My destination in Warnambool was the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, a museum and recreated shipping village of the late 1800s, built on the site of gun emplacements that were originally set up to protect the coast and its fleet from Russian pirates.
If you saw the movie “Quigley Down Under” (a movie with a fun soundtrack but more flaws of geography and reality than I could comfortably withstand, despite my loving Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman), you will have seen this location, as it was used for the street scene when Quigley first arrives in Australia and disembarks his ship (and immediately gets into a fist fight). I love “living history” in any form, and while the village was relatively quiet, as it is currently off season, it as still a delight. I wandered through all the buildings, learning all I could of sailing fleets, shipping-related skills, the businesses that surrounded and supported shipping, and this area’s history.
Next, I walked to the museum, which is home to the state’s largest accessible collection of shipwreck artifacts. Both fascinating and heart rending, items that had been salvaged from sunken ships or washed ashore along the “Shipwreck Coast” are reminders of the people and dreams that were lost, along with the ships. Along this 80-mile( 130-kilometer) stretch, more than 80 ships have gone down. A lot of the ships were cargo vessels, so there was not always a stunning loss of life, with the worst and most famous being the sinking of the S.S. Admella in 1959, when 89 people died. But still, each wreck represented loss on many levels.
The items that filled the museum were remarkable. One of my absolute favorites was the Loch Ard peacock. It is a gorgeous, life-sized, Minton porcelain peacock that was part of the cargo of a clipper ship called the Loch Ard. Despite a horrendous storm that battered and sank the ship, the peacock was so well packed that it survived the wreck completely intact. (Sadly, most of the crew and passengers, 52 of them, were not so lucky. One of the two survivors, Eva Carmichael, later related that, when the captain saw her on deck, just before she was swept away by a wave, he said to her, “If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor.”)
There were thousands of artifacts, including tools, belt buckles, ships’ tackle, crockery (some broken, some in remarkably good condition), clothing, cutlery, bottles, furniture, shoes, silver goblets, cooking utensils, and vastly more. A really handsome, square-cut diamond ring caught my eye, beautiful despite being heavily encrusted. But everything was intriguing or evocative, and memorable for the tales it told of life in the days of wooden ships.
I still had a lot to see along the coast, so I finally tore myself away from the museum and, with a quick stop in the gift shop to buy a booklet about the place, I continued on, heading now for the Great Ocean Road.