There’s been a jetty at Port Campbell since the 1870s, though it’s had to be rebuilt several times due to the stormy seas that crash into this part of the Victorian coast.
My experience on the jetty
Port Campbell Jetty barely qualifies as a pier, really, but I’m still including it on the Vintage Victoria list of piers in Victoria, because I really liked the place, and there was enough going on there on this sunny Sunday to keep this blogger busy taking notes throughout our time there.
At 50m long, including the little kink, or dog-leg, Port Campbell Jetty is not really a spot for promenaders as, say, St Kilda Pier or Frankston Pier could be. On the other hand, since you can’t get to the jetty via the beach at Port Campbell, you do need a bit of a walk to get to its shore end a few hundred metres along the eastern side of the bay from the beach.
It’s also mostly concreted now, mainly I think to enable vehicles to access the jetty, as we were to see that afternoon. But there is a strip of boardwalk, which is what makes it a pier in my book, intended for those walking along it, and this strip is on the slightly more sheltered beach side of the pier.
Before the road slopes down towards the jetty, there is this 1936 hut, a vintage building in its own right really, with a fascinating information board right next to it. This, you see, was the rocket shed, in those days before World War 2, when people used rockets to fire a rope out to struggling boats in the bay (and it struck a chord for us, as we had just watched recently a film set in 1930s Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, where they were experimenting with rockets to deliver mail from the mainland).
Walking up that slope as we approached the jetty was a gent in wet suit, carrying surf board under his arm. “How’s the water temperature?” I asked him. “Not too bad. Not wearing my boots, yet, in any case,” came the reply.
And over the next half hour or so, as we wandered up and down the jetty, peering over the railings and checking out the views out to sea, we saw at least half a dozen surfers either in the water near the pier or walking away up the street to dry off and change.
The jetty was pretty busy, though I have to say most people were doing the right thing maintaining social distancing, even as they fished or strolled. You see, this was the first weekend since the COVID-19 lockdown that things like fishing and surfing were allowed. It was of course our own first day trip in 10 weeks, so it was hardly surprising that the pier was a popular spot to visit.
My favourite view from Port Campbell Jetty is due south, looking out at the layer upon layer of surf crashing its way in from the Southern Ocean. This was a relatively calm day out on the ocean, and those waves looked fairly ferocious, so you can see how treacherous this area must be on a wild night.
The waves crashed into the cliffs just next to the pier, some disappearing into the cave just a few yards from the end of the pier. In fact, even on this wind-free day, there was enough force in those waves for the splash to rise up and soak our feet if we got too close in to the edge of the ocean side of the pier.
There must have been a dozen or so people fishing, mostly off the lower level on the calmer, beach side of the jetty, though some cast their lines out into the swell of the ocean side, too.
And then a little boat appeared in the bay and pulled up alongside the jetty.
Two people got out, climbing up the vertical metal steps from the boat onto the pier itself. The bloke went off to collect his vehicle and trailer, while the woman adjusted the workings of the crane and hoist. We realised then that the plan was to winch the boat up onto the pier, so we stayed to watch the whole manoeuvre.
It was a wonderful little cameo scene, with the boat appearing at eye level, dangling in mid-air, lifted by the hoist on the jetty. A great idea, and a first I think for the Vintage Victoria piers of Victoria.
So we saw none of the wildlife my news searches on Port Campbell Jetty had hinted might be in the water: no sharks, no giant turtles, no seals. But I could see a dog stretching out over the ocean-side of the jetty, peering out to sea, and I had to wonder if something interesting wasn’t too far away.
There’s also nowhere to sit or shelter on Port Campbell Pier. The only bench nearby is right by the rocket shed, with excellent sunny views out over the bay (though probably a little too sunny for comfort in summer).
Amazingly, this was my first ever trip to Port Campbell. I really liked its tucked away feeling, which reminded me a little of Yamba in NSW from our Ocean Pools tour there. I imagine, though, that the place is packed with visitors during normal times, especially on a summer’s weekend, so in that sense we were lucky to come on the first weekend that day trips were allowed in Victoria, and it’s clearly THE town to base yourself in for a visit to the Twelve Apostles, which remain ‘closed’ – at least the car parks near to them are – because of COVID-19.
No shelter on the jetty
No bench on the jetty. Bench just by the Rocket Shed
Nearest toilets back on the beach over on the far side of the beach from the pier – perhaps 7 minute walk away from the jetty.
