Lorne Pier History and Folklore

For those visitors walking out on Lorne Pier today, looking to spot the stingrays, checking whether there are fish being caught, extending the “selfie stick” to capture that special photo, mainly of themselves, few would know or understand what an integral role in Lorne’s history the pier has played.

The Mountjoy brothers had established what became Erskine House in the late 1860s and from that time the popularity of Lorne as a holiday destination grew. As early as 1877, Lorne was being reported as an attractive destination for a seaside holiday. The newspaper of the day wrote, “There is no doubt that Lorne is far and away the prettiest watering place on the coast, and that none of its rivals can approach it for varied grandeur of scenery; the journey is easily accomplished in six hours from Winchelsea, the coaches run daily, and by persons requiring a change, a trip to Louttit Bay is the one that should be chosen.

The increasing numbers of visitors and the necessity for supply ships to have safe means of loading and unloading prompted calls for the construction of a jetty.

By the 1870s the call for a jetty was stronger and stronger. The press of the day took up the cause, citing the need for a jetty for safe transport of both passengers and cargo to Lorne. One journalist wrote in 1877, “I may remark that the natural beauties and advantages of Louttit Bay will inevitably ensure its becoming a favourite watering place at no distant day; but at present, however fitted it may be for the hardy tourists’ holiday, neither the way thither nor the accommodation available, are suitable for the feeble and debilitated. To render the place suitable for these a jetty, with a steamer plying from Geelong or Melbourne, with a superior style of accommodation at Lorne itself will be required. When these shall have been provided, no watering place in the colony, probably, will be better fitted to bring back the vigour of health to the invalid than Louttit Bay.

Months went by; Government promises of funding for a jetty, subsequent announcements that the budget had been cut in half and all the while, frustration. It seems that the processes of bureaucracy that we experience today are not new. It took till October 1878 for the announcement to be official. “What about the jetty; when will it be commenced? That is about the style of question that has been put by scores of people who take a great interest in this pretty watering-place, for the past eight or nine months. A very favourable reply can now be given upon that subject, as operations have been going on during the last three weeks, under the direction of Mr Kelly, who is the contractor with the government for the construction of the jetty at Lorne, and may be summarised thus:- a large quantity of splendid stout blue-gum piles brought to the beach, at the site of the jetty, from the forest lands in the immediate vicinity of the township, varying in length from sixteen to forty feet (5 to 12 metres). More than a dozen of these piles have already been placed in position, and driven down to their proper depth, each row consisting of three piles firmly secured with a double set of cross-beams, fixed with two strong iron bolts running through each pile.  The mode of bolting and fastening the timbers, the dimensions of which are large, and the style of the structure being such as to render it one of the strongest built jetties at any part of the Australian coast. In addition to the mooring piles at stated distances apart, there will be a tramway of three feet gauge laid down along the centre of the jetty, to within a few feet of the head, upon which a long truck will be placed, to be used in the conveyance of merchandise, luggage etc., to and from steamers and other craft laying alongside. Then, along the eastern side of the jetty, a strong handrail, will be fixed the entire length, and continued around the jetty head.  It is expected that the works will be completed about Christmas, if not interrupted by gales of wind or stormy weather.

Over the next decades there were several modifications to that original jetty. Some were enhancements, others were to make the jetty safer to ships. There was a complete change to the layout of the pier and it was considerably lengthened to 480 ft (157metres) to allow at least 5 metres depth of water at low tide. In 1935 a motor driven crane was installed on the pier. By this time the pier was not only supporting transport of passengers and supplies and shipping timber from the Otways, it was also supporting a local fishing industry. And with the fishing industry, came fishermen and so many tales involving the pier.

One day a boat was being lifted when the boom of the crane broke and landed down on top of Steve Ferrier’s boat and a chap named Jock Mathison who was operating the crane was thrown about 50′ (15 metres) away. Steve was thrown into the water and was rescued. On another occasion, Ernie Murnane was working the crane, Frank Fletcher and Frank Maloney had been out fishing and had taken some bottles of beer out with them, they decided to get a lift up onto the pier in the coal basket which was normally used to lift the fish up. Just when the crane was being turned to swing them onto the pier, the bolt holding the basket to the hook slipped out and down they both went into the water, never to believe it was not a deliberate act.  Arthur Todd, a fisherman, was carrying two fish boxes out to prop his boat on the pier and in the darkness, walked straight off the end of the pier and into the sea. 

In 1973, the local Lorne News reported under the headline, “Crane in the Drink“.  “The fishing industry of Lorne suffered a severe setback last week when one of the two cranes used to hoist boats onto the pier fell into the sea. The Public Works Department was at the time, “fixing” the crane. The wheels were being replaced, and it is believed the crane had been jacked up. The crane toppled over and was suspended precariously over the water, having caught on the edge of the pier. After several hours it was decided that the crane could not be got back onto the pier in one piece because it was too heavy. It was let slip into the sea. The crane which fell in has been dismantled and lifted out of the water. It is estimated that the crane should be ready for use again before October. Fishermen are sceptical.

The stories go on; gale force winds almost blowing the crane off the pier in 1970, fishermen battling to lift boats out of the water in heavy seas, cranes breaking down when least expected. And then the final insult, in 2003, the crane being declared “unsafe” and the fishermen of the day refused the chance to even go out to retrieve their gear.

Then a new pier is built. Not a utilitarian structure to support a fishing industry or a timber industry or movement of passengers and cargo, but a pier upon which to fish and promenade. It’s not an unpleasant structure but it doesn’t speak to the history and stories of the structures which went before. In the future development of Point Grey, we can’t afford to let that vital chapter of Lorne be forgotten. 

Peter Spring
Lorne Historical Society