Balnarring

The sport of Balnarr was invented by Irish Celts and Norse Vikings in the late 10th century CE. Although historians record it as a means of settling disputes without bloodshed, the truth is that the sport was easily as deadly as hand to hand combat was in that era – and that its invention was something a little closer to an attempt to find a common language (violence, scoring, and post-game drinking being the three things the Irish and Norse had in common), or at least to get people to stop killing each other long enough to try to talk.

It consisted of attempts to hit a ball (the ‘bal’) into nets made from ship sails, using pieces of wood stripped from shipwrecks (named ‘narrs’ after the ships, which were called knarrs). It was in many ways a predecessor of modern hockey, but lacking the general amicability and peacefulness of that game. Unsurprisingly, it became popular throughout the Celtic and Viking realms, except in Normandy, where the Normans – former Vikings who wanted so very badly to be French – despised it as uncivilised.

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and the following centuries of uniting the British Isles into a single kingdom, it largely died out. Even in Ireland, where the game was born, it was largely abandoned after Cromwell viciously suppressed it (and most other forms of Irish culture). Only a few players remained, contesting in a shadow league that met only at night, well away from the hated Sassenach.

The game was carried to Australia by Irish convicts, who saw in the south-eastern portion of the Mornington Peninsula the perfect place to revive their lost sport. Emboldened by the long distance separating them from England, they even dared to name the area they planned to use for the sport itself.

In the event, Balnarring never resumed as a sport. The Irishmen who planned to revive it were distracted by the lure of easy riches that the gold rush of the 1850s represented, and abandoned their plans in (mostly) fruitless attempts to make fortunes. Only the name remains of their scheme.

Suburbs near Balnarring:

Merricks North Tuerong Tuerong Hastings
Merricks North Balnarring Balnarring Bittern
Merricks North Balnarring Balnarring Somers
Merricks Balnarring Balnarring Somers
Merricks Balnarring Beach Balnarring Somers
Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Shoreham

You wouldn’t think so to look at it, but Shoreham holds a unique pedigree in Australia. It is (or rather, was) the site of the earliest artificial seawall to be built on the continent. Before even the settlement of Melbourne, when the Western Port Bay was sailed solely by itinerant whalers and sealers, the area now known as Shoreham was commonly used as a stopover point, providing shelter from the worst of the storms, and a place to go ashore in search of fresh water.

After the beginnings of settlement in the Melbourne area, the first permanent buildings in the area were constructed, although the main port facilities of the area were located further to the east and north, at Hastings, and Shoreham remained a fairly small township, with a population of about 50 fisherman and their families. In summers, the population would increase, but the peninsula vacation spots on the inside of Port Phillip Bay were generally more popular.

Shoreham eventually got its own name after the death of Harold Holt in 1967, when the angry sea battered at the backbeaches of the peninsula, and nearly flooded the area. The first waves having largely demolished the more than 150 year old seawall, a desperate sandbagging effort was raised, and the cry of “Shore ’em up” was frequently heard that night. A government surveyor who was visiting the area, and who participated in the anti-flood endeavours, misunderstood this to be the name of the place (which was actually known to the locals variously as Flinders North, Port Flinders and Flinders Beach), and it was duly inscribed on the next series of government maps and all their successors.

Suburbs near Shoreham:

Main Ridge Red Hill South Red Hill South Merricks
Main Ridge Shoreham Shoreham Merricks
Main Ridge Shoreham Shoreham Point Leo
Main Ridge Shoreham Western Port Bay Western Port Bay
Main Ridge Flinders Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Flinders

Unusually, the name of Flinders was known for many years before its location was ever discovered by those who named it. The name has been in use in English since at least the fifteenth century CE, around four centuries before Europeans ever came here. But they knew what it meant, nonetheless.

Flinders was a location of the mind, a place almost but not quite unimaginably far away, to which one might easily be dispatched by the impact of a cannonball. The items and people hit by those projectiles were almost always blown to Flinders, which may account for its many calcium rich hills.

