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Published April 24th 2021
Celebrate 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.
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 to be the Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum housed in the town's former Bank of Victoria building (circa 1861).
Port Albert Maritime Museum is a mix of indoor and outdoor exhibitions. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
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 former Citadel Island Lighthouse is a prominent feature of the Port Albert Maritime Museum. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
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.
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.
The old Cliffy Island workboat is one of several small vessels on display. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
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.
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.
Inside you'll find the Cliffy Island cannon and a lens form the Cape Liptrap Lighthouse. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
And that's just what's housed indoors.
Outdoor exhibits include restored workboats, 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.
Port Albert Maritime Museum is housed in a former Bank of Victoria building circa 1861 with its indoor and outdoor exhibitions covering a range of local seafaring history. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Then there's the sobering reminder of a modern-day tragedy, a piece of wreckage from a 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 the surroundings 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.
Getting There ...
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.
A couple of hours spent in the Port Albert Maritime Museum really is time well spent. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
You do get around Ian. I think I did too many years ago, but Weekend Notes didn't exist then. I like your article and it will be on my list next time I'm near Port Albert. Thanks for highlighting what to see in these small towns.