The Standard

Pale whale sighted off Port Fairy

01 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM
The sight of numerous shiny black backs breaking the surface is enough to get breathless south-west whale watchers reaching for their binoculars.

But throw in an eye-catching pale whale and the excitement level cranks up to a whole new level.

These southern right whales turned heads at Port Fairy on the weekend — especially the rare light grey visitor.

Mandy Watson from the Department of Sustainability and Environment said a fly-over survey had identified nine southern right whales between Peterborough and Cape Bridgewater.

Up to six of the giant creatures have been enjoying

the waters off Port Fairy, with others sighted at Logans Beach (including regular visitor Big Lips), Codrington and Portland.

Pale Right Whale


THE AGE - MAY 2011

Daniel Scott returns to the historic town lined with handsome buildings and a thriving arts community.

It's nearly 20 years since I discovered Port Fairy, at the end of a drive along the Great Ocean Road. Although it wasn't exactly lively back then, I fell for the seaside enclave, extending my one-night stay to a week.

It may have been whimsy but the half of me that emanates from Ireland felt comfortable in this historic small town on the banks of the River Moyne. Bound on two sides by long, rock-fringed beaches assailed by the Southern Ocean and buffeted by fierce coastal winds that together brought ruin to many a 19th-century ship, Port Fairy seemed transplanted to south-western Victoria from County Cork. Its broad streets, handsome colonial buildings and pubs on every corner simply underlined that first impression.

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Revisiting Port Fairy on a late autumn weekend, I find it changed but much the same. Sea-changers have arrived in force, bringing acclaimed restaurants, chi-chi boutiques and a thriving art scene but the town's lost none of its down-to-earth gentleness.


Port Fairy's origins as a whaling and sealing settlement were anything but gentle, with the blood of both the local Malen Gunditj Aborigines and the southern right whales that visited each winter spilt indiscriminately throughout the 1830s. By the 1840s, the supply of whales was nearly extinguished. Many then saw profit in cultivating the area's rich volcanic soils for farming, so cattle and sheep were brought over from Tasmania.

In 1843, James Atkinson bought 2023 hectares of land here, outlining plans for a town named Belfast and inviting Irish immigrants to settle. The Moyne River was central to the settlement's development, providing a sheltered port for fishing boats and an important outlet for the export of wool, wheat and gold to England. By the 1850s, Port Fairy was Australia's second-busiest port.

The township's decline was equally dramatic. The closure, in 1862, of the main employer, the shipping company William Rutledge & Co, changed its fortunes almost overnight. Renamed Port Fairy in 1887, after the cutter Fairy that, 60 years before, had found shelter at the mouth of the Moyne, it had more modest aspirations from then on.


Much of Port Fairy's appeal lies in its well-preserved 19th-century buildings. Many of the oldest sprang up around King George's Square beside the river. These included the Merrijig Inn (1844), the Customs House (1860) and the Moyne Steam Flour Mill, a two-storey bluestone warehouse also built in 1860.

The nearby 1859 Courthouse hosts the History Museum (30 Gipps Street, open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 2-5pm, admission $3), with displays dedicated to the settlement's development and shipwreck history. The town also has two historic walks and, around the Moyne River, a maritime and shipwreck trail. Maps are available from the Tourist Information Centre on Bank Street.

Griffiths Island

In 1859, a bluestone lighthouse was built to aid ships travelling along this treacherous coastline. On the tip of Griffiths Island, which protects the mouth of the Moyne River at the edge of town, the lighthouse can be reached via an interpretive walk. Along the way, panelling details the island's indigenous and whaling heritage and you pass grazing swamp wallabies and the underground burrows of thousands of shearwaters, or mutton birds. They arrive in August from as far as Alaska and on summer nights turn the evening sky black as they return to their nests.


During the past 20 years, Port Fairy has emerged as an artist's colony. I spend an afternoon following its Art Walk, which takes in 11 galleries and studios around town. I dwell longest at the Whalebone Gallery (39A Bank Street, phone 5568 2855, open 10am-5pm most days, Sunday, 10am-4pm), a co-operative showing the work of seven local artists. It features metal and ceramic sculptures, blown glass, silver jewellery and some intriguing pieces incorporating stained glass, fabrics and layered collage by artist Jill Edwards.