Flinders was first found, coincidentally, by Matthew Flinders, who recognised it for what it was, but tried very hard to attach another name to it out of modesty. But in the end, his love of naval tradition was simply too strong, and he confessed to a superior officer that he, a Flinders himself, had found this location, so long believed mythical. The Royal Navy wasted little time is trying to build a base there (in the hopes that enemy troops blown to Flinders would thus be easily captured for interrogation, but soon relocated to the more congenial inlet now called HMAS Cerberus. Only a scattering of lighthouses mark the fact that they were ever there, although those too were in observance to naval tradition.

The expression is “blown to” Flinders, after all, not “run aground on” it.

Suburbs near Flinders:

Cape Schanck Boneo Main Ridge Shoreham Western Port Bay
Cape Schanck Flinders Flinders Flinders Western Port Bay
Cape Schanck Bass Strait Bass Strait Bass Strait Bass Strait

Somers

It is a sad thing that the area now known as Somers did not have a name until 1929, and sadder still that the reason for it is now largely forgotten. Before 1929, the area, sandwiched between Balnarring and HMAS Cerberus, was mostly just seen as the backyard of the naval base (and indeed, portions of it were reserved for the use of the navy).

But in 1919, after reviewing their performance in the Great War, the officers at the head of the navy decided that what Australia really needed was an equivalent to the Marines: soldiers trained to fight at sea or on land, rather than one or the other. And the land adjacent to the base at Cerberus was perfect, being unoccupied, coastal, and reminiscent of both the peninsulas of Turkey and the fields of France.

It was the latter that gave the area its name, although not until a decade had been wasted attempting to create an Australian Marine Corps. It was then that this area, nicknamed Somme South by the men who trained on it, got another nickname, one which would last: Somme Errors, which was quickly abbreviated into the more familiar Somers (both because many of the former trainees bought beach houses cheaply when the navy sold the land – in which they planned to summer each year – and also because Australians cannot hear the same syllable twice in a row without feeling that at least one of them is surplus to requirements).

Suburbs near Somers:

Balnarring Bittern HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus
Balnarring Somers HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus
Balnarring Beach Somers Somers HMAS Cerberus
Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Point Leo

Some endeavours are doomed to failure. No human will ever fly by flapping their wings. No attempt to reform the Beatles will succeed. No tree whose roots are set in concrete will live. No defence of trickle down economics will bear a resemblance to reality. And no one will ever succeed in domesticating a lion for use as a hunting animal.

Not that this will stop optimists, some of them on drugs, from attempting all these things. To date, the last item on that list has only been attempted once in Australia. It did not end well.

Ernie Pozibon was a retired circus ringmaster who had spent most of his wealth on a beach house looking out over Western Port Bay. The large grounds also served as the homes of the remaining animals from his circus, and the isolation served to protect the animals and casual gawkers from each others’ attentions. And here, Pozibon returned to the passions of his youth. For the proud boast of the Pozibon Circus had been that the animals in it (or their direct ancestors) had been captured by Pozibon himself, back in his Great White Hunter days.

Pozibon, who had prowled the Dark Continent with his boon companion John Clayton back in the day, had always believed that it would be possible to turn the king of beasts into a peerless hunting animal (and indeed, his friendship with Clayton had foundered on this point – Clayton predicted, accurately as it turned out, that it would be the death of Pozibon). Undaunted, and finally possessing the financial and temporal freedom to put his plans into action, Pozibon began to train his lion, which he named Leo, to serve him in this fashion.

Legend has it that his last words were “Point, Leo! Point!”

Suburbs near Point Leo:

Shoreham Merricks Merricks
Shoreham Point Leo Western Port Bay
Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Pearcedale

Historians have wasted many work-hours over the years looking for the mysterious Pearce (or possibly Pierce) whom this Dale was named for. They have searched for likely candidates, whether their surname or forename was Pearce, but to no avail. (Frontrunner Pierce P. Pearce III, of Piercington, Massachusetts, was eventually discredited as a candidate since he had never visited Australia, or even, as far as can be determined, uttered the word.) The reason for their failures is a simple one: they’re barking up the wrong tree. Pearcedale is not named for anyone named Pearce, or Pierce, or even Dale.

