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Portarlington – A brief history

The Wautharong People lived in the Portarlington region for years and lived it appears they lived on the mussels which the town is now so famous for. There have been various arch logical finds over the years which have discovered hunting tools and shells thought the Portarlington area.

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in 1797 the Alma Doppel sailed into the waters around Portarlington but the first real exploration was by Lieutenant John Murray and his team in 1802, then shortly after Matthew Flinders camped at Indented Head and also visited the area which is now Portarlington and Point Richards while he was surveying the Australian coastline. Charles Grimes the Surveyor-General visited in 1803 aboard his ship the Cumberland and met with aboriginals and traded food and utensils and maybe even small pox which infected the tribe.

Escaped convict William Buckley lived around the area with the Wautharong people for 32 years from 1803 and then there were really no visitors to the area until 1835 when John Batman established a camp at Indented Head.

The area was originally called Drayton but later changed to Portarlington in honour of Sir Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, but some people say it was actually named after Portarlington in Ireland as there were many Irish in the area.

One of the earliest known settlers around Portarlington was Henry Baynton, a butcher who moved from Hobart in the 1840’s he set up a cattle shipping service between Portarlington and Tasmania which was then Van Diemen’s Land.

The steam-powered flour mill opened in 1857, and mill owners also built a private jetty and and shipped in grain from Geelong and processed it and returned it as flour and bran. Portarlington was regarded as the granary of the Victorian colony. The mill later became a successful brick works and is now a National Trust Property and open to visitors. Portarlington soon started to flourish with a post office opening in 1863, and many more amenities and the steamers traded goods at the piers.

The steamers played an important role in Portarlington they served as a important method of transport for the Bellarine Peninsula. The steamers proved to be the best way of getting supplies to the region as well as the regions produce and stock to Geelong, Melbourne and beyond. The steamers also brought visitors to Portarlington to enjoy the beautiful seaside and to the public bathing house. People were prohibited to bathe in open beaches as it was seen as rude, unlike today where you can wear just about nothing in public.

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A school, churches, halls and other public buildings opened during the 1870’s and 1880’s and the town even had a horse racing track which was originally built near the mill but moved to create the Portarlington Turf Club in 1883. The track had a major sand problem and 1906 it closed. The Portarlington Golf club has had a much more successful time, opening in 1909 the club is one of the strongest in the Geelong region and offers some magnificent views of the surrounding peninsula and bay.