Port Fairy

We have three nights in Port Fairy – a town in which time has stood still with beautiful cottages and a streetscape out of last century.

Prior to British colonisation in the 19th century, the Port Fairy area, then known as Pyipkil or Ummut, was inhabited by the Pyipkil gunditj clan. The region’s ecology consisted of dense Banksia-dominated bushland and large swamps. Archeologists have events fond that these people constructed stone and timber fishing-weirs called yereroc across creeks to catch fish and eels. They also cut canals called vam to drain swamps and made woven eel-pots called arabine to trap eels.

In the early 19th century whalers and seal hunters used the coast in this region. The crew of the sealing cutter ‘The Fairy’ reportedly gave the bay its current name in 1828 and the name “Port Fairy” had come into general use by 1835.

A whaling station was established here in 1835, and a store opened in 1839. In 1843 James Atkinson, a Sydney solicitor, purchased land in the town by special survey. He drained the swamps, subdivided and leased the land, and built a harbour on the Moyne River. He renamed the town “Belfast” after his hometown in Ireland.

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In the 1840s significant conflict between pastoral squatters and aboriginals occurred. The year 1842 saw 27 squatters from the Port Fairy neighbourhood signing a letter to Charles Latrobe, the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, reporting many “outrages” committed by the “natives” and requesting the government provide security. The aborigines were simply protecting their traditional lands. These clashes, later known as the Eumeralla Wars, formed part of the battle over land use and resources between traditional owners and Europeans across the Victoria’s western district.

Agriculture developed in the region, and Belfast became an important transport hub. By 1857 the town had a population of 2,190. In 1887 the town was formally renamed “Port Fairy”.

Port Fairy is now a charming historic holiday town. There are museums, historic walks, charming stretches of coastline which are ideal for walking, a fascinating harbour, charming ‘olde worlde’ cottages and the famous Port Fairy Folk Festival, which is held each March and is widely recognised as the best folk festival in the country. 

There is a high level of ‘cuteness’ in this town. There are dozens of little cottages and old houses from over a century ago. I could walk around the town with my camera and find every second building worthy of a photograph. Especially at this time of year, these cottages and buildings look so scenic with their cottage gardens in full bloom.

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And then  . . . . there is the Police Station – clearly designed by a gifted government architect!

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It is a cool day all over the state today and a strong wind is coming in from the south. It feels as though it is blowing directly from Antarctica. The sea near Port Fairy’s most popular surfing location is a mass of wild waves and billowing surf.

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After lunch (another scallop pie) we drove for 40 minutes along the road to the little wool town of Macarthur. I was interested to see the old hotel in the town that has recently been used as a Vietnam Veterans Retreat. It is clearly up for sale and I couldn’t find anyone around to ask about it. I did check with the lady in the town’s one general store but she couldn’t tell me any more and didn’t sound very interested anyway.

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The hotel was originally called the ‘Travellers Rest’ as it was halfway in distance between Port Fairy and the larger regional town of Hamilton. It then became known, before becoming a retreat, as the Macarthur Hotel. The online real estate site lists it for sale at $795,000 – a steal in anyone’s language. Actually, I don’t quite know why anyone would buy it. This area (like most little rural towns) is slowly going backwards. Down the road at Broadwater is the defunct two room school. It is about the only thing that exists in this locality apart from a couple of tennis courts near an old hall. 

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Nearby is a derelict building, typical of old Australian farm worker’s homes with its single pitched roof and a flat roof above the rooms in the back. A family would have lived here once. The house probably had four rooms with two rooms at the front with a passageway between them. A kitchen, and maybe a parlour would have been at the back where the chimney is located along with a toilet outside. 

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Overall, we had a good day today. As well as cruising around the town, having a pie while overlooking the ocean and eating dinner at a Thai Restaurant, I started the day by having breakfast with my good friend Charles Povey. He is a fellow member of my Probus club and originally comes from this area. He happened to be down this way playing golf with some of his mates. Charles has a wealth of knowledge about the local economy and environment.

During the afternoon, we made sure that we were back at our motel to watch a half-hour Zoom broadcast of Audrey, our eldest grand daughter’s school graduation from the middle level and up to the senior level of her school.  We are vey proud of her accomplishments and we love her dearly.

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3 thoughts on “Port Fairy

  1. It would have been a very windy and rugged day for your friend Charles to be playing golf right on the edge of the sea at Port Fairy. Great course though.

  2. Very good narrative thanks Bruce. Where was the Thai restauant ?- in Port Fairy. A lovely town . could spend more time there than just the 2 nights we had. Hope Charles enjoyed his golf. Keep safe as you progress.

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