The answer lies in the brewery wars. Although there were two major brewing concerns that were head and shoulders above the rest (the Carlton and Hawksburn breweries), there were many smaller ones, especially in outlying regions such as the plains stretching south from Cranbourne to the waters of Western Port Bay. It was here that Matthias Q. Schlechte-Regelung, who had lately emigrated from Ingolstadt, decided to build a brewery of his own.

On the one hand, he had ready access to the crops he would need in that location. But on the other, the water quality was much poorer than Matthias anticipated. Having grown up practically on the shores of Lake Totenkopf, in the Bavarian schwarzwald, he was used to water of alpine purity. The salty plains of the upper Mornington Peninsula were far from his ideal, and he spent the first two years of his new business experimenting with distillation systems until he finally found one that would meet his exacting standards.

But when the first load of Schlecte Ales was loaded onto wagons to be sent to market, the war between Hawksburn and Carlton reached out to prevent his competition. A group of mercenaries dressed as American Indians (very likely Dick Darlington and his band of outlaws) attacked the wagons, firing hundreds of arrows into the vehicles and their cargoes (although they were careful to let the drivers and horses go), and spilling the fruits of Matthias’ labours into the salty earth. To this day, it has never been revealed which of their competitors hired the ersatz Indiands, but the Schlecte-Regelung Brewery went broke shortly thereafter, and was mostly forgotten. Mostly – even today the region still commemorates it, and the story of the pierced ales.

Suburbs near Pearcedale:

Langwarrin Langwarrin Cranbourne South Devon Meadows
Langwarrin Langwarrin Pearcedale Devon Meadows
Langwarrin South Langwarrin South Pearcedale Devon Meadows
Baxter Pearcedale Pearcedale Cannons Creek
Somerville Somerville Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Merricks

While it is a widely-recognised fact of immigration that many cultural groups prefer to cluster together in their new lands, wherever they may be, it is a less well known and understood fact that certain areas, for no apparent reason, are attractive to certain groups. That independently of each other, immigrants from one nation or culture may choose the same destinations.

The central south of the Mornington Peninsula is, for reasons passing human understanding, such an area. After the gold rush wore off, the flood of new arrivals in Melbourne diminished to a smaller, if just as constant, stream. And within that stream, immigrants of particular origins stood out. Californians, Oregonians and Nevadans, fleeing the imminent closure of the frontier in their own land, made their way to Australia, in search of a new frontier. But like iron filings to a magnet, many of them were drawn to the peninsula.

Here, between Red Hill and the ocean, they would set up wineries on the landward slopes of their properties, much like they had back in the United States, and make a comfortable enough life for themselves. They would also give the area its name – and these former Americans, the name of their old nationality usually abbreviated to Americs, or just Merics, may not even have realised how the area came to be so-called.

Suburbs near Merricks:

Tuerong Tuerong Tuerong Tuerong Tuerong
Dromana Merricks North Tuerong Tuerong Tuerong
Dromana Merricks North Balnarring Balnarring Balnarring
Red Hill Merricks North Merricks North Balnarring Balnarring
Red Hill South Merricks North Merricks North Balnarring Balnarring
Red Hill South Merricks Merricks Balnarring Balnarring
Shoreham Merricks Merricks Merricks Beach Balnarring Beach
Shoreham Point Leo Merricks Western Port Bay Western Port Bay
Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Somerville

The first person in the world to be described as a scientist was Mary Somerville (the term being coined by William Whewell in an 1834 review of her book “On the Connexion of the Sciences”). While there were other scientists before her, the word itself was created to describe her. Somerville had a keen interest in the physical sciences, especially astronomy (she was the first person to theorise the existence of the planet now called Neptune as an explanation for perturbations of the orbit of Uranus) and geography, a subject on which she wrote a textbook (1848’s “Physical Geography”, which remained the definitive work well into the Twentieth century).

