The long, straight finger of Mordialloc Pier has been stretching out into Port Phillip Bay since the mid-1800s. Popular with fishermen, but also for a casual stroll.
My experience on the pier
A walk along Mordialloc Pier is a good stretch of the legs. I kept stopping to look at things so may have lost count, but my step count was up at around 300 by the time I reached the fisherman pulling in another catch right down the far end of the pier.
It was a calm day in November for my visit, but I can imagine in a storm it would be pretty dramatic down at the end of the pier. You could shelter a little bit on the covered benches about 20 metres from the end, but I reckon the waves come right over the pier sometimes, judging by the bits of seaweed tucked away in corners of the boardwalk all the way along.
And it has had to be rebuilt a couple of times – most recently in 1986 and then 2009, I believe – so in a way we are lucky still to have this piece of vintage Victoria.
It’s a popular place for all sorts of people, too, if my half hour there was anything to go by.
People have been fishing here since the first jetty was built at the end of Mordialloc Creek in the 1850s. And judging by the information signs about drawing your reel in for passing boats, and the fish size gauges all along the pier, it still is. There were a handful of guys down at the very end of the pier when I came along, too. And I’m guessing those rather stylish benches near the fishing end of the pier might have been put there for, maybe even by, the fishermen?
There were solitary walkers like me, sprightly pensioner couples doing their daily constitutional, a Chinese family with kids in tow, and even a whole class of primary school kids turned up as I left.
As a child I always loved the thrill of reaching the boardwalk when you could see the water through the gaps. If you were a parent or teacher, you’d want pretty strict rules on the kids not wandering off too far, though, as there is no barrier all along the left side as you head out into the bay; just a very low footing to stop you from slipping in.
I was struck by one of the stories I later picked up on Trove, about the couple who drove along Mordialloc Pier and off the end, because back in the 1930s there was only such a low barrier even at the very end of the pier.
I am kind of glad the health and safety police haven’t cracked down on Mordialloc Pier yet. Mind you, the Council could do with a daily rubbish collection, though. The sheltered seats were strewn with burger cases and coffee cups and the like. It’s a tricky one to manage, though, isn’t it? Put a bin there, and that would quickly become full to overflowing; but have no bin there at all and some folk will always do the anti-social thing and leave their stuff behind.
It’s a busy little stretch of water, too.
There were several boats heading out into the bay from Mordialloc, and even a sea plane flew just overhead as I turned to head back to land.
The waters were a beautiful turquoise on the day of my Mordialloc walk. Tempting to dive in, but there have been shark sightings near here on many occasions, so probably not something I’ll be rushing to do. I bet people do on hot summer’s days though.
Back at the start of the walk leading to the pier, there’s an information board, where I learnt that there were once sea baths at Mordialloc (so many lost round Victoria, so sad). From 1887 to 1935 you could swim safely in the timber framed baths at Mordialloc, but they were destroyed in a storm and never rebuilt. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era…
Oh, and don’t miss the lights down at the beginning of the path either. They have a 1920s look to them, I thought, but no information on any of the signs nearby, so if anybody knows, do tell us in the comments below.
Ticketed parking for minimum one hour at $3.60.
Cycle paths run right along the bay past Mordialloc Pier.
There are toilets at the back of the Tour de Café, which you are supposed to visit after you “Tour de Beach” (says the sign outside, not me…)
History and stories about the Mordialloc Pier
In 1857, the first jetty was built at Mordialloc. By the 1870s, there were already calls to lengthen the pier.
Lots of shark sightings were reported in brief, plus in 1891 a ‘large whale’ was seen close to the pier.
It’s always been a popular spot to fish from – and still is today – but the fishermen sometimes got a nasty surprise, as one press clipping from February 1924 noted. This time the poor fishermen spotted the body of a man floating near the pier; it turned out to be the owner of a Melbourne sweet shop.
In 1907, “a pipe, hat, gold watch and a railway pass have been found on the pier at Mordialloc belonging to H. Thompson…a search is being made for his body.” No further reports in the papers, so I have no idea if Mr Thompson was ever found.
