Meet the Locals: Boat Builder, Roger Haldane

Meet the Locals: Boat Builder, Roger Haldane

Roger Haldane is an adventurer and pioneer. He spent his childhood along the river Moyne before setting sail with his family to found the tuna fishing industry in South Australia. When he returned home to Port Fairy his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit shifted to farming on land, first with alpacas and Icelandic horses and now with Italian riverine buffalo. Shaw River Buffalo Cheese is an award-winning family business, whose outstanding buffalo mozzarella is iconic part of the region’s quality produce.

Roger is also a passionate boat builder and rower, artist and children’s book author and illustrator.

Life by the Water

Port Fairy is a thriving small community bursting with personality. And local buffalo cheese-maker Roger Haldane certainly personifies this energy with his generous spirit, gentle wisdom and insatiable curiosity.

“It might be the harsh weather or the distance from major cities, but I think people who live on the fringe are often more innovative, resourceful and collaborative, says Roger. “If you have a good idea, this is the kind of place where people will get behind it to make it happen.”

An original entrepreneur, Roger’s pioneering adventures include tuna and prawn fishing; angora goat farming; and importing, breeding and exporting alpaca, Icelandic horses and Italian riverine buffalo. He has a deep love for boating, building and rowing wooden boats, and has written and illustrated two award-winning books. A true multi-passionate!

“We have the time and space to think and dream here,” he says. “And when we come together as a community— it might be a festival, a market, or something to do with the schools — we often create something very special.”

It’s also this sense of community that has helped preserve the look and feel of the township.

“This is a very safe and friendly place. Locals welcome new residents and we all welcome visitors and tourists. People are kind and helpful to one another and the environment. There are a lot of devoted naturalists and lovers of wildlife in this town, volunteering and working to keep it pristine.”

Roger points to the Port Fairy Folk Music Festival, which has been running for 40 years, an event that brings together local artists, musicians, schools, associations and clubs, along with hundreds of volunteers, for one epic weekend of music and performance.

“There’s the surf club keeping our beaches patrolled; our 1950’s cinema which is still run by locals; the indoor community pool and gym which was funded and is managed by community members; plus all our festivals during the year,” says Roger.

“One of our churches has a strawberry fair in November that’s run every year since 1905. How wonderful!”

“All of these things happen because local groups, businesses, residents and families get in and make it work. This is a clever community that’s got so much heart. And all that love gives the town a strong and magical sense of character.”

Shaw River Buffalo

“As kids we slept on the island a few times and the penguins kept us awake all night!” recalls Roger Haldane, whose rich and romantic family history is embedded on Griffiths Island and the Moyne River.

“My grandparents were the last lighthouse keepers. They maintained the buildings until 1952. My grandfather then became the Harbour Master and we grew up in the Merrijig Inn. It was a busy little port, with all the couta and shark fishing that was happening then.”

Roger has ensured his ancestors’ love-affair with the river and sea continues. He is passionate about the boating history of the town, including the famous lifeboat, housed in the in the Lifeboat Station, which is the oldest surviving self-righting lifeboat in the world.

But none are closer to his heart than the family boat, the Annie Baxter. “She’s a beautiful, wooden, six-oared rowing boat and we have a lot of the family on board to row her every year in the New Year’s Day boat parade.”

“After the parade, my family and I row out to the lighthouse and back. It can be tough work, depending on the conditions, but this tradition feels right and true to us,” says Roger. “It’s a special bond we have with this place.”

Delight in a simple stroll along the wharf to admire the boats or take a tour out into the bay to see the lighthouse from Roger’s perspective.

A Magic Place

Summers in Port Fairy are fresh and mild, in part due to the Bonney Upwelling. This dynamic, seasonal phenomena sees winds blow parallel to the shoreline, forcing coastal waters out to the continental slope that lies just 20 kilometres from shore. This draws up cold, nutrient-rich waters from the ocean floor, attracting blue whales, Bluefin tuna, fur seals, dolphins, rock lobster and birdlife and supporting a diverse fishing industry.

“As the cold waters rise, we notice a drop in air temperature along the coast,” says Yambuk farmer and cheese-maker Roger Haldane. “This means we’re never sweltering in the summer.”

“Rather, we relish the deliciously crisp, clean air.”

“Portland is less than an hour down the road from Port Fairy and it has so much to offer visitors, with place like Cape Nelson and Cape Birdgewater teeming with marine life.”

Roger says the upwelling has only recently been ‘discovered’ in the past decade or so and the unique ecosystem, occurring from November to May, is still not fully understood.

“We are lucky to be so close to one of only a few sites in the world where you can watch blue whales feeding from land,” he says.

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.