Of course, a woman would have to have been mad to get involved in the sciences back in the early Victorian era. Perhaps that is why the area near Melbourne that has always seemed to exercise a peculiar fascination over mad scientists of all stripes – the plain between Pearcedale and Tyabb – now bears her name.

Science in that area has a long pedigree, from the pioneering work of Paulos Tyabb (an admirer of Somerville’s work) in the mid-Nineteenth century, to the Ned Kelly-inspired investigation into the bullet-repelling properties of assorted metals by Dick Darlington, the curious genetic experimentations of the science hero Doctor Moonlight in the 1930’s, and the rather less laudable medical experiments of Doktor Heinrich Lantz in the Cold War era.

Today, science seems but little on display in Somerville, but no doubt someone somewhere in a basement or hidden laboratory is pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge, human common sense and human law.

Suburbs near Somerville:

Baxter Baxter Pearcedale Western Port Bay
Moorooduc Somerville Somerville Western Port Bay
Moorooduc Tyabb Tyabb Western Port Bay

Hastings

Named for the legendary thoroughbred stallion and racehorse, Hastings has always had a curious relationship with the sport of its namesake (and kings). While Hastings itself has no racecourses, there are track located nearby at Balnarring and Mornington (and rumours persist that the government maintains a horse racing facility at HMAS Cerberus where horses genetically engineered with alien DNA are created to fight the cavalry wars of tomorrow). But the importation of horses through any dock facilities (excluding those at HMAS Cerberus, which only fuels the rumours) on Western Port Bay is legally forbidden, and has been since the area was first settled.

This is in fact how Hastings got its name – the famous stallion was smuggled into the country there (he competed at three meetings, two at Sandown and one at Caulfield, and failed to place in any of them. Shortly thereafter, he became the most expensive imported dogfood Australia has ever known. The horse believed to be Hastings, who died in America in 1917, was an imposter), and the area’s name was changed after word of this reached the police and a cover story was put in place that it was this that had been spoken of.

This cover story has now outlived its namesake by more than a century, and has attracted considerable embellishment by historians in the pay of the Hastings family, a dynasty of would-be politicians whose repeated electoral failures eventually drove them to manufacture more successful ancestors. These fictions largely go undetected, since as the years go by, fewer and fewer people are aware that there was never a Shire of Fairhaven.

Suburbs near Hastings:

Moorooduc Tyabb Tyabb Tyabb Tyabb Western Port Bay
Moorooduc Tyabb Tyabb Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay
Tuerong Hastings Hastings Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay
Tuerong Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay Hastings Western Port Bay
Tuerong Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay
Tuerong Hastings Bittern Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay
Balnarring Bittern Bittern Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay

Crib Point

As one might expect from its proximity to HMAS Cerberus, the fortunes of Crib Point are intimately tied to its neighbouring suburb. But what few, if any, realise is that the name of the area is also the result of this proximity.

Crib Point spans the area of coast between Hanns Inlet to the south (which is entirely framed by HMAS Cerberus on the landward side) and Hastings Bight to the north. In addition to the point from which it takes its name, it is also home to Stony Point, legendarily the furthest train station from central melbourne in the entire suburban railway network, and terminus of its line (for obvious reasons).

Crib Point is separated only by a short distance from the major grouping of buildings in HMAS Cerberus, in particular the barracks. Before the area was as densely settled as it is today (or more accurately, when it was even less settled than it is today), Crib Point itself (the actual point, that is) was screened from the barracks by a thick stand of trees, which frustrated both sight and hearing in attempts to detect what was happening on the other side of them. As such, it became a popular place for naval personnel stationed at the base to skive off for a spot of recreational drinking or smoking, as a reasonably private place to take a date, and, when all else failed the night before an exam, to pull a forbidden all-nighter studying like a madman. The point thus partakes of three different meanings of the word crib, and its name was therefore a simple inevitablity.

