About our Beaches (Part 1)
Torquay has an abundance of beautiful world class beaches and for many of us who have lived here for a long time, we have had ample opportunity to enjoy them with a great deal of solitude. For many years a walk with your dog north along Whites beach meant you would often not see another soul and your pooch rarely had a mate to frolic with. Its not so these days and we have learnt to share our beaches with lots of newcomers. I started thinking about how our local beaches got their names and to find a way to share this history with those new to the area.
Remembering at all times that the first people to enjoy our special place were the Wathaurung People, and we know from their stories that they frequently camped along the shores and enjoyed meals of fish and shellfish and told their tales by a campfire on the beach.
The biggest bay in Torquay facing east is called Zeally Bay. In the early 1940’s two squatters took up much of the land that is present day Torquay. Elias Harding occupied about eight square miles encompassing the current township and stretching as far west as Point Addis. His neighbour on the north side was William Neil, who owned the South Beach run. By 1951 Neil had gone and Squatter Robert Zeally, who had been down around Camperdown way arrived. He took over South Beach. Zeally held South Beach run for 18 years and consequently the bay bears his name.
Point Impossible at the Northern end of Zeally Bay is aptly named as accessing it, until more recently, when a road and a bridge went over the creek, was difficult if not impossible. In the winter when Thompson’s Creek was running, the swampland (now called a wetland) was boggy. The keen surfers of the early 60’s would have to drive out past the old tip and keep going – hoping the swamp, which looked dry and passable, proved just that. They were often caught short and this meant a trek to the local farmer’s house and an attempt to sweet talk him into bringing out his tractor to drag you out. Such was the lust to try waves in unsurfed spots, they took their chances more often than not.
The beautiful stretch of beach that is known as Whites Beach was named after Andrew White. White, an Englishman from Warwickshire, came to Australia in 1852 and took up land all around Torquay. His home was at Stretton Park, Connewarre. White added to his property whenever he could and he eventually owned much of the land surrounding Torquay. Upon his death this land passed to his son Alfred George White. Both men were very civic minded, Andrew served for many years as a Councilor for the Connewarre riding, and Alfred notably donated the land for a racetrack. In the early years of the 20th century he made a “peppercorn “sale of the land the locals called “Whites Paddock”, on the far side of the creek to the Torquay Golf Club, so they could build an 18-hole golf course.
Apart from a popular spot with the dog-walking crowd, my favourite image of Whites Beach is when the Light horse were training there during the second World War. The pictures of soldiers and horses in the dunes are quite spectacular. The light horsemen trained here for a 3 month period from Late 1939 till Feb 1940 and luckily they were here when the fires came through and were able to brush up their skills on fighting bushfires and saving towns.
In the middle of this bay is “Fisherman’s Beach” or “Fisho’s”. So named as the early fishing fleet was based here and again there are some fantastic photos of those early fisherman, with their little boats full to the brim of fish. There was for a time a busy little fishing fleet in Torquay and there was a ready market for the catch in the growing town of Geelong.
At the corner of the Bay is Yellow Bluff. Named for the imposing yellow cliffs that form the corner of the Bay and the Front beach. On top of the yellow cliffs is the beautifully named Elephant walk. A visit from the circus in the summer months was a long held ritual in Torquay and it caused great excitement. The first notes about the Circus coming said they were camped at the north end of town near to Taylor Park, but as more houses were built, they moved over to the foreshore area and the name Elephant walk dropped in the lingo, as it was where the elephants were taken to exercise. In the 70’s and 80’s it was often used by visitors as a picnic spot. On some summer days, it was crowded by large groups of newly arrived immigrant Australians, mostly Italian and Greeks who would arrive with tables and chairs and huge boxes of food, their own music and they would have the most wonderful day eating, singing and dancing, playing bocce and watching the children swim ( it was rare to see the adults in the water). They made our day at the beach look very ordinary as they brought a touch of their culture to town. The locals would go down and sit and watch them dancing as evening came. These days, the area is still popular as a picnic spot and still we have large family groups of visitors arrive and although the food and languages are different (more falafels and shish kabobs) the level of family fun is still fantastic.
The Front Beach has long been called just that the front beach. For a brief period during the 1920’s it was called the surf beach, as beachgoers rarely ventured around the corner where the ocean was more treacherous. The first Torquay Surf Club was actually set among the bathing boxes on the front beach, distinguished from the other boxes by a flagpole and a bell tower. The latter being put up after the fires as a warning device. The bathing boxes dotted almost the whole length of the beach and were nestled in the marram grass and sand. The early residents made many memories and holidaymakers on summer holiday, on the beach playing on the wreck of the Joseph Scammell. Many families had a bathing box and each box was numbered and records carefully kept by the foreshore committee, who collected revenue from the them.
In the corner of this smaller bay is Cosy Corner known by early visitors as Sooki beach. Where most Torquay kids first dip their toes in the water and has long been a favourite spot for Mums and babies. The kid’s love the rock pools and when the tide is extra low, you can almost walk over the rocks to where the Scammell went down over 100 years ago. The wreck of the ship contributes to the naming of this spot as Point Danger. Many of our little surf stars start out their love of surfing on a big wide soft board being pushed on to the gentle waves by their dads on summer days. The grommets graduate from the shore break to surfing out on Point Danger.
President, Chris Barr talks about the Torquay beaches