Port Phillip Bay

Port Phillip Bay

Port Phillip Bay, large deepwater inlet of Bass Strait, 30 mi (48 km) long and 25 mi (40 km) wide, Victoria, SE Australia. Port Melbourne and Williamstown are on Hobson's Bay, its northern arm.
"Port Phillip" may also refer to a Local Government Area called the City of Port Phillip.

Port Phillip, also commonly Port Phillip Bay or (locally) just the Bay, is a large bay in southern Victoria, Australia. Geographically, Port Phillip is a large marine bay 1,930 km² (476,900 acres) in area which has a coastline length of 264 km (164 miles). The bay is extremely shallow for its size, but mostly navigable. The deepest portion is only 24 m (80 ft), and half the region is shallower than 8 m. Its volume is around 25 km³.

The area around the bay was home to the Wurundjeri people prior to European settlement, while its waters are home to other species of life such as the Australian Fur Seal, whales, dolphins, corals and many species of bird including the waterbird, migratory waders, White-faced Storm-Petrel, Silver Gull, Australian Pelican, Pacific Gull, Australian Gannets and the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.

The first Europeans to enter the bay were the crews of the Lady Nelson, commanded by John Murray and, ten weeks later, the Investigator commanded by Matthew Flinders, in 1802. Subsequent expiditions into the bay took place in 1803 to establish the the first settlement in Victoria, near Sorrento, but was abondoned in 1804. Thirty years later, settlers from Tasmania returned to establish Melbourne, now the state's capital city, at the mouth of the Yarra River in 1835 and Geelong in Corio Bay in 1838. Today Port Phillip is the most densely populated catchment in Australia with an estimated 3 million people living around the bay; Melbourne's suburbs extend around much of the northern and eastern shorelines, and the city of Geelong sprawls around Corio Bay, in the bay's western arm.



Port Phillip was formed about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, when the sea-level rose to drown what was then the valley of the Yarra, which flowed down what is now the eastern side of the bay. The Aboriginal people were in occupation of the area long before the bay was formed, having arrived at least 20,000 years ago and possibly 40,000 years ago. Large piles of semi-fossilised sea-shells known as middens, can still be seen in places around the shoreline, marking the spots where Aboriginal people held feasts. They made a good living from the abundant sea-life, which included penguins and seals. In the cold season they wore possum-skin cloaks and elaborate feathered head-dresses.

European Exploration

The first Europeans to see Port Phillip were the crew of the Lady Nelson, commanded by John Murray, which entered the bay on 15 February 1802. Murray named the bay Port King after the Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, but King later renamed it Port Phillip, in honour of his predecessor Arthur Phillip.

About ten weeks after Murray, Matthew Flinders in the Investigator also found and entered the port, unaware Murray had been there. The official history of Nicholas Baudin's explorations in Le Géographe claimed they too had sighted the entrance at that time (30 March 1802) but this is almost certainly a later embellishment or error, being absent from the ship's logs and Baudin's own accounts. As a result of Murray's and Flinders' reports, King sent Lieutenant Charles Robbins in the Cumberland to explore Port Phillip fully. One of his party, Charles Grimes, became the first European to walk right round the bay, and thus to discover the mouth of the Yarra, on 2 February 1803.

European Settlement

King decided to place a convict settlement at Port Phillip, mainly to stake a claim to southern Australia ahead of the French. In October 1803 a party led by Lt-Col David Collins and consisting of about 400 people landed near the modern site of Sorrento, where they established a settlement at Sullivan Bay which they called Hobart. Lack of fresh water and good timber, however, led this, the first attempt at European settlement in Victoria, to be abandoned in May 1804. Collins and party sailed to Tasmania, where they established the modern Hobart. Prior to abandonment one convict, William Buckley, escaped from the settlement in a stolen canoe. Buckley later took up residence in a cave near Point Lonsdale on the western side of the bay's entrance, The Rip.

Port Phillip was then left undisturbed until 1835, when settlers from Tasmania led by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner (who had been at the Sorrento settlement as a child) established Melbourne on the lower reaches of the Yarra. John Batman encountered William Buckley who then became an important participant in negotiations with the local indigenous tribesmen. In 1838 Geelong was founded, and became the main port serving the growing wool industry of the Western District. For a time Geelong rivalled Melbourne as the leading settlement on the bay, but the Gold Rush which began in 1851 gave Melbourne a decisive edge as the largest town in Victoria.

