Flagstaff Hill – Recreating the Whaling Village

Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse

It seems as if country Victoria has a thing for these old replica villages. Ballarat has Sovereign Hill, which tries to recreate the romantic feel of the gold mining days (not that being a miner trying his luck on the goldfields was all that romantic, especially since it ended up erupting in a rebellion that came to be known as the Eureka Stockade – the is a link to a government website as well, but I thought the Wikipedia entry might be a little less biased), while Echuca has a working replica of an old paddle steamer dock known as the Port of Echuca, and in the town of Swan Hill, further along the River Murray, you can find an old Pioneer Village. As for Warrnambool, well they didn’t miss out because they happen to have Flagstaff Hill, which is an old whaling port and coastal settlement. The really cool thing about these places is that you can reach them simply by jumping on the V/Line at Southern Cross Station.

I don’t think they refer to Flagstaff Hill as a whaling village anymore because whaling has sort of gone out of fashion, due to them being over hunted to the verge of extinction, and while there are still countries out there (Iceland, Japan) who like to go and catch whales for ‘scientific’ purposes, we all known that these scientific purposes have the end result of the whale carcass landing up on somebody’s plate. Personally, I’m not all that worried as to whether people aren’t allowed to hunt whales because I’m not a particularly big fan of seafood anyway, but beside that, I would prefer whales to be living in our oceans as opposed to only ever seeing them as skeletal remains in a museum window, or in a book on extinct creatures (being the fate of the Dodo – though we really don’t have any complete skeletons, or photos, since they did become extinct around 1662).


A video of Sea Shepherd going toe to toe with some whalers is probably appropriate here

Anyway, since whaling is not all that favourable these days, despite it being one of the main reasons for the development of the towns along the South Coast of Australia, Flagstaff Hill is now trumpeted as a maritime village and museum, and there are almost no hints of the city even being the base for whalers (though that is not necessarily true because you can still find a pub called The Whaler’s Hotel). As for Flagstaff Hill itself, well, I only breezed through the museum so I can’t say for sure if there was any whaling display, there probably was, but I was more interesting in getting into the village.
Anyway, enough about whaling and onto this replica of an old maritime village. Well, first of all they send you into a museum, and the first stop was a small cinema which would show a film of the history of Warrnambool as a maritime port. However, I really wasn’t all that interested in watching this film, not so much because it was a waste of time, but rather because if I really want to learn about the history of Warrnambool I can either go to Wikipedia, or even the website for the Warrnambool and District historical society. However, that does not necessarily mean that the museum itself was boring, far from it  – I like museums – and this museum had a decent collection of model ships.
Model Ship
I wonder if it is sea-worthy?
As well as a collection of model ships, the museum was heavily focused on the fact that this route was really dangerous for shipping as quite a few of them never managed to complete the voyage. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there were approximately 638 shipwrecks along the coast, and of those known shipwrecks, only 280 have every been discovered. No wonder they call this stretch of coast Shipwreck Coast (and even Matthew Flinders said ‘I have never seen a more fearsome section of coastline). As such, there are lots and lots of relics that have been recovered from the floor of the ocean, and there are no doubt many, many more still to be found (I guess if there are any budding treasure hunters out there, then there is probably quite a lot of that stuff still sitting off the coast of Southern Victoria).
Shipwreck Coast
Yep, that coastline looks pretty brutal
One of the larger galleries contains numerous items found from the wreck of the Loch Ard. The Loch Ard was probably the most famous of all of the shipwrecks that occurred along the coast, which probably meant that when it went down the headlines of the newspapers would have been running stories about it for days, and would then print more stories when further news came about, such as the two survivors (probably much in the same way as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370, though unlike the aforementioned aircraft, everybody knew what happened to the Loch Ard – it hit a reef and sank – it was just that 52 people lost their lives). Anyway, I am not sure what made the Loch Ard more famous than the other 637 odd ships that also sunk, and out of those ships, Wikipedia only lists 29 (with two listed as being unknown), and the only other ship to actually have an entry (with the exception of the City of Rayville, which technically doesn’t count because it was sunk after hitting a German mine during World War II) is the Falls of Halladale, but then again nobody died when that ship sunk, so it probably wouldn’t have sold as many papers.
Loch Ard
Loch Ard – before it sank
Loch Ard PeacockThe gallery contains a number of items that were rescued from the shipwreck, including a number of timbers, some old cargo, a collection of bottles that are still covered in sand, a couple of the cannons, and most prominently, a decorative porcelain peacock that was bound for the Melbourne Exhibition, and was recovered pretty much undamaged and made its debut at the World Expo in Brisbane in 1988 (I wonder if they still have those world Expos because I remember the one that was held in Brisbane was a really, really, big deal, but you hardy hear about them these days – well, a quick search of Wikipedia says that they are pretty random events, though to be considered an World Expo, you do need to be sanctioned by the Bureau of Internation Expositions). After its appearance at the Brisbane Expo, it was then put on display at this particular museum, which I must admit was a pretty big score for little old Warrnambool, since there are probably a lot of other, more prominent, museums that could probably have claimed this not so little prize.
Flagstaff Hill - Main Street
This is where you come out from the Museum

