Historic Robe is located 338km south east of Adelaide on Guichen Bay. Today it is very much an attractive holiday resort combining a dramatic rocky, windswept coastline with a number of attractive and secluded beaches including the beautiful, 17km long Long Beach. It is notable for its very sophisticated and charming town centre and is one of the most attractive historic towns in South Australia.
The town was named after Governor Frederick Holt Robe who sailed into Guichen Bay (the bay had been named after Admiral De Guichen in 1802 by the French explorer, Nicholas Baudin, as he sailed around the South Australian coast) in 1846 aboard the Government cutter, Lapwing. He chose the site for the town and later in 1846 it was surveyed by Thomas Burr.
Although the associations with Governor Robe are now barely recalled it is worth remembering that he was one of South Australia’s most unpopular governors with the editor of one local newspaper claiming that there was ‘never a man who worked so hard to make himself unpopular’.
In the 1840s and 1850s the majority of people travelling to Robe arrived by sailing vessel, bullock wagon or horseback. After 8 weeks at sea from London the site of Guichen Bay marked by the obelisk must have been a welcome sight for the ship’s passengers, as also it was to the many bullockies from across the border and from the north who had to travel for weeks on end averaging only 10-15 km per day. In the late 1840s substantial numbers of Irish and Scottish immigrants reached the port.
The 8 hotels in the area would have seen some of the great horsemen of the day as regular customers exchanging exciting tales with each other and with the squatters and merchants of the south east.
In 1857 the town gained widespread infamy when Chinese gold miners trying to avoid the taxes imposed at Victorian ports landed at Robe and walked across to the Victorian goldfields. In that year some 20,000 Chinese miners landed at Robe. One vessel, the Young American, reputedly carried over 1,000 passengers. The reason was simple. Victoria were charging £10 per person for entry to the state. This was more than the Chinese were paying for their sea voyage to Australia.
Not surprisingly this meant that the port had many ships eager to find cargoes once they had dropped their cargoes of Chinese miners. In the 1850s the area was providing the British Army in India with horses and the products of the local sheep industry – tallow, wool and hides – were being shipped to Europe. Until the establishment of proper jetties the bullock drays would come down the main road to the Royal Circus and simply continue on down the beach and into the water where there produce would be collected by shallow-bottomed boats which would carry them out to the waiting ships.
The importance of Robe as a major South Australian port declined after a peak of prosperity in 1864 until it became used mainly as a fishing port. The real charm and character of Robe can best be seen by walking the original streets which have been little altered since the 1860s. This, combined with the surrounding coastal area, which varies from the rugged cliffs of Cape Dombey to the tranquil countryside near the outlet to Drain L and Lake Fellmongery.
This post was reprinted from www.traveller.com.au
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