Having a whale of a time in Portland
Some places seem to have been blessed with a bit more to offer than others. Portland is just such a place. Situated grandly on a bustling waterfront, the town is surrounded by natural beauty, a thriving industry, and the echoes of a rich history including Australia’s first saint.
First settled by sealers and whalers in the early 1800s, Portland Bay soon became one of the best whaling areas in the world. In 1834 the Henty family arrived and established what was to become Victoria’s first successful permanent European settlement. Their development of the land encouraged other settlers, and by 1842 the community boasted numerous pubs, shops, and churches. Agriculture flourished as whaling began to decline due to extermination.
In 1862, a young woman with a clear vision came to Portland to work as a governess for the daughters of a relative. Her name was Mary MacKillop and she was aged 19. In 1863 she gained a teaching position at the Common School 510, now the All Saints Primary School. The next year, having rented a modest stone cottage called Bay View House, she established her first school, the ‘Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies’. Portland was a vital step on Mary’s journey to becoming a saint.
Portland’s history, including Mary MacKillop’s footsteps, can be traced on a self-guided walking tour. Those who prefer natural beauty should head for the Portland Visitor Information Centre, the starting point of The Great South West Walk. Famous for spectacular scenery it’s a 250 kms loop incorporating a series of shorter walks. For a little more luxury you can see Portland from a Cable Tram. This lovingly restored and modified 1885-1950 carriage will take you along the waterfront, stopping at a variety of worthy attractions such as the Powerhouse Museum and the Botanical Gardens. The harbour is always a hub of water activities such as boating and recreational fishing as well as a port for deep-sea fishing. The whaling industry is still very much alive, although now it’s for whale ‘watching’ not hunting. For something different check out the Portland Aluminium smelter, a recipient of many environmental awards.
13 kilometers southwest of Portland is the famous Cape Nelson Lighthouse.
Opened in 1884 it’s still operating today though now de-manned and automated. At nearby Cape Bridgewater see a unique rock formation called the Petrified Forest, the result of a forest smothered by a large sand dune. Be sure to bring your camera.
I loved my much-too-short stay in Portland. My caravan park was not far from the town-centre and full of enthusiastic, bubbly fishermen. They shared not just stories but also their fresh catches. Order of the day was fish and fun.
Portland is on the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide.
More information can be obtained from Portland Visitor Information Centre
1800 035 567 or 03 5523 2671
Text Eva Stovern. Photos Thom Stovern. Extract from ‘Caravan Chef on the road’. Please visit www.caravanchef.com