Once you leave the museum you enter into the village itself. Unfortunately I am unable to find a map (which maybe the operators don’t want you to see so as to encourage you to come here) so I will have to draw one up myself (if I ever get around to it). Anyway, from the entrance you can go up to the fort and the lighthouse or down to the village. It is not surprising that the fort, and the lighthouse, are on top of the hill because this was in the days before satellite navigation and radar, so you basically had to use your good old God-given eyes to see anything (though you did have the handy telescope available). Anyway, the lighthouse is, well, a lighthouse, and the fort is your typical British style at the time (which is similar to the one at Fort Glanville in Adelaide).

Cannon at Fort
I couldn’t get it to work

The fort itself had been sunk into the hill, rather than having walls built on top of it. I suspect that there may have been two reasons for this: it was cheaper than building walls, and it would have been less visible from the ocean. Mind you, despite it being less visible, the light house would have been, and the fact that there was a town at its base is probably a dead giveaway. As for it being cheaper, well, that may have been the case, but the thing with walls is that they are really difficult to climb, where as you can easily run up a hill. Then again, while it may be easy to run up a hill, running up a hill while people are shooting at you from the summit is probably a completely different story.

Ammo RecessCanon Rear
Unfortunately the Ammunition recesses were empty

The other really cool thing about the hill was that it afforded a really cool view of the railway line, which meant that I could stand at the top and watch the train arrive at Warrnambool Station. Thanks to the convenience of my smart phone, I was also able to work out the time it would be passing simply by checking out the timetable on the internet. So, even though I never expected it to occur, I did manage to take a video of a train while I was down here, and here it is:

Once again, I have managed to insert a train video into one of my posts

So, after spending some time exploring the fort (not that there was all that much to explore, other than a parade ground, some useless cannons, and a couple of sheds), I then descended the hill, and stopped to say hello a couple of sheep in one of the paddocks. I also took a photo of the sheep, posted it to Facebook, and named it ‘Lamb Chops’ (though I am sure the sheep wouldn’t have been to thrilled with the name that I gave him, but then again, he is a sheep so he probably didn’t particularly care – though I do remember when I was much younger and was walking past a farm with some friends of mine and saw some turkeys in the yard, to which one of my friend’s cried out ‘roast turkey for dinner’ to which the turkeys began screaming, yelling, and running around the yard in an absolute panic – so I guess animals do understand what we are talking about).

Lamb Chops the Sheep
And this is good old Lamb Chops

Anyway, unlike a real maritime village, you won’t find the ordinary houses (and farms) but what you will find are a number of shops and other businesses that would have played a prominent part in life of the community. Mind you, in those days the shopkeepers and other business owners no doubt lived in or near their business, such as with the surgeon, whose rooms where at the front of the house. However a number of the other businesses clearly did not have an adjoining house, or at least one that you could access.

Surgeon's Operating RoomSurgeon's Living Room
Here is his operating room, and his living room (which was across the hallway).
I’m sure this would have been a wonderful for his wife during surgery.

Anyway, before I continue I probably should give you a brief layout (since I don’t have a map available, and can’t be bothered drawing one, though I probably will at some stage). So, as I have mentioned, at the top of the hill you have the fort and the lighthouse, and then the next spot further down the hill you will find a number of business that while they may not be directly connected with shipping, do support the town (such as the newspaper, the dressmaker, and the surgeon, though you will also find a shop selling navigational supplies). Down a little further you will come to the village green, around which is the church, the school, and some tea rooms.