Suburbs near Crib Point:

Bittern Bittern Bittern Western Port Bay
Bittern Crib Point Crib Point Western Port Bay
HMAS Cerberus Crib Point Crib Point Western Port Bay
HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Crib Point Western Port Bay
HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Western Port Bay

Bittern

Bittern is a kind of salt, found in sea water or brine. Chemically, it is better known as magnesium chloride, a compound with a wide variety of uses – a fertiliser, an anti-icing agent and a hydrogen storing substance, to name but three. But it was the sheer concentration of it to be found at the site now named for it that was remarkable.

The bay on which Bittern sits is a shallow one, sheltered to the south by Crib Point from the worst of Bass Strait’s storms and tides. The particular shape of it forms a sort of natural salt pan, where a small amount of ocean water can wash in at high tides and cover a wide area to a very shallow depth, to then evaporate in the wind and sun between times, and leave behind its deposits of salts.

When Western Port Bay was first discovered (and named for the resemblance of its shape to the head of Dame Lucille Western in profile), Bittern appeared like a horizontal version of the cliffs of Dover, described by one of the exploration party as a “white silver plain” when seen from a distance with the afternoon sun reflecting off it. Upon landing, however, the landscape was as barren and desolate as that of post-temper tantrum Sodom. But if their hopes for agriculture were dashed, at least the land could serve as a salt mine (although plans to have it worked by convicts eventually came to nothing, much to the disgust of the Russian military advisers who urged this plan).

In time, the nearby naval base would mine away all the salt, exposing the bare plain beneath for use in (unusually salt-tolerant) farming. For many years, the area served as the home of Melbourne’s pig farming industry, boasting numerous interesting cuts of pre-salted pork.

Suburbs near Bittern:

Tuerong Hastings Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay
Tuerong Bittern Bittern Bittern Western Port Bay
Balnarring Bittern Bittern Bittern Western Port Bay
Balnarring Bittern Bittern Crib Point Western Port Bay
Balnarring Somers HMAS Cerberus Crib Point Western Port Bay

Tyabb

Paulos Tyabb was one of the first geologists ever to make a survey of the Mornington Peninsula. He had emigrated to Australia in 1871, after becoming incensed with some of his colleagues’ findings that the Earth must be older than was claimed by the Bible (specifically, by the calculations based on it in the Ussher Chronology). Australia was at that time an exotic wilderness full of peculiar wildlife unlike that found anywhere else in the world, which was a challenge to Biblical authority, since aside from snakes, virtually no Australian native species was mentioned in the Bible.

Tyabb surveyed many areas in Melbourne and its environs, most notably the Dandenong Mountains, which he explored between 1873 and 1875, and tried his damnedest to get them renamed the Dandenong Hills, which he felt was more fitting. But it was further south, near to the shores of Western Port Bay, that he truly made his mark. In 1877, he found the geological formation that he modestly named the Tyabb Fault, an instability in the Earth’s crust that stretches from Tyabb to Mornington, and which has been the source of countless small tremors in the region. It was to prove a more apt name than he anticipated: closer examination of the fault in the Twentieth Century would show beyond all doubt that Australia had existed prior to 4004 BC – a discovery that Paulos Tyabb’s efforts only made easier.

Tyabb must have had some presentiment of this, as his only other legacy suggests. Like the first, it was inadvertant, and possibly the opposite of what he intended, but Tyabb’s remaining years, spent camped out near the Fault drinking heavily, and subjecting all who visited his campsite to angry rants, escalating in the face of any disagreement to howled invective and violence, inspired the founders of the township named for the Fault to declare their area a dry zone, and even today, it has a lack of pubs that many Australians find uncomfortable.