Modern Use

As Melbourne prospered its wealthy classes discovered the recreational uses of Port Phillip, and bayside suburbs such as St Kilda and Brighton were established along the coast southeast of the city. Later resorts further south such as Sorrento and Portsea became popular. The more swampy western shores of the bay were not so favoured, and have been used mainly for non-residential purposes such as the Point Cook Royal Australian Air Force base and the Werribee Sewage Farm. In recent decades however the population along the western side of the bay has grown more rapidly.


Port Phillip lies in central Victoria separated from Bass Strait by the Bellarine Peninsula to the southwest and Mornington Peninsula to the southeast. It is the largest bay in Victoria and one of the largest inland bays in Australia. The narrow entrance to the bay, called the Rip, between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, features strong tidal streams made turbulent by the uneven contours of the seabed. The best time for small craft to enter the Rip is at slack water. Large ships require expert local guidance to enter and exit, provided by the Port Phillip Sea Pilots. There is currently a proposal to deepen the entrance, to allow newer, larger container ships to access Melbourne's docks.

The eastern side of the bay is characterised by sandy beaches extending from St Kilda, Sandringham, Beaumaris, Carrum, and down the Mornington Peninsula to Frankston, Safety Beach/Dromana and Rye to Portsea. Longshore drift carries sand from south to north during winter and from north to south during summer. Cliff erosion control has often resulted in sand starvation, necessitating offshore dredging to replenish the beach. On the western side of the bay there is a greater variety of beach types, seen at Queenscliff, St Leonards, Indented Head, Portarlington, and Eastern Beach.

Numerous sandbanks and shoals occur in the southern section of the bay, and parts of the South Channel require occasional maintenance dredging. Swan Bay, adjacent to Queenscliff is an important feeding ground for waterbirds and migratory waders. The Mud Islands, off Sorrento, are an important breeding habitat for White-faced Storm-Petrel, Silver Gull, Australian Pelican and Pacific Gull. Australian Gannets also breed on navigation beacons in this area, and it also hosts breeding colonies of Australian Fur Seal. Saltmarsh in the northwestern sections of the bay is listed as significant wetlands with the Ramsar Convention and the critically-endangered Orange-bellied Parrot is found at three wintering sites around Port Phillip and the Bellarine Peninsula.


Port Phillip hosts many beaches, most of which are flat, shallow and long, with very small breaks making swimming quite safe. This attracts many tourists, mostly families, to the beaches of Port Phillip during the summer months and school holidays. Water sports such as body boarding and surfing are difficult or impossible, except in extreme weather conditions. Most sandy beaches are located on the bay's northern, eastern and southern shorelines, while the western shorelines host a few sandy beaches, there mostly exists a greater variety of beaches, swampy wetlands and mangroves. The occasional pebble beach and rocky cliffs can also be found, mostly in the southern reaches.

Rivers & Creeks


Due to its shallow depth, numerous artificial islands and forts have been built, however, despite the depth, it only hosts a few true islands. Many sandy, muddy banks and shallows exist in its southern reaches, such as Mud Islands, but most islands are located in the marshy shallows of Swan Bay. Some of the bay's major islands include:

Surrounding Mountains & Hills

Surrounding Lakes



The southern section of the Bay near the Heads is covered by extensive sand banks, known as the "Great Sand". A shipping channel was dredged in an east-west direction from the Heads to near Arthur's Seat late in the nineteenth century, and maintained ever since. In 2004, the Victorian state government put forward plans for deepening of this existing channel and also of the lower Yarra to accommodate deeper draft vessels. The lower Yarra sediments were identified as likely to be contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and were to be contained within a sealed berm clear of the shipping chennels south of the Yarra entrance. The vessel chosen for the dredging is the Queen of the Netherlands.

52 environmental groups, recreational fishing groups, and divers' groups formed the "Blue Wedges" group to oppose the proposed channel deepening and dredging. Organised protests occurred in 2005. One of their concerns was the seabed sediments which are being disturbed when the entrance to Port Phillip is dredged, and will not settle again onto the seabed for a long time. This could damage the ecosystem of Port Phillip by preventing sunlight from reaching the algae on the seabed and thus stopping photosynthesis. This may then lead to a dramatic decrease in the dissolved oxygen content of water, i.e. anoxia which can have devastating impacts on marine life.

In December 2007 it was announced that Blue Wedges took action in the Federal Court against the Commonwealth to stop it signing off on the project. The case was heard in January 2008. On 15th January 2008 it was announced that their appeal was dismissed..