Village View
That might give you a bit of an idea

The next step down is the harbour (which is basically the bottom, unless of course you want to jump into the pond, but I have a feeling that maybe the operators would get a little annoyed if you did that, and anyway it isn’t really all that deep). Around the harbour you will find the industrial part of the town, which includes the blacksmith and the sail and rope maker, as well as businesses that directly support the shipping industry (including the ticket office, and the warehouses). You will also find the pub, but that is not all that surprising considering that the first place that sailor’s visit after the ship docks is the pub (which is why you will find quite a few pubs located in many cities’ port districts).

Pub outsidePub notice board
Pub insideBehind the bar
I simply could not use just one

I’m not sure whether you can actually buy alcohol in the pub or not, but since there is a liquor license notice on the wall I suspect that there are times when you can. When I came here I noticed that there were people in costume leaving, and when I was wandering around the town pretty much the only people I encountered where visitors like myself, so I suspect that there are times when actors in full costume appear to liven the place up a bit (and maybe try to break into Hollywood).

One thing that I did like about this pub where the house rules:

  • No spitting except to shine boots (yep, I sure do shine my books in the pub);
  • No swearing except with hands on the Bible (I guess that makes it okay then);
  • Free drinks served tomorrow (which of course never comes);
  • Ladies must be accompanied by a husband, preferably her own (so I guess this isn’t a single’s bar);
  • All flies that land on you become your property (until it lands on somebody else);
  • If you want a top class inn, go and build one (I guess he likes a bit of competition);
  • If you must fight, rent a hall and charge admission (cool – pit fighting).

Well, with rules like that, what can’t you like about this place.

Unfortunately one of those boats was closed

So, what else is there about this place? As I mentioned, they have a number of other buildings (though you simply could not beat the rules on the wall of the pub, which is probably why I went in there last) which includes the church, the schoolrooms, a bank, and a firestation. There are also a number of boats sitting in the pond (which is supposed to be a harbour, but sometimes you do have to leave a bit to the imagination), as well as a blacksmith shop (which was quite disorganised), and the sail and rope maker (actually two businesses, but they occupied the same building).

Blacksmith outsideBlacksmith inside
This place could do with a bit of tidying up

At first I thought that maybe our technological age would have put a lot of these old shops out of business, however as you wander around not just this town, but any town, you will discover that many of them, or ones similar to them, are still around. Okay, we probably don’t need to make all of our tools in town at the blacksmith anymore – we can simply import them from the city, but they still require locals with such skills nearby. These towns still have their local newspaper, simply because the main dailies generally only print news that is either significant, or of interest to their main readership base – the big cities. Also, despite the rise of the internet, these local publications still chug along – and despite the rumour that everybody in a country town knows what is going on, the fact that you still need their local newspaper suggests maybe they don’t (but then again these newspapers generally cover a district as opposed to a single town, so while everybody in Codollingup might know that Mrs Jones’ new dress was ripped apart by Mr Yates’ dog, they probably don’t know what is going on in Drongoldong, which is 100 kms away – and probably don’t care anyway).

DressmakerThe Examiner

I think I’ll finish this off here with the bank, namely because it was really cool walking into the bank to discover that the vault was open and that there was nobody behind the counter. In fact it felt like the only time that I have walked into a bank where I could easily jump the counter, walk into the vault, and simply help myself to whatever was in there. Unfortunately for me (or at least as far as I could see because I wasn’t supposed to jump the counter) there wasn’t anything in the vault, so even though I could have easily done so, it would have only been worth it if I could have walked out with something (and even then that would be stealing).

Bank interior 1Bank interior 2
I don’t think they particularly like you taking photos inside a bank either

Oh, and there is one thing that I almost forgot. As well as Lamb Chops, there were a few other animals here as well, including a pig, some ducks, and a couple of cats. One cat really baffled me because it was lying on wharf as if it were dead. In fact I ended up standing there for about five minutes simply looking at it, but being a little too afraid to touch it (in case it was dead – I don’t like touching dead things, they tend to be dirty), to try and work of if it was really dead. It turned out that it wasn’t, but it looked like it was so intent on sleeping that the only thing that would have woken it up would have been me picking it up and throwing it into the pond (which would have ended really, really badly for me, if only for the claw marks that would have appeared on my arm – cats really, really, don’t like being thrown, and they will let you know, in the most painful way, that they don’t like being thrown).

Comatose Cat
See what I mean
Creative Commons License
Flagstaff Hill – Recreating the Whaling Village by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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