Warnambool is a coastal town at the western end of the Great Ocean Rd, and about 4 or 5 hours from Melbourne. It’s a regional city, and so it’s quite large and populated. It’s popular as a whale-watching destination, but we were there at the wrong time of year for that.
As we drove into Warnambool we saw a cheese museum. The kids and Mum enjoy museums so we were all eager to go. When we lived in Melbourne, we had a Melbourne Museum and Melbourne Zoos memberships, and would go to either the Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, Melbourne museum or ScienceWorks most weeks. Even though we prefer learning from places we visit and people we meet, we have missed the zoos and the museum. All of which is a long way of saying that when Peter and Susan read the sign they straight away asked if we could go in.
The cheese museum had free entry, but despite the name had little to do with cheese. There were many old items from old sewing machines, engines, and bassinets. Peter was pleased to see an early telephone and explained to his sisters, “They spun the handle there, and it connected them to the operator. You then had to say your name and where you were, and ask for the name and location of the person you wanted to talk to. You listened with that earpiece there, and you spoke into that bit there. I’m not sure how they hung up, though.” It turned out he had been listening to “Who Was Thomas Eddison” on his ipod that had described the early telephones. Peter asked if he could put some of his money in the donation box as he was so pleased to have finally seen an old telephone.
Flagstaff Hill – Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum caught our eye as we passed in Warnambool. Again, everyone wanted to go in and find out more. ”Maritime, that’s got to do with the sea.” Peter said. ”From the Latin word mare meaning sea. Ships, and sea animals and things.”
“Not animals, they’re marine not maritime,” corrected Susan.
We paid for day entry, and to go to a laser sound and light show that night called “Shipwrecked”. We spent the day wondering around the maritime museum, which turned out to be more of an outdoor historical museum. It was an 1880s-themed shipping port town that had been recreated as a museum. Most of the buildings were purpose built.
As we walked in we sat in an auditorium and watched a short movie about life on board a sailing ship emigrating to Australia. We then walked out into a museum where many bits and pieces were on display. There were quite a few volunteers around explaining things to interested patrons. Edmund was at his most restless, so Peter and Susan couldn’t spend as long looking at each display as they wanted. There was also a large peacock model that we didn’t pay much attention to, but we did enjoy chatting to a man who was finishing painting a poster of various artefacts in the museum. He had been working on it for several months, and had nearly finished. It would be reproduced as a take-home souvenir poster for visitors. Mum got nervous that one of us might damage the painting.
There was an explanation that one model ship had been lucky to reach Australia because its curved front meant it was buffeted more by the waves. Apparently that coast is known locally as shipwreck coast as there are more than 20 known wrecks. The old compasses had not been particularly accurate, and iron in the ships had interfered with them. It hadn’t mattered too much out in the middle of the ocean, but in Bass Strait where there was 100km between King Island and the mainland it became an issue.
We wandered around the buildings, with the kids collecting stamps for a little book they had been given. Susan was particularly interested in the dress makers shop. Everyone wanted to feed the ducks and hens with the animal food they’d been given in a paper bag for them. We found the ducks easily enough, but couldn’t find the hens.
The Mahogany Ship
We had lunch in the tearooms, and sat at a table next to four older volunteers. Susan admired the women’s dresses, but Mum was more interested in their discussions about the Mahogony Ship. ”My grandfather used to walk from Port Fairy to Warnambool once a week. He used to tell that there had been something of an unusual wood in the sand dunes, right back from the beach. The way he’d tell it, it would have been closer to Killarney.”
“My grandfather used to tell it in a way that it was East of Killarney. There’s what used to be a river opening into the sea, that looks man-made but is actually where the river used to flow until the sediment built up too much and stopped it flowing on that course.”
The Mahogany ship is an old Australian myth, reputed to be a dark-toned wood “like mahogany” that despite a lot of effort to find was last sighted in about the 1880s. It was suggested to be an old Chinese, Portuguese, or Spanish shipwreck.
The Sound and Light Show
That night we had dinner at the outdoor museum, followed by the laser sound and light show. The first part showed a brief film about the Loch Ard ship, her journey, passengers, and crew. ”Did all those people but two die, Mum? That’s very sad,” Susan commented as we left the theatre.
We walked down the hill carrying lanterns as our guide told us more about the story. The peacock statue we had seen earlier that day was the actual one that had been rescued from the shipwreck. It had been in the possession of the family who had been contracted to retrieve the property from the ocean until they sold it in the 1930s Great Depression. It had been sold again, and acquired by the Flagstaff Hill museum in the 1970s.
The sound and light show itself was quite brief, and showed huge laser images of those on board and the ship. It showed their attempt to avoid being wrecked as the fog lifted four days after entering Bass Strait, and realising they were close to the coast and about to hit. They then backed the ship away from the shore desperately, and instead scraped along one of the island rocks, like an ‘apostle’. It then showed Tom Pierce, a 19 year old apprentice, who survived saving Eva Carmichael, a 19 year old doctor’s daughter emigrating with her parents and five siblings.
The guide explained later that Tom had hidden Eva in a cave and gone for help, but when they came back she had left the shelter of the cave and was in poor condition. It had been Tom’s second shipwreck. and he would later die at age 49 of a gangrenous toe or heart failure, depending on who told the story. He had two sons, and was rewarded with 10 years pay for his efforts that night saving Eva. Eva returned to Ireland three months later on a steam ship, married and had three children, dying at an old age. Tom and Eva never saw each other again after that night.
It was rather late when we got back, and we all slept rather well.