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THE EAST COAST OF PORT PHILLIP BAY, CHAPTER 7, SORRENTO AND PORTSEA.

Journal by itellya

SORRENTO.
MR COPPIN AND SORRENTO.
TO THE EDITOR.
Sir.-In your issue of the 18th May Mr Coppin is called the discoverer of Sorrento. This is a mistake. When
the Hon. James Grant was Minister of Lands and Survey, Mr Charles Gavan Duffy and` Mr Blair, lime merchant,
each applied fpr the site of Sorrento, no doubt on account of the limestone in the ground, but by some oversight, it could not be discovered who had made the first application, and a long dispute arose, appearing in the press at the time. But as both applicants had much land I wrote to Mr Grant, and suggested the site should be cut up into small lots and put up at 4 an acre, so as to give other people a chance to get land.
This was done, and a Government township surveyed, and a jetty built. Mr Kerferd and Mr Anderson, Commissioner of Trade and Customs were the first to build houses, and then I believe followed the Sorrento hotel. Who built next I do not know, but old Sorrento residents may be able to supply the information. Some considerable
time afterwards Mr George Coppin got a company to promote journeys to the Back Beach, but at that time the
cost of steamboat fares was 1, and I wrote to Mr Coppin suggesting that his company should run a steamer at
reduced fares, after trying to get the fares reduced without result. Mr Coppin's company, after a time, bought and ran the Golden Crown, and reduced the fares to 3s 6d. This made the place go ahead quickly, and great credit is due to Mr Coppin and his Coy. Mr Duffy suggested the name Sorrento as he had been travelling in Italy, and named it after a town there. Long before Sorrento was founded I tried to start a town for summer resort threemiles east of Sorrento, but no lots were sold at that time. After Sorrento started I sold many lots. Canterbury never became a township, being eclipsed by Sorrento. Some place Mr Duffy, and some Mr Coppin as the founder of Sorrento, but no one has placed Mr Grant or myself in that position.
(Crispo should have stuck to his own experience because he concluded by giving the wrong origin of Dromana's name, supplied by an Italian. Drom is a Celtic word for hill and Dromana is of Irish origin.)
S. S. CRISPO.
Rye. (P.3, Mornington Standard, 1-6-1899.)

Duffy and Blair had been fighting court battles over land before Crispo suggested the village of Sorrento be created.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) Friday 15 January 1869 p 6 Article
... dummies, preferred against Mr. C. G. Duffy And Mr.W.A.Blair., Yesterday the decision of the ... Blair against the Hon. Mr. Duffy, and tho other a counter-charge brought by Mr. Duffy Against Mr. Blair. The charge in each case is one that is commonly called dummy ism. It has been referred to ... 3570 words

Government Advertisements.
Crown Lands Office, Melbourne,
December 21, 1869
A SALE of CROWN LANDS by public auction will be held at 2 o'clock on Friday, 11th January,1S70, at the auction rooms of Mostr. Gemmell,Tuckott, and Co, Colllns-ntreet west, Melbourne,
The following lots will bo offered :
VILLAGE LOTS.
Sorrento, oounty of Mornington, parish of Nepean, on Port fhillip Bay, at Point Sorrento. Upset price,
1 per acre. Allotments to 6, Sec. 1 ; 1 to 8, Sec.
2. Dr. 8p. to la. ICp.
SUBURBAN LOTS.
County of Mornington, parish of Ncpoan, adjoining the last-named lot, on Port Phillip lUy. Upset price,
3 per acre. Allotments 1 to 12, 9.1 to 16A, 13 to 30, la 8r. 17p. to 0a. 2r. IE 4-10p.
, Piano and Information can be obtained at tho Crown Land Office, Molbourno.
(P.7, Argus, 10-1-1870.)



PORTSEA.
Extract from: It's a Small World - Vicnet
home.vicnet.net.au/~pioneers/pppg5w.htm&#8206;
IT'S A SMALL WORLD
Since I began entering the details of our pioneering ancestors into the records from 1977 onwards, there have been many amazing co-incidences and stories that have emerged, but none more so than the tale which can now be told.

Two men - James Sandle Ford, baptised on 12th of May, 1811, at Havant, Hampshire, England, and Samuel Morey, baptised on 2nd of May, 1811, also of Havant, Hampshire, were among a large group of men who were convicted at the Winchester Assizes on 30th of December, 1830, on a charge of machine breaking. Both men were sentenced to seven years transportation per the ship "Eliza II" (3rd voyage), which arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen's Land on the 26th May, 1831.

It is known that James Sandle Ford received a Free Pardon on the 3rd February, 1836 and that he left Launceston, VDL for Melbourne, Port Phillip, on 9th December, 1836, per the vessel "Enterprise".

Meanwhile, Samuel Morey was married at Hobart, VDL on 2nd May, 1836 to Catherine Travers. It is not yet known how or when they crossed to Melbourne.

James Sandle Ford was married on 8th February, 1841 at St. Francis' Roman Catholic Church, Melbourne, to Hannah Sullivan and Samuel Morey and his wife, Catherine, were the witnesses.

James Sandle Ford died on 18th July, 1890 at Portsea, Victoria; his wife Hannah having died there on 15th December, 1878.

