The Town of Barwon Heads

Looking south 2016

Is located on the mouth of the Barwon River has a population of about 3,875 (2016 census) permanent residents that swells to many times that around the Christmas holidays. It has always been a holiday resort providing plenty of opportunities for relaxation.
Around 1880 the Mount Colite coffee palace was built providing the first accommodation in town, it burnt down in 1929 and later replaced with a licensed hotel that still stands. Although extensively renovated and providing visitors and locals with bar, food and gaming facilities the original structure can still be seen.
The Barwon Heads golf course has a world wide reputation and provides a challenging links style course that has seen many international champions, as well as beginners, through the years.
Barwon Heads Park, lying at the base of the bluff provides one and two bedroom Beach Houses and Family Cabins as well as the traditional holiday camping sites for caravans and tents.
On the left of the adjacent photo the start of the 13th Beach surf beach can be seen a popular spot all year round for enthusiastic surfers.
Jirrahlinga wild life sanctuary on the edge of the town provides a great opportunity to see native animals and birds at close range.
Rondor caravan park at the north end of town provides easy access to the Barwon River as it  leaves the wetlands of the Lake Connwarre state game reserve.
At low tide the boilers of the Orungal can still be seen off the bluff. The cargo ship ran aground in 1940 and caught fire, salvage crews later dismantled the ship but left the boilers sitting on the rocks.
Just across the river is the town of Ocean Grove that started life as a Methodist holiday camp, but in recent years has become a thriving community. For more about the town of Ocean Grove follow the link on the Links page.


The Following are some excerpts from the booklet
“The History of Barwon Heads & District”
  by Grace Brown  

     In 1838 Geelong was proclaimed a township and in 1840 the Vagg family from Somerset (my great grandparents) arrived in Melbourne aboard the Himalaya and settled in the Connewarre district in 1850. Nine children were born to them there and were christened in the Wesleyan Chapel.
The name “Connewarre” is the aboriginal name for the Black Swan, these were in huge numbers on Lake Connewarre, which the Barwon River flows through on its way to the sea.
It is also the site where in the year 1803 an escaped convict, William Buckley known as wild white man, a man of huge stature was found unconscious by the aborigines alongside an aboriginal chief’s grave. They claimed that he had died black fellow and jumped up white fellow. He was succoured and lived with the tribe for some thirty-two years and when found by white men could no longer speak his mother tongue and had sunk to the level of a savage. There is a well at Breamlea known as Buckleys well and a cave on the Bluff at Barwon Heads known as Buckleys Cave.
Barwon Heads was first surveyed for a township in 1870. An excerpt from “The Australian Handbook”. Shippers & Imports Directory for 1894 gives the following description of Barwon Heads:-
Quote – “County Grant, Electoral district BARWON, Police district Geelong  – Shire of South Barwon. Barwon Heads is a post town, with   telephone to Drysdale on  the Barwon River. It is 14 miles from Geelong, 59 miles from Melbourne, reached by rail or steamer to Geelong, then by coach. Coaches run to Drysdale, Portarlington and Queenscliff. 5/- return.There is a Coffee Palace, State School, Wesleyan Church – The district is agricultural and dairying, formation volcanic and limestone. Fishing is a growing industry, large quantities of fish being sent to Melbourne. Population 100.” (End of Quote).

In 1853 the ship Earl of Charlemont, with 435 passengers aboard, struck a reef one mile south west of the Barwon Heads Bluff. (This reef now known as Charlemont reef).
The entire rescue took more than twelve hours and the Mayor  of Geelong, Mr. J. Cowie sent eight bullock drays from Geelong to transport the women and children and they arrived in Geelong four days later.
The ancestors of the Blyth family were aboard this ship and Mr. Blyth’s first meal on Australian soil was a wild duck shot on the swamp where Barwon Heads now stands.
Only one passenger was lost, a Mr. Josiah Bean
and in 1953 (100 years later ) his descendants dedicated a cairn on the Bluff as a Memorial and also a stained glass window above the altar in the Church of England.   *Note Authors error  Mr Bean lived, the two deaths were Robert Thwaites and Frederick Sadler

