Geelong: a surprisingly charming port city

Geelong: a surprisingly charming port city

I went for lunch with a Melburnian friend who commented in confusion, “I would just never think to go to Geelong”. I tried to convince her that in fact she’d find Geelong surprisingly charming, but it’s a decent sized city that gets a hard rap. Most people (tourists and locals alike) whizz straight past Geelong when travelling south from popular Melbourne to famous Bells Beach, Torquay and on to the iconic Great Ocean Road, or vice versa. Much of Geelong is labelled industrial and boring (and rightly so with major employers including Shell Oil and Ford Motor Company), however I promise the waterfront is worth a day trip.

 

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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:

WATERFRONT BOLLARDS | these guys put such a smile on my face (and it was pretty dour before, as I had managed to lose my phone at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station just before boarding). Jan Mitchell is the artist behind over 100 hand painted bollards that were commissioned by Geelong council: most of the huge wooden pylons are recovered from the Yarra Street Pier destroyed by fire in the 1980s.

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Eastern Beach Life Savers – within this group there is a portrait of Billy Coyte who taught many generations of Geelong’s children to swim
Bathing Beauties - the beach front was the venue for beauty competitions from the 1930’s.
Bathing Beauties – the beach front was the venue for beauty competitions from the 1930s.
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Robert de Bruce Johnstone nicknamed ‘Mayor of Geelong’s parks and gardens’. Johnstone Park, which was established in 1864, is named in his honour. Ian MacDonald was Geelong’s city surveyor who produced the plans of the Eastern Beach complex which opened in 1939.
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Early Geelong Footballer – a nearby field, which became Transvaal Square, was used for football practice.
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Scallop Fishermen and Woman – from the early 1800s, fish and crustaceans from Geelong were marketed and sold locally, as well as in Melbourne.
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Volunteer Rifle Band – playing “The Geelong Polka”, this group represents players in Geelong’s first band concerts which were held in the Botanic Gardens in 1861.
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Western Beach Sea Bathing Company swimmers, established in 1872. These are also portraits of politicians Gordon Scholes, Nipper Trezise, John Howard, Jeff Kennett and Sir Hubert Opperman.
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Geelong’s waterfront is also home to a fully restored carousel, which originally operated on the Mordialloc Pier, Victoria, between the 1920s and 50s.
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The Geelong carousel (source: intown.com.au)

GEELONG GAOL | maybe I’m just morbid, but I think this is really cool thing to do. No? I was so impressed by the Alcatraz tour, California: don’t come expecting anything of the same scale, but at ten bucks this is interesting non the less. The local Rotary Club work hard to maintain the site, despite government intentions to shut it down over associated costs. The prison was based on the Pentonville (London) design, and built by prison labour from 1849-1864. I was the last visitor to clear out, and got so spooked that I sped on through, not brave enough to venture up to the top of 3 levels!

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Exterior of Geelong Gaol, now open Saturdays and Sundays 1pm – 4pm to the public
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The centre of the gaol: above sits the gaol bell which rung for meals, musters and lights out (source: pbase.com.au)
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Bare, unheated individual cells of prisoners (source: Aspenparks.com)
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Exterior of Geelong Gaol (source: Geelong Advertiser)

 

EASTERN BEACH | head further away from the town centre and you’ll find a beautiful recreation spot: this area was built during the 1930s so has a lot of nods to Art Deco. The protected swimming bay is shark proof (hooray) and there’s a pool, changing rooms and a kiosk. The whole area went in to decline in the 60s as people jumped in their cars and sped to ocean beaches, but restoration efforts were successfully put in to place from the early 90s.

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The protected swimming area at Eastern Beach (source: tothototnot.com)
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Overlooking the Eastern Beach pool and swimming baths (source: tothotornot.com)
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The Fountain, Eastern Beach, circa 1940 (source: travelvictoria.com.au)
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Looking back from Eastern Beach towards the ferris wheel on the main waterfront

3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:

SUMMER EVENTS | Geelong was a buzz with activity when I rocked up on a Saturday: the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race was steaming through, creating a sea of lycra and excessively busy cafes full of hungry cyclists. I’d missed the annual Festival of Sails held over Australia Day weekend – it’s the largest regatta in the Southern Hemisphere, which started in 1844 and now attracts 450 boats.

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Geelong is clearly a ‘boat place’ year round

GEELONG VINTAGE MARKET | I’m not really one for rummaging amongst soiled jumpsuits and tiny size 3 mismatched shoes, but if you’re a thrift store fan then you will be in heaven here! It’s HUGE. There’s heaps of brick-a-brack and furniture (not so good if you’re 10,000 miles from home).

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Geelong Vintage Markets are an incredible maze of stalls and vintage/tatt depending on your POV! (source: geelongvintagemarket.com)

CHEAP SUSHI | OK so this is a bit of lame entry, but as mentioned earlier I was in a bad mood due to loss of phone, and eating always cheers you up. I’d also decided to try being gluten-free (to fit in in Melbourne, naturally) so my seaside eating options were limited. Hi Sushi on Malop Street had scatty service but was tasty, fresh and ridiculously cheap.

3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:

SWIMMING | sorry Geelong: it’s not all A* report cards. Apart from maybe at Eastern Beach, I wouldn’t fancy a swim in Corio Bay. It’s not that the sea is noticeably mucky, but it’s shallow and very clearly a port. Cast your eyes to the land edges either side and you’ll see the factories in the distance pumping who knows what in to the environment. Come on a cooler day and save a swim for another place, another time.

GEELONG TOWN | fills all the criteria of the usual big Australian town: the old Town Hall and Post Office listed as historical landmarks; botanical gardens (what makes a garden botanical?); strips of shops sheltered from the elements under pavement overhangs. It’s just that Geelong is still a bit bland. This doesn’t appear to have been helped by a mega Westfield conveniently dumped in the heart of the town, attracting the crowds with air-conditioning and leaving many shop lots on Moorabool Street stood empty.

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One of the main high streets in central Geelong (source: intown.com.au)

LOSING YOUR PHONE | what a palaver. I was just about to board a train to Geelong: one moment happy as Larry excited for today’s adventure, next moment: poof! My phone had gone*. This led to 24 hours of hating on life (clearly far too dependent on this small piece of addictive technology), before thankfully some nice person handed it in. This is Melbourne not London after all. Hooray.

1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:

KARDINIA PARK | Geelong – like much of Melbourne – is sports mad. The complete opposite of me. But hey, when in Rome. AFL is huge in Geelong and I’m sure if you could get tickets in the winter to a Cats game it would be a pretty memorable spectacle.

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Catch a Geelong Cats AFL game during the season

AND KNOW THIS: Rabbits can be found on a number of the bollards because in 1859 on Christmas Day, Thomas Austin released 24 in to the wild on his property Barwon Park, Winchelsea (just outside of Geelong) introducing the rabbit to Australia.

 

*so in this post, all pics are sourced off the Internet and not my own!

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