Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Phillip Island & District Historical Society August 2021 Newsletter

Last updated on 25-Aug-21

August 2021 Newsletter 


Welcome to the PIDHS August Newsletter, 


Here we are some eighteen months into this world-wide pandemic, and we find that not only are face to face activities still greatly curtailed, but we have again just entered another snap lockdown. Hands up those who thought 2021 would see our world return to normal? I know we all realise how lucky we are to live in regional Victoria but the fact that COVID crept into our Island only weeks ago serves as a sobering reminder as to how vulnerable we really are and how careful we all must be. 


Annual General Meeting ‒ Tuesday 14 September at Rotary HQ. Subject of course to the COVID restrictions which are in place at the time, we are hopeful that we will be holding the Societyʼs AGM at Rotary HQ, 101 Dunsmore Road, which is next door to Lionʼs second-hand yard, opposite Blue Gum Garden Supplies. The AGM is set for 2pm on Tuesday 14th September to be followed by an Ordinary General Meeting. We are hopeful that we shall be able to meet in person, however contingency plans for an online meeting will be in place ‒ just in case. Afternoon tea will be served after the meeting. 


At each yearʼs AGM, all positions on the Committee of Management are declared vacant and nominations for the next year are requested. Please consider nominating for a position on the Committee of Management. The year ahead looks set to be an exciting one ‒ with the move out of the Heritage Centre completed and the rebuilding of the new Cultural Centre soon to be underway. Being a member of the Committee of Management is not an onerous task and offers great opportunity for those interested in shaping the future direction of our Historical Society in an age where digital technology will play a very important part in the Society, and the Museumʼs future.


 Attached to this Newsletter is the Nomination Form for the 2021/2022 Committee of Management for the Society.


 After the meeting, we are so lucky to have one of our members, Maureen Matthews offer to give us a talk on the life and works of botanical artist Euphemia Henderson ‒ who was, of course, Georgianna McHaffieʼs sister. I think Euphemiaʼs story will be of interest to everyone. 


Welcome to New Member


Welcome to our newest member ‒ Amanda Vacouftsis. Amandaʼs grandmother, Flora Barton and great grandfather, John Ernest Barton are both buried in the Phillip Island Cemetery. Amandaʼs mother and three sisters all grew up on Phillip Island, living across the road from the second Cowes Shire Hall in what was called Main Street in those days (now known as Thompson Avenue). Welcome Amanda ‒ we hope you enjoy being a member of our Society, and we look forward to preserving and collecting any stories you may have relating to the history of the Island. 


In this edition of the newsletter, I continue our monthly instalment of the Pioneer Palaces Tour of Rhyll, with a visit to Rimutara the charming property originally owned by the McFee family.


KHbdvFW5F0pfmzpLeMwhdxwhCekNHlTBlnlWfC1C.jpeg A quick reminder for those who havenʼt yet paid - annual subs are due. We thank you for your prompt attention to this. Please contact our Treasurer, Judy Gittus, if you have any queries: Spread the word ‒ New Members are welcome! Enjoy! Pamela Rothfield Secretary



Pioneer Palaces Tour of Rhyll,


Pioneer Palaces of Rhyll Tour Rimutara ‒ William and Annie McFee Rimutara was built by Bill Richardson for the McFee family in 1887, at a cost of £204. It is believed that the relationship between the Lock family, headed by Capt. John Barnard Lock and the McFee family, headed by William Thomas McFee was the catalyst for Williamʼs ʻdiscoveryʼ of Phillip Island. The McFees named their house Rimutara, which was understood to have meant ʻpleasant islandʼ in the Maori language, reflecting the fondness that William McFee, held for his ten years in New Zealand in the 1860s. 




The McFee family on the veranda of Rimutara c. 1892 (above) A couple of years after completion, William had the three-bedroom house extended to accommodate his large family. The extension saw the cottage grow by more than 25% with the addition of a parlour and storage room, which later served as the Rhyll Post Office from the late 1890s to the 1920s. This expansion also provided for the familyʼs permanent occupancy, which took place in 1891, due to financial losses the family sustained in the devastating land bust of the 1890s. Rimutara was managed by William Smith who eventually built his own pioneer palace in Rhyll, which he called Stradbroke House (another story). 




For number of years after their permanent move to the Island William would commute from Rhyll by ferry to Stony Point and then connect by steam train to Melbourne to run his ironmongery business in Elizabeth Street Melbourne. William made a significant contribution to the Island, serving as a Shire Councillor for Woolamai and Phillip Island Shire Council for over thirty-five years and deputy coroner for the Island as well as J.P. 


100 years of Penguin Tourism


 A little birdie has whispered that celebrations of the centenary of Penguin based tourism on the Island will occur in October this year. Letʼs hope that vaccinations are such that we have no restrictions to thwarts this important anniversary. 


Bass Coast Thematic Environmental History 


Bass Coast Shire Council have engaged the services of leading heritage consultancies, Context, to undertake a comprehensive Thematic Environmental History for the Bass Coast area. The previous study was completed some 17 years ago. This latest revision will cover 16 historical themes, ranging from an Ancient Land, Living on Country; Aboriginal ‒ Settler Contact and Conflict to Primary Production which will include the history of the pastoral industry, land selection and small farming as well the building of Towns, Villages and Settlements plus much more. This study looks set to be a very comprehensive undertaking on our local history and of course, we, as the custodians of such an expansive historical collection, have offered any assistance needed to this project. 


President's message: 

Hello Members, I hope everyone is getting through the various COVID restrictions and this latest lockdown with relative ease. I am delighted to report that we have commenced our move into the Phillip Island and District Genealogical Society’s rooms, in the former Kindergarten in Chapel Street. I want to thank all those in the Genealogical Society for going out of their way to make enough room for us to operate in comfort for the next eighteen months. It’s been a great effort. There are now only a few items remaining in the Heritage Centre to be moved into storage. 


I am also delighted to report that the Wonthaggi Historical Society will be taking a number of our fixtures and fittings, and will, no doubt, make good use of them. During the past few weeks, I have had conversations with Council in respect to some ‘tweaking’ of the layout for the Society’s rooms in the new Cultural Centre and I am pleased to report that positive progress has been made and I am very happy with the final plan. I look forward to seeing as many members as possible for our AGM on Tuesday 14th September at the Rotary HQ in Dunsmore Road Cowes (next to Lion’s Club second-hand yard) – if restrictions allow - details on the last page of this newsletter. Regards Graeme Clauscen 




The 2021 AGM and General Meeting of PIDHS will take place at the Rotary HQ at 101 Dunsmore Road Cowes on Tuesday 14 September, commencing 2pm. There is no cost for members and an afternoon tea will be served after the meeting, expected to be about 3:15pm. We are delighted to have Maureen Matthews speaking for us about the amazing works and life of renown botanical artist Euphemia Henderson (sister of Georgianna McHaffie). Please ensure your place by booking by Friday 10th September with our Treasurer Judy Gittus - 


Newsletter written and edited by Pamela Rothfield Copyright © 2021 PIDHS. All rights reserved. Website: Facebook: Email: 


If you would like to nominate for the committee, please contact the secretary, Pamela Rothfield for a nomination form:  All members are welcome to nominate!