By Paul Michael Donovan
Professional Historian and Cultural Heritage Consultant
The Otway Ranges between Painkalac Creek and Gellibrand River are the land of the Gadubanud
people. The Great Otway National Park is listed as National park with a 57-mile hiking trail, forest,
waterfalls & an extensive Aboriginal history. In May 1847, the westward extension of the coastal
survey by Robert Hoddle generated a picture of the Aire River estuary as an important site of
economic activity for the Gadubanud.
An open wetland–grass shore complex and tall ancient forest was maintained by strategic traditional
use of fire, with tall trees on the edge of the grasslands being susceptible to windfalls – a useful
means of toppling large trees and harvesting wood fuel in a time when only stone axes were
available. The axes were not used for felling trees, rather they were used to notch tree trunks so that
hunters could climb up and capture possums.
On Lardner’s Creek, 1.6km upstream from its junction with the Gellibrand River. There in a site
where the basalt of the volcanic plains forms large outcrops near slabs of sandstone that had been
exposed by the rushing water. The grooves on its surface signify its importance as a site of
production where bluestone axes were manufactured into sharpened axe heads that could be used
Lardners/Turtons Loop starts in a gully on your left off Roadknight Creek road.
• Leave Forrest via Turner Drive, next to the Brewery and ride for 1.3km.
• Turn left when it intersects the Colac-Forrest Rd and ride 1.5km.
• Turn left at Roadknight Creek Rd, ride this for 5.8km.
• Take Ridge Road for 750m.
• Turn right down onto Bridge Track which eventually becomes Sayers Track after you
cross the river.
• Take a left onto Lardners Track.
Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia and considered the
most significant. Built in 1848, the lighthouse known as the ‘Beacon of Hope,’ sits 90 metres above
the pristine ocean of Bass Strait. Lieutenant Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe personally made
three overland attempts at reaching Cape Otway before finding success in 1846 thanks to the help of
the local Indigenous people and settlers. They trekked to this site on foot to select the site for the
colony’s first lighthouse, and identified the gravesite of missing colonial Lawyer Joseph Tice
Gellibrand along this journey. The Gellibrand River was named in his honour.
This leading attraction on the Great Ocean Road is a must for all visitors.
Hundreds of lives were lost along this shipwreck coast – a sad but fascinating history which led to
the building of the Lightstation on the cliffs edge.
For many thousands of 19th century migrants, who spent months travelling to Australia by ship,
Cape Otway was their first sight of land after leaving Europe, Asia and North America.
Take a self-guided experience to explore the following:
• Daily History Talks at 11am & 2pm
• 1848 Cape Otway Lighthouse – Climb the tower. (limited to 15 people at one time)
• 1850’s Keeper’s Quarters and Workshop
• 1859 Telegraph Station
• The Talking Hut – TEMPORARILY CLOSED MAY/ JUNE
• WWII Radar Bunker
• Whale Interpretation Site
• To the right as you walk towards lighthouse an impressive display of Indigenous artefacts are
in a circular mud brick type building at the start of the Indigenous heritage walk overlooking
the creek bed.
1840 Homestead with Farmgate, Wool Shop and Accommodation.
Tarndwarncoort at Warncoort was one of the earliest established properties in western Victoria. The
first part of the present Tarndwarncoort homestead was designed by Alexander Dennis and built in
1848-9. Recognised by the National Trust as one of Victoria’s oldest surviving homesteads. The
family links to Tarndwarncoort started with Emma and Alexander Dennis when they left their
shrinking family farm in Cornwall, UK in 1839. It was on the advice of Emma’s ship captain brother
that new farm lands were discovered in “Australia Felix”. They landed 615 Merino sheep at Point
Henry in Geelong and found a suitable run at Tarndwarncoort by 1840. Here they began a dynasty of
innovative farming that has seen boom and bust over 7 generations. The property is home to
Australia’s first breed of sheep - the Polwarth sheep - and its listed buildings reflect the Cornish
heritage of the pioneer family.
Birregurra is a rural township near the Princes Highway between Geelong and Colac. Its precise
position is on the railway line, 18 km east of Colac. It borders the western bank of the Barwon River.
The Otway Ranges are immediately south and there are undulating plains to the north.
In 1836 an Aboriginal mission station was established at Buntingdale about six kilometres south of
Birregurra on the Barwon River by Francis Tuckfield on behalf of the Wesleyan Missionary Society.
