History and Heritage of Port Fairy

Old-World Charm and Nature at your feet. Walking or cycling is the best way to explore our superbly preserved 19th century village streetscapes. Unearth a watercolour vista on a harbour-side amble. Poke around a still-thriving fishing village rippling with old-world charm. Take a trail to the Southern Ocean, Moyne River, surf beaches, swimming spots or a lighthouse that feels a million miles away from care. 

I am a trip back in tome on a brand new day. Where maritime mystery ripples through the sea and the river and into the streets. Tap into the past and imagine a simpler life centred on the harbour and bustling fishing fleet. Wander to Battery Hill to discover historic cannons or fossick through photos, relics and time-worn tales at the Historical Society Museum. 

19th Century Shipping Port

Today Port Fairy is a well preserved 19th century shipping port, where history can be seen at every turn. 

The first regular European visitors were Bass Strait sealers on seasonal hunting expeditions from Tasmania. The exact dates of their visits are uncertain due to the lack of written records. 

A colourful past

At the mouth of the old port, on the estuary of the River Moyne, lies Griffiths Island. 

The Island was named after John Griffiths, who established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s. Since then the island has been an Aboriginal mission, a quarry, a shipbuilding site and a prime location for a lighthouse. 

The island is now home to a number of small swamp wallabies and a large colony of 15,000 short-tailed shearwaters, known as Mutton Birds. The birds arrive in late-September after an amazing migratory flight from the northern Pacific and stay until mid-April. They can be seen at dusk returning to their burrows. 

Visitors can explore the island (connected to the mainland by a causeway) and enjoy a circuit walk that takes you out to the historic lighthouse. 

There's something in the water

For many coastal towns the water is their focal point and life blood. Port Fairy certainly fits this bill. 

The meandering Moyne River begins in western Victoria and runs out to meet the sea at Port Fairy. The river provides a safe anchorage for the commercial fishing fleet and pleasure boats jostle for space in the small marina. The river has served as a vital transport link since the 1850s, bringing supplies to the town. 

Although the river mouth is safe and sheltered, Victoria’s coastline can be quite treacherous. The winds from the south west push vessels northward toward land and in the days of large sailing ships, excellent navigation skills were required. 

Unfortunately, not all ships made it to port safely and there are at least 29 wrecks in the immediate area. The Thistle which brought many pastoral settlers to Victoria, wrecked on Christmas Day 1837. The hull of boat can still be seen protruding from the sand when the tide and wind are just right. 

The waters around Port Fairy abound with many varieties of fish, such as whiting, snapper, bream, salmon and brown trout. Calling the waters home are the Australian Fur Seals who reside primarily on Lady Julia Percy Island to the west of Port Fairy and the majestic Southern Right Whales who migrate along the coast during the winter months (June – October) and can sometimes be seen off East Beach. 

Visitors love the sheltered waters of the bay and enjoy the family friendly swimming beaches of Pea Soup Cove and East Beach and the nearby surf breaks 

Walking Tours

There are over 70 buildings of historic significance and the best way to appreciate this legacy is on foot. Self guided walking maps are available at the Visitor Centre. Pre booked guided tours for groups can be arranged, contact the Visitor Information Centre. 

For further information contact –  Port Fairy Visitor Information Centre Railway Place, Bank Street, Port Fairy Phone – (03) 55682682 

Battery Hill & the Powder Magazine 

This hill first served as the Harbour Master’s signal point for shipping. Local miltia units established the gun batteries and built the concrete fortifications that were completed in 1887. The cannons collection of such weapons is exceptional. The bluestone powder magazine was built in 1860 to store explosives used in the construction of the river wall. 

Motts Cottage

This small cottage dates from the late 1840s and is an excellent example of an early working mans home. The cottage was built in stages with the front section being the oldest. There have been a number of owners with the Mott family being long term residents 1918 – 1944. 

Address – 3 Sackville Street, Port Fairy
Open – 2pm – 4pm Wednesday and Saturday 

Port Fairy Courthouse

The Port Fairy Courthouse is a magnificent bluestone building c. 1860. It is unusually large for a small country town but was designed for sittings of the Supreme Court. Country Court and Magistrates Court. The last Court sitting was in 1988. Since 1992 the building has been the headquarters of the Port Fairy Historical Society. The Port Fairy Courthouse is now the History Centre. 

Address – 30 Gipps Street, Port Fairy
Open – 2pm – 5pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 

History of Macarthur

The land surrounding the township of Macarthur is rich and fertile. Evidence of volcanic activity is obvious as Mt Eccles. About September 1836 explorer Major Mitchell, when returning from the Portland Bay settlement, marked and named Mt Eeles on his map. William Eeles was a friend of Mitchell’s who had fought with him in the Peninsula War. It seems a typographical error in the Surveyor General’s Department sometime about 1845 changed the name to Mt Eccles and this has been the name ever since. 

In the very early days of our settlement most areas in our state had been taken up under pastoral licenses. This was also the case in the Macarthur district. The township of Macarthur lies at the junction of three pastoral licenses “Eumeralla West”, “Eumeralla East” and “Blackfellows Creek”. When the first Europeans arrived they displaced the native Aboriginal people, who had lived in the area for thousands of years. 

John Turner surveyed the township in early 1857 and it was he who changed the name from the Aboriginal name “Eumeralla” to Macarthur after Administrator Macarthur, eldest son of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, acknowledged as the founders of Australia’s merino sheep industry. 

However, prior to the surveying of the township a hotel had been established near the river crossing on the main Port Fairy to Hamilton Road and this hotel appears to have been the Macarthur township’s first building. A land sale held at the hotel in July 1857 proved successful and many blocks were taken up by settlers who formed the founding community of this small town. 

well known identity in those early years was Thomas Alexander Browne, perhaps better known as Rolf Boldrewood, author of the Australian classic Robbery Under Arms. Browne held the pastoral license for “Squattlesea Mere” – south-west of Macarthur – from around 1844, although he was not particularly successful as a pastoralist. He later wrote of his time in the Macarthur district in his book Old Melbourne Memories. 

Originally Macarthur was part of the municipal area covered by the Belfast Roads Board. In 1870 Macarthur became part of the newly formed Shire of Minhamite. In 1994 the Shire of Minhamite joined with other small adjoining shires and the Borough of Port Fairy to form the Moyne Shire Council. 

Macarthur: Uncovering Stories of Sacrifice 

A short film was launched about the sacrifices made by residents of Macarthur and district who served in the Australian armed forces during World War I. 

The short film is titled Macarthur: Uncovering Stories of Sacrifice and is a project of the Macarthur RSL sub-branch funded by the ANZAC Centenary Community Grants Program. 

Accomodation Nearby

Old Market Inn

Port Fairy

Seacombe House

Port Fairy

The Boatshed Waterfront B&B

Port Fairy

No.1 William St

Port Fairy

Things To Do Nearby

Places To Eat & Drink

Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, 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.