Dennis and Honora Sullivan arrived at The Heads in about 1843(from memory) and their daughter, Hannah, married James Sandle Ford. They had probably met in Melbourne where some Sullivans had astounded everyone with their giant cucumber and an Honora Sullivan had committed an offence against the Masters and Servants Act,leaving the employer with whom she had undertaken a contract to serve another who had offered her more money. (BEARBRASS and EARLY MELBOURNE.) It is extremely likely that cucumber-growers were the elderly Dennis Sullivan and his children. If so their horticultural skills were extremely handy for James Sandle Ford who supplied vegetables and other produce to the Quarantine Station, which displaced the Sullivan family. Patrick Sullivan moved the family to the Rye area, married William Grace's daughter and later built the Gracefield Hotel on the site of the present Rye Hotel. When Patrick died,the management of the lime kiln (on The Dunes golf course site) was left in the hands of Antonio "Albas*" while his son James concentrated on firewood for bakers' ovens in Melbourne and the Gracefield Hotel. Later Mrs Weir (a Sullivan girl) ran the hotel for many years.
*It was stated in Lime Land Leisure that the kiln manager might have actually been Tony Salvas; such misinformation was the reason I wrote my first FAMILY TREE CIRCLES journal, about Antonio Albress!



Extract from:
The Farnsworth Track - Visit Mornington Peninsula
www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/.../Park-note-Mornington-Peninsula-
European settlement
The first European explorers described the Nepean Peninsula as park-like, with Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticilla) and Moonah (Melaleuca lanceolata) interspersed with grassy clearings. When Lieutenant John Murray aboard the Lady Nelson entered Port Phillip Bay in 1802 he described the topography of the southern shore as . . . bold and high land with stout trees of various kinds ... The trees are at a good distance apart and no brush intercepts you. This timber was rapidly cleared when European settlers came; larger grazing areas were required, fence posts and firewood were needed, and the Sheoak was used to burn limestone to make lime for
the Melbourne building industry.

Arriving in 1840, James Sandle Ford was the districts first successful settler. Convicted of machine breaking in the agricultural unrest in southern England in 1830, he had been transported to Van Diemens Land, then pardoned before finding his way to the Peninsula.
He named the area Portsea after his home town in England and his energy and enterprise were soon evident, as he shipped lime to Melbourne and supplied produce to the nearby Quarantine Station established in 1852.
The Farnsworth family
The local Farnsworth family originated from John Farnsworth, who built some notable Sorrento and Portsea houses; the Sorrento Hotel and the Nepean Hotel, Portsea. John married James Fords daughter, Anne. Their son John Nepean Farnsworth farmed the area between Campbells Road and Portsea Golf Course (north of the walking track) and operated a horse-drawn transport business. Twentieth-century developments were introduced by John Nepeans two sons John James and Harry, who developed an extensive transport business.
John James Farnsworth (1902 -1984) had a long and active association with the district. After the Second
World War he established a red bus service linking Sorrento and Portsea via Mt Levy. He is mainly remembered for the Sorrento- Portsea-Queenscliff ferry service that he initiated in 1953 with the Judith Ann; he worked actively on the ferries until 1979. His desire to encourage more people to share the beauty of the ocean beach led to a long involvement with the former Ocean Park Committee.

MORE PORTSEA MEMORIES...
THE VILLAGE OF THE FORTIES
By B.H. McKERNAN
My grandfather, James Sandle Ford, with his wife and several young children settled at Portsea in the forties and named it after Portsea, a suburb of Portsmouth. At that time is was open well grassed country without tea-tree. After getting a home together my grandfather began to rear cattle and horses. The cattle he sold as meat to the shiploads of early settlers who landed in the adjacent quarantine station where they had to stay till granted a clean bill of health before proceeding up the bay to Sandridge. After weary months on board ship they
must have enjoyed fresh meat and eggs and butter from the dairy of my grandfather. The horses were driven in large mobs to Melbourne to be sold.

My father Alfred Ford was born in Portsea in 1850 and he lived most of his life there till his death in 1928. He often told us of his first visit to Melbourne at the age of 11 years, when he rode on horseback with some of his father's stockmen who were taking a mob of horses to be sold. When they reached the city they had great trouble in getting the horses safely across the ford at the Yarra where Princes Bridge now stands. My father spent some of his time fishing at this ford.

From the cottage in which he lived my grandfather built the present Nepean Hotel which has been added to and increased. It remained in his family for many years being kept by himself, a son and a son in-law for some years. It changed hands about 30 years ago. It again came into the family being bought by a son-in law John Cain whose daughters still own and conduct it. John Farnsworth who afterward married a daughter of James Ford and died there last year and whose son became a coach proprietor was the contractor and builder who erected the Nepean Hotel and houses owned at present by Mrs O'Hara (previously owned by Mr Ross Cox) and Mr Le Souef (originally built for Dr Robertson of St Kilda father of Dr W.Robertson of the Department of Agriculture) My grandfather reserved the beautiful block of land in front of the Nepean Hotel for a park and also built at his
own expense the first portion of the Portsea pier which extended to where the steps now are but was then deep enough to permit vessels such as the Golden Crown to load and unload their cargoes. He also built sea baths several piles of which are still standing and bathing boxes.

