A sea wall from the 1850s jetty still stands at the start of Mornington Pier today. And there are half a dozen smaller piers along Schnapper Point, making Mornington great for pier reviews.
My experience on the pier
I didn’t know quite what to expect before I got to Mornington Pier. Looking for information on the pier online, I saw several quite different images of the structure itself: some of a wide pier with boats moored alongside; and some very narrow-looking, as if they’d barely be wide enough to walk side by side with someone. But on social media, both types of pier were labelled as ‘Mornington Pier’.
Of course, as soon as we got down to the end of Schnapper Point, which is the wonderfully named peninsula just beyond the main street in Mornington, we could see why. There is indeed one main pier here, and very busy it was with people on the autumn morning we turned up, but there are also several smaller jetties, which qualify for piers in my book since they were all jutting out over the water and had nice boardwalk planks and a definite ‘pier’ feel. So, all in all there are probably six structures which could come under the title ‘Mornington Pier’.
We got to the narrow piers via Mothers Beach, which is apparently where once upon a time the Mornington Sea Baths used to be. No sign of them now, but it was a nice quiet spot, sheltered enough for a paddle board guy to stroll on past, a toddler to paddle and get used to the water; there was a guy with a metal detector on beach, and it was nice to see a girl walking along sea wall, reminding me of one of my favourite activities as a child, as soon as I saw a wall I could climb onto…
And right by Mothers Beach is the first pier at Mornington. It’s not so long, taking me about 55 steps to walk the full length, and it is certainly quite narrow, with just 10cm edging for safety. There are six sets of vertical metal steps down to clear clear water, which looked very tempting on this warm autumn morning.
The next little jetty – or pier – is slightly longer, but with fewer sets of steps for boarding that boat.
But the nice thing off this little pier were all the starfish looking splendid in the water here all alongside the pier.
And as soon as the humans had vacated this first pier, a few locals would fly on and take up their perch on the posts
In between these two jetties was a sloping road/ramp, and just as we were about to move on, who should reverse down this little bit of road but a guy with a trailer wanting to launch his dinghy, so we had a good watch and saw how easy he made it look, though I’m sure I’d be struggling with all that manoeuvring and untying and engine starting.
Next up are two very short jetties, with absolutely no security ridge at first, so you could almost be walking the gangplank here. And in between these ‘piers’ are some very wide gauge rails – I wonder what would launch down that track? Does anyone know?
From all these smaller piers there were great views across to the beach where Mornington has colourful bathing sheds like you see in many British seaside resorts, but which I had only heard about in Australia via the Brighton beach further up the bay. I think Mornington either wants to keep their own sheds a secret or they need to up their comms game and match Brighton’s ability to make those sheds a local icon.
The ‘fisherman’s jetty’ is about twice as long as the Mothers Beach piers, and sure enough there was a fair few guys with rod and line fishing off this pier, and an interesting ethnic mix of far eastern and diverse east European, with lots of languages being muttered by the mostly older gents there.
Then we walked over to the main pier, the structure which really bears the name “Mornington Pier”.
The full length of the pier must be about 250m and it’s very wide. The first 30m or seem to be part of the original 1850s structure, with beautiful old stonework forming the sea wall. Given some of the photos available of storm waves hitting Mornington Pier and crashing over the whole structure, I’m amazed that the old wall has survived intact at all.
There were certainly a few people out ‘promenading’- or going for a blow along the pier – but this place is clearly a mecca for fishing, with at least 50 people waiting hopefully for a catch, off the end and along the sea facing side, and all sorts here, including a sweet looking family, with chairs to fit all sizes from tiny toddlers up to overweight parents and frailer-looking grandparents.
There is a very wide section, perhaps as much as 10m across, and a proper fence along the very end of the pier, though those storm photos show waves still come crashing over here so I don’t suppose many anglers hang around here on those days.
We wandered up the cliff side path to head back towards town and took a look at the Flinders monument up on the cliff above the pier. This is near the spot where Matthew Flinders landed in 1802. It certainly made us reflect that it was only 50 odd years later when the first pier at Mornington was built.
And we enjoyed walking through the 1932 arches into Mornington Park, which is pretty vintage itself, with bandstand and pavilion, where presumably people would once have taken tea or had a dance on their big picnic days out.
There is also still a cricket pitch here, which was nice to see given the story I found on Trove (under the history section), though I’m sure the pitch itself wasn’t concrete back in those early days.
