I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published June 20th 2013
Old Belfast Town - Port Fairy
A sense of history is everywhere in Port Fairy but in particular along the townships Moyne River waterfront. Here, with some imagination, it's possible to visualise the hustle and bustle which saw Port Fairy rival much larger cities for the title of Australia's busiest sea port during the late 1850's. Back then majestic clipper ships routinely called to off-load immigrants and cargo, returning to Europe with their holds laden with wool or wheat from Victoria's rich Western District.
Port Fairy's Moyne River provides a safe harbour for a large fleet of pleasure craft
The clippers and coastal traders have long gone, given way to crayfish or abalone boats and a good sized pleasure fleet, but the rustic charm of Port Fairy's waterfront lingers on.
Originally named Belfast, the bustling little port was renamed by a special act of Parliament in 1887 honouring the cutter FAIRY which, commanded by Captain James Wishart, is thought to have been the first European vessel to enter the Moyne.
In common with many seafaring communities Port Fairy's links with the sea have not all been plain sailing. In King George Square a monument commemorates the sinking of the coastal steamer CASINO, reputed to have made at least 2500 trips between Port Fairy and Melbourne. The CASINO went down in stormy conditions off Apollo Bay in 1932 with the loss of ten lives.
Port Fairy's past prosperity is reflected in the fact that today it boasts 50 or more buildings classified by the National Trust, more than any other comparably sized settlement in the State. Properties as diverse as the Old Caledonian Inn and St. James Church of England combine with the waterfront facilities and Battery Point, formerly the site of a fort and signal station, to give Port Fairy a unique olde-world charm. And it's a charm that visitors can live first hand if they choose to stay in any of a number of beautifully restored cottages, resplendent with their antique furnishings and collectables, or the abundant colonial type B&B's and hotels to be found in and around the town.
Battery Point is a former Fort and Signal Station on the banks of the Moyne River
Just a short walk from the heart of Port Fairy is Griffith's Island, once the site of a whaling station which, by the mid 1840's, had helped decimate Australia's Southern Right Whale population. It's better known today as home to the largest colony of short-tailed shearwaters, or mutton birds, on the Australian mainland. Their annual migration involves a 15,000 kilometre flight from the Aleutian Islands, arriving in September and departing for the return trip in April after hatching their young. The spectacle of thousands of birds returning to the island at dusk each evening draws visitors from far and wide.
Griffith Island Lighthouse is just a short walk from town and well worth the effort
The Griffith Island lighthouse was built in 1859 on what was then Rabbit Island, a small islet subsequently joined to Griffith Island by landfill. Until 1956 there were two bluestone light keepers cottages standing adjacent to the causeway and the remnants of the keepers gardens can be seen there today.
Griffith Island is home to large numbers of Swamp Wallaby
Often described as the treasure chest of the shipwreck coast, Port Fairy is a relaxed and friendly place, rich in early colonial history and adjacent to many other scenic attractions.