My father received his first education in a building which stood where some of the bungalows at Marshalls Hotel
now stand. The late Walter Knight, father of Charles Jack and Archie was also a scholar there. My father was
sent to school at Dromana later to finish his education. Later a school conducted by the late Mr and Mrs Hiskins was erected between Portsea and Sorrento where children of both places were taught. About 40 years ago a school was erected in the grounds of the quarantine station but it was not very satisfactory. When the quarantine station was closed during an epidemic the teacher stayed in quarantine and taught the children of the station hands. The few children who went from Portsea had to sit on a form outside the fence and receive their instruction,as well as the cane,from the mistress on the other side. The present State school built at Portsea about 17 years ago is really its first school.

The Lime Kilns...
Until all the limestone was taken from the ground lime burning was for many years the main industry. At one time my father had about 20 Chinese quarrying for him. The stone was burnt in kilns and sent to town in lime craft. As a child I remember going for our daily mail to the Nepean Hotel whither it was brought by coach from Dromana. It had been brought by another coach from Mornington where it had arrived by train. As there was not a post office the post mistress had a room at the Nepean Hotel. There was then not even the small wooden store which was afterward built by Mr Roberts and later bought by Mr W H Goss who enlarged it and had the post office transferred to where it now is.

My father told us that 60 years or more ago Portsea was the holiday rendezvous of men of letters learning and law from the city. Some of their descendants even to the fourth generation are still regular visitors. Before the death of the late Dr Fitchett there were four generations of his family there on holidays together.

More than 40 years ago Portsea became a garrison town. Barracks and fort were built and guns now long obsolete and dismantled were its pride and joy. For many years a company of permanent soldiers consisting of about 80 men and officers was stationed there. They were called the Victorian Permanent Artillery. Many had served in British regiments and it was a great delight to us children to see them march to the pier headed by the band which was sometimes stationed at Portsea. They wore navy uniforms well tailored with white helmets and white gloves. Once a month they boarded the little Mars or Vulcan to attend a full dress parade at Queenscliff. For many years now the barracks and fort have been deserted and left in charge of one gunner.

The Dispatch
In the early days people came for a change and a rest, and wore their oldest clothes. When mixed bathing began,
about 35 years ago, and the women wore bathing gowns from neck to ankle, how horrified the inhabitants were to see them bathing by the pier with their menfolk clad only in bathing trunks! In spite of all the crowds which have bathed at Portsea, there has never been a drowning accident, which speaks well for the safety of the beaches. When one sees service cars arriving and departing frequently throughout the day one thinks how means
of transport have improved during the last 30 years. During the winter months, from May till November, one relied on the S.S.Dispatch, which called once a week, to get either to or from the city. This little steamer, calling at Queenscliff and Portsea on the way, was advertised to leave Melbourne for the Gippsland Lakes
every Saturday at 2 p.m, but on the amount of cargo to be loaded often depended the time of sailing. Given a favourable wind and tide, and not too much cargo to unload at Queenscliff,
the Dispatch arrived at Portsea at any time between 7 p.m. and midnight. This weekly arrival was the social event of the week. The village turned out and often waited for hours in the cold and wind on the pier or in the shed. On her return from Lakes Entrance the Dispatch was due to call at Portsea to pick up passengers and cargo at 9 a.m. on Thursday, which she did if weather permitted. Sometimes passengers waited for a couple of days on
the pier, and the Dispatch would pass through on Saturday morning without calling and go to town to set off on her weekly trip outward bound. The intending passengers then had to wait till the following Thursday for their trip to the city.

How eagerly the residents waited for the Hygeia or Ozone to commence the season on Derby Day! They ran for six
months until the end of April. Everybody turned out on Derby Day to meet the boat at Sorrento and to welcome
friends and relations whom they had not seen for six months. Visitors during the winter months were few and rare, though several families which had seaside cottages came for the midwinter holidays.
(P.9,Argus,24-2-1934.)

SORRENTO, Thursday.
Mr. William B. Ford, late of the Nepean Hotel, Portsea, and a member of the Flinders Shire Council, committed suicide yesterday by cutting his throat. He was missed from his room by his wife, and upon a search being
made he was found with his face downwards on the floor, quite dead. The police immediately took possession of the place, and a magisterial inquiry will be held tomorrow. Troubles of a pecuniary nature are thought
to have been the cause of the fatal act.
(P.3, Argus,22-8-1884.)

The journalist beat the shire by thirty years in dropping Kangerong from its name!
William had lived on Wannaeue Station, bounded by Eastbourne, Jetty/Old Cape Schanck, Hiscock and Boneo Rd and had a hero, named William Salmon, as his cook.

SHIRE of FLINDERS and KANGERONG.-Notice is hereby given, that an ELECTION to fill an ordinary vacancy in the council for the West Riding of the above shire will be held on Thursday, the 9th day of August next.And I hereby appoint Tuesday, tho 31st inst, as the day before which, and my residence, Wannaeue, as the place at which, nominations of candidates, shall be delivered. WILLIAM FORD, Returning Officer.
(P.8,Argus, 25-7-1877.)

The following account of the history of Portsea and Sorrento by Sidney H.Wilson is excellent although the newspaper ink must have been running short, resulting in about 1% of the digitised text resembling English.
ORTSEA and SORRENTO MEMORIES OF SIXTY YEARS AGO
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) Saturday 12 March 1932 p 8 Article Illustrated.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) Wednesday 21 February 1877 Supplement: The Argus Summary for Europe p 1 Article
... age in March. He is employed as cook on the station of Mr. Ford, at Wannaeue, between Rye and ..



