Phillip Island (Boonwurrung: Corriong, Worne or Millowl) is an Australian island about 125 km (78 mi) south-southeast of Melbourne, Victoria. The island is named after Governor Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, by explorer and seaman George Bass, who sailed in an open whale boat, arriving from Sydney on 5 January 1798.
Phillip Island forms a natural breakwater for the shallow waters of the Western Port. It is 26 km (16 mi) long and 9 km (5.6 mi) wide, with an area of about 100 km2 (40 sq mi). It has 97 km (60 mi) of coastline and is part of the Bass Coast Shire.
A 640 m (2,100 ft) concrete bridge (originally a wooden bridge) connects the mainland town San Remo with the island town Newhaven. In the 2016 census, the island’s permanent population was 10,387, compared to 7,071 in 2001. During the summer, the population swells to 40,000. 60% of the island is farmland devoted to grazing of sheep and cattle.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were the Yalloc Bulluk clan of the Bunurong people, Indigenous Australians of the Kulin nation. In the Bunwurrung language the island is known as corriong or millowl. Their coastal territory with its sheltered bays meant that the Yalloc Bulluk, along with other Bunurong clans, were among the first Aboriginal people in Victoria to have contact with European mariners.
Following reports of the 1798 exploration by George Bass and Matthew Flinders, the area was frequented by sealers from Van Diemen’s Land, whose interaction with the Bunurong people was not without conflict. In 1801, navigator James Grant visited the adjoining Churchill Island (which he named) and planted a crop of corn and wheat. In 1826, the scientific voyage of Dumont d’Urville, in command of the corvette Astrolabe, led to British concerns of an attempt by the French to establish a colony in Western Port. This saw the dispatch from Sydney of HMS Fly, under the command of Captain Wetherall, and the brigs Dragon and Amity, by Governor Darling.
While the French colonisation did not eventuate, Wetherall reported on finding a sealer’s camp and also two acres of wheat and corn. A fort was constructed near Rhyll, and named Dumaresq after the Governor’s private secretary. The ‘abundance’ of wood, quality soil and the discovery of coal at Cape Woolamai, were mentioned in newspaper accounts. Wetherall also erected a flag staff on ‘the flat-top’d rock off Point Grant’ (commonly known today as The Nobbies) on the Island’s Western extremity as a marker for the harbour entrance.
“The Natives appear numerous, but we have not been able to obtain an interview, as they desert their camp, and run into the woods on our approach, watching our movements until we depart. As I am aware it is Your Excellency’s wish to conciliate them as much as possible, I have not allowed them to be pursued, or molested in any way.”
The only reservation Wetherall had was on the Island’s supply of water; he dug a ‘tide-well’ near the fort but assessed the source as ‘not in sufficient quantities for the supply of shipping’ and this problem would lead to the eventual move to Settlement Point on the mainland coast.
During the third voyage of HMS Beagle, in 1839, water was ‘found by digging in the centre of a clump of bushes on the outer part of the point at the N.E. extremity of the island, which at high water became an island, [and] occasionally made the water brackish’ although it was noted ‘better might have been found a short distance in shore, as there were abundance of shrubs and other indications of water in the neighbourhood’. The water question was again addressed, by Captain Moore, who accompanied Surveyor Robert Hoddle in 1840, that ‘water can be obtained on Phillip Island, near the best anchorage, off Sandy Point.’
In 1835 Samuel Anderson established the third permanent settlement in what would be Victoria at the mainland site of Bass across the bay from Phillip Island.
In 1841, brothers John David and William McHaffie, were granted Phillip Island as a squatting run and took possession in 1842. The McHaffies, and later settlers, assisted the Victorian Acclimatisation society (forerunner of the committee which established the Melbourne Zoo) by introducing animals such as pheasants, deer and wallabies to Phillip Island.
Plans for the first bridge to the Island, from San Remo to Newhaven commenced in 1938, at a cost of £50,000, with the official opening by Premier Albert Dunstan taking place in November 1940. A full public holiday was declared on the Island to celebrate.
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