History

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History

TRADITIONAL LAND OWNERS

The region’s original inhabitants were the Wathaurung people (also called Wathaurong, Wadawurrung, and Wadda Wurrung), who occupied the land for at least 25,000 years.

EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT

In 1803, Port Phillip Bay’s first European settlers arrived, though they abandoned the area a year later. They left behind a convict named William Buckley, who escaped and befriended the Wathaurung tribe. It’s believed he lived with them for over 30 years in a cave underneath the Point Lonsdale lighthouse, before he rejoined a new crop of settlers in the 1830s.

THE GOLD RUSH

When the Victorian gold rush hit, hundreds of ships sought harbour in Port Phillip Bay. As a result, the Queenscliff township was born.

Unfortunately, many ships were lost due to turbulent weather conditions in the Rip, which is considered one of the world’s most dangerous sea passages. Three lighthouses were built to guide them: the Queenscliff High Light at Shortland’s Bluff, the Queenscliff Low Light, and, eventually, the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse.

Gold diggings, Ararat, Edward Roper, australian gold rush, queenscliff and point lonsdale accommodation
Gold diggings, Ararat, c.1855, by Edward Roper

FORT QUEENSCLIFF

A defense garrison was also established to protect the shipments of gold travelling between Geelong and Melbourne. The garrison soon commanded a whole network of fortifications, including Fort Nepean, where the first Allied shots were fired from the same gun in both World War I and World War II. In 1946, Fort Queenscliff ceased operations and became home to Army’s Staff College. Learn more about the fort’s history here and find out how to tour the fort and visit the associated museum.

PADDLE STEAMERS

From the 1870s to the 1940s, rich Melburnians would travel down to Queenscliff on the Weerona, Hygeia or Ozone, large paddle steamers with room for more than 1000 passengers. Grand hotels such as the Vue Grande were built to handle the influx of tourists, while picnic areas were built near the piers.

paddle steamer, queenscliff point lonsdale holiday accommodation australia, beach house

PIRATES

Considering the value of its ships, it’s no surprise that pirates were known to roam the seas around Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale. According to legend, a pirate called Benito ‘Bloody Sword’ Benita hid treasure in a cave off Swan Bay before sealing it with explosives. Though many have tried over the years, the gold has never been found…