I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published February 19th 2020
Capital of the Limestone Coast
The unofficial capital of the Limestone Coast Robe was once a busy seaport. Today it's a hugely popular holiday destination situated on the picturesque southern shore of Guichen Bay.
Highly regarded for its combination of history, spectacular coastal scenery, laidback lifestyle and the opportunity to wine & dine on fabulous seafood and great local wines Robe is the jewel in the Limestone Coast crown.
The Fishermen's Memorial at Lake Butler Marina honours locals lost at sea. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Your first stop here should be the Visitor Information Centre, home to an outstanding little historical display and a wealth of local information.
Sealers had frequented Guichen Bay well before the establishment of a colony in South Australia in 1836 and the overlander Charles Bonney drove cattle through the district in 1839. In 1846, a township was established to support settlers arriving in the area and it was named Robe after South Australia's fourth Governor, Major Frederick Robe who selected the new settlement as the site for a port.
Robe's colonial era Customs House dates back to 1863. It was turned into a museum in 1969. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The port of Robe, which throughout the 1850s was South Australia's second busiest behind Port Adelaide, holds a unique place in Australian history. In the mid-1850s the Victorian Government imposed a tax on Chinese migrants arriving to work on the incredibly rich Central Victorian goldfields. To avoid the tax, the Chinese would land at Robe and trek overland to the diggings more than 400 Kilometres away. In one year alone, 1857, it's estimated about 16,500 Chinese undertook this gruelling journey.
At its peak, Robe was one of the most important seaports in southern Australia and the commercial hub of the district.
There's plenty more history to be had here with Robe boasting more than 80 historic buildings and sites around town.
You'll find the old Robe Gaol ruins just out of town on Obelisk Road. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Robe Gaol was built in 1861 and comprised a substantial stone cell block, holding and exercise yards and a Keeper's residence. Temporarily closed from 1870 to 1872 due to a lack of inmates it closed for good in 1880 when the Mount Gambier Gaol was deemed more suitable. Today you can walk through the clearly defined remnants of the gaol just outside town on Obelisk Road.
Spectacular Royal Circus overlooks the marina, Customs House and the Chinese Memorial. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Robe's iconic stone obelisk was built on Cape Dombey in 1852 to assist ships navigating the treacherous entrance to Guichen Bay. It also served as a storage shed for rescue rocket equipment used in conjunction with the local lifeboat. The obelisk was originally one colour but proved difficult to see against the backdrop of sandhills. In 1862, it was painted in red and white stripes and instantly became Robe's most recognisable landmark. The constant erosion of the sandstone cliffs by wind and surf mean that the obelisk will eventually crumble into the sea. Proposals to relocate it have been deemed too expensive and dangerous.
Once the centre of town Smillie Street is home to a number of historic buildings. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In the early 1900s, Robe became a popular holiday destination sometimes referred to as the 'sanatorium of South Australia' because of its clean sea air.
In the 1940s a commercial fishing industry was developed, the main catch being gummy shark fished primarily for their livers which were used to fortify army rations during World War 2.
Today Robe is a thriving fishing port well known as a major player in South Australia's rock lobster industry that exports more than 2000 tonnes of live lobster to Asia annually whilst turning over an estimated $230 million per annum.
First licensed in 1858 the Caledonian Inn is an historic English style pub and Robe icon. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Top 5 Things to do in Robe
1 Take a stroll down Victoria Street, where you'll find a selection of café's, galleries, a great pub and some terrific historic buildings.
2 Soak up some of Robe's natural charm and incredible coastal scenery, including the opportunity to drive along the 17-Kilometres of pristine sand that is Long Beach.
3 Explore unique historic sites including the Robe Obelisk, the old gaol ruins, the Chinese Memorial and the fabulous Royal Circus and nearby Customs House.
4 Challenge your taste buds and palate with rock lobster washed down with some sensational local wines.
5 Take a moment to remember the locals lost at sea with a visit to the Fishermen's Memorial.
The Chinese Memorial commemorates an estimated 16,500 Chinese who landed in Robe and then walked overland to the Victorian goldfields to avoid taxes imposed by the Victorian Government. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Getting There …..
Robe is 336-Kilometres south of Adelaide, about a 3 hour 45-minute drive via the Princes Highway/B1. It's 125-Kilometres northwest of Mount Gambier, just under a 90-minute drive via the Riddoch Highway/B66 and the Princes Highway/B1.
Constant coastal erosion means that Robe's famous Obelisk is in danger of crashing into the sea. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media