"Historic Port Albert" Port Albert by TheWanderingCamel
Port Albert Travel Guide: 17 reviews and 51 photos
They might know of its long-past importance as the first port in the Gippsland region.
Maybe they'll make the connection between the name of the town and the state (Prince Albert was Queen Victoria's consort).
For some, that's it .... except that little towns like this have a charm that is all their own, and they repay those who take the time to walk their streets and pathways, look closely at their buildings, read their plaques, browse the displays in their museums, talk to locals, with a sense of history and the oft-talked-of spirit of place that is theirs alone.
At the dawn of 1841, new arrivals in the fledgling colony of Victoria knew nothing of the rich secrets hidden between the rugged slopes and densely forested gullies of the yet-to-be-explored-and-named mountain ranges and the harsh and seemingly barren coast of Australia's south-eastern corner - the area now known as Gippsland. Within a few months, a shipwreck and rescue, and the report of an returning overland explorer were to change all that, and the way was open to a steady stream of pioneers who came to stake a claim to their share of the wealth the region had to offer - magnificent timber, land for farms and, later, abundant fishing grounds.
When the "Clonmel", a paddle-steamer enroute from Sydney to Melbourne, foundered on a sandbar near the entrance to the present harbour, the rescue party from Melbourne brought back reports of both good land and a safe harbouring along with the survivors. At much the same time, explorer Angus MacMillan had reached the Gippsland coast at the same point via the inland. His reports were equally favourable and it wasn't long before settlers followed and took up land along the Albert River.
MacMillan's arrival is recorded on a marker at the entrance to the town. Artifacts from the "Clonmel" are housed in the town's Maritime Museum and the wreck itself can be seen from boats sailing over the bar at low tides.
The discovery of gold in the 1850s turned a trickle of new arrivals into a flood and, for many, Port Albert was their first point of contact with their new life. Until the advent of good overland routes and the coming of the railway, it was the main port for arrival of both goods and people and the transit point for the gold that was being brought out of the goldfilelds to the north.
The comings and goings of the port required substantial government buildings both by the harbour and further out of town. The bank with its gold vault was built. Private enterprise saw shops, hotels and other local businesses established. Bullock teams lined the wharf as goods were unloaded for transport to the hinterland. Port Albert was booming.
But the good times didn't last long. By the end of the 1860s the decline had begun and the next few decades saw Port Albert's importance fade until it was no more than another small and struggling fishing port. The latter years of the 20th century saw a revival of fortune in a small way as weekend sailors and recreational fishers found their way here. Now, good roads and new tourist initiatives make Port Albert an attractive proposition for a weekend away from the city. The historical importance of the town combined with its lovely setting add to its charms.
We came to stay for a night, sample the fish and chips (the best in Victoria, remember?)and move on. The old fish shop was gone, demolished completely, a victim of time and asbestos but a great B&B find, dinner at the new cafe in town and the link to the past and the small-town pleasures Port Albert offered kept us there for two. A good decision.
Update: September 2008 - the new fish bar is up and running and the owners have also opened a swish new restaurant - Wildfish - with the same great fish catches on the menu. Now you can choose to eat your fish and chips from the traditional paper wrapping somewhere outdoors or sitting down, snug and warm out of the wind when a southerly buster blows.
The fields and forests of Gippsland may look wonderfully green and lush but the truth is Victoria is in the grip of a... more travel advice
Port Albert is 225 km from Melbourne. Head out of town along the South Gippsland Highway and after about an hour's... more travel advice
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