History and stories about Port Campbell Jetty
The first jetty at Port Campbell was built before 1880, quite probably a year or two earlier, according to two of the articles I link to below. By 1880, there was talk of it needing an upgrade as it was so tucked into the cliffs, it made it hard to use for the purposes required. It’s not clear from press cuttings at the time whether the 1,000 pounds needed for a rebuild ever came forward, but to give an idea of the kind of products being shipped from the jetty, there was an ad in a local newspaper in 1882 asking for teams of men “to shift 7 tons of wool (more or less) from the jetty to Geelong or Camperdown”.
A goods shed was then built in 1883.
By 1892 there was a red light installed at the end of the jetty to guide mariners into the safe landing point. Never really a lighthouse, The Argus newspaper called it a ‘lamp post’!
The first newsworthy incident on Port Campbell Jetty dated from 1906 when a shark was pulled up onto the pier and was lying there when another fisherman came along and tried to cut a portion out of the body for bait. The shark apparently reared up onto its tail and took a snap at the newcomer, though he managed to jump out of the way in time. But there’s a moral in that tale somewhere…
A storm in June 1911 carried waves right over the pier, with the railings on the ocean side completely taken off, and lots of boards wrecked. The pier was saved by the fact that several tons of wiring happened to have been left stacked on the end of the pier, giving it protection from the wildest waves.
In October 1913 another storm caused about as much damage again, with the railings and lots of decking again washed away. And the highest seas ever seen at the port almost wrecked the jetty again in 1918.
There was so much damage done to the jetty in 1934 that one local councillor reported that he had gone underneath the structure and seen it was hanging on by only three piles. I could ‘drop it in ten minutes with an axe’, he apparently said.
As well as the shark that caused a stir in 1906, there were stories of a local councillor catching an eel over 5ft long in 1932, and two other local fishermen bringing in a giant turtle in 1940. They set it free later in the day, but not until it had spent most of the day on the Port Campbell Pier.
Funnily enough the two fishermen that day had been trying to fish for cray off Loch Ard Gorge when they caught the turtle. But barely a couple of months later the same two gents were fined for catching under-sized crayfish and bringing them ashore, so it sounds as if they might have done better fishing for something else, unless they enjoyed the headlines…
In 1943, the ‘worst storm since 1915’ hit Port Campbell (strange since there was no clipping on Trove referring to a storm that year, while there was in 1913 and 1918 – so sounds like storms were pretty frequent round here in any case). The Camperdown Chronicle headlined that the ‘Pier (was) smashed beyond use’. The shed on the pier was demolished, and the remains of the pier looked, according to the newspaper report, like a diving board stuck out in the water. Two dinghies which had been lying on the pier were washed away, and it turned out that they belonged to the very two fishermen who had been in the news some years earlier over the giant turtle and the under-sized crays. The town looked as if it had been hit by a bomb, said the report.
In 1954, the case for finding funds to repair the once-again damaged pier was taken to Parliament. “People derived a great deal of pleasure from the pier,” it was argued, with one speaker pointing out that it was the only pier between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool – still the case more than 60 years later. Another local councillor said the loss of the pier might even endanger lives, such was the level of danger in the waters nearby. But the Trove database for now goes no further than March 1954, so I have no way of knowing what the outcome of these discussions was. Or for that matter, when the new jetty was built ‘proximate’ to the old one. Can anyone help?
Other links and writings on Port Campbell Jetty
My favourite blog piece linked to Port Campbell pier is by an ocean swimmer, who tells a great story and published some lovely shots from the annual ocean race starting from Port Campbell Jetty.
Peter Fuller went diving off the pier and reveals what lurks beneath and nearby.
For those interested in fishing off Port Campbell Jetty...
There were oil protesters at the jetty in 2019.
The Geelong Advertiser ran a 2018 story of sharks feeding off a seal carcass near the jetty.
This history of Port Campbell suggests the first pier was built in 1879.
This local Port Campbell website, on the other hand, suggests the first jetty may have been there in 1878…
What are your stories and memories of Port Campbell Jetty?
Can anyone help out with the date when the Port Campbell Jetty was last rebuilt? Does anyone else know how many rebuilds this jetty has had since 1878?
Are there any relatives still around who remember their parents or grandparents talking of fishing off the pier and can recall stories such as the undersized crayfish or the giant turtle in 1940. The two guys I refer to had the names Hose and Fussell…
Or just get in touch to share your own favourite times on Port Campbell Jetty, especially if you have any good stories to fill in my gaps after the 1950s.