Port Albert

Port Albert
Attractive and historic port.
Port Albert, located 238 kilometres 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 decades.

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 Woman (1866).

Local sources also suggest that escaped convicts from Van Dieman's Land made their home in the area.

Things to see:

Historic Buildings
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.

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Port Albert 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 7 days a week from the 1st of September to 31st of May. From 10.30 am to 4.00 pm. During the winter months the Museum is open on weekends, school and public holidays or by request. The telephone/facsimile number is  (03) 5183 2520.

Derwent Hotel
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.

South Street
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 November.

Port Albert Motel/Hotel
Wharf St
Port Albert VIC 3971
Telephone: (03) 5183 2212
Rating: **

Port Albert Hotel
Wharf St
Port Albert VIC 3971
Telephone: (03) 5183 2212

Seabank Caravan Park
Old Port Rd P.O. Box 68
Port Albert VIC 3971
Telephone: (03) 5183 2315
Rating: ****

Port Albert Motel/Hotel
Wharf St
Port Albert VIC 3971
Telephone: (03) 5183 2212

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