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Probus Visit to Portarlington

Tuesday 13th February was a very beautiful summer morning when members of the Donvale Hill Probus Club Inc. met at Docklands for an excursion to the Bellarine Peninsula.  They travelled on the regular catamaran ferry service down the western side of Port Phillip Bay, which was very calm, to the recently completed harbour facility at Portarlington.Arriving in Portarlington all were met by the Christians Bus Service and coach driver cum guide, Tom, who gave a commentary on the historic township. The Bellarine Hills area was first explored in 1803 and the original expedition was impressed by the fine pasture and soil.  Wealthy Melbourne land owners in the late 1800 travelled to Portarlington for holidays and the area later became a fishing village.  Overfishing in the Bay saw deterioration of the environment and water quality, and thus the State Government introduced strict restrictions on catch limits. The recently established mussel fleet is now flourishing and operates from Port Arlington and Queenscliff.  There are many fine homes built on the foreshore, along with new housing developments; residents can commute daily to Melbourne on the recently introduced regular ferry service.In 1803 Matthew Flinders named the area Indented Heads as seen from Mount Martha on the eastern side of the Bay. Travel by road was slow and therefore three paddle steamers were in use for many years to serve the community of Indented Heads. In 1835, John Batman was sent by the Port Phillip Authority to Indented Heads to report on the suitability for sheep farming. Whilst camped, a massacre was planned by a group of aborigines. Earlier, in 1803, five convicts had escaped in the area and it was thought that William Buckley had perished. In fact, he was saved from near death by three aborigine women who cared from him, thinking he was a reincarnated spirit. He lived with this group for thirtytwo years, marrying and living as one of them. Learning of the planned attack William Buckley negotiated between the Aborigines and the Batman camp preventing a massacre. Thus, after thirtytwo years, he resumed contact with the early settlers and consequently received a pardon.Passing through St Leonards, where Every day is a Sunday, the group were reminded that much of the TV series Sea Change was filmed in this area. On the foreshore there is a labyrinth outlining William Buckley s story. Offshore one could see a small cluster of boats indicating the whiting were running. Since the cleanup of the Bay, fish including the Southern blue fin tuna have again become more widespread.  Landcare groups e.g. Friends of Swan Bay, Friends of the Railway Line, Friends of Port Philip Bay, Friends of Bellarine, etc. are very active with plantings along creeks and streets, preventing soil erosion and an improvement of the water quality in the Bay.After a brief visit to Swan Bay, the group arrived at Queenscliff. Scotchmans Hill is the highest point on the Peninsula with a communication tower used, together with optical fibre and radio, as a link across the Bay.  The lighthouses are a feature of Queenscliff.  Black Lighthouse, one of only three in the world, is a directional lighthouse significant to marine navigation in the Bay. When large ships enter Philip Heads, only three kilometres wide, they have to navigate a one kilometre stretch of water, The Rip. A local pilot boards the ship and has to line up the black lighthouse with two other lighthouses, a white tower and green tower with green and red lights, to safely enter through the Heads. The Marine Research Centre, together with the Marine Discovery Centre, has shown that efforts to clean up the Bay are succeeding. The award winning architectural building is an environmental design using recycled timber, a grass roof and natural light, natural ventilation and air conditioning.Students of the Bellarine Secondary College have an environmental programme collecting local indigenous plant seeds, propagating and growing them. The plants are available for local farmers to improve soil erosion, water runoff and habitat.  The driver then took us past a native Yellow gum forest, the only one left on the peninsula, which is a nesting place for the White crested Sea Eagle and refuge for the Orange Breasted Parrot that migrates from Tasmania each year, along with many other migratory birds.Many famous landmarks in the area were passed, namely Cottage by the Sea, the old Town Hall, the Hotel Q, the Esplanade Hotel, The Ozone Hotel and the Vue Grand Hotel. The Victoria Tavern is the oldest licenced establishment in Victoria. A memorial to the  George Tobin, an unsinkable pilot boat, has been placed above the entrance to the Anglican Church. The pilot boat sank in 1991 and three pilots lost their lives.After lunch in Queenscliff. The driver took all to Fort Queenscliff, famous for firing the first shots in World War 1, when a German Freighter tried to leave Port Philip Bay. Warning shots were fired across its bow and it turned around and sailed back to Port Melbourne.From Point Lonsdale. All had a good view of Point Nepean and Cheviot Beach where Harold Holt disappeared.On the return bus trip to Portarlington the coach passed boutique wineries, and many other Bellarine attractions.  This visit was but a small taste of the delights of the Bellarine Peninsula.  Thank you to Ken Falconer AOM for arranging this Probus tour.

Beverley McArthur and Michael White