Monday, 13 September 2010

Churchill Island

The first European to visit Phillip Island was George Bass in 1798. His mode of transport was a 27' whaleboat. He and six seamen rowed down the coast from Sydney and in the process proved that Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) was separated from the Australian mainland by a strait (now called Bass Strait). (As an aside, they discovered seven escaped convicts on an island in the strait and took them back to Sydney - it must have been a squash, and they were on very limited rations.)

On Friday 5th January 1798, Bass reached Phillip Island and wrote;
I have named the place from its relative situation to every other known harbour on the coast, Western Port.....The land around Western Port is low but hilly. The grass and ferns grow luxuriantly and yet the country is but thinly and lightly timbered. The gum tree, she and swamp oaks, are the most common trees..little patches of brush are to be met with everywhere. The island is but barren. Starved shrubs grow upon the higher land, and the lower is nothing better than sandy beaches, at this time dried up...we saw a few brush kangaroo, the wallabah, but no other kind. Swans may be seen here, hundreds in flight, and ducks, a small but excellent kind. There is an abundance of most kinds of wildfowl.

(From Journey of a Whaleboat Voyage, Bass' own account)
Phillip Island is very different now. Agriculture, tourism, and a race track are all important components but the natural environment is protected in certain areas. We didn't have time to explore Cape Wollamai but it would be good to go there in the summer when the shearwaters in their hundreds fly back to their burrows.

We visited Churchill Island, joined to Phillip Island by a causeway. We found a Cape Barren Goose and family of chicks beside the causeway road.

Churchill Island is a historic working farm now but there are important protected mudflats and revegetation projects on the island itself. There are still some old and gnarled Moonahs Melaleuca lanceolata, maybe 500 years old, with trunks that look like twisted rope, growing among the 50 million-year-old basalt rocks on the shore and cliffs. So they would have been growing there when Bass visited and Grant planted his crops. In 1801 Lt. James Grant landed on Churchill Island and planted the first crops in Victoria but his residence was only temporary. It was over 40 years before a pastoral lease was taken out on the whole of Phillip Island and sheep introduced.


Gouldiae said...

G'day Boobook,
A beaut report of a beautiful place. Haven't been to Phillip Island for years. I should do something about that.

Denis Wilson said...

Yes, Nice report about Western Port and Phillip Island.
I was always puzzled about the name "Western Port", but if Bass named it before the rest of Victoria was discovered, and he rowed in from the east, it makes sense.