Hotel and Shops

According to early records there was a Coffee Palace on the site of the present hotel, a small round room on the South end served as a Post Office and with a separate hall for recreation.
Later the Coffee Palace was renamed Mt. Colite Hotel. Mr. Golightly was the first Licensee and his daughter Miss Maud Golightly and Miss Daphne Piper had charge of the Post Office.
This building was burned down in the 1920’s the the present Barwon Heads Hotel was built with Mr. Ziman as licensee.     Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock from Bright & Hitchcock’s Departmental Store in Geelong owned a home just south of the Coffee Palace and were responsible for planting many of the lovely trees in the park and also the lovely avenue of Cypress trees on either side of the main street and named Hitchcock Avenue in their honor.
Unfortunately these trees grew too big and interfered with SEC wires and were removed in recent years. One of the first shops was owned by Mr. Coats and bought from him by Mr. Bartlett Sen. in 1918, a horse and coach and hire car going with the business.   Mr. Fred Bartlett took charge after the death of his father and was with us for over 50 years. This family lived in the tower house in Bridge Road and later behind the shop.
Mr. John Collier and later his son Mr. Fred Collier also ran a car and mail service to Geelong and his sisters Misses Ruth and Dorrie managed the Post Office and manual telephone service.
Fresh bread was baked and sold by Mr. Harry Barnett, on the corner where the BP garage now stands. Mr. Percy Long had a photograph and souvenir shop and there was Mary Mars” Tea Rooms on the block where the ice-works and fish shop now stand.
Mr. Frank Ellis owned a Fruit shop with a Billiard Parlour at the back and next door where the Chemist shop now stands, was a shop owned by Mr. Graham selling Dairy products. Mr. Ellis also ran a kiosk near the bridge in the summer season where ice-creams could be purchased for l d, 3d, and 6d.
There was a First Aid Post where the Post Office now stands and as there was not a resident doctor, doctors visited regularly from Belmont, and Miss Richards and Miss Betheras gave their services.
Mr. Robert Walker from Geelong who served the district with horse and cart opened a butcher’s shop in 1920, managed by his son Eddy and his grand son Barry runs it today.

Mr. Bob Young opened the first garage in Bridge road where the present Super market stands.
Mr. Gordon Marshman built the local ice-works and ice was delivered until the advent of the refrigerator.


    Before there was a connecting bridge between Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove an open boat with Mr. Tom Abenathy on the oars, ferried people across  the return fare was 6 Pence but he frowned on anyone not making a purchase from shell-shop run by his wife on the other side.
In 1926 Don and Colin Patience gained the contract to build a bridge. This was built with mostly new timber and two local men. Mr. Ron Talt and Mr. Jim Cotter worked on the building and the bridge was opened in 1927.
During these years small  holiday homes or boat houses sprang up along the beach and these were over thirty between the Ozone Road Jetty and the Fishermen’s Jetty.
In the late 1930s after a protest headed by the late Sir Thomas Maltby these houses were shifted onto blocks of ground, some at Ocean Grove, a few in Barwon Head, additions made to regulation holiday homes. Pipes across the bridge bring the towns water supply.
At this time there was quite a fleet of fishing boats, many owned by the Stephen’s family. Mr. Stephens Senior came to Barwon Heads before the bridge was open, bringing possessions in an open boat and towing a cow behind.
There was good fishing and a fleet of thirty boats, had good catches of Couta especially in November — December period. These were boxed and transported daily to the Melbourne market. Crayfish were also plentiful, these were cooked in open coppers and sold at the jetty.

Public Hall

The public hall in Hitchcock Avenue was burned down around 1930 and the present brick structure was built with public subscriptions and a “Queen competition”. The “Queens” were Nell Tait (Mrs. Andrews), Audrey Ellis, (Mrs. Evans) and Maggie Blair, (Mrs. Tingate) and the new hall was opened round 1934.
Movies were shown weekly with Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Horace Stephens as projectionists and the first movie was a Laurel & Hardy short and “Peg O’ My Heart”. “Concerts were given annually in January, the concert party mostly blind who came down from the Royal Institute in Melbourne and were billeted overnight by local community .
Some well known and famous people owned houses here in the 1930s, including Mr. & Mrs. Eric Russell, came first in 1923 and retired here in 1936; Sir Edmond and Lady Herring; Lord and Lady Casey Sir Frederick Thomas (a Lord Mayor of Melbourne), Mr. and Mrs. H. C. French, managing director of Fords; Mr. Fairbairn; Mr. Grimwade; Mr. Humble.

   The residents were well served with two milk rounds. Mr. Andrew Jennings and his sons Dick and Ted and Mr. A. Graham. Milk was delivered twice daily to each house at 2d a pint, 5d a quart and dressed chickens 2/6 and fowls 3/6. Mr. Claude Ray who owned the Milk Bar near the bridge delivered fresh pies and cakes on Saturday afternoons. Pies for 4d each, cakes 2d each    .
One of the great moments in the history of Barwon Heads was when   Neville Shute’s film “On the Beach” was being produced and the stretch of the road from the top of the Bluff to the Golf Club turn off was used to film the final few minutes.