The station ceased in 1851. A memorial in the grounds of the Uniting Church recalls the missionary
efforts of Reverend Francis Tuckfield at Buntingdale One of its overseers, a Captain Bowden, had his
name given to the place (Bowden’s Point) where the Cape Otway road crossed the river, and that
place subsequently became Birregurra. The Birregurra on Barwon township was surveyed in 1862. It
is thought that the name was derived from an Aboriginal word describing ‘kangaroo camp’
By the 1860s Birregurra could claim a flour mill, blacksmith, butcher and bootmaker’s cottage (now
accommodation), as well as a number of hotels and inns including the Native Youth Hotel. Heritage
Buildings in Birregurra include the General Store, Post Office, Tea House, Colonial Bank (now Otway
Artisan Gluten Free), Railway Station, Christchurch (Anglican 1870), St Peter's Roman Catholic
Church, built in 1907 to replace an earlier timber church completed in 1864, and former Uniting
(circa 1908 red brick church). Birregurra is also home to the restaurant Brae, which was in The
World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2017
The Elliminook Homestead in Birregurra was built in 1865 for the pastoralist and magistrate John
Davenport Bromfield, in patterned Flemish bond brickwork with slate and iron roof. On 6th April
1870, John Davenport Bromfield laid the foundation stone for the new Christ Church at Birregurra.
He died less than seven weeks later. Mrs Eliza Bromfield acquired gifts from local Gulidjan people, a
number of whom were employed on her farm and household, including a daughter of “King Jacky”
Co-Coc-Coine, an acknowledged Gulidjan leader. Examples of Gulidjan gifts to Mrs Bromfield are
held in the British Museum.
Eliminook homestead is now B&B accommodation and can be visited by booking.
The history of European occupation is also apparent, with many relics of the timber, shipping and
transport and other industries across a complex cultural landscape.
Evidence of more than 200 sawmills and tramways are distributed throughout the Otway forests.
The park encompasses a number of historic sites that were identified as highly significant and placed
in historic and cultural features reserves by the LCC Historic Places Special Investigation in 1997.
One of the most significant sites is that of the Henry and Sanderson sawmill complex that was
established in the early 1900s. It is one of the largest in the Otways and represents the application of
innovative engineering and technological solutions to the challenging terrain and conditions. For
example, the sawmill site was serviced by two tunnels which are still intact. Only three such tunnels
are known in Victoria. The settlement associated with the sawmill was one of the most isolated and
self-contained in the Otways. Other significant sites identified within the park include Knott's No.3
Sawmill (also known as the "Wait-a-While" mill), the Marchbank Sawmill and Tramway Historic Area
(located north-west of Ferguson) and the sites of Henry's Nettle and Carisbrook sawmills (in the
forest behind Kennett River). The sawmill sites often include relics representing all of the stages of
sawmilling operations, from logging and tramway transportation, through to milling. The Marchbank
site includes particularly significant examples of zigzag and switchback tramlines—once common
tramway systems needed across the hilly Otways to create a workable gradient for timber haulage.
Some, such as the Henry's Nettle and Carisbrook sawmill site, contain evidence of substantial
associated sawmill settlement.
Many of the walks also feature information on the cultural and historic values of the area. Sabine
Falls walking track is an example of one of several walking tracks located on old timber tramway
routes. The such historical relics can be seen in-situ, at Kalimna Falls walking track.
The Old Beechy Rail Trail winds through scenic pine forests and bushland, rich farmland and rolling
hills as it travels from Colac up to Beech Forest and Ferguson. It was originally a narrow gauge
railway that played a key role in opening the western Otways to settlement.
During the Gold Rush of 1851, shepherds abandoned their flocks in the pastoral districts and joined
the rush to the diggings. This forced pastoralists to build stone fencing, which improved lambing
percentages, selective breeding and allowed heavier herd density. Dry stone walls are an enduring
element of the early phases of fencing. The availability of volcanic stone on many runs provided a
cheap supply of building material. However fencing methods varied as dry stone wallers applied the
English, Scottish or Irish walling traditions brought with them from their home country.
Examples of these stone walls are common in the Otway area, including the Galloway Dyke, and an
example survives in Lawlors Road Dreeite, built in about the 1860s. Many of these can be seen from
the road between Colac and Lake Corrangamaite.