Suburbs near Tyabb:

Moorooduc Somerville Somerville Western Port Bay
Moorooduc Tyabb Tyabb Western Port Bay
Moorooduc Tyabb Hastings Western Port Bay
Tuerong Hastings Hastings Western Port Bay

HMAS Cerberus

Every civilisation must, at some juncture, deal with the problem of where to keep its prisoners. Regardless of reason for imprisonment, be it good or bad, the prisoner must still be kept somewhere that cannot be escaped, and where no harm will come to them.

In Melbourne, one very special prisoner has been kept on the shores of Hanns Inlet, between Sandy Point and Stony Point on Western Port Bay, since 1920. The prisoner was captured, far beyind the fields we know, in 1918, in the dying days of World War One, and transported aboard the then flagship of the Royal Australian Naval fleet, the battlecruiser HMAS Australia to a specially constructed prison.

The story of his capture is a strange one. It begins in 1915. By September of 1915, it had become obvious that the invasion of Gallipoli was stalled. However, its very existence provided an excuse for the navies of various Commonwealth nations, including Australia, to maintain a presence in the Aegean Sea – a presence that also served as a cover for a very top secret operation: a close investigation of the land and sea around Cape Matapan, a part of the Kingdom of Greece.

The reason for this investigation was to determine whether or not the ancient tales of a portal to the Greek Underworld – variously styled Hades, Erebus or Stygia in RAN documents of the time – were true. In late 1915, it was confirmed that they were, and the second, and more dangerous, phase of the plan began.

In January of 1917, a crack team selected from the finest fighting men of the Australian Navy and Army was dropped off at the portal by the HMAS Brisbane, then en route to Malta. Their mission, which was carried out in full cooperation with combined Greek forces, was to enter the realm of Hades and free various Greek heroes, who would then rally the Greek forces against the Ottoman Empire. It was hoped that this plan would provide an alternate path to capturing the Dardanelles.

In the event, the assault met with almost complete failure. Attempts to negotiate with Hades himself for the temporary freeing of the prisoners fell apart, largely due to poor timing: during the Northern winter, Hades’ wife Persephone abandons him to spend time with the other gods, leaving the ruler of the underworld in a really bad mood. Hades ordered his forces to attack the living soldiers, who returned fire. All but three of them (two Australians and a Greek) were killed, but they brought back a souvenir of their trip: Cerberus, the gigantic three-headed dog who guarded the Hadean bank of the Styx.

Cerberus was taken into custody by the RAN, with the intention of deploying him against the Ottomans – strategy by now had swung to favour a land-based assault on the Turkish mainland, in support of T.E. Lawrence and the Arab uprising that he lead. Unfortunately, Cerberus was impossible to control or order, attacking constantly at any point that he saw an opportunity to escape. As one of his handlers noted, “he would have made a fine weapon, if only he’d run in the direction he was pointed.”

After the war, the beast was brought back to Australia as a spoil of war. He was installed at what was then the Flinders Naval Base, but which would grow to cover a much larger area and eventually be considered a suburb in its own right. The base would become a major training facility, used not just by the RAN but also by the Australian Air Force and Army, and occasionally by trainees from friendly nations. A central part of the training, and one which goes a long way towards explaining the fearlessness of Australian troops that so impressed Rommel and Ho Chi Minh, is tradition of the vigil: at some point during training, each candidate must spend an entire night alone with Cerberus in its pen (though not within the bars that confine the beast). Failures have their memory of the event erased through a judicious use of the waters of the Lethe, also obtained during the original mission.

From 1963 onwards, the facility has been formally known as HMAS Cerberus, it being judged by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies that the decline in both faith and classical education in Australia made it unlikely that anyone would realise the truth behind the name.

Suburbs near HMAS Cerberus:

Bittern Bittern Crib Point Crib Point Western Port Bay
Bittern HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Crib Point Western Port Bay
Somers HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Western Port Bay
Somers HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Western Port Bay Western Port Bay
Somers Somers HMAS Cerberus HMAS Cerberus Western Port Bay
Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay Western Port Bay