Apart from lime burners and James Ford, many early settlers in the Portsea/Sorrento area were fishermen. See my journal about the Watsons and Stirlings of Portsea and Sorrento. Don't forget to visit the Nepean Museum and John Watt's nearby limestone cottage. Oh,and one more thing, while there,the tramway station above the Sorrento pier.



If I interpret the following correctly, James Murray married James Sandle Ford's sister and James Ford's father had died the day after Murray, both being buried in the same grave,presumably on the Vic.market site.

CORONER'S INQUEST.-Yesterday a Coroner's Inquest was convened at Mr. Howard's Union Inn, Elizabeth-street, upon view of the body of Mr. James Murray, landlord of the Melbourne Tavern, Elizabeth-street, who died at the
station of his brother-in-law, Mr. Ford, at Point Nepean, on the evening of Wednesday last. From the evidence it appeared that the deceased had latterly been drinking to such an excess as to bring on an attack of delirium tremens. The jury returned as their verdict, " That the said James Murray died by the visitation of God whilst in a state of delirium tremens the effect of previous intemperance." It is a somewhat extraordinary coincidence that the father-in-law of the deceased expired four and twenty-hours after his son-in-law; he was an old man named Ford, and had been bed ridden for some time. They were yesterday both consigned to one tomb.
(P.2, Melbourne Argus,16-2-1847.)

by itellya Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2013-09-10 01:42:02

Itellya is researching local history on the Mornington Peninsula and is willing to help family historians with information about the area between Somerville and Blairgowrie. He has extensive information about Henry Gomm of Somerville, Joseph Porta (Victoria's first bellows manufacturer) and Captain Adams of Rosebud.

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Comments

by itellya on 2013-09-14 09:04:17

A Mordialloc pioneer might have been one of the first settlers on the Nepean Peninsula, although Point Nepean might have referred to a run further from The Heads. The following comes from Graham Whitehead's Kingston Historical Website.

The next to try his luck at Mordialloc was Alexander McDonald, (or MacDonald), who had far more success than his predecessors. He had arrived in Sydney in 1838 but left soon afterwards for Port Phillip where he was a partner with his brother in a sheep run, presumably the Point Nepean: because that licence was in his name from 1839 to 1841. He married and took up another run on the Yarra, Stringy Bark, in 1841, but two years later sold out.

by itellya on 2013-10-05 08:47:01

Melbourne was smelly, dusty, and hot in summer so it was no surprise that many of Melbourne's elite sought refuge on the Peninsula. J.T.Smith built Nyora at Mt Eliza and many prominent politicians and businessmen built palatial "occasional summer residences" along the coast. Those that remain are now bed and breakfasts and the like or heritage preserves such as Beleura,except in one place, Portsea. By the late 1860's, such estates with a view were harder to obtain because selectors had to live on their land and make certain improvements. An article in The Age in recent times begins by discussing tensions between locals and those with "occasional summer residences". Such tension had existed by 1873 at Portsea! Hopefully the report in The Age detailing owners of clifftop properties can be found again.

PETITION.
Mr. SIMSON presented the following petition :
"The humble petition of Henry Watson, of Point Nepean, fisherman, humbly showeth,
" That for 11 years I, your petitioner, have lived and followed my calling on the beach close to the land lately taken up by the Hon. J. J. Casey.
"That before Mr. Casey's arrival I had occupied and cultivated a plot of about one
acre or thereabouts, close to my cottage, and on the land pegged out by Mr. Casey ; that I had so occupied by virtue of my fisherman's licence, and by authority from the Board of Land and Works, granted to my predecessor* and transferred to me ; and that from this land I was evicted by the Hon. Mr. Casey, to the great loss of myself and family. (*Probably Jack Inglis who moved to Queenscliff when the Watsons arrived. LIME LAND LEISURE.)
"That in 1871-two years having then elapsed since Mr. Casey took up the land-I wrote to the Board of Land and Works praying that, as Mr. Casey had neither resided upon, nor cultivated, nor fenced it, my old garden might be restored to me. I received
a letter in reply, signed 'C. Hodgkinson,'stating that as the Hon. Mr. Casey had ob-
tained the land ' for an occasional summer residence,' the board waived the residence condition in his case. I replied that if Mr. Casey took up the land for an occasional summer residence, he had never used it as such, for hE had not resided one day upon the land ; and then pointing out that the other conditions had also been neglected.
I received in reply a second letter with same signature, stating, that the board had waived the cultivation condition in favour of Mr.Casey, 'lest he should injure the indigenous shrubbery.' I replied that there was no shrubbery upon the land, but plenty of scrubbery in the shape of tea-tree and fern, and that, as Mr. Casey's neighbours were cultivating, I did not see why he should be exempt, and reminding Mr. Hodgkinson that neither had Mr. Casey fenced in the land.
The rest of tho correspondence, all of which can be submitted to your honourable
House, consisted of an intimation that the board would give me no redress, calling me an informer, and saying that any future application would not be attended
to. I have since humbly approached Mr.Casey and prayed him to return my old
garden, but to no purpose, and I now, as a last resource, lay my humble petition before your honourable House, believing that the intention of the Land Act was to settle bona fide occupants on the land, as residents and cultivators, and not to evict such, that the land might be given to non-residents ; for up to the present time, although four years and a half have elapsed since the land was pegged out, Mr. Casey has not resided one day upon the land,
"Your petitioner humbly prays that your honourable House will take the premises
into your consideration, to the end that such relief may be extended to me as in your wisdom shall deem fit."And your petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
"HENRY WATSON." Nepean, 17th November, 1873.
(P.5, Argus, 19-11-1873.)