Shipping Channels

  • South Channel - Extends from the area of the rip in an easterly direction where it terminates off the coast of Arthurs Seat. Vessels with a draught of 11.6m can be navigated through the channel at all tides. This is the main commercial shipping channel in the south of the bay allowing large ships access bwteen the entrance of the bay and its middle regions.
  • West Channel - Extends from the area of the rip, heads towards the north-west and ends off the coast of St. Leonards. The depth varies, in May 1998 there was a minimum of 4.1 metres. Non-commercial vessels are still navigated through the channel, however it is no longer used for commercial shipping.
  • The Rip - Also referred to as "the heads" for shipping purposes, vessels with a draught of 11.6m can be navigated through the Heads during any tide.
  • Melbourne Channels - Extends northwards through Hobsons Bay towards Station Pier and the entrance to the Yarra River. It is dredged to a depth of 13.1 metres and is the main shipping channel through the north of the bay into Melbourne's ports and docks. The channels include:

Melbourne Channel
Williamstown Channel
Port Melbourne Channel

  • Geelong Channels - Begins off the coast of Point Richards and runs in a westerly direction through Outer Harbour and into Corio Bay where it splits in two heading north towards the North Shore piers and south towards Cunningham Pier. The City Channel while once used for wool exports is no longer used for commercial shipping. The channels include:

Pt. Richards Shipping Channel
Wilson Spit Shipping Channel
Hopetoun Shipping Channel
City Channel
Corio Channel

Shipping & Cargo Docks

  • Webb Dock
  • Station Pier
  • Corio Quay
  • North Shore Wharves
  • Refinery Pier
  • Gellibrand Pier

Other features


Major Marinas & Piers

  • Station Pier
  • St. Kilda Pier
  • St. Kilda Marina
  • Sandringham Marina
  • Mornington Pier
  • Martha Cove Marina
  • Dromana Pier
  • Rosebud Pier
  • Rye Jetty
  • Blairgowrie Marina
  • Sorrento Pier
  • Portsea Pier
  • Queenscliff Harbour
  • Portarlington Pier
  • Bellarine Street Jetty
  • Cunningham Pier
  • Werribee South Jetties
  • RAAF Williams Pier
  • Altona Pier

Life Saving Clubs

Yacht Clubs



Today, the Port of Melbourne has grown to become Australia's busiest commercial port, serving Australia's second largest city and handling an enormous amount of imports and exports into and out of the country. The Port of Geelong also handles a large volume of dry bulk and oil, while nearby Port of Hastings on Western Port handles steel and oil products.


Two ferries travel across the mouth of the bay each hour, between Queenscliff and Sorrento. The service is known as the Searoad ferry. Ferries also run from St Kilda to Williamstown, Victoria across Hobsons Bay. These ferries, like the many recreational cruises, mostly operate for tourists and run around the bay in various locations.

Between: Station Pier, Port Melbourne
And: Devonport, Tasmania

  • Searoad Ferries (Passenger & Vehicles)

Between: Sorrento Pier, Sorrento
And: The Cut Pier, Queenscliff


The bay is one of Victoria's most popular tourist destinations. Many residents of Melbourne holiday on the shorelines of the bay, particularly the eastern and southern shorelines, most anually, either camping in tents, caravan or villas in caravan parks, sharing rental houses or staying in holiday homes.

Recreation and Sport

Port Phillip's mostly flat topography and moderate waves make perfect conditions for recreational swimming, kitesurfing, windsurfing, sailing, boating, scuba diving and other sports.

Port Phillip is home to 36 Yacht clubs. It also hosts the Melbourne to Hobart and Melbourne to Launceston Yacht Races. Port Phillip is also home to a number of marinas, including large marinas at St Kilda, Geelong and Brighton.

Dozens of lifesaving clubs dot Port Phillip, especially on the east coast from Altona to Frankston. These clubs provide volunteer lifesaving services and conduct sporting carnivals.

Port Phillip is also known as a temperate water scuba diving destination. The shore dives from beaches and piers around the Bay provide a wide variety of experiences on day and night dives. Boat diving in Port Phillip provides access to a remarkable variety of diving environments including wrecks, reefs, drift dives, scallop dives, seal dives and wall dives.

The are also a number of bike paths, including the Bayside Trail and the Hobsons Bay Coastal Trail.


See also

External links

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