During the early years of settlement, Apollo Bay was dependent on sea carriage for communication
and trade. Land routes over the ranges were primitive, and often impassable for half the year. A
Geelong-based sawmilling company pioneered coastal trade to Apollo Bay in 1849. The town grew in
the 1850s as a sea-based sawmilling community known as Krambruk. In the early 1860s timber
splitters produced sleepers to be used for the construction of railways in the new colony. In 1886 the
original 1850s jetty was replaced by a modern structure at Point Bunbury, and regular shipping
vessels brought in passengers, supplies, furniture and equipment and took out timber and
After the 1880s tourism became a central part of Apollo Bay’s industry numbers rose as leisure time
and disposable incomes increased. Tourists were encouraged to take the voyage and stay at one of
the hotels, and view the scenic delights along the river. Although a coach service began to carry
tourists from the Forrest railhead in 1891, the sea route continued to provide the main transport
route. Exports of timber and other bulk commodities such as potatoes and apples also persisted. But
trade ended when the Great Ocean Road opened.
In 1864, Lawrence and Thomas Mountjoy built a 2-room dwelling at the Erskine River, on the site
now occupied by the Erskine House, 35 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, which they enlarged in 1868 due to
an increase in tourism to the area. In January 1875, the building was extended, almost doubling the
accommodation in order to hold the ever-increasing stream of tourists. Erskine House has been in
continuous use since its original construction in 1864. Between 1864 and 1939 the building was
gradually expanded to include (in addition the the Main Building) a Ballroom, 3 Meeting Rooms, a
Hexagonal Garden Pavilion and a Croquet Pavilion. The settlement was originally known as Louttit
Bay, but the name was changed to Lorne in honour of the Marquis of Lorne who married the
daughter of Queen Victoria in 1870.
Around 1868 Joseph and Elizabeth Duncan publicly announced their plan to build a licensed Hotel at
Louttit Bay. The Original Lorne Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1919 and the current hotel was built in
1920. It included 40 bedrooms, smoking rooms, a dining hall, kitchen, electric light and even tennis
and croquet lawns as well as a bowling green and a luxurious motor garage.
The first Lorne pier was built in 1879 to serve the logging industry. Logging began in Lorne some 20
years earlier and during that time ships had to be beached and propped on the shore while they
were loaded for delivery to the Geelong area. The industry grew and eventually sawn timbers were
delivered to the pier from saw mills near Upper Kalimna falls by teams of horses along timber railed
tramlines. The Lorne pier was also used to land supplies to the small community of Louttit Bay as it
was then known.
By the turn of the Twentieth Century, as the Otways timber milling industry boomed, Lorne became
a resort both for sea-faring tourists from Melbourne and Geelong, and for the workers from the
various surrounding timber settlements. In 1911 a Tourists’ Resorts Committee was established to
give grants and other assistance to local areas via Tourist Societies or Progress Associations to
improve roads and tourist facilities. Tourism to the Otways was increased by the historic opening of
the Great Ocean Road following the Great War (WWI). In December 1922 a Tourists Resorts Act was
passed which gave a select committee the power to proclaim tourist resorts and tourist roads, and in
1938 a further act, the Tourists’ Resorts Development Act was passed. Progress associations
promoted their towns by producing tourist pamphlets and paraphernalia. Colac was advertised as a
tourist destination because of its “natural and unique beauty spots” and its “excellent base for the
visitor to visit Lorne and Apollo Bay. Lorne Became known as the ‘Queen of Watering Places.
The Great Ocean Road was built in the 1920’s by returned servicemen from the Great War (WW1),
carved in rock as permanent memorial to those who died while fighting. It winds around the rugged
southern coast and was a huge engineering feat ending decades of isolation for Lorne and other
coastal communities. It was initiated by The chairman of the Country Roads Board, Mr W Calder and
finally opened On 26 November 1932 by the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Irvine.
The Great Ocean Road coastline is recognised as one of the most spectacular in Australia for its
visual qualities and physical features, biological features and cultural attachments. The coastline has
high visual quality and major significance for Aboriginal culture. Cape Otway is one of the
outstanding visual features of the coastline and has significant archaeological sites. The Cape Otway
- Marengo Area, the "Conway Allotments " in the Otway National Park and the Aire River have all
received National Trust Landscape Classifications. The coastline settlements including Wye River,
Kennett River and Skenes Creek separated by cleared farmland or native forests. These small coastal
settlements between Apollo Bay and Lorne have developed from speculative residential subdivisions
created after the Great Ocean Road was built.
Bootmakers Cottage - Birregurra
Otways Loft - Forrest
Steam Carriage - Forrest