There is much detail of Henry Watson's first correspondence on the subject,the land board's reaction, the fact that Watson's garden (on the Police Paddock) had not been shown on the survey, and improvements that Casey claimed to have made.
(P.9, Argus,25-11-1873.)

By googling "Nepean, County of Mornington", several parish of Nepean maps can be obtained. "Special lands, Parish of Nepean, County of Mornington ... - Slv" shows the police paddock, a stockyard near Police Point, James Sandle Ford's pre-emptive right of 160 acres and the various crown allotments. Henry Watson's garden was described as being on the police paddock but I believe it was near the clifftop east of the stockyard where an area of about 6 acres is drawn and labelled 3186. This would be at about the location of Weeroona Ave. The Watsons were known to look for shoals of fish from high vantage points (LIME LAND LEISURE) and having his garden near the clifftop rather than further inland would enable Henry to do his spotting at the same time as he was cultivating his land.

"Plan of the Parish of Nepean, County of Mornington [cartographic ..." shows the grantees of the various crown allotments. James Joseph Casey was granted crown allotment 149 of 13 acres 2 roods 31 perches on 3-10-1912. It seems that he was as tardy in coughing up the dough as he was in residing on the land. Fancy a man of such influence and,presumably money,taking over 40 years to pay off 13 acres! This land was between Cove Avenue (crown allotment 150) and The Cutting and is presumed to have contained Watson's garden. Casey was granted crown allotments 151 and 152 of 122 acres and 2 roods on 3-10-1871. This went south from Pt Nepean Rd to the Ocean Reserve, including Relph Ave,part of Portsea Golf Club and Bass Rd. It is unlikely that this was the land in dispute which had been selected (but not granted) by 1873.

The land in dispute was a snug little place near Weeroona Bay.
COLLINS-STREET IN '74. MEMORIES OF MEN AND MANNERS.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) Saturday 23 July 1910 p 6 Article Illustrated
J. J. CASEY, Politician.
James Joseph Casey, later judge, and always a light down good fellow The cancatunsts
have dubbed him King, and in their pictuies heve put a crown on his head and
lobes on his back, and given him a magnificent beanng worthj of the best of Emperors This wns done because of his grand stvle at the Lands Office, where he is Minister and sits on a throne of his own devismg and commands tasks.... When not occupied on this matter he is fishing at Portsea, for he has a snug little place on one of the point he colls Weeroona , and he and the cannturist who lampoons lum nearly every week, canbe seen lianing over the bide of his little boat, hauling in the tough leatherjacket,just as if theie weie no such things as politics or comic papers in the wide world.
APOLOGIES,BUT I COULDN'T FACE CORRECTING THE TEXT.



Shifting sands
Author: Dugald Jellie
Date: 20/01/2012
Words: 3337
Source: AGE
Publication: The Age
Section: The Melbourne Magazine
Page: 36
Portsea, Australia's richest postcode, is where old traditions and new money come together every summer, not always happily, writes Dugald Jellie.
Auctioneer Warwick Anderson found a spot in the sand. A crowd had gathered on a hot January afternoon in 2011 for his day's last job: selling a sun-pinched timber boatshed in the dunes of Shelly Beach. Most came barefoot, strung in towels, limbs bare and salted from insouciant days of dipping in turquoise brine. Up for grabs was a prized heirloom - S27A, a bathing box, on stumps, shrouded by tea tree. A who's who of locals arrived, many with chequebooks in their swimming trunks. "It's a question of supply and demand," says Anderson, of the spectacle of finding market value for these bijou seaside boxes. One had sold nearby for $455,000. Rumours were rife a new record was on. "It's petty cash for these people."

Coastal wattle spread on the dune, pigface flowered pink. Anderson, in short sleeves, took an opening bid of $300,000. Before him stood an array of Melbourne's merchant princes, industrialists, the idle rich, on a lustrous shore where, in dusk light, the city gleams on the horizon like a faraway jewel. After more than an hour, the auction's penciller had recorded 127 bids. The gavel fell, applause rang out. The boathouse had sold for $585,000, about $18,000 per square metre and the price of a decent family home in a Melbourne suburb.

This is how it is in Portsea - the country's top-earning postcode by taxable income. A geographical and demographic full-stop put on the map in 1842 by James Sandle Ford, an emancipist and homesick English lime-burner who built the first pier and planted the area's first cypresses, it's an end-of-the-road cul-de-sac where not a penny's pinched, where neighbourly squabbles make the news, and where the beautiful and the damned mingle each summer in an epic narrative of privilege, social hierarchy and just a little tattle about what Lindsay Fox has gone and done next. Children's footfalls slap on grey-weathered jetty planks; whoops and squeals punctuated by baritone splashes. A blonde woman parks her black Porsche Cayenne with personalised number plates. The pock pock pock of a tennis game floats over beds of flowering agapanthus. Electronic surveillance is on continuous loop. Vast properties step down the slope like hanging gardens laden with fruits of abundance. Some homes are as big as office blocks. A clear footprint can be seen from Google Earth: most blocks have the powder-blue oblongs of a swimming pool, and judging by the number of lurid green rectangles, it could be true that Portsea still has more tennis courts per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. Land values on the cliff, on the bay side of Point Nepean Road, the most sought-after stretch of real estate in Victoria, start at about "five something" - as in $5 million (and the rest), according to local Kay & Burton agent Liz Jensen.

