I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published September 12th 2013
Melbourne's Aquatic Playground
Covering 1,930 square kilometres, its surface area more than 35 times that of Sydney Harbour, and with more than 3 million people living around its 264 kilometre shoreline Victoria's Port Phillip Bay is a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem, home to Australia's busiest port facility and a priceless recreational asset for residents and visitors alike.
The first Europeans sailed through Port Phillip Heads on 15th February 1802 in a ship very similar to this
The first recorded entry into the Bay by a European was on 15th February 1802 when Lieutenant John Murray commanding HMS LADY NELSON passed through the heads and named the waterway Port King.
A little more than a year later the regions first settlement was established at Sullivan Cove (Sorrento) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins. But it was a short lived experiment. By May 1804 a shortage of fresh water and timber forced the Sullivan Bay settlers to abandon the site and head for Van Diemen's Land.
Beachgoers at Sorrento play in the bay just metres from the site of the regions first ill-fated settlement at Sullivan Cove
It would be another 31 years before John Batman arrived and negotiated a treaty with the Wurundjeri people which gave him control of some 200,000 Hectares of land at the northern end of the Bay.
A wave of immigrants descended on the colony not long after the first settlers arrived on the site of present day Melbourne on 30th August 1835. The Bay was the new settlements life-line and shipping its life blood.
The discovery of gold in the 1850's led to Port Phillip Bay becoming the most heavily fortified port in the southern hemisphere with defences including Fort Queenscliff overlooking the Heads.
Geelong was settled in 1838 and the Port Phillip Districts second major port was established.
In July 1851 Victoria was declared a separate colony. Shortly afterwards gold was discovered near Ballarat triggering the greatest gold rush the world has ever seen and bringing untold wealth to the region.
With the wealth came fears of invasion and a series of defensive fortifications were set-up around the Bay eventually making it the most heavily fortified port in the southern hemisphere.
With money to burn Victorian's flocked to the grand hotels and Coffee Palaces of resort towns onboard luxury Bay steamers
Resorts sprang-up in coastal towns and luxury steamers plied the Bay carrying holidaymakers to the grand hotels and 'Coffee Palaces' of Queenscliff, Sorrento and Mornington. Prestigious bayside suburbs sprang-up at St Kilda, Brighton & Sandringham and the colonies economy soared.
Fast forward to 2013 and, with its channels recently dredged and deepened to allow access by super-sized vessels the Port of Melbourne hosts more than 3000 ships annually and handles in excess of 85 million revenue tonnes of cargo including 2.5 million containers.
Appleton Dock is just part of the infrastructure which makes Port Phillip Bay home to Australia's largest shipping port
As well as commercial shipping Port Phillip Bay supports a large recreational boating industry with major facilities for yachts and power boats at Williamstown, St Kilda and Geelong. Barely a day goes by that the Bay is not awash with all manner of pleasure craft.
The historic port of Williamstown is home to a large recreational boating industry
Almost the entire eastern shore is given over to sandy, generally shallow, safe beaches and lazy, summer days at the beach have been a Melbourne tradition for decades.
Each Summer thousands of youngsters get a taste for the sea at sailing clubs all around Port Phillip Bay
An estimated 60,000 recreational fishermen work the waters of the Bay looking for Snapper, Whiting, Flathead, Bream, Tailor and Squid. Hot spots are easily identified by the large numbers of boats congregating on a site, most launched from one of the many boat ramps scattered around the Port Phillip shoreline.
Recreational fishermen mix it with luxury liners on the Bay
Diving in the Bay can be sensational although most of the year you'll need a 6mm semi-dry suit. Sites such as Pope's Eye, South Channel Fort and the walls along the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula are favourites, many areas producing magnificent soft corals to challenge the colours found on the Great Barrier Reef.
Not only a playground for the people of Melbourne but a gateway for international commerce - Port Phillip Bay
Port Phillip Bay has developed along commercial and recreational lines in parallel with Melbourne's evolution over the years to become one of the world's most liveable cities. Many Melburnians probably don't give it a second thought – it's just there. But can you imagine life in Melbourne without the Bay? Not me.