Camping in Lorne – The more things change…

There’s that old saying, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.  Nowhere is that observation more appropriate than when studying the long history of camping in Lorne.

At this time of the year when the camping grounds in Lorne and surrounding coastal towns are full, it’s time to reflect on how beach camping at Christmas is and has been, such an integral part of Australian culture.  To see “neighbours” in adjacent campsites, gathering for an afternoon drink, to see their kids playing together, all building memories from this annual camping experience which will last a lifetime.

We often talk about the native beauty of Lorne, the forest coming down to the sea, the waters of Louttit Bay, the walking trails and waterfalls; these qualities which have made Lorne a desirable place for visitors almost from the time Lorne was settled in the 1860s.

In those early days when word had spread about the attractions of Lorne, it was a journey for only the intrepid to visit Lorne and camp out.  In 1893, some Field Naturalists from Geelong visited Lorne and this amusing verse was written by one of them to commemorate their trip.  

Oh!  Exquisite joy of retiring, at times to a primitive life
No bed but a blanket requiring and eating food with a knife.
How blissful a tent with a tear is, where enters the genial fog
How sweet the Australian canaries, mosquitoes that bite like a dog
Oh, rapture of living on damper, of gnawing the breast of a swan,
Of searching for food in a hamper, and finding everything gone
Oh, banquet enjoyable wholly, when sugar and milk there are none
When dinner is *‘Johnny Cake’ solely, and earwigs can join in the fun.    *A very small pancake cooked in a fry pan on top of the fire –                                                                        ingredients were flour, baking powder, water and salt

A stroll around the campsites in the Erskine River Caravan Park today will show that the campers of the modern era are much better equipped to ensure that their stay in the “bush” is a warm, dry and comfortable experience. 😎😎

By 1872, it was possible to come to Lorne by coach, an arduous journey from Geelong to Winchelsea, then on to Dean’s Marsh and finally the climb over Benwerrin and the descent into Lorne.  By that time, the Mountjoys had opened a guest house on the site of what is now Mantra.  It provided accommodation for 40 and was well subscribed for the reasons given by one visitor at that time.  “During the summer months he will, doubtless, find his catering abilities taxed to their utmost – for few will care to camp out when they can obtain clean beds, and substantial meals, at 1shilling each.  I was really surprised at the low charges made, and the liberal manner in which we were treated having unpleasant reminiscences of paying 4 shillings for a chop, at a certain fashionable seaside township”.

The same writer, in 1872, went on to describe his fishing activities in Lorne.  “After dinner, nothing would do, but we must rush down to the stream – the Erskine – which, in some respects, resembles the mouth of Bream Creek, but is much more picturesque.  Hardly had my bait sunk, but I had to pull it out again, and found it had disappeared down the throat of a fine bream.  But a description of two men fishing would be a very tame affair, suffice if I say that every day, we fished we had excellent sport – catching fine salmon and bream, some of the latter weighing fully – and one over – four pounds (1.8kg)”.

Those that didn’t stop at Mountjoys’ establishment, camped in the vicinity.  One of the earliest places was Loves Paddock, now the site of the Supermarket and the Kia Ora camping ground.  There were also camping places over the ensuing years at Cumberland River, St George River, in and around the foreshore of Lorne and at Stony Creek.  

By 1877, more guest houses had appeared, and the Lorne Hotel had been built (1876).  Lorne was growing in popularity as a holiday destination and the town itself was growing to accommodate growing number of visitors.  In 1877, a journalist writing for the Geelong Advertiser reported; Notwithstanding the united efforts to provide adequate lodging for the grand army of visitors next season, I do not think it will prove sufficient, if rumour is to be relied on, as during the past four or five months it has been computed that nearly 1300 persons have visited the Louttit Bay district, inclusive of all that have done their holidays – whether at the hotel, boarding house, under canvas, or otherwise camping out in some style or other. On a fair calculation, and under the circumstances of the locality and its attractions for those in search of pleasure and recreation having obtained a wide spread fame, I incline to the opinion that the number of visitors will not fall far short of 3000 between next November and the month of May following”.

The advent of motorised transport and the construction of the Great Ocean Road provided much easier access to Lorne and with this easier access came the visitors in increasing numbers, to experience all that Lorne and its surrounds had to offer.  So, 140 years later, Lorne is still one of the most popular camping destinations on the Victorian coast and the reasons for its popularity are no different now to what they were then.  Now, Lorne has four caravan parks, managed by the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee.  Within those four parks there are 370 campsites and 32 cabins.  Those four parks are host to 31,000 visitors per year.  The growth predicted by the in the Geelong Advertiser in 1877 wasn’t wrong!

The popularity of Lorne as a holiday and camping destination has not waned.  Innovation in transportation, camping equipment might have changed aspects dramatically and a quick look around camp sites today will indicate that camping is a far more luxurious pastime now that in the past.  But the spirit of camping hasn’t changed – a relaxing holiday, a simpler life, camaraderie, family time – these aspects are timeless.

Pete Spring
Lorne Historical Society