Basils Farm sits on the shores of Swan Bay – a shallow, 30 square-kilometre marine embayment at the eastern end of the Bellarine Peninsula in Port Phillip Bay. Matthew Flinders named the bay “Swan Ponds” after its black swans, up to 2,700 of which can be seen in summer and early autumn.
It is partly separated from Port Phillip by Swan Island, Duck Island and Edwards Point. Most of the area is included in the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park as well as being listed as a Ramsar Wetland of international importance. Swan Bay contains a variety of ecosystems that make it environmentally important for water birds and migratory waders. These include salt marsh, intertidal mudflats and vast seagrass beds on which, almost everything living in the bay relies on for food.
Although now home to a vineyard, café, cellar door and produce gardens, Basils Farm has an interesting history. Originally owned by the Walpole family, it was the building site for 53 foot 2-masted schooner named ‘Fidget’.
In service around Port Phillip Bay from 1869, its use included being a timber and lime carrying barge. The last recorded history of ‘Fidget’ was in 1919 when it went out of register. Its fate is unknown.
The farm site has been home to a number of owners since the mid 1800’s. It contained the only dam in the area which was constructed by the State Government for the local graziers and dairy farmers as it was long before mechanical diggers were invented. It became a catch up meeting place for surrounding farmers to water their stock.
The original farmhouse was once the local St. Leonards school building which had been transported to the site in the early 1900’s. A ‘private school’ was also situated on the land adjacent to Basils Farm. Local farmer Phil McDonald still remembers his uncles attending the school and has several ink bottles that he has dug up in recent times. Sadly the building no longer exists.
The current property ‘Basils Farm’ takes its name from one of the previous owners – Basil Halsall, who farmed various crops on the site.
In 1953 Basil won the ‘Sun Tour’, one of Victoria’s most prestigious cycling events and one of the oldest stage races in the world. To this day, the Sun Tour is a major cycling event in Australia and the Bellarine Peninsula remains a popular cycling destination and home to another cycling great – Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
Whilst Basil has moved on, the property still carries his name and is also home to some of his tools, bike parts and farm machinery including an historic harvester and wheat chaff.
Indigenous Australian History
Basils Farm is located on the traditional lands of the Wadawurrung people and we wish to acknowledge them as Traditional Owners. We would also like to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
Aboriginal Cultural Places
One registered Aboriginal cultural place is located about 1.9 kilometres to the northeast, VAHR 7821-0900. This is an artefact scatter located at a similar distance from the Swan Bay foreshore as is the current Activity Area site (east of the existing café within the vineyard, and west along Nye Road) and on a sandy rise. Aboriginal places occur in greater frequency approaching Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff to the south and St Leonards to Indented Head to the north.
VAHR 7821-0982- Woora-nal-yook Artefact Scatter
‘Woora–nal–yook‘, is the traditional name for Swan Bay. The Woora-nal-yook Artefact Scatter is a registered Aboriginal Place. The place consists of 90 quartz, silcrete, coastal flint and tuff artefacts recorded in surface and subsurface contexts identified predominantly through the eastern and western portions of the Activity Area.
Historical and ethno-historical accounts in the geographic region
The Wadawurrung language group held land at and surrounding the Activity Area at the time of European contact. Wadawurrung territory extended along the coast from Aireys Inlet to the Werribee River and inland to north of Ballarat and Mount Misery. According to the Aboriginal Protector, G. A. Robinson, the Wadawurrung were the most powerful and influential people in the Western District (Clark, 1990, p. 277).
Eight other language groups bordered the Wadawurrung peoples. However, the Wadawurrung are thought to have had particularly important cultural and linguistic affinities with five other language groups to the north and east: the Djadja wurrung, Ngurai-willam-wurrung, Daung wurrung, Woi wurrung, and Bun wurrung. Howitt (1904) described this cultural block as the Kulin Nation.