The whole area – park and pier in particular – have lots of interesting information boards dotted around the place. One of those told us that long before white settlers made this place into a Vintage Victoria venue, the local aboriginals would come to this bay for shellfish – sometimes it’s worth remembering that as I reflect mostly here on ‘vintage’ European buildings and creations…
Lots of benches along the main Mornington Pier for sitting. No shelter, though, from rain or sun.
Toilets are back on dry land on the road where the cars turn, by the pier.
History and stories about Mornington Pier
I haven’t been able to find out for sure whether the original jetty at Schnapper Point, which formed the basis for the Mornington pier, was built in 1857 or 1858.
What I did find on Trove was that in August 1857 there were parliamentary questions about why the jetty hadn’t been built yet; and by June 1858, storms had already battered the new jetty, and there were concerns that the whole structure could be demolished by the sea.
Over the years, there seems to have a constant stream of suggestions for changing and improving the pier, often in response to major damage from storms.
There were calls in 1899 for an L shaped pier to reduce the number of days it was too rough to moor the ferries…By 1904, there was still no sign of that L and boats still struggled to moor here in bad weather. By 1908, it had been built, but not many years later there were calls to get rid of the L shape and build a longer breakwater to provide even more protection.
An 1892 visitor from up north reckoned he could hear the cheers of cricketers in the distance as he disembarked off the ferry from Sorrento. At first I found that hard to believe, but then walking along the point back into Mornington Park and finding the cricket oval – even though now with concrete pitch – and thinking about the lack of background noise from cars and other machinery back then, it is actually conceivable.
A picnic daytrip to Mornington on the ferry became something of an institution 100 years ago. I loved the fact that the steamers from Melbourne had a hairdressing salon on board so the ladies could look their best on arrival. But I did also read one woman’s account of the stresses and strains of controlling a party of riotous kids on extreme heat days, when your clothes stick to your skin and everyone is being sick on the ferry in the swell!
Even this diarist said it was all worth it, though, for a chance to get away from the noise and pollution of Melbourne itself.
The Market Gardeners annual picnic seemed fairly typical of its time, with a 1902 account talking of 3000 visitors – market gardeners and their families presumably – going to Mornington and disembarking at the pier: they speak of the oval, the track, the rotunda, with Aunt Sallies, spinning jennies and other side shows, including Punch & Judy, a merry-go-round and dancing in the ‘capacious’ pavilion…
There were lots of incidents witnessed off the pier over the years, from massive shark sightings (14 feet long the longest I found reported in the press), to an artist falling into the water when focusing too much on his painting and not on how close to the edge he was; from a light plane crashing into the sea near the pier in the early 1960s, to the rescue of two 14 year old boys in a dinghy off the pier in 1980. That last incident involved a large Japanese vessel which sheltered the dinghy until rescue was at hand – those two boys are in their 50s now and I believe still active in the community. Get in touch if you recognise the story and want to tell it first-hand…Both were called David…
People linked to this place
Disaster struck between Mornington Pier and Mordialloc Pier in 1892, when most of the Mornington Aussie Rules team was lost on their return from a Saturday game, when the boat they took for the short run home sank in the bay. Survivor guilt must have plagued the ones who stayed over with friends in Mordialloc, or got the train home instead because they feared sea sickness. And the list of the dead shows a tragic loss of young lives, including very modern titles such as medical student and builder’s apprentice alongside the likes of blacksmith and wheelwright’s assistant. There’s a monument to the lives lost just on the shore by the start of the Schnapper Point promontory. Well worth a look and to pay respects for what must have been a dreadful loss for the community.
Other links and writings on Mornington Pier
The ABC website has a fantastic photo of a storm wave crashing over Mornington Pier.
The Herald Sun newspaper – with more photos of storm waves over the pier – has a 2017 article explaining why there were delays to the repair work on Mornington Pier.
I quite liked this 2017 YouTube video about fishing for squid off Mornington Pier.
If you fancy giving fishing a go, these guys organise fishing tours departing from Mornington’s Fisherman’s Jetty.
What are your stories and memories of Mornington Pier?
Did you by any chance witness the rescue incident with the Japanese ship off the pier back in the 1960s?
Are you a regular user of any of the piers down at Mornington? And can you help with what that very wide gauge rail into the water is between two of those smaller piers?
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 or tea on the pier?
There is a café called The Rocks right by the pier which is part of the Mornington yacht Club I think. We had already had our coffee and were rather underwhelmed in town. It was rather a shame the very artisan-looking Store Fifteen coffee was closed on Mondays, but we’ll be back to try them another day.