and 1.5 metres (5 feet) thick. The Battery never fired a shot in anger and was declared obsolete in 1910. Restored to its former glory the Battery is a favorite with visitors to Flagstaff Hill and the guns are fired on special occasions.
A section of the restored gun emplacements at the old Warnambool Garrison
Housed on 10 hectares of land rising above Lady Bay Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village comprises more than 40 buildings and vessels which combine to recreate a 19th century colonial port.
During a long career the ROWITTA was a well known excursion steamer on Tasmania's Tamar River and Port Phillip Bay
A multi-screen theatre takes visitors on a simulated voyage through the raging Southern Ocean and a modern gallery complex displays rare artefacts including Australia's most valuable maritime relic, the Minton Loch Ard Peacock valued at $4 Million.
En-route to Australia to be displayed at the 1880-1881 Melbourne International Exhibition, staged to celebrate the opening of the Exhibition Building, the near priceless porcelain Peacock went down with the LOCH ARD when she was lost in heavy seas at Mutton Bird Island. Washed ashore 2 days later in what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge the Peacock missed the Melbourne exhibition but was displayed in the 1980 Royal Exhibition Building Centenary and again in the Victoria Pavilion at the 1988 Brisbane World Expo.
Awaiting restoration - there is always work in progress at Flagstaff Hill
Also recovered after the loss of the LOCH ARD and on display at Flagstaff Hill is a gold fob-watch known as the 'Carmichael Watch'. Owned by the ships surgeon Dr Evory Carmichael the father of Eva Carmichael, one of only two survivors from the LOCH ARD, the watch was found on the body of Eva's mother.
The watch had been made for King George IV but he never took delivery and it was bought by Dr Carmichael for 100 Guineas. Returned to Eva she gave it to her husband Thomas Townsend when they married in 1884 and had his name engraved on the back.
Descendants of the Townsend family put the watch up for auction at Sotheby's Melbourne in 2011. The cultural heritage value of the item meant that the Federal Government was able to provide financial assistance which enabled Flagstaff Hill to acquire it.
The concept of a local Maritime Village and Museum was first floated by the Warnambool Chamber of Commerce in 1974. Then a meeting proposed that the lease on Lady Bay Lighthouse be acquired and that the local community establish a museum on the site.
Today, almost 40 years later millions of visitors have enjoyed this award winning tourism precinct celebrating Victoria's Shipwreck Coast.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village
The highlight of any visit to Flagstaff Hill has to be the nightly Shipwrecked Sound and Laser Show, a dramatic re-enactment of the loss of the LOCH ARD.
And if you can't get enough of the place in a day it's possible to stay-over in Lighthouse Lodge, formerly the Warnambool Harbour Masters house and now providing a luxury heritage accommodation experience.