I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published July 11th 2016
Celebrating Gippsland's Maritime History
There could be few places better credentialed to house a first class maritime museum than Port Albert on Victoria's South Gippsland coast.
One of Victoria's earliest sea ports Port Albert was the gateway to Gippslands goldfields and pastoral riches. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Port Albert's Maritime Museum provides a fascinating insight into the role the Port played in the regions development. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
On a short break in Gippsland I was originally attracted to Port Albert by the promise of a good feed of fish & chips but found the highlight of the visit by far to be the Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum housed in the towns former Bank of Victoria building (Circa 1861).
Home to the Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum the former Bank of Victoria building is literally choc-a-bloc full of local history. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The depth of history to be found here is incredible and ranges from the arrival of European settlers in 1841 to the establishment of a port initially servicing pastoralists and later the Gippsland goldfields, the rise and fall of the local fishing industry and right up to the present day Bass Strait oil exploration and the operation of the OMEGA satellite navigation station at nearby Yarram.
The learning experience begins the instant you open the front door and are confronted by a restored 1.3 metre high lens from the Cape Liptrap lighthouse and a cannon used at the Cliffy Island Light Station to sound fog warnings to shipping.
Recovered from the Cliffy Island Light Station in Bass Strait this 24-Pounder, muzzle-loading cannon was used to warn shipping of thick fog. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The bank building's former vault houses a Gippsland goldfields display in the very room which stored bullion from strikes at places like Omeo and Walhalla awaiting shipment from Port Albert, reputedly as much as 1,000 ounces every week.
One of the key exhibits tells the story of the loss of the CLONMEL, a timber paddle steamer wrecked on a sandbar near the entrance to present-day Port Albert, along with details of some of the other 23 ships lost in nearby waters.
Each room of the museum is packed with fascinating local history exhibits from the Port's inception to the present day. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
You'll be intrigued by the display of an original Breeches Buoy Rocket Lifesaving system which went into service in Port Albert in 1871, described by the prestigious Smithsonian Institute as one of only a few intact examples to be found anywhere in the world.
There's an extensive Navigation & Communications display covering everything from hand-held Sextants, the establishment of Port Alberts Pilot Service in 1900, early coastal radio technology, port & channel markers and modern satellite navigation aids.
And that's just what's housed indoors.
Outdoor exhibits include restored work boats, the original Port Albert wharf crane, a number of anchors and the Citadel Island light, Australia's first automatic acetylene light installed in 1913 on a rocky islet off Wilson's Promontory.
The outdoor exhibits include boats, navigation aids and the former Citadel Island Light installed offshore from Wilsons Promontory in 1913. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Then there's the sobering reminder of a modern-day tragedy, a piece of wreckage from an RAAF Boeing 707 tanker aircraft which suffered an inflight emergency and plunged into the ocean off nearby Woodside Beach with the loss of all five crew members.
There's plenty to see in Port Albert and surrounds but the jewel in the little town's crown is undoubtedly the Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum. A couple of hours spent here engrossed in some fascinating history really is time well spent.
Oh, and the fish & chips to be had on the refurbished Port Albert Wharf are well worth the trip as well.
The Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum is a credit to the local community, very informative and a great place to while away a couple of hours. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Port Albert is 209 Kilometers southeast of Melbourne, just over a 3-hour drive on the South Gippsland Highway, via Korumburra, Leongatha, Foster and Welshpool.
Alternatively take the Princes Highway east to Traralgon, then the Hyland Highway to Yarram and the South Gippsland Highway to Alberton and Port Albert.
Cost:Adults $6, Concession $5 and Children $1. Group concessions apply for groups of 20 or more and morning or afternoon teas can be provided for groups with prior notice. The museum is wheelchair accessible.