In 1932 a Buick was driven off the end of the pier in the small hours of a February morning. A couple drowned in the incident. But at the inquest, it was alleged that a road sign might have been misleading and that they may have driven along the pier not knowing it was a pier! It’s hard to imagine really, but it was 3am or so, and the guard at the end of the pier was only a couple of inches high apparently in those days.
But swimming was also popular round here, in spite of those occasional shark sightings. In 1927 and 1928, long distance swimming races were held from Mentone Pier to Mordialloc Pier – 2 miles with handicaps for good swimmers, and these attracted teams from as far afield as Manly in Sydney’s north shore.
People linked to this place
The tragedy of the couple who drove off the pier and drowned has to be the major incident off Mordialloc Pier. I noticed other press clippings from more recent times of cars tipping perilously close to dropping into the water, so the problem hasn’t gone away totally. But I wondered if the Bayside News website used the same Trove sources as me when it published a rather good summary of the 1932 Buick incident, with more information also on the people involved in the accident.
Other links and writings on Mordialloc Pier
Graham Whitehead’s piece on the City of Kingston Historical website has great history, including information I found nowhere else on the 1980s campaign to save Moridalloc Pier
Danny Carey wrote about Mordialloc Pier in the My Place section of The Age newspaper in Melbourne.
The weekend notes website recommends sunset as the best time to go for a stroll on Mordialloc Pier.
This link takes you to some nice shots under the pier from photographer Jim Worrall.
The official Parks Victoria post on Mordialloc Pier is brief but has a nice pic.
What are your stories and memories of the Mordialloc Pier?
Have you seen many changes to Mordialloc Pier over the years? Can you even remember far enough back to when the sea baths were still here?
Or do you just have good memories of a romantic stroll, a school visit, or maybe a holiday trip that involved a visit to the pier?
Comment below if you have anything to add.
Coffee near the pier?
Tour de Cafe sits on the roadside right at the land end of Mordialloc Pier. It’s not an artisan Melbourne coffee shop, but it will do you a decent brew and it’s certainly handy for a quick break after your stroll on the pier (or for refreshment mid-fishing, I guess).
3 thoughts on “Mordialloc Pier”
Mordialloc Pier (1961, 1962)
This place was very popular with everyone, especially teenagers.
The main pastime consisted of jumping or diving off the pier then quickly climbing up the ladder and repeating all over again. Of course, this sort of thing is done by kids all around coastal Australia. About half way along the pier was a landing stage for boats which made climbing out of the water easier. The far end of the pier was out of bounds as this was normally occupied by fishermen. There was a clique of older boys that would parade around in their thin skimpy speedos, usually with girls surrounding them. I think the girls weren’t interested in us, because we were a bit younger and immature for them. By us I mean our gang. Our parents didn’t buy us speedos so we weren’t part of that crowd. Being of the younger set, we were on the periphery and often just observers. I would say I was probably jealous. Some of the more adventurous girls would also jump off the pier but most hung around in their bikinis, that had recently become popular
Another area of the pier was also popular. The first third of the pier was over dry sand, I suppose to allow for extreme tides and storm events. That part of the pier usually had dry sand underneath it, like a boardwalk. Often couples would be seen under that area snuggling and kissing. Reminds me of the song ‘Under The Boardwalk’ by the Drifters.
I first got interested in the underwater world during my early teenage years. An uncle gave me a book for Christmas written by Jacques Cousteau. The book was well worn because he bought it from some sort of flea market, however, it greatly inspired my interest in underwater activities. Also I was keen on watching the television series called “Sea Hunt”. It starred Lloyd Bridges. He later had two sons who were also in acting; Jeff and Beau. Later on, Jeff was in a great movie about an alcoholic country and Western singer (Crazy Heart’. Think that suited his private persona anyway.
In the early 1960’s I would regularly go snorkelling with a couple of friends and a schoolmate. These excursions were mainly off beaches at Mordialloc, Black Rock and the Mornington Peninsula. After I started work, I looked into buying things like a wetsuit, weight belt and scuba gear. I vaguely recall some sort of shop at the northern end of Lonsdale St. in Melbourne. Someone mentioned I should do a course in underwater practices and safety. They referred me to a fellow by the name of Bill Silvester who later became quite famous and wrote several books about scuba diving.