Year-round locals have for decades quietly observed the comings and goings. "It was them and us," recalls Eunice Watson, 87, who long ago married into the Watson family who, from 1862, were the first fishermen of Portsea. "Those people with all the big homes were the people with money from Melbourne. They would keep to themselves."

"It's like the Stepford Wives here in January," says retiree Michael McNamara, a year-round resident. "It becomes a car park full of Toorak and Brighton ladies in late-model Mercedes, with their Christian Dior sunglasses and Port Douglas tans. It's so bizarre. All anybody talks about is what school you went to and where the kids are going now. It's very conservative." Latest Australian Tax Office figures on the nation's wealthiest suburbs by income put Portsea top of the roost with its 270 taxpayers declaring a median income of $198,987 - ahead of blue-ribbon Sydney enclaves Point Piper, Mosman, Bellevue Hill and Palm Beach. Toorak is the only other Victorian postcode in the top 10: sixth, with $147,578 in median earnings.

Relatively few of the suburb's households reside in the area year round: many claim their holiday shack as a principal place of residence to avoid state government land tax. "Election days, all these choppers arrive from everywhere to go down and vote," says Anderson, who sells from both RT Edgar's Toorak and Portsea agencies. (Electoral poll results certainly tilt one way. Of the 319 primary votes cast in the last state election at Portsea, 20 went to the ALP. "I don't think I've ever lost that booth," says Martin Dixon, the Liberal Party's member for Nepean.)

"There's a sadness to this place," says Jos Law, an artist who with her husband, two grown-up children, the family dog and nine chooks has lived full-time on an acre in Portsea's lowlands for the past eight years and is part of the diminishing community that's been slowly priced out. "Of the 26 houses in our road, we're the only permanents and the only ones without a tennis court or swimming pool or a gardener," she says. "All these huge mansions with all these possessions and they're only occupied four times a year. They're not used, they're not loved."

Some say the nouveau riche arrived with maverick developer David Deague, son of a bricklayer and the first to pay more than $1 million for property on this toe of the peninsula, when in 1980 he bought the Federation-era Colwyn, an old Baillieu haunt. Others suggest the sale 10 years ago of Lanika, formerly in the hands of car dealer Robert Lane, which fetched $6.7 million, was a measure of what "outsiders" were willing to pay to get on the cliff. "That was the big turning point in Portsea," says Jensen. "Nobody thought it would go for that. It set a new record for land per square metre." The house has since been demolished, with a palace of dreams under construction. The owner is Denise Spencer, whose husband, Vernon, a silver-haired Brighton Grammar boy, has one of the biggest boats in Melbourne.

The 2010 sale of Inverary highlighted Portsea's new sources of opulence. An art deco bungalow built on the cliff in the 1930s by the McKay farm machinery family, whose wealth had come from the Sunshine Harvester, it was sold for $8.71 million to Paul Holyoake, boss of an IT consultancy firm, and his wife, comedian and actor Marg Downey. They paid an extra $350,000 for its beach box.

But the big talk last summer was of the fabulous price paid for Ilyuka, a Spanish-revival mansion originally built for a Texan oil tycoon. Computershare director Michele O'Halloran sold for about $26 million - a record for a house in Victoria. The buyer was John Higgins, a 57-year-old said to be worth $405 million, who ran a family paints business in Brunswick before coming into bucketloads of money when, with high-profile Melbourne QC Allan Meyers, he invested in Polish breweries. He plays golf at the links course and is an avid underwater photographer. He once part-owned Melbourne Aquarium. Locals call him "the house painter".

Of course, even the old money was new once: there are the Laycocks of wool-store and blanket-knitting wealth, the Nicholas pharmacists of Aspro fortune, the rag-trading Wenzels of Flinders Lane, the Yencken hardware merchants who built their upright summer house on the hill more than 100 years ago. "When Melbourne's little streets relocate each summer, it's the Toorak dreamers who perch on the Portsea cliffs, celebrating their investment in beauty and prestige," says historian Weston Bate. "This annual flow lifts the social level at this end of the peninsula to dizzier heights than can be found in any Australian capital city."

Lady Marigold Southey, the youngest child of Sidney and Merlyn (nee Baillieu) Myer, still hosts garden parties in season. The Baillieus have been at Point King since the 1930s (last December, the property's current custodian, Premier Ted Baillieu, lent the keys to "our princess Mary", her husband and their four young children). More recently, the Roches, Connie and Craig Kimberley of Just Jeans riches and former Spotless Catering boss Brian Blythe ("his weekender is the most spectacular of the lot," says an insider) all continue a social custom that has, at one time or another, bound most of Melbourne's oldest family empires. Brockhoff was once a household name on supermarket shelves; the family's biscuit-baking patriarch, Alan, bought the beachfront Laloma ("love" in Fijian) in the late 1930s. "The Brockhoffs had the best view in Portsea," recalls Eunice Watson, whose eldest son, Colin, was among the last students to attend Portsea Primary School before it closed, and is now captain (and two-time former champion) of the golf club. She remembers Laloma well. "I was friends with a lady who looked after it," she says. "They could see right down to the Heads from their bedroom. It was a beautiful view."

