Phillip Island History

The History of Phillip Island  


Phillip Island history stretches back to thousands of years, when the Bunurong tribe used to roam this area. The Bunurong people were the indigenous people of the area and inhabited lands from the coast all the way inland. The Bunurong used to call Phillip Island Beang Gurt. Archaeological evidence shows that the tribe came to this area around 40,000 years ago when Phillip Island was not an island and was connected with mainland.


Colonial Times

The Island was discovered in January 1798 when George Bass sailed to Western Port (presently known as Westernport) in a flat bottom whale boat. Bass on a journey of discovery, as he wanted to find out whether there was a strait between the mainland and Tasmania.


In October 1798, Bass returned with Mathew Flinders and the duo landed at Rhyll. Bass named the island Snapper Island. However, thereafter the Island was renamed Grant Island to honour Captain James Grant, who was the first to sail across the Bass Strait in 1800. James Grant built a modest cottage on Churchill Island and grew wheat and corn from the seeds he received from John Churchill, Grant’s friend. In fact, Grant named the Island after his friend and established the first colonial settled in modern-day Victoria. Phillip Island history shows the Island was ultimately named after Sir Arthur Phillip, who was the governor of the First Fleet that sailed in 1788 from England to Australia.


First Permanent Settlers

While several settlements were established on Phillip Island, they were abandoned for various reasons. In 1842, William and John McHaffie, two brothers from Scotland, were the first permanent settlers on the Island. They took a pastoral lease for the entire Island.

John and Georgina McHaffie

John and Georgina McHaffie

They cleared the dense covering of tea tree scrub with the help of a fire that burnt for many days. Once the fire cleared up the land, the McHaffie brothers made cattle swim to the Island during low tide and formed pastoral runs. However, the sole right of the brothers was resented and many people came to the Island. However, life was hard and with the scarcity of fresh water and caterpillar infestation, the residents moved back to the mainland. By 1902, there were just 50 people living on the Island.


Churchill IslandPhillip Island history shows in the 1870s, farmers started returning to the Island and the population gradually started increasing. Initially, the permanent settlers farmed, fished, collected eggs of mutton birds, and gathered oysters. Other industries were ship building and brick-making. One of first cash crops to be planted on the Island was chicory. In fact, even today, visitors can see chicory kilns across the Island.


Phillip Island Today

Today, Phillip Island is a major tourist resort. People from all over Australia come to spend time amidst the pristine settings. Around 72 percent of the homes on the Island are holiday homes and 60 percent of the land on Phillip Island is used for grazing cattle and sheep.


With its 97-kilometre coastline, unspoilt natural beauty and indigenous wildlife and marine life, Phillip Island attracts more than 3.5 million visitors every year. During the peak tourist season in summer, the island’s population swells from 7,500 to 40,000. What a drastic change from the ancient Phillip Island history when there were just a few hundred residents!


Phillip Island Accommodation

To accommodate year-round visitors to the Island, there is a wide choice of accommodation. There are motels, apartments, hostels for backpackers, bed and breakfasts, cottages, resorts and even farm stays. Visitors can find accommodation to suit their needs and budget. However, during the season, it is best to book in advance to avoid disappointment.


Visitors to The Island can book their accommodation through the Visitors Information Centres located at Inverloch, Cowes and Newhaven


Getting to Phillip Island

Today, it is not difficult to reach Phillip Island. The Island is a mere 2-hour drive from Downtown Melbourne and the bridge at San Remo leads to the Island. There also are other means of reaching Phillip Island. Visitors can take Inter-Island passenger ferry from Stony Point to reach Cowes. Alternatively, visitors can take the V-Line, which runs daily coaches from Southern Cross Station to Cowes. The coaches halt at Grantville, Corinella, Bass, San Remo and Newhaven.