Typical rural service centre for the
surrounding pastoral district.
Winchelsea is a pleasant small town of 1000
people which is located on the Barwon River 112
km south-west of Melbourne on the Princes
Highway between Geelong and Colac. The proximity
to Geelong (37 km north-east) means that
Winchelsea tends to miss out when people from
the district do their shopping.
There are several historic homesteads in the
area and a number of old bluestone buildings in
town although they tend to be scattered about
and hence do not form as strong a focal point as
they might. The shire relies principally on
pastoral and agricultural activities for its
Despite its inland location, Winchelsea is
named after one of the Cinque Ports on the
south-east coast of England. The first Europeans
to reside in the area were squatters who
established grazing runs here c.1837. The town
developed around the Barwon Hotel and a general
store, both of which were established in 1842 on
the coaching route between Geelong and
The first church was built, with the help of
the local grazier, Thomas Austin, in 1846. In
the manner of the wealthy country squire, Austin
loved shooting and, in 1859, he imported quails,
pheasants, foxes and rabbits for that purpose.
In this way he became responsible, in the eyes
of many, for Australia's substantial rabbit
problems. So profuse did they soon become that
the Duke of Edinburgh's 1867 hunting party shot
either 400 or 1000 rabbits in an afternoon,
depending on which source you want to believe.
Shooters were subsequently hired for the express
purpose of eradicating the vermin and a
rabbit-meat factory even operated for a time at
Austin was a noted and wealthy sheep-breeder,
being the first to import Lincoln sheep. His
wife, a great benefactor, founded the Austin
Hospital in Melbourne.
Albert Jacka, the first Australian to win a
Victoria Cross in World War I, and future mayor
of St Kilda, was born at Winchelsea is 1893.
Faced with dire circumstances at Gallipoli in
1915, Jacka killed seven Turkish soldiers after
four of his comrades had been killed or wounded.
Things to see:
Tourist Information is available from the
Geelong Information Centre (tel: 1800 620 888),
the Colac Information Centre (tel: 03 5231 3730)
or Surf Coast Shire Council, based in Torquay,
tel: (03) 5261 0600.
The town's raison d'etre, the Barwon Hotel
(1842), with a more recent facade, is still
standing near the river in Main St. Inside is a
collection of historical artefacts.
Bridge and Picnic Spots
Near the hotel is a three-span bluestone arch
bridge (1867) over the Barwon River which is
considered one of the most impressive stone
structures in Victoria. The commemorative stone
is undated as it was hurriedly prepared so as to
be ready for an opening by the Duke of Edinburgh
in 1867. It is the third bridge on the site
which was an important link on the
Geelong-Warrnambool Rd. There are a number of
picnic spots beside the river.
Another survivor is Thomas Austin's original
town church (1846). It adjoins the hall of the
second Anglican church which dates from 1860 and
which is located in Barwon Terrace.
Austin's 'Barwon Park' homestead is 3 km north
of town on the Inverleigh Rd which is signposted
off the Princes Highway. It is a two-storey
bluestone mansion with 42 rooms and a
distinctive cast-iron verandah and a profusion
of delicate cast-iron lacework. It originally
accommodated Austin, his wife and their eleven
The project was apparently prompted by Mrs
Austin's embarrassment when, in 1867, she had to
accommodate the Duke of Edinburgh in the
original house. When the new homestead was
completed in 1869 it was the finest and most
celebrated mansion in western Victoria. A
special ship was chartered to convey the house's
cedar, oak, marble and stained glass from
England. There is an elaborate entry hallway, a
fine oak and cedar staircase and a high-quality
crafted interior. It is open from 11.00 a.m. to
4.00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, tel: (03)
Other Historic Buildings - Shops
Alexandra's Antiques and Art Gallery is located
in a 19th-century bank building on Main St, tel:
(03) 5267 2605. The Riverside Gallery is
situated within the old red-brick public library
building (1893) in Main St. It is open from
Friday to Sunday, 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., tel:
(03) 5267 2919. The Winchelsea Shire Hall Tea
Rooms is a cafe-restaurant with arts and crafts
in Hesse St which does a roaring trade. They are
situated in a fine bluestone building (1908)
which originally served as the shire hall, tel:
(03) 5267 2769.
Lake Murdeduke, to the north-west of town, and
Lake Modewarre, signposted off the Princes
Highway 11 km east of town, are popular fishing
areas with redfin and rainbow trout to be had.
Otway Roses is an enclosed rose garden
surrounded by the Wormbete Forest with its own
cafe. It is located at 450 Wormbete Station Rd
to the south-east of town. They are open from
11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. on weekends from
November 1 to May 1, tel: (03) 5288 7382.
Killarney Park Lavender Farm (80 acres) are
also located on Wormbete Station Rd at the edge
of the Otway Ranges, and they are also open on
weekends, from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel:
(02) 5288 7312.
5 km south of Winchelsea on the Mathieson Rd
are Country Dahlias where the gardens are open
from February to April.
'Ingleby' was the primary homestead of the
Armytage family's pastoral empire, established
in 1836. The Belgian-born George Armytage sailed
for Van Diemans Land to make his fortune in 1815
as he resented a dependency on relatives
occasioned by the Napoleonic Wars. He built that
colony's first flour mill and sailed into Port
Phillip Bay in 1834.
Today, cottage accommodation is available on
the property, 200 metres from the two-storey
17-room bluestone homestead (1860) which
replaced an earlier stone house that is now in
ruins. To the rear is an elegant courtyard for
coaches. There is an unusually decorated
bluestone woolshed (1882-83) which was, at the
time, one of Victoria's largest and arguably the
first in the state to install shearing machines.
Farm tours and activities are seasonal. It is
located at 765 Ingleby Rd, 14 km west of
Winchelsea, tel: (03) 5267 2415.
'Tarndwarncoort', located off the Warncoort
Cemetery Rd, is another fine 19th-century
homestead. It is built primarily of bluestone
although freestone was used in the initial
stages. Local blackwood was used for the
furniture. The Polwarth breed of sheep was
developed on this property in the late 19th
century. Today it offers holiday cottage
accommodation, tel: (03) 5233 6241.
Other Historic Homesteads
'Wormbete' (6 km south of town in Deans Marsh
Rd) is an impressive homestead which was
recently owned by Alan Bond. It may be open for
inspection by prior arrangement.
'Murdeduke' is a fine bluestone homestead
which is located by the lake of the same name.
It can occasionally be visited as part of the
open gardens scheme.
The Sea-Mist Palomino Stud furnishes
horseriding, accommodation and a BYO restaurant.
They are located on Wensleydale Station Rd,
Winchelsea South, tel: (03) 5288 7255.
Kalinda Tours offer personalised tours of wine
regions, the Grampians, the Twelve Apostles,
Ballarat, Phillip Island and virtually anywhere
else in Victoria (a two-person minimum), tel:
(03) 5267 2581.