Points Of Interest Category: Bay | Ocean and Natural POIPoints Of Interest Tags: Attractions | Things to See - Port Phillip Bay, Attractions | Things to See - Western Port, George Bass, and Western Port
Though only a relatively small neck of land is all that separates Western Port from Port Phillip, the landscapes that surrounds these two bays are vastly different.
Much of Port Phillip Bay is lined with sandy beaches, the bay is unobstructed & open, generally very shallow, and it comprises of only one tiny entrance into Bass Strait.
Western Port, on the other hand, contains two sizable islands and appear more like large channels meandering around these islands rather than a formal bay as such. There are two openings into Bass Strait. The shorelines vary from high sheer cliffs, rocky reefs and outcrops – to sand dunes, and low lying inter-tidal mudflats and Mangrove forests. Sadly, much of the mangrove forest, which is believed to be the southern-most mangrove population to be found in the World, have been greatly depleted due to human intervention . . .
Though unrecorded, it appears the first Europeans to visit Western Port on an occasional basis as such were: whalers, sealers, and wattle bark getters.
The Discovery of Western Port – George Bass – January 1798
The following extract is from the writings of George Bass, in the January of 1798:
” . . . At 6 the wind back to E.S.E., and by 9 blew hard. A great sea got up, and ran very hollow and irregular. We had a bad night of it, but the excellent qualities of the boat brought us through. Soon after daylight we saw the island we left the morning before, bearing N.E. b. E., 16 or 18 miles, and at 6 saw Furneaux’s Land [now known as the Flinders & surrounding Islands, Bass Strait], and steered in for it. At noon no observation, there being too much sea flying about.
Thursday, 4th.—P.M.: At 2 we were standing in under the land and looking out for some place of shelter, and at 8 anchored in one of the bights, not being able to land.
A.M.: At daylight, the wind being at N.E., we stood round a kind of bay lying along from Furneaux’s Land, about west or W. b. N. At noon no observation, the sun being too much over the land.
Friday, 5th.—P.M.: We continued running along the shore about W.N. W. The shore in the bights is low and sandy, but wherever a rocky point comes down to the sea a ridge of high land extends from it backwards as far as can be seen.
At 7, seeing a large break in the land, we stood in for it and found a strong outset of tide. Many shoals were breaking in different parts of the entrance, so that we could not then see where the channel was. I therefore landed to look for it, and found we were at the back of a long spit which we could not now round, as the tide of flood was beginning to make in strong; we therefore waited until high water, and then crossed the spit and entered a very extensive harbour. Our course, independent of the bights we had sailed round from Furneaux’s Land to this place, had been about W. b. N. ½ N., some 60 or more miles.
We stayed here until the 17th, for what from the weather, the peculiar circumstances of the harbour itself, and the necessary re-equipment of our boat and gear, I did not find myself able to make up my mind concerning it sooner.
I have named the place, from its relative situation to every other known harbour on the coast, Western Port. It is a large sheet of water branching out into two arms which end in wide flats of several miles in extent, and it was not until we had been here some days that we found it to be formed by an island, and to have two outlets to the sea—an eastern and a western passage. We went in and came out by the former, which is winding and narrow. The latter, the western entrance, is, in the present imperfectly known state of them, the preferable one. As the weather would not allow us to go through it, I walked along the west side of the island at a time when it was blowing fresh from the S.W. and a heavy surf going upon the shore, so that I must have seen everything that broke, but saw no breakers except those I have marked in the sketch, which I am sorry to say, after all the vexation I have had with it, is but very imperfect. The general rise of tide is from 10 to 14 feet. It flows on the full and change days about half-past twelve. The soundings are frequently irregular, which is perhaps occasioned by the cross-setting of the tide out of the two arms into the two outlets, and by the softness of the bottom, which is chiefly mud with a little sand; mud abounds so much that the greater part of the points are not approachable except towards the top of high water, and then at the risque of having your boat left until the next tide, for the mud runs out far and flat, and so soft that there is no walking the boat over it. There are indeed in some places sand-shoals, and those tolerably hard, but even they tail off in mud. I have not in the sketch* attempted to lay down all the shoals, except in that place where any vessel would be the most likely to anchor, or their exact direction. Accuracy, independent of its being altogether out of my reach, would, I believe, to anyone be the labour of months.
[* Unfortunately, the sketch Bass made has been lost; and no copies of it are known to exist. The track of his whaleboat is shown, in part, in a chart by Flinders.—Appendix B. [see map at beginning.]]
The land round Western Port is low but hilly, the hills rising as they recede, which gives it a pleasing appearance. Upon the borders of the harbour it is in general low and level. In the different places I landed I found the soil almost uniformly the same all round—a light brown mould free from sand, and the lowest lying grounds a kind of peaty earth. There are many hundred acres of such sort of ground. 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, but there are upon the east side several thick brushes of some miles in extent, whose soil is a rich vegetable mould. In front of these brushes are salt marshes. The island is but barren. Starved shrubs grow upon the higher land, and the lower is nothing better than sandy brushes, at this time dried up.
We had great difficulty in finding good water, and even that which was brackish was very scarce. There is, however, every appearance of an unusual drought in the country.
The head of the winding creek on the east side, which I have marked with Fresh Water in the sketch, was the only place we could procure it at free from a brackish taste. At half-tide there is water enough over the shoals for the largest boat, and within the creek there is at all times a sufficient depth.
There seem to be but few natives about this place. We saw only four, and that the day after we came in, but they were so shy we could not get near them. There are paths and other marks of them in several places, but none very recent. The want of water has perhaps driven them further back upon the higher lands. We saw a few of the brush kangaroo, the wallabah, but no other kind. Swans may be seen here, hundreds in a flight, and ducks, a small but excellent kind, fly in thousands. There is an abundance of most kinds of wild fowl.
The eastern entrance of this place has so conspicuous an appearance by the gap it makes in the land that it cannot fail of being known by any one coming from the eastward.
The point of the island, which is a high cape, like a snapper’s head, forms an island. The entrance appears like a passage between it and the main. The latitude of it will be found to be somewhere about 38° 25′.
As the seventh week had now expired, our reduced stock of provisions forced us to turn our heads homewards. We did it very reluctantly.
Thursday, 18th.—At 5 a.m. we left Western Port with a fresh of wind at W. b. S., and ran along the shore eastward for Furneaux’s Land. By 10 the fresh of wind had increased to a gale, and the sea, which we found running rather high when we came out, now began to be very troublesome. A long S.W. swell that set in upon the land made it cross and irregular. This long swell we had observed in going to the westward, when for several days before that time, and almost ever since, the winds had been northerly, and at times very strong. At noon heavy squalls, with rain, fed the gale . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Discovery of Bass Strait’ by George Bass – from Mr. Bass’s Journal in the Whaleboat, between the 3rd of December, 1797, and the 25th of February, 1798 – edited by F. M. Bladen, Barrister-at-Law – published 1895
– For a List of Points of Interest around the Bay – click here
– For a List of Things to Do around Western Port – click here
– For a List of Towns around Western Port – click here
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