Community spirit is alive and well in this historic seaside village
STORY: MARGARET LINLEY PHOTOGRAPHY: VISIT VICTORIA
Let’s assume for a moment you’ve never been to Queenscliff and my job is to draw comparisons with like places to help you understand something of this bayside village.
You may have been to the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown. It’s at the end of the road; drive any further and you’ll end up in water. It’s got rows of terrace houses, many with businesses on ground level; perhaps hospitality ventures, an ice cream shop, a groovy little bar, or retail endeavours selling handcrafted frou frou and casual linen dresses and bespoke leather bags and shoes.
Same, same with Queenscliff.
Both have streets lined with grand Victorian houses, quaint fishing cottages and a fiercely loyal bunch of locals. Williamstown people don’t want you to confuse them with Newport, just as Queenscliff people are quick to pick you up if you suggest their address might be neighbouring Point Lonsdale.
And both towns can elicit the same response from first-time visitors; oh, my goodness, what a cute little seaside village.
To continue the comparison; while Williamstown is navy-focused with its naval dockyard, Queenscliff is army-centric. It once served as a strategic defence post for the Australian Army and its fort is still in use and an imposing sight. Across a narrow stretch of water, lies the tiny Swan Bay Island. You can come and play golf here on the public course, but don’t go asking too many questions about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service training facility which keeps a very low profile in town.
“During winter, the town draws in on itself. It’s moody and atmospheric and totally the type of place where you’d want to hunker down beside a fire after a brisk constitutional along the pier.”
Okay, so you’ve got the idea. Let’s leave Williamstown and focus on Queenscliff alone.
And Queenscliff does like to stand alone. Almost 30 years ago, the Borough of Queenscliffe resisted the push for amalgamation of local shires into the City of Greater Geelong. And while there were those naysayers at the time who predicted Queenscliff would come crawling back to the fold, begging to join the alliance, it hasn’t happened. It remains the smallest local government area in Victoria.
Surrounded by water on three sides, Queenscliff is only 28 km from Geelong and part of the group of villages which helped put the Bellarine Peninsula on the list of top ten places to visit in the world in year (Lonely Planet, 2016).
The busy summer months – or ‘the season’ as those in the hospitality industry call it – are super busy. The town swells from its usual number of around 1300 residents to something way larger with visitors booking out the quaint BnBs and Airbnb places. It’s hard to get a seat in a restaurant and people spill out onto the streets. During winter, the town draws in on itself. It’s moody and atmospheric and totally the type of place where you’d want to hunker down beside a fire after a brisk constitutional along the pier, the walking paths or through the streets.
There is a lot to do in Queenscliff or nothing much at all, depending on what your preference is. You can kayak on the still waters of Swan Bay, fish, scuba dive, snorkel, play land-based sports, wander the shops, visit galleries and admire antiques, eat and drink.
A steam train, run by volunteers, is a major drawcard and runs between Queenscliff and Drysdale at a leisurely pace, transporting its passengers back to another era. It is regularly transformed into the Blues Train and provides live music and dinner and a fun night out.
The Vue Grand Hotel, which was nearly lost to fire in the 1920s and was saved by residents forming a chain gang to bucket water from the bay to douse the flames, is one of a number of majestic and gracious old buildings in town. There are a couple of impressive lighthouses, extensive parklands and a rail trail links Queenscliff to Geelong that is regularly frequented by cyclists and fitness enthusiasts.
A car and passenger ferry travels across the bay, connecting the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas. It provides a faster and alternate route than by road. And there’s a commuter ferry from nearby Portarlington which delivers passengers to Melbourne Docklands.
The nearest train station is in Geelong. Buses connect Queenscliff to other local towns and to Geelong. The nearest airport is at Avalon, 51 km away.
Queenscliff Literary Festival and Queenscliff Music Festival attract big names to the line-up and draw crowds from far afield.
There are both government and Catholic primary schools. Secondary students take the bus to neighbouring Drysdale where there are plenty of educational options.
The traditional custodians of the land on which Queenscliff stands are the Wada Wurrung people, who belong to the Kulin Nation.
