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The Obelisk, Robe

Home > Mount Gambier > Family | Free | Fun Things To Do | Outdoor | Photography
by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia. https://www.facebook.com/paula.mcmanus1
Published November 27th 2017
The Obelisk Can't Be Saved
Robe, on the Limestone Coast, is one of the oldest towns in South Australia. The town was founded by the colonial government as a seaport, administrative centre and village in 1847.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


This exceptionally pretty coastal town was named after the state's fourth Governor - Major Frederick Robe, who chose the site as a port in 1845. In the 1850's, it was known as the second busiest South Australian port, - the bustling harbour at Port Adelaide was number 1.

A stone pillar - the Cape Dombey Obelisk, was erected in 1852 to assist ships and their navigators to the safe entrance into Guichen Bay. The obelisk is a famous landmark and is of special local historical significance.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk and Doorway Rock (Špaula mcmanus)


Nicolas Baudin, on his exploration expedition along the South Australian coastline originally named the headland Cape Lannesby in 1802. Baudin also named Guichen Bay after Admiral De Guichen. Many South Australian places are named after French scientists, artists and members of Baudin's expedition and quite of a few of those names still exist today. Baudin died on his way home from this epic voyage.

Matthew Flinders, who was mapping the Australian coastline at the same time, renamed the site Cape Dombey.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


Standing 40 feet (12 metres) high, the Obelisk is visible on a clear day at distances of up to 20kms out at sea. The obelisk originally stored vital life-saving equipment, which when an alarm was raised, would be sent out to passengers by blasting a rocket. Despite many shipwrecks occurring along the coast, many lives were saved by this method.

Ships in great numbers arrived at Robe and the small township grew quickly with the discovery of gold in Victoria in the 1850's.

During the Victorian gold rush, more than 17,000 Chinese people landed at Robe and walked from there to the goldfields in Ballarat and Bendigo - massive distances of more than 300kms. This was due to a very pricey per person landing tax in the state of Victoria - the tax was more than their ships fare from China.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


The obelisk was originally painted completely white, but ship captains complained that it was at times barely visible against the white sand of the beaches and dunes nearby. In 1862, red stripes were added. The last time the Obelisk was painted was in 2002. Painting it has now become too dangerous and risky to attempt.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


There are so many great stories and places of historical interest in Robe. Fascinating tales of those who lived, worked and earned their trade on the land and on the sea. There are famous names intertwined in the stories - politicians, poets, barons and even a nun named Mary McKillop.

But, the place I kept returning to over the 5 days that I was there was the Obelisk. It is quite a remarkable landmark and I was constantly drawn to it and found it hard to leave it.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


It sits atop a rugged coastline, which is rapidly eroding due to the force of the elements. The waters south of Robe meet the Southern Ocean which is notoriously known to have some of the strongest winds and largest waves on the planet. The local council have explored all options for saving the obelisk, but unfortunately, they have admitted defeat and announced that the local icon cannot be saved. Nature's force will win and the obelisk will eventually fall into the sea. The cost of repairing/moving the obelisk could run into tens of millions of dollars - an amount that the local council does not have and the State Government is not willing to spend.

Robe Obelisk
Erosion of the Cape Dombey cliffs over 56 years - 1950 to 2006. Image courtesy Coastal Leader


If you've ever thought of visiting Robe to see the Obelisk, be sure to do this in the next few years. Once it's gone, it'll be gone forever. The local council are discussing the option of building a replica when the current one falls into the sea.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


There's so much to do in Robe and particularly at the Obelisk site. There's a bitumenised and very easy walking trail along the coastline. It is a picturesque trail that can be started in town and goes to the Obelisk and Doorway Rock. There's seating along the way to take a break and enjoy the spectacular views. The total length of the walking trail is approximately 1.4kms and it's bike, wheelchair and pram friendly. There's lots of parking at the Obelisk, but no toilet or picnicking facilities. Be sure to stick to the path. There are no fences along the cliff top and the sandstone erosion makes the edges of the rocky and windswept coastline very dangerous and unpredictable.

Go to Robe. See the Obelisk while you can. Eat, drink, shop, explore and enjoy. And be sure to take lots of photos! See as much as you can and I promise you - it will be a holiday that you'll long remember.

Robe Obelisk
Robe Obelisk (Špaula mcmanus)


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Why? Visit this icon before it disappears forever
Where: Robe, South Australia
Your Comment
Paula, your photos are stunning!
by Elaine (score: 3|4597) 55 days ago
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