Later on, I watch glass-blower Robert Gatt at work at the Eclectic Designs Studio (62 Regent Street, phone 5568 2794, open 1-5pm daily except on Wednesdays).

"Port Fairy's fantastic," says Gatt, who moved here 18 years ago, "for the supportive atmosphere of competition among artists."

Also on Port Fairy's Art Walk are the Little Doll House Museum (34 James Street, phone 5568 3349, Thursday-Monday 10.30am-4pm) and the Preston Studio/Gallery (41 Regent Street, phone 5568 3100, open seven days), displaying the works of realist painter Wilma Preston.

Kites, bikes and volcanoes

Port Fairy's blustery weather makes it ideal for flying kites. During school holidays, The Kite House (27 Cox Street, phone 5568 2781) offers free kites so you can give it a try. For less windy days, the store also rents bikes ($22 for 24 hours). I hire one to tackle part of the new, mostly flat 30-kilometre Port Fairy to Warrnambool rail trail, which follows the defunct train line. I leave the trail about halfway to visit Tower Hill (see, visitor centre open 9am-5pm weekdays, 10am-4pm weekends), a funnel-shaped crater caused by a volcanic eruption more than 30,000 years ago. Tower Hill was declared Victoria's first national park in 1892 and is an excellent place to see native wildlife and learn about the area's geological and indigenous history.

Other attractions

The arrival of whales and particularly the huge southern rights between June and October brings an added pull to visiting Port Fairy in winter.

Where to eat

The Merrijig Inn, at 1 Campbell Street (phone 5568 2324,, earned two chef's hats in the 2010 Age Good Food Guide. Dining at the Merrijig is an exceptional experience thanks to the innovative use of fresh regional produce, particularly seafood.

My dinner begins with an entree of crayfish and roe with samphire (a coastal plant). I also sample an exquisite baby abalone with shellfish tapioca. There's something symphonic, too, about the combination of colour, taste and texture of my main of blue-eyed cod, local scallops, asparagus, parsley, almonds and lemon. Local rieslings are the perfect accompaniment.

Fast garnering a reputation for fine fare is the Stag restaurant (phone 5568 3226, see the at 22 Sackville Street. Stag chef Tanya Connellan makes every effort to source produce locally and the presentation is beautiful.

From the creamy cauliflower soup served over a parmesan crumble in a shot glass as an appetiser to the spaghetti with shaved zucchini and lemon zest, to the "seaside" tasting plate, including delicious grilled local sardines with a tomato salsa, there's much to enjoy. My meal ends with a wicked flourish: a chocolate pot de creme with roasted apricots, salted caramel and honeycomb.

Of the many busy cafes around the town centre, I gravitate to Ramellas, at 19 Bank Street (phone 5568 3322), for its quality coffee.

Along the street, the Cobbs Bakery offers home-baked goodies to take away or eat in the bakery house and gardens.

Where to drink

Try the local brew, Savage Seagull, at the Victoria Hotel (see on Bank Street or down a pint of Guinness across the road at the Caledonian Inn, the oldest continuously licensed pub in Victoria, established in 1844. The Star of the West Hotel, on Bank Street, meanwhile, gets my vote for Port Fairy humour with its sign advertising a "Husband Creche", where women can leave their spouses and "shop in peace".

Where to stay

The self-contained Victoria apartments have kitchenettes, balconies or courtyards, free wireless internet and are close to galleries, cafes and boutiques. From $169 a night for a one-bed apartment at 48-50 Bank Street. Phone 5568 1160, see

In the same historic building as the classy restaurant, the Merrijig Inn has bed and breakfast accommodation. Rates from $140 a night. See On the dunes at East beach are the affordable Mungala holiday apartments, with weekly rates from $750 in low season (May to November) on 192 Griffiths Street. Phone 5568 1066, see


Port Fairy's most famous event is the Folk Festival (, which takes place in March each year and attracts 40,000 visitors. The 2012 festival is on March 10-13.

