Queenscliff is a township at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, named by Lt. Governor C. J. La Trobe after Queen Victoria in 1853. Before then the settlement had been called Whale Head and Shortland's Bluff.
Queenscliff is connected by an isthmus to the Bellarine Peninsula on the west side of Port Phillip Bay. It overlooks The Rip, the entrance to the Bay. In the early 1840s a pilot service for ships was set up at Queenscliff. Lighthouses were erected at Shortland's Bluff (the white lighthouse, 1862); at a point 300 metres north-north-east (the black lighthouse, 1861-2); and at Point Lonsdale (4.5 km. south-west). Ships fixing their position in relation to the first two lighthouses can navigate The Rip. Between those lighthouses was built Fort Queenscliff (1884-5) one of a defensive network of armed stations guarding the entrance to Port Phillip.
A local fishing industry was established quite early, having access to both the Bay and to Bass Strait. A telegraph station was built in 1856, and a municipal borough created in 1863. Its name is Queenscliffe, and includes the town of Point Lonsdale.
Around this time several other institutions began. A Queenscliff detachment of the Geelong Volunteer Artillery and rifle Corps was formed, the forerunner of the Fort. Presbyterian, Anglican, Catholic and Wesleyan churches were opened between 1862 and 1869. Four hotels and the large Foresters Hall were built by 1875. The railway was extended from Geelong in 1879, and during the next decade Queenscliff's grand hotels were built. A gas works was opened in 1884.
By the turn of the century Queenscliff was a well established holiday resort, reached by railway of Bay steamer.
Queenscliff's importance for tourists and holiday-makers was eclipsed by motor-car access to other destinations in the inter-war and postwar years, but is had an extensive array of amenities.
A higher elementary school (1945) became a high school in 1957.
Despite the town's infrastructure, modern motoring and motels caused a severe decline in Queenscliff's prosperity. Maintenance standards and property values declined.
The tourism and civic infrastructure saw a revival in the 1980s, not least because of the grand hotel and civic architecture and the proximity to metropolitan Melbourne for day trips and weekends. Passenger and vehicular ferry services also connect to Sorrento on the east side of The Rip.
Tourist attractions include the restored Bellarine Peninsula railway, between Drysdale and Queenscliff, the Vue Grand, Ozone and Queenscliff Hotels (making Queenscliff the culinary centre of the Bellarine Peninsula), and the wharves where fresh fish can be bought from the fishing co-operative. The shopping centre in Hesse Street is relatively large for the size of the community. Next to the wharves are the Marine Science Laboratories, and the remainder of the coast around the township is foreshore reserves with a pier and the Australian Staff College (formerly the Fort).
Bowling, tennis and netball facilities are in the town, and the golf course is reached by a bridge to Swan Island. In addition to the high school there are a primary school and a Catholic school in Queenscliff. Registered historic buildings include pilots' cottages (1853), a lifeboat shed (1887) and the railway station (1881), but not the hotels. The median house price in 1987 was $88,500 and in 1996 it was $150,000.
Queenscliff's census populations equated with those of the borough until Point Lonsdale grew during the early 1900s. Separate figures for each town have not been published.
Census populations of the borough have been 954 (1871),2,000 (1891), 2,386 (1947) and 3,193 (1996). The 1991 census recorded that 26% of Queenscliff residents were 65 years or more, compared with 11% for Victoria.
The borough was unaltered by the 1994 local government amalgamations, a striking exception to the rest of Victoria.
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