WATTLE ROAD 🖤 This historic seaside village is at the top of the list of Victoria’s most charming small towns.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 102.5km
WHO LIVES HERE?
According to the 2016 Census:
♦ The median age of people in Queenscliff was 59 years. Children aged 0 – 14 years made up 10.7% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 39.3%.
♦ Of the families in Queenscliff, 29.4% were couple families with children, 60.5% were couple families without children and 9.2% were one parent families.
♦ 9% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth were England 4.6%, New Zealand 1.7%, Scotland 0.5%, Ireland 0.5% and Germany 0.3%.
♦ The most common occupations in Queenscliff included professionals 29.5%, managers 17.1%, clerical and administrative workers 12.4%, technicians and trades workers 11.0%, and community and personal service workers 10.5%.
CLIMATE: June average temperatures, max 13.5°C, min 7.7°C. January average temperatures, max 22.4°C. min 14.1°C.
MAJOR EMPLOYERS: Hospitality (cafes, restaurants and accommodation providers) Primary education and Local Government.
SCHOOLS: The three primary schools are Queenscliff Primary School, Point Lonsdale Primary School and St Aloysius Catholic Primary School. Secondary school students have a variety of educational options on the Bellarine Peninsula and in Geelong.
NBN CONNECTION: Fibre To The Node (FTTN)
PROPERTY PRICES: The median sale price of houses is $911,250. Property values have increased by 3.6% in the last 12 months.
SPORT AND RECREATION: In addition to various sporting clubs, there are walking and cycling tracks, boating and sailing, and golf on Swan Island
ARTS AND CULTURE: There are many ways to get involved with the creative community in this town. There’s the Lighthouse Theatre Group, Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop, the Queenscliff Music Festival, the Lighthouse Photo Group and the Queenscliff Community Market, to name a few.
I turned 50 and I decided I had better start moving towards where I wanted to go in life. Karen and I were looking for a shack around the coast where we could go on weekends and do a bit of fishing. Something casual, where if the carpet gets damaged, who cares? It’s a bit like buying a boat: you think you want a tinny but then you end up with a huge ship thing. So we came here five years ago from Newtown (in Geelong) and we have a five-bedroom house right in Queenscliff with lots of garaging for my old cars. We love it here. It’s a bit like being in a lovely English village.
You feel all the seasons here. It’s very busy in summer, everyone comes down to their holiday houses. It’s not that you get sick of all the tourists – I love seeing them – but then it’s time for a change with autumn and it starts to quiet down and it’s just us locals in the cafes and the shops. And then it’s winter and nothing is open and we go to each other’s houses and have roasts and red wine. When I go for a run in winter, I’ll be the only one on the beach. And before you know it, it’s spring and back into the garden and getting it into shape.
Some businesses fold up over the winter and others come and take their place and that brings new feeling. The Seaview Gallery has started a Sunday afternoon flamenco and tapas event and that’s lovely.
The big thing about Queenscliff is that it has essentially three fronts. You have Swan Bay with its walking paths overlooking a bay which is almost like a lake; then the beach where the pier is and the ferry terminal right up to the pilot station; and then you can round to the main beach, the surf beach. Where you go depends on your mood.
I don’t miss being in Geelong. I mean, if you need to go there it’s only 35-40 minutes away.
When I moved down here, I had a policy that when I’m out the front doing the edges on the nature strip, I would wave to everybody. At that stage, I had no idea who were locals and who were tourists. I got involved in a local ukulele group, and the historical society and I have a little antique business and I’m president of the theatre group
The coastal towns around Geelong are each very different and appeal to different demographics. Because we’re not part of the Greater City of Geelong and we are our own borough, we see the mayor and the councillors walking around here. It’s very personal. Living in Queenscliff is a bit like living in Sovereign Hill. I love it here.
Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.
FIND A PROPERTY
103 King Street, Queenscliff
5 6 2
1 Stevens Street, Queenscliff
5 3 2
6/9 Symonds Street, Queenscliff
2 1 1
4 Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff
7 3 4