GREATEST DRIVING TOURS AND HERITAGE TOWNS
In the far west of Victoria, near the end of the
Great Ocean Road, lies a scenic region that belies its significance
in the State's colonial heritage.
As the site of the first permanent European settlement
in Victoria, Portland is steeped in history. In 1800, Lieutenant
James Grant charted these southern waters, but it wasn’t
until Edward Henty arrived in 1834 that the first permanent encampment
was established. At the time, Portland Bay was one of the best
whaling areas in the world - even the Henty brothers were involved
in the industry.
The first agricultural sod to be turned in the new colony was
on December 6th, 1834 at a location now known as the Ploughed
Field. Henty and his brothers travelled far inland, establishing
various stations, and by the time explorer Major Mitchell arrived
in 1836, he was surprised to find the Hentys with a homestead
and thriving farm.
A wave of settlement followed, and the town of Portland was surveyed
in 1840. Following decades saw a building boom with prominent
hotels, churches, banks and residences being constructed. Many
of these still stand, a testament to the builder’s workmanship,
and if you complete Portland’s self-guided historical buildings
walk you’ll see forty-six of the town’s 200 buildings
dating from the 18th Century.
Bentinck Street is one of the nicest places to start any leisurely
stroll of Portland’s historic area. Flanked by shops, cafés
and homes on one side, and pine and palm studded gardens on the
other, this broad boulevard overlooks Portland’s deep-water
port. Once filled with ships bringing immigrants from England
before sailing back with cargoes of wool, the harbour today is
surprisingly pristine regardless of industry, commercial fishing
fleet and pleasure craft based here.
Within a walk is the gloriously ornate facade of the Hotel Bentinck
circa1856, now restored and offering fine accommodation. Around
the corner is the Steam Packet Inn built in 1842 by Samuel Huchinson
as an hotel and one of the few remaining structures in Victoria
with its original shingle roofing - it also served variously as
a Temperance hotel, a house of ill repute, and police barracks.
Now, it serves as headquarters for the National Trust.
The Gordon Hotel in Bentinck Street holds the longest continuous
licence in Victoria; the Customs House in Cliff Street was built
in 1849/50, and the nearby bluestone Watch House and Portland’s
town hall are fine examples of early colonial architecture.
Henty’s homestead, Burswood, is probably one of the most
significant heritage properties in the country and certainly you
couldn’t get B&B in an older Victorian dwelling. Still
privately owned, it’s worth a visit even if you don’t
stay. Set in nearly three hectares of gardens which are open for
inspection, the restored Georgian-era home was built in 1834 from
local bluestone. Burswood is classified by the National Trust.
Portland’s Maritime Discovery Centre houses a lifeboat
built in Williamstown in 1858, which is perhaps the oldest intact
vessel in Australia. A revolution in self-righting design, the
boat was used in the successful rescue of many shipwreck victims.
Portland boasts some excellent fishing, beaches, wineries, historic
accommodation, and in the bay, occasional sightings of southern
right whales. Eighteen kilometres west of town is spectacular
Cape Bridgewater which has a colony of fur seals, an ancient petrified
forest, beautiful surf beach and cliff top walks.
Portland is 360km west of Melbourne on the Princes Highway, a
four hour drive.
STAY THE WEEKEND AT:
Burswood Homestead, Portland (B&B in Henty's grand mansion)
Sea View Lodge, B&B at Cape Bridgewater