|Boats at the
marina, Port Albert
Attractive and historic port.
Port Albert, located 238 km south-east of
Melbourne, was one of Victoria's earliest
settled ports. Although the area is often
mentioned in Aboriginal myths, it remained
undiscovered by Europeans until 1841. In the
first two months of that year, the site of the
future township was visited by three separate
exploration parties, marking an appropriately
enthusiastic start to a town that would make a
dramatic rise to prominence in the ensuing
On January 2nd, 1841, the Clonmel foundered
off the coast and the survivors' favourable
reports attracted a group of speculators known
as the 'Gippsland Company'. They arrived two
weeks after explorer, Angus McMillan, who was
searching for a port from which to ship cattle
to Van Dieman's Land. Three months later, in
May, the first settlers arrived.
The initial site of the township, known as 'Seabank'
or 'Old Port', was abandoned and the new
township of 'New Leith' was established 3 kms to
the south. The name Port Albert was soon
adopted, in honour of the Queen's consort.
Port Albert's early commercial development
was largely carried out by John and Robert
Turnbull. It soon became the principal town and
administrative centre of Gippsland and a port
for the region's trade with Melbourne and Van
Dieman's Land. Its initial prosperity was based
upon its proximity to the cattle trade between
Gippsland and the future Tasmania. A 250-metre
timber jetty, constructed to facilitate the
growing traffic, today makes a pleasant place
for an afternoon walk.
Port Albert was ideally situated to benefit
from the extra trade generated by the discovery
of gold at Walhalla and Omeo in the 1850s. The
fishing industry emerged the following decade.
However, the settlement began to decline in
importance as the interior of Gippsland was
opened up. This process was greatly accelerated
by the coming of the railways in the 1870s and
1880s, which also provided an alternative trade
link with Melbourne. More than two-thirds of the
population disappeared between 1891 and 1933.
Today, the town continues to function as a
supply port for Wilsons Promontory.
Articles concerning the early history of the
port were written by a local official, George
Dunderdale, and collected in The Book of the
Bush (1898). His house still stands on the road
to Tarraville. One local story concerns the
discovery of a dress and a towel in a canoe in
1841. They were supposed to belong to a Scottish
woman who had survived a shipwreck. It was
rumoured that she was being held by aborigines
and local natives confirmed that a white woman
was living with a tribe nearby. Although search
parties did find a group of local Aborigines in
possession of a manufactured item featuring the
image of Brittania the actual woman was never
found. True or not, the story probably reflects
the fears of the pioneers and it was certainly
used as a justification for the maltreatment of
Aborigines. Early settler Angus McLean was one
of a number of writers who used the tale as the
basis of literary fiction in Lindigo, The White
Local sources also suggest that escaped
convicts from Van Dieman's Land made their home
in the area.
Things to see:
Port Albert's early importance is reflected in
the number of substantial buildings dating from
the 1850s and 1860s. The rugged Port Albert
Hotel, licensed in 1842, claims to be the oldest
pub continually in operation in Victoria.
Opposite the Yacht Club, with a view of the
jetty, the hotel was originally constructed from
prefabricated timber, though the current brick
structure dates from 1858. An old weatherboard
section at the front of the building was ruined
by fire in 1893. Between the hotel and the wharf
is the former Bond Store (1852), which held
goods awaiting the payment of customs duties.
The local post office is a solid structure
with gabled roof, rounded windows and, on both
sides, projecting wings and attractive verandahs
supported by classical-style columns. Founded in
1864, it is probably Gippsland's first and
certainly one of Victoria's oldest mail centres.
Port Arthur Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum, in Wharf Street, was once
the Bank of Victoria. Built in 1862, it received
gold from the fields to the north. It now houses
memorabilia of the port's nautical past,
including a cannon from the wreck of the Clonmel.
Notes concerning an automobile tour of the
district are also available. The museum is open
2.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m. on Sundays and public
Diagonally opposite the museum, on the corner of
Wharf and Victoria Streets, is the old Derwent
Hotel, with its painted brick exterior, timber
verandah, and steep corrugated-iron hip roof.
Erected in 1858 by John Foster (see entry on
Maffra) to accommodate passing diggers, it is no
longer open to the public.
A monument to Angus McMillan stands in the
roundabout at the South Street entrance to Port
Albert. At one time, this street constituted the
dividing line between the port and the
government township of Palmerston, established
alongside. It contains public structures such as
the police station (1856) and the rudimentary
Immigration Depot (1857-8), through which large
numbers of gold-prospecting Chinese immigrants
once passed. Although somewhat altered, it is
considered a significant instance of the
vernacular architectural style utilised in the
public buildings of the early colonial period.
Also on South Street, near the monument, is
McKenzie's store. Built in 1858, it is now a
private home. Other buildings of that decade are
a store and bakery on Tarraville Road and the
former customs house.
Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park
Port Albert is situated within the bounds of the
Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park, which
stretches eastwards from Port Welshpool to an
area beyond one of the region's better locales
for swimming, Mann's Beach. The park
incorporates a number of offshore islands, such
as Snake Island (see the entry on Port
Welshpool), which are havens for various
parrots, sea eagles, migratory birds and other
fauna. Fishing is permitted. The Sunday Island
race also departs from Port Albert every