The town of Portarlington has a mixed history. Once it was a major potato, pea and onion growing area. It was famous for its cheese making with the local cheese factory winning a major prize at the Great Exhibition in London in 1850. There is little evidence of how the town became named. The ?Victoria Place Names and their Origin? (1907) suggests that Portarlington was named in 1851. Another source suggests that it was first named Drayton after a surveyor. An early map shows the name Drayton crossed out and Portarlington added. The Victorian Historical Magazine states that it is named after Portarlington, the market town in both Leix and Offaly counties, on the River Barrow and near a branch of the Grand Canal.
The mill was built from stone quarried on site in 1857, six years after Portarlington was gazetted as a town. It was one of the first of a spate of mills to be built to use the newly developed steam power for its operation. As a result of this, the mill fills an important milestone in the growth of Victoria. Of all the mills designed and built at that period only about half a dozen are known to still exist. It appears that the proprietors of the Mill were too trustworthy and in 1862 their agent was alleged to have absconded with a considerable sum of money belonging to a gentleman who had paid 412 pounds ten shillings for 30 tons of Portarlington Mill Flour, but never received it. The mill served as a flourmill for 14 years before being taken out of commission and its machinery transferred to Hamilton. ?The Mill could be kept going by locally grown produce?however thanks to the progress of settlement?and the increase in the number of sheep farmers moving into the wheat growing district of Portarlington local produce was not available.?
In 1866 T H Widdicombe took over the flourmill but it it proved too costly to run. He turned to another product, bricks. The clay available at Portarlington was of superior quality and mixed with sandstone produced a brick that was as hard as stone. Among some of the bricks that were manufactured are red and white bricks, some of which are still visible on chimneys in Portarlington today. Once the brickworks were running smoothly, he returned to Ballarat for approximately seven years before returning to Portarlington to clear out all the stock before closing the works down. In 1907 J.H Rudd and Co., a Melbourne pastoral company, bought the mill. This company used the mill for many purposes. For example, seaweed from the adjacent beach was processed and sold as an insulating material, ?Alpinite?. Sheep dip and other goods were manufactured on the premises. During the 1920s Rudd and Co only had one man actually working at the mill, but Mr Turner who lived next door was employed as the caretaker. Mr Turner?s old home still stands next to the mill, and Turner Court was named after him. Rudd and Co. featured the mill in much of their advertising and many of their goods carried the line, ?A product of the marine mill-Portarlington?. Their 10 pound tins of ?Homestead Tea?, specially blended from teas imported from Ceylon and India, always had a free cup and saucer buried in the tea. The SS Edina carried the raw materials and the finished products between Portarlington and the North Wharf in Melbourne. One of the Directors of Rudd and Co, Mr H. Shepherd, brought his wife and two small sons to stay in the Mill during the Christmas holidays. One of the pastimes of the boys was to go out the top window and climb down to the ground using the vines as a rope. When the Shepherd family returned to Melbourne the mill was used as a holiday retreat by the Gordon Boys? Home. For some during the depression years this was the only holiday they had. In the 1950s Mrs Dora Dye used the Mill for holidays, however the building was allowed to deteriorate, and in the early 1960s a demolition order was served. Although moves were made to save the old mill, it wasn?t until a last minute reprieve by the Council that the building was saved. In 1970 the Shire of Bellarine purchased the building and placed it in the hands of the National Trust who have spent over $40,000 restoring it and opening it to the public. The building is open to the public and is supported by a team of volunteers.
Walk in the footsteps of William Buckley, ?The Wild White Man?, who spent 32 years with the local Wathaurong people after escaping from the brief convict settlement at Sorrento in 1803. With the idea of heading northward to blend in with Sydney?s growing population, Buckley actually circled Port Phillip Bay and found himself on the Bellarine Peninsula looking across a short stretch of water to the settlement from which he had just escaped. It is recorded that Buckley visited the Aboriginal camp that was located near where the Old Mill is built. Years later in the Todd?s Diary it is noted that Buckley and John Helder Wedge (Batman?s surveyor) left the encampment and headed directly to Portarlington, along the way naming ?Hat Rock or ?White Woman Rock? at Point George before continuing on to Portarlington and what is now called ?Point Richards?. In Todd?s Diary, (1/9/1835) is a sketch done by Wedge that shows the You Yangs. It is likely to have been done from this bend on the foreshore. The William Buckley Trail has been extended to include this area, and it is appropriate that signage has been erected to acknowledge an important part of Bellarine Peninsula?s history. Portarlington plays an important role in the story of William Buckley as it is from here that he was last recorded leaving to travel to Melbourne in October 1835 with Batman to receive his pardon from Governor Arthur before traveling on to Tasmania where he eventually married a Julia Eagers.
The late Jack Loney suggested Geelong should honour the memory of Captain Forbes as one of their famous harbour masters. I would like to take this a step further and recommend that Captain Forbes be acknowledged for his contribution to Australian Maritime History. I came across reference to a Captain Forbes when I was researching the SS Edina; people today still have many stories of him in his later years. His grandson has fond memories of Captain Forbes taking him to school in the horse and jinker. Captain Forbes and the Edina worked together for 40 years carrying passengers and local produce across the bay. In an interview in 1898, Forbes stated that he had to date, made over 5000 trips and carried over three quarters of a million passengers.
William Chalmers Forbes was born in Fife Scotland and went to sea at the age of 15. He came to Australia on the Loch Katrine in 1873, and became Master of a small trading vessel, the Athletic, on the Melbourne-Geelong run for about five years. He passed Indented Head regularly and expressed a desire to land there. One day he dropped anchor and rowed to the beach at Indented Head and saw it as a place where he would like to retire. This he did, purchasing over three acres of land, and although his house is still standing, the only evidence of the original house is the two internal doorways which are very small, like those on ships. The tree that Forbes planted now has heritage listing thanks to the current owner. His knowledge of the sea was astonishing, yet he was frequently involved in collisions with other sea faring vessels. Despite fronting the Marine Board several times, he was never charged with negligence.
Timeline - Visit the following site to learn about the timeline. http://www.zades.com.au/bellhs/patimel.html