I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published July 31st 2013
A coastal treasure
From its fort to the former grand Coffee Palaces and unique Couta boats, Queenscliff is a timeless insight into Victoria's early colonial history.
Main street Queenscliff - Hesse Street and the Vue Grand Hotel
Located on the south-eastern extremity of the Bellarine Peninsula and overlooking The Rip, the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, Queenscliff was popular with early mariners because it offered safe anchorage for vessels in the lee of Shortland's Bluff. It was also well known because of persistent rumours that nearby Swan Bay was where the pirate Benito Benita buried a haul of Spanish treasure in 1798. No treasure was ever recovered but several search expeditions have been mounted over the years.
Aerial view of Queenscliff and its Fort at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay
There was no permanent settlement at Queenscliff until 1836 when squatters arrived to take up a selection on Shortland's Bluff. At the same time moves to establish a permanent settlement in the Port Phillip district were well advanced and Queenscliff became increasingly important as more and more ships arrived to supply the settlers. In 1839 the first Sea Pilots commenced operations from the beach beneath Shortland's Bluff and by 1854 there were 56 pilots operating from the town.
19th Century Coffee Palaces attracted holidaymakers to Queenscliff, Victoria's premier seaside resort
During the Victorian gold rush authorities feared the colony might become the target of privateers or Russian expansionism in the Pacific and, following recommendations for the fortification of Port Phillip Heads, Queenscliff was chosen as the site for a fort.
Queenscliff's timeless elegance lives on in buildings like Ozone House
Fort Queenscliff never fired its guns in anger but it did help gain for Port Phillip the title of the most heavily fortified harbour in the Southern Hemisphere, the 'Gibraltar of the South'.
Fort Queenscliff today is an immaculately maintained tourist attraction
The late 1800's saw the introduction of luxurious steamers on the Bay carrying hundreds of holiday makers to sea side resorts and Queenscliff, with its palatial guest houses and Coffee Palaces, imposing, ornate alcohol free hotels, topped the popularity list.
Today the town offers a magical mix of Victorian charm, military history and an often tragic association with the sea.
Perhaps the best way to get a real sense of Queenscliff past & present is to visit the Queenscliff Historical Museum and nearby Maritime Museum. Here you'll gain insight into the compelling story of the town's couta boat fishermen who commenced operations from around 1870. At its peak Queenscliff had a fleet of about 50 boats which headed out through The Rip each morning before dawn and raced back to port with their catch of barracouta, the first boat back getting the best price for the day.
The Maritime Museum is a fabulous window to Queenscliff's historic past
Queenscliff remains a favourite with holidaymakers drawn by its character & history, great accommodation, fine food and excellent local wines. For a taste of its timeless elegance you can't go past a stay at the Vue Grand Hotel where the high ceilings, chandeliers and antique furnishings combine with an amazing menu of mainly local produce served in the Grand Dining Room.
If you like your history served with a little self-indulgence Queenscliff is the place for you.