Why is Phillip Island called Phillip Island?

Learn about the history of one of Victoria’s top tourist destinations!

Phillip Island offers outstanding coastal scenery and an abundant amount of wildlife. Just a short drive from Melbourne City, Phillip island is great for a one-day adventure or a weekend getaway. Although the penguins are one of the main reason’s tourists flock here, your trip to Phillip Island is not complete without visiting the other attractions on offer.

The Traditional Owners of the Land

The first inhabitants of Phillip Island were the aboriginal Bunurong tribe based around Western Port.  They were not permanent residents but most likely visited during the mutton bird season to feast on the abundant eggs and young birds.

Who Named it?

The first European to discover Phillip Island was George Bass. Travelling down from Port Jackson in 1798 in a 28-foot whaleboat. After Bass discovered the area, he named it ‘Western Port’, as it was west of Port Jackson. However, it was later changed to Phillip Island, to honour Sir Arthur Phillip, who was the very first governor of the First Fleet that sailed in 1788 from England to Australia.

European Settlement

It was not until 1842 that Europeans actually settled onto the island when the McHaffie brothers took out a lease on the entire Phillip Island area. They used the land to graze sheep but were bought out in 1868 when the area opened up to a settlement. The first settlers faced numerous hardships, with drought and failed crops forcing many to leave their new home. Chicory, an edible flower plant, was one of the few things that could grow in the harsh climate, and now is Phillip Island’s icon, growing for over a hundred years in this area.

The Development of Phillip Island’s Tourism

As Phillip Island was always overflowing with natural beauty, tourism began almost immediately after the settlement began. With hotels and a ferry system starting up to increase the number of visitors. Motor racing and the Penguin parade began in the 1920s, bringing even more visitors daily. With the area evolving throughout the years to create one of the best tourism facilities in Victoria.

Penguin Parade’s History

The Little Penguins of Phillip Island have been here well before tourism took off in the region! However, tourism for the creatures didn’t begin until the 1920s, when island residents Bert opened the Summerland Beach to viewings of the penguins, charging five shillings to see the creatures, and an additional shilling to get strawberries and cream to eat while viewing. Soon the place took off, with a large group of tourists bringing picnic baskets and blankets down to the beach every night. Soon this started affecting the population of the penguins, as the human interaction caused many penguins to die or not enter the region. In the 1960s fences and viewing, stands were built, giving penguins a safer route to their nests, but still allowing visitors to see these beloved creatures!

Related article: How to Experience Phillip Island?

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