Top 10 Historic Sites of the Otways and Hinterland

By Paul Michael Donovan

Professional Historian and Cultural Heritage Consultant

1. Lardners Creek Stone Axe Site

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

or traded.

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

2. Cape Otway Lightstation

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


• 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.


3. Tarndwarncoort Homestead

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 Main Street

4. Birregurra Historic Streetscape

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


5. Elliminook Homestead

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.

6. Historic Sawmill Sites

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.

Dry Stone Wall

7. Stone Walls

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.

8. Coastal Trade – Apollo Bay

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

agricultural produce.

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.


9. Lorne

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.

Great Ocean Road Construction

10. Great Ocean Road

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.


Where to Stay

Bootmakers Cottage - Birregurra

Otways Loft - Forrest

Steam Carriage - Forrest