Landscape architect Fiona Brockhoff has even more intimate memories. "Dad was always turning the sprinklers on and off," she says. "We had a trampoline. It was endless bouncing and going to the beach and snorkelling. It was a great house but it was also a white elephant - old and draughty and a money-pit, really." The children sold the house soon after Alan died.

"Our children were terribly lucky to grow up in Portsea," says Judy Matear, whose father-in-law in 1927 bought the fashionably chic Hotel Australia on Collins Street, and 20 years later bought Ilukya from Vacuum Oil boss Harry Cornforth. They hosted lavish parties, all smoked salmon and ostrich plumes, with patriarch Fred Matear taking whisky and sodas in his white silk pyjamas and pith helmet. Judy's son Rick, an artist currently exhibiting at Manyung Gallery in Sorrento, remembers his neighbour "showing me an Arthur Boyd hanging over the fireplace. He told me stories of Boyd and John Perceval going down there to do paintings for their parents. He said John once borrowed the car and dented it, so to pay he gave them the painting." Penleigh Boyd, father of Robin, joined Arthur Streeton in painting Portsea, filling canvases with loose plein-air brushstrokes that distilled the area's luminous northern light and its thick blanket of tea trees and moonahs. White limestone cliffs and the knuckle of Police Point are recognisable in one work, but the two fisherman's shacks and staked fish pens by the beach have long since gone.

"They caught salmon and mullet and bay trout that would come in shoals, hundreds of boxes worth," says Eunice Watson. She moved to Portsea in 1947 to marry fisherman Frank and lived on the beach in the fishing cottages Boyd had painted, with no running water, kerosene lamps and a wood stove to cook on. In those days, the couta boats weren't rich-kid playthings - they were used by fishermen scooting through the Heads pursuing barracouta. Harold Holt, who wasn't yet PM, bought fish from them on the beach. "On the Sunday he drowned, I was going to tennis," Watson recalls, "and he waved to me as he was driving past."

"Everyone here's got a story," says Graeme Riley, 73, a third-generation local builder who's worked for many of the biggest names on the cliff. "In the '80s, they used to throw parties like it was the Hamptons - tents on the beach strung with lights, jazz bands, all the bells and whistles. They were marvellous affairs. Then everyone went broke."

Luxury-resort developer Bernard Roux, who bankrolled a polo team and arrived at his cliff-top Portsea abode usually by private helicopter, was the last to go belly-up. Bankrupted last year, he owed $28 million, including $300,000 to Portsea pal David Calvert-Jones, nephew of Rupert Murdoch and founder of Portsea Polo. Roux sold on Point King before his troubles. His block, sub-divided from the Ilyuka estate on a 99-year lease, was bought for $7 million by Toorak denizens Geoffrey and Lesley Freeman, now building the cliff's latest show-stopper, designed by Hassell Architects and due for completion by Easter. Another who's seen the changed circumstances at this land's end is Norm Adams, 70, the first to sign-up at Portsea Surf Life Saving Club after 26-year-old local hero John Wishart was killed in 1956 by a shark. "The original families down here, they didn't pass judgement on you, even though I was the only one who hadn't been to a private school," he says. "It was the people we call the blow-ins that judge you. It's new money. They come in, put up these big homes, throw parties and hope it gets them somewhere."

Outside of the constant sniping between money old and new has emerged a more recent source of friction: the town's fabled user-friendly front beach, where almost everyone who's had anything to do with Portsea as a child learned to swim. If you've been to Portsea recently, it's quite a shock: the beach is essentially no more. It disappeared soon after the dredging of Port Phillip Bay's south channel, so some blame the dredging; others say it's the result of a regular natural cycle. And while those who traditionally used the front beach - among them most of the day-trippers who made it this far down the peninsula - are out of luck, the more private and inaccessible Shelly and Point King beaches are healthier than they have been for decades thanks to the sand that's washed their way.

For most of last year, this crook of Weeroona Bay was like trench warfare. Government contractors erected a series of remedial measures - rock walls, bloated sandbags as big as a beached whale - all of which failed. The back-up chime of an excavator was a daily chorus. The latest effort is a great wall: 150 metres long, made of 1.4- and 4.5-tonne sand pillows, 10 courses high. Warning signs are posted. The works cost $2.2 million and already have needed repairs. "Once they finished widening and deepening the Heads, the swell on the incoming tide crashed into the beach and took it away," says Andrew Henderson, publican of the Portsea Hotel, which overlooks the beach. "This was the best little beach on the bay, now it's destroyed forever."

"It's nature taking its course," says Rodney Warren, a regional director of the Department of Sustainability and Environment. "People want to narrow it down to their patch, but the big picture is that events like this are caused by weather conditions and storm surges that have happened in the bay for more than a 100 years. It's not something we can control." Beneficiaries have included Ted Baillieu - Point King Beach has never looked so plump. And Lindsay Fox needn't worry too much about patrolling his property's high-water-mark boundary (which he marked out with bollards) as there's now plenty of beach between him and the bay.

Lindsay Fox seems to have a Midas touch, which must annoy his neighbour, heiress Kate Baillieu, no end. Portsea's social divide between new money and old is writ no larger than Fox vs Baillieu, a neighbourly stoush that's turned heads ever Baillieu, older sister to Ted, submitted a photo of a baby's bare bottom on Point King beach at a 1999 planning hearing. It was evidence against trucking billionaire Lindsay Fox's proposal for a lavish 175-square-metre boatshed, which among other things was required for changing his soon-to-be-born grandchild's nappies. "Kate's a dynamo who typifies Portsea's old families, with their strong sense of social responsibility," says Tony Southall, QC, who assisted her more recent campaign to save Point Nepean from development. "They're not in there for the fine homes, the money and the entertaining. They're there because they've been there for generations."