This winter, Port Fairy has a long weekend of art and music a (June 11-13), Taste the Flavours of Port Fairy, a celebration of the region's wine and food (August 6-7), and the Ex-Libris Port Fairy Book Fair (September 9-11, see, which features writers, poetry readings and an antiquarian book sale.

Getting there

I visit Port Fairy using the V/Line train from Melbourne's Southern Cross Station to Warrnambool, with an onward coach connection. There are two or more departures a day and the journey time is slightly more than four hours. Fares from $27.50 one-way. Phone 13 61 96, see

The drive from Melbourne takes four hours via the inland route through Geelong and Colac and six hours (with one stop) along the Great Ocean Road. For more information, phone 5568 2682, see

Daniel Scott travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.



At Whalebone Gallery – where there are always new and changing exhibitions.  A new sculpture by Meg Finnegan named New Beginnings. This New artwork feeds our senses with aged copper & delicate ceramic detail. Rich patinas & strong form balance with sensitivity & fragility to give a unique sculpture. Open all weekend and most afternoons.

Craft market –Village Green, Cnr Bank & Sackville Sts 8am – 2pm

Motts Cottage, Sackville Street, 2pm – 4pm

Blarney Books James Street, have a new exhibition by Geordie Allardice – called Through Imaginary Moments, it is Geordie Allardice’s first solo show,

History Centre, Gipps Street, 2pm – 4pm

Tower Hill Lavender Farm, Carey Lane, Tower Hill  open Thursday – Sunday 10am – 4.30pm.

Sunday 24th October

Try Bowls Day at Port Fairy Bowls Club from 10am – 12noon.   All you need is a pair of flat soled shoes.

Woolongoon Garden Fair, Connewarren Lane, Mortlake.   $10 entry for adults, beautiful historic garden, music, stalls, all proceeds in aid of Abbeyfield House Residential Facility.  This is a fabulous house and garden, it will be well worth the drive up.

History Centre, Gipps Street 2pm – 5pm

And Also

This weekend 24th October: is a big weekend in Dunkeld, Mt Sturgeon homestead is open as well as lots of other activities in the township such as stalls, children’s activities etc.  It might be something you would like to do yourself.  Check their website  

Tweet Birds – This is an art project in this region, individuals make the birds from a pattern (available here)  the birds are   given to Oriel Glennen and they “ fly” around the south west. The work is called tweet.   If you would like to participate call in for a copy of the pattern, apparently they are simple to make.


Whale Watch News

A WHALE which came within 200 metres of the Logans Beach viewing platform yesterday has raised hopes for a lucrative tourist season ahead.

The southern right was spotted about 7.30am between 1.5 and two kilometres off Logans Beach but during the morning came within 200 metres of the viewing platform.

Experts believe the whale, which left Logans Beach and headed towards Port Fairy about midday, could have been the same adult female spotted in Portland harbour on Tuesday.

(From the Standar 31/5/08)

Whale Watching Port Fairy

This years whales season is barely underway and already the war of words has begun, with the first broadside coming in the form of an article from a New South Wales tour operator in the Warrnambool daily newspaper (The Standard). The operator stated that he often bought tourist buses along the Great Ocean Road and stopped at the Logans Beach whale lookout to see the famous Southern Right whales, and for the last few years had not spotted a whale. He went on to say that he has removed whale viewing from his advertising.

The locals know that you are just as likely to see a whale in Port Fairy bay, but Port Fairy lacks a viewing platform. Not to worry just park your car anywhere along the cliff top, fish and chips, a cuppa in a warm car is much more civilized. Not to mention that the bay is just behind the Riverhouse so as you are strolling along the East Beach keep a look out over the ocean


July Food and Wine Weekend - and Childrens Special

A Kids (and adults) Night Out - 5th July

The Port Fairy Winter Weekends Committee have organised a small event for the children of visitors and patrons to the July Food and Wine Weekend (see Things to Do). This is a fantastic opportunity for parents to take time out and experience local Food and Wine while children are entertained with a Meal and Movie deal.