Bill’s part time business included diving classes; both theory and practical lessons. I think he also sold various equipment associated with diving. The class was about an hour of theory with information on things like ‘the bends’ and rates of ascent included in the class. This was followed by an hour of practice. After I did a night of diving lessons he asked if I would like to assist him with giving practical diving classes to others on a regular basis. I did that for several months up until I left Melbourne to go to Tasmania for Ericsson. Back in those days there were really no regulatory requirements for diving courses and anyone could just go and dive without certification.
The practical lessons included things like diving equipment familiarisation, buddy breathing, clearing your face mask when underwater and other diving related skills. The diving classes were held at the YMCA indoor heated pool on St Kilda road just the other side of the Yarra river from the city. I think that site is now taken up by the Victorian Arts Centre or Crown Casino. I never really got paid but at least he did offer that I could accompany him and his wife on those diving trips along with free compressed air and so forth. After leaving Melbourne and apart from ‘NURG’ in Newcastle I did not continue with diving. This was mainly because of the 60 hour working weeks I was doing when interstate and overseas. More on ‘NURG’ later on.
Because I took up scuba diving as a hobby I also got to know Bill quite well. He took me with him and his wife to various diving spots both in and outside of Port Phillip Bay. I remember this particularly well because his wife was very attractive; especially in her bikini. Over 20 years later in the mid-1980s, I discovered Bill was at Byron Bay and had a business called ‘Byron Bay Dive Centre’. I should have looked him up but did not get around to it.
Another workmate at Ericsson got interested in diving, so he did the classes. We did a few diving trips down the Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay and Queenscliff. On one occasion we were asked by a fisherman if we could search for his outboard motor. It had somehow got loose from its mounts and fallen to the bottom of Port Phillip Bay. He had the common sense to take bearings from a couple of landmarks. From most areas of the Bay you could still see the shoreline in the distance. To cover as much area as possible we rigged up 2 lines from the back of his friend’s boat. The intention was to be towed and the two of us would glide along near the bottom. Each line was about 20 metres long with one on the right and the other on the left side of the boat. We motored out to the approximate spot where he had those bearings from a couple of landmarks. The idea was to go around in ever increasing concentric circles until we found the outboard motor.
My workmate and I proceeded to don our tanks and slid off the back of the boat holding a line each. It was mostly a sandy bottom with occasional seaweed and about 5 metres depth so was not too difficult an assignment. The 2 guys in the boat were to motor along at a slow enough speed to make sure it was not too uncomfortable for us divers. Initially there was a problem for us, because the speed was still too high, trying to hold on to the lines. We had to get them to take it down a notch. There is a big difference in the perspective of speed, between being In the boat and being near the bottom, underwater,. This went on for about an hour skimming along below the surface, however we could not find any outboard motor. We did see hundreds of car number plates strewn in one area of sand with numbers and letters still visible. We took coordinates of the coastline and reported it to the Mordialloc police station. For some unknown reason they were not interested, so that was the end of that.
A thing we did a couple of times while scuba diving was to swim along the bottom to the end of the Mordialloc pier where there would usually be people fishing on both sides of the pier. We would carefully join the hook from one line to the hook of a line coming from the opposite side of the pier. This had to be done very carefully of course so the line was not tugged in the slightest, thus alerting the fishermen. We would swim a short distance away, still under the pier, just far enough so we could surface and be amused at the ensuing melee. We did this some years before when I was still in school but with just snorkels. I could not afford scuba gear back then. With snorkels it was more difficult of course having to regularly come up for breaths.
We also did spearfishing and I recall my father was not too happy about the spear gun I bought; he considered it a ‘lethal weapon’. I should have understood that at the time, but my argument was that I was ‘hunting for fish’ instead of ‘fishing for fish’.
Many years later my father was fond of saying “I have one child going deep down and another child going sky high”. My sister, Robyn, took up an interest in skydiving and later, doing that as a business with her husband in America and Australia. Basically, giving lessons, tandems and videoing etc.
So many memories, John. I liked your memory of things ‘Under the Boardwalk,’ but I was struck by your mischief with the fishing lines under the end of the pier even more. Thanks for sharing all this.
Thanks for the email Simon
I have been working on my auto-biography (I am now 76) and those were excerpts from that. If you would like to see the auto-bio then email me and I can send it to you.