But the cause celebre between the two was a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing about Fox landing his helicopter on the beach. He told the court he used the chopper to reduce his Toorak to Portsea commute to 12 minutes, and he landed at various spots depending on whether he was to lug his wife's golf clubs to the house. He won the case. After the ruling, Kate Baillieu said: "This is a win for one individual with pots of money who can pay very expensive lawyers." Fox had told the tribunal: "If there were no tall poppies, there would only be weeds."

Melbourne's skyscrapers glow on the horizon's loaming like bunched pencils. A soft, warm wind comes off the water. Boys shout and jump from the jetty, all bare chests and laughter. A beach nearby is skirted with bathing boxes as pretty as doll's houses, and upturned dinghies looking like bathtubs on the sand. A container ship glides towards the Heads. Six ibis fly overhead. This hook of water, where moorings fetch up to $25,000 ("twice the price of anywhere else on the bay," says the owner of Nautical Marine) glitters silver-skinned in the day's last gasp. Black squid-ink stains the sun-bleached planks of Portsea's L-shaped pier. It's late afternoon on a turning tide and a regular crowd of fishermen are here, tossing breadcrumbs into limpid water. They've come for garfish, and the fraternity - chatting in Greek on upturned buckets, watching their rod tips. Some use maggots for bait. I ask where they live. "Not in Portsea. We're not snobs, mate."

WHOS WHO IN THE PORTSEA ZOO

Mileura _

This Federation-style (circa 1911) limestone residence was bought by Spotless Group's former managing director Brian Blythe and wife Helen in 1991 for $6.25 million (at the time, a record for the region). They've since spent a reported $3 million on renovations, including adding another wing.

The Knoll _

Overlooking Shelly Beach, the Knoll was owned by the Brash (music store) family for nearly 80 years, until it was sold in 2003 for $5.7 million. Jenny Brash, wife of the former record-store magnate Geoff Brash, once joked that she married him for the cliff-top holiday house.

Arran _

Owned by retiree Michael Begg, the property has a private jetty on the foreshore, making Begg - along with the Baillieu clan and Lindsay Fox - part of the uber-exclusive "jetty set". (There are only a few dozen such privately owned or leased structures in all of Port Phillip Bay.)

Koolpingah _

Bought by Brighton-based property developer Bruce Hamilton in 2001 for $6.8 million.

Mandalay _

Former Computershare director and boss of Rothschild Australia Asset Management Peter Griffith was asking for more than $7.5 million when he sold this Philip Cox-designed house in 2006. (Local agents think he got "about $6 million plus". The current owners are William and Sally Duncan.)

New construction _

Vernon and Denise Spencer thrilled Portsea homeowners in 2002 when they paid $6.7 million for "Lanika", then described by agents as "an ordinary house". The home has since been demolished, and a new build started two years ago. "They've not stopped pouring concrete," says a local. "That site has more foundations than Sydney Harbour Bridge."

Unnamed _

Craig and Connie Kimberley of Just Jeans fortune are the owners of this cliff-top property, which boasts a swimming pool, tennis court and sculpture garden reached by an inclinator.

Loloma _

Sitting next to the Portsea Hotel, the two-storey, shingle-roofed 1920s beach house known as Loloma - Fijian for "love" - and described as a "Japanese bungalow" was bought by an undisclosed buyer in 1998 for $1.5 million.

Unnamed_

This lavish Merrylands Court abode is the main house of a handful set on Lindsay Fox's private family compound. (Note: the boathouse pictured here is not Fox's, but that of a neighbour.)

New construction _

Geoffrey and Lesley Freeman paid $7 million for a piece of vacant land on Point King Road in 2006. Their lot, once part of the Ilyuka estate, includes an historic limekiln boatshed, built in 1880 and converted in 1930. The Hassell-designed holiday house is due for completion by Easter.

ilyuka _

This Spanish Mission-style home, built in 1928-29 for oil executive Harry Conforth, was sold to John Higgins in 2010 for a Victorian record believed to be about $26 million.

GOING GOING GONE &

1_That was then

Portsea's front beach in January 2009, complete with sun, sea ... and plenty of sand.

2_Where'd it go?

By May 2010, strong tides were washing sand away and creating mini cliffs.

3_The fix

In September 2010, heavy machinery moved in to to shore up the, er, shore with sandbags and tonnes of sand.

4_Heavy duty

October 2010: the idyllic beach is now a breakwater with huge rocks lifted into place to bolster the sandbags.

5_Rocks rolled

By July 2011, the tide was taking its toll on the massive remedial works.

In almost unprecedented agreement the Labor and Liberal parties decided that channel deepening could only benefit Victoria. Jenny Wharfe and her Blue Wedges supporters waged a fierce campaign but what hope did they have when the major parties were united. Thus Portsea locals and the occasional summer residents lost their beautiful beach. Will Stephen Bradford, C.E.O. of the Port of Melbourne Corporation ever be held responsible for denying the bleeding obvious instead of doing something to halt the damage as soon as it started. That is, at about the time that an old Portsea resident wrote to the Mornington Peninsula Leader suggesting that an artificial reef be built to dampen the swells.

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