Phillip Island & District Historical Society

A Short History of the Summerlands Peninsula

Last updated on 12-Apr-19

At a general meeting on 4th July 2012 John Jansson gave a Power Point talk about the history of Summerlands on the south western end of Phillip Island.

Starting with a brief time line to put the history of Summerland within the context of the history of Phillip Island, John then moved on to the sealers, followed by early settlers, including Pat Phelan, who farmed much of Summerland in the 1870s-1914.

Born 1840, Tranmore, County Waterford, Ireland, Patrick Phelan arrived in Australia on 22 January 18690 on the ship King of Algeria. Bought Lots 3 and 4, site of the Penguin Parade, in the 1870s. Grew chicory on the farm, working together with his neighbour, another Irishman Pat McGrath. Also ran cattle and sheep. Bought Lots 2 and 7 from Pat McGrath when McGrath returned to Ireland and also bought lots 1 and 1A from J W Syme.

Died from injuries from being dragged by his pony near his home, 22 August 1913. He owned all the Summerland Peninsula plus Lot 7 on east side of Wan Lake – a total of 617 acres. Stock on the property consisted of 11 horses, 22 cattle and 473 sheep. His estate was valued at £3,045 and was distributed to the Catholic Church and his nephews and nieces in Ireland.

Another early settler was Flynn who lived in a hut in the vicinity of Flynn’s rookery. He disappeared without any trace.

Summerland has seen several dangerous shipping episodes. SS Manapouri, 1783/1020 ton, 285.2 x 36 . 23.7 feet, was grounded near Point Grant in a fog 7th August 1891 and was later refloated. On 11th February 1932, the coal hulks Palace and Birchgrove, formerly three-masted barques, were supposed to be set on fire and scuttled of Port Phillip Heads. Spray from the seas put both fires out and both vessels finished up drifting onto rocks near the Nobbies and broke up. Timber was removed by local farmers for re-use in farm buildings. The Birch Grove was built of English oak in Sunderland England in 1856 and was 218 tons and 134.5 feet long. The Palace was built in the USA and was 137.1 feet long.

Tourism began soon after closer settlement, and the road to the Nobbies was built and used by early tourists. Other popular sites for tourist were Cape Woolamai and Pyramid Rock. Early tourism on Summerland consisted of hire cars and buses to see mainly the mutton birds, and later the penguins. Motor car tourists services began around 1920 with viewing of the arrival of mutton birds in the evening being very popular.

Charles Grayden was the first to take tours to see penguins arriving by torchlight. This was done after first seeing the mutton birds arrive. Charles built his own bus from a truck body. Bert West began car tours early in the 1920s. It was due to his lobbying that marram grass planting was done in the mid thirties to bind the sand hills preventing the loss of the penguin rookeries from erosion. He was appointed first manager of the Penguin Parade by the Shire of Phillip Island in 1956 and was awarded a BEM in 1975 for services to the penguin reserve. Bern Denham began with a car in the early 1920s and went into partnership with Herb Watchorn in 1933, buying a new Chevrolet bus in 1934.

In 1916 Dick Grayden built the passenger boat Edith Grayden at Rhyll and used it for sightseeing trips to Seal Rocks. In 1920 he moved to farm at Ventnor and built the Tea House at Shelly Beach. The hexagonal structure at Point Grant may also have been built by him. He built the Nobbies Tea House about 1930 and ran it until the early 1940s.

A K T Sambell, a Melbourne consulting engineer, bought the Trenavin Park property at Ventnor in the 1910s. He is on the local electoral roll in 1919. He bought the Isle of Wight and Phillip Island Hotels, the ferry service, and developed several subdivision on the island. He bought all the land on the Summerland peninsular from Pat Phelan’s estate in 1914, paying over three times the rate per acre of farmland for it. He was prominent in the formation of the Shire of Phillip Island in 1928 and became the first Shire President. By early 1928 he had built the 9 hole Summerland Golf Course, and the Summerland subdivision, Guest House and jetty were under construction.

Quarrying took place at various times on the west coast of Summerland. Beach gravel was used for the Parish Hall and Shire Hall in the early 1930s. Later in the 1930s the Stoppa brothers had a stone crusher set up on the beach for stone for the Phillip Island Bridge. Large stones were blasted from the cliff in the early 1950s for the sea wall east of the Cowes jetty.

In October 1956, Regulations for the Care, Protection and Management of the “Penguin Reserve” were brought in by the Government. The reserve was placed under the control of a Committee of Management consisting of the Councillors of the Shire of Phillip Island.

The “Shell House” was built and heavily decorated with shell work by Mr and Mrs Robertson, who collected many shells from nearby beaches and elsewhere. It was a very popular tourist attraction on Summer4land from 1950s-1980, but was demolished early on in the Summerland buy-back.

Regarding the navigation lights, an acetylene gas powered navigation light was installed on top of the big Nobby in 1919. The light was moved to Point Grant in 1947 and placed on a 50 feet high steel tower.