$30 for one child or $25 each for two or more children - includes pizza, drink, icecream, movie and QUALIFIED CARERS.

***5.30pm at Madagalli Pizza and Pasta Restaurant, Bank Street, Port Fairy.

***Followed by movie "Open Season" at the Reardon Theatre, Bank Street, Port Fairy

"Open Season" is the story of US animals in a park who take revenge on the hunters during Open Season.

Designed for children 5 + years old. Maximum of 30 children - places limited. Bookings essential. Phone Sheryl on 5568 1670 or 0428 835 156.

Childcare also available on request for 0-5 year olds.

Easter Weekend

Port Fairy has lots to offer over the week end, especially as this year it will be hot. This year Easter being part of the school holidays will make Port Fairy a destination to be at.

There will be the usual Farmers Market - Easter Saturday 9am till 2pm

A great range of tasty produce will be on sale, from organic veggies to free-range eggs and home made cakes.
The market is held on the Village Green, corner Bank and Sackville streets, Port Fairy.

Afterwards pop across the road to Rebecca's and treat yourself to a sumptuous breakfast or just a good brew of coffee

A fantastic place for lunch is Time and Tide which is on the western coast of Port Fairy with spectacular views of the southern ocean, travel on the road to Portland just to the outskirts of town then turn left to the coast, they don't take bookings but don't let that put you off, their light lunch and aray of yummy cakes is worth the short drive.


Port Fairy Folk Festival

Port Fairy 2008 presents 136 acts - including 26 International, 70 National main acts, 40 Fringe acts. Port Fairy is transformed from a quiet, sleepy historic township into an enourmouse all-weekend festival. The street fills with stalls, free entertainment, street proformers, buskers and the sports ground turns into a sea of oversized pervillions/tents which is fenced off for the paying patrons. Its an unbelievable experience that has to be seen, there is now way it can be captured in print, visit the blog to view some of the acts or visit the Folk Festival web site. One thing about the Festival is that you can experience a week end of fun for free.

Article in today's Warrnambool Standard News Paper

HEADLINE act Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers are set to perform stripped-down versions of their music at the Port Fairy Folk Festival this weekend. Nicholson and Chambers hope their first visit to Port Fairy will be intimate and relaxed. Chambers said she had always wanted to perform at the famous festival. "We want to try something different for the festival," Chambers said. "I like for people to go away feeling like they know me as a person more, not just as a musician. "The whole family will be down. Mum is even coming along to look after the kids." Nicholson, who has been compared to the likes of Alex Lloyd and Keith Urban, will bring his country tinged rock-pop sound to the Folkie. "More than anything the atmosphere and general vibe is what I'm most looking forward to," Nicholson said.


Discover Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving is held at the east beach behind the Riverhouse every morning at 9am during the festival, by the Devil Diving group Port Fairy 33 Bank St. Port Fairys waters are know for their many shipwrecks along the coast, the wreck of the Thistle which sank in 1849, now lies in only 2 metres of water and is a popular dive. The South Beach has many large and safe rock pools which are ideal for spotting fish.

New Year's day

Commence early with a Community Craft Market on King George Square. At 2pm on the Moyne there is a sail past of wooden and classic boats followed by the Duck Durby where by members of the Surf Life Saving Club release hundreds of little yellow ducks at a designated spot and the first duck to hit a rope strung further down the river is the winner, an eminent auctioneer has been successfully calling the race for many years making it a highlight of the day. Make sure you buy a duck number which are on sale around town and at the market on the day, support the Surf Club and win a fabulous prize. The best way to wind down the day is to set yourself up on the lawn in front of the Riverhouse with a glass of wine, friends and enjoy the proceedings.

Moyneyana Festival

The Moyneyana Festival is the longest running festival in the state, this year celebrating 60years. A hard working local committee provide a variety of entertainment for all ages during the five week holiday period.

The festival commences on the 24th December with entertainment on the village green and clubs holding individual events throughout the period. A program is available.

New Year's Eve

A big night with free entertainment on the village green and the famous street procession, culminating in a fireworks spectacular at midnight.

What's on Calendar

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