‘The Landing’ (Stockyard Creek)
January 27th, 2021 | Bird life, Kayaking, Maritime history, Photos, Stockyard Creek
The South Gippsland town of Foster is primarily known these days as a farming centre. Its economy is also bolstered by tourism, particularly given its proximity to Wilsons Promontory. However, under its earlier name of ‘Stockyard Creek,’ the town began life following the discovery of gold in the area. A battery from the ‘Kaffir Hill’ mine stands outside the museum now, and across the road is a monument to the four timber getters who first discovered gold there in 1870.
Travel overland was almost impossible in those early days, and prospectors would travel by sea from Melbourne to Port Albert (to the east of Stockyard Creek), and from there, via a smaller vessel, out into Corner Inlet and then up Stockyard Creek as far as the water would allow. From there they travelled the relatively short distance overland by foot to the diggings. Later, a tramline was erected.
The place on the creek where they disembarked became known as ‘The Landing.’ Few records survive, but the following engraving and photograph give us some idea of what it must have been like.
The engraving, by Samuel Calvert (1828 – 1913), is of the SS Tarra of Port Albert, under Captain Pinkerton, arriving with prospectors at ‘The Landing’ on 12th August, 1871.
Caption: Sketch on “Stockyard Creek.” Arrival at the “Landing Place.”
The following photo is taken from the Foster & District Historical Society Inc. 2011 calendar.
Caption: “The Government wharf built at the Foster Landing in 1871.”
Maggie Somerville and I have made two trips in our kayak down Stockyard Creek from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet and back again (once in January last year, and again in January this year), in an attempt to gain some sense of what it must have been like back then. ‘The Landing’ is situated only a few minutes drive south of Foster, at the end of Landing Road, a gravel road which comes off the sealed Fullers Road. It is a very quiet place these days, and it is rare to find another soul there. This year we had the good fortune to share it with three mates – a horse, an alpaca, and a black-faced sheep!
Other than the fact that it must often have been buzzing with humanity 150 years ago, one gets the sense that it has changed little since those days. The area is extremely tidal. From memory, the return journey last year was on a fairly high tide. Both the outward and return journeys this year were made on a very low tide. Indeed, the above photograph of a sailing boat tied up at the Government wharf shows just how little water was in the creek at times.
Fortunately, there is a boat ramp at ‘The Landing’ now, though it is pretty rough, and presents quite a challenge at low tide. The following photos of the ramp were taken at high tide last year.
This next photo, by way of comparison, shows the ramp at the end of our return journey this year.
This photo of Maggie in the kayak at the end of our paddle this year shows just how little water there was. Once again, it appears remarkably similar to the earlier photograph from a hundred odd years ago.
The following photos from last year give some idea of the current woodwork for supporting boats.
Here is how it looked at low tide this year.
We didn’t time the trip down from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet, but my guess is it takes about 30 – 45 minutes in a kayak, paddling at a very leisurely pace. It is a peaceful, beautiful trip, which leads you past mangroves and steep mudbanks (depending upon the level of the tide), with tussock grass rising above the mangroves as you approach Corner Inlet. Thousands of small crabs live in the banks, and it is fascinating to watch the frantic retreating hordes scrambling up the bank and dropping into their holes as you approach.
There are plenty of herons, and last year a couple of wedge-tailed eagles hovered very low above us at one point. (I think they decided that we were just too big!) Once out in Corner Inlet there are large numbers of ibis, and also many gulls.
Navigation in Corner Inlet at very low tide is difficult, as you find yourself confined to narrow channels, surrounded by vast areas of mud. Last year, with a reasonable amount of water, we paddled up Dead Horse Creek to the west. This year I tried to take us up Bennison Creek, to the east, but the low water made it impossible to be sure of one’s bearings, and we abandoned the attempt.
On our return journey this year we ran out of sufficient water to float about thirty metres from the ramp. Pulling the kayak that last few metres through the mud is not something I want to do again in a hurry! That said, it really brought home to us just how well chosen the site for ‘The Landing’ really was!
There isn’t a great deal of information available about ‘The Landing’ at Stockyard Creek, or much awareness of its existence, and I am writing these notes in the hope that it may encourage others to follow in our footsteps (or paddle strokes!), or perform further research on this fascinating history. If you do decide to journey down the creek by kayak, I would advise you to try to avoid low tide if possible. The thick, black mud makes life very difficult.
Finally, a word about the eels in the creek. At very low tide there is not always room for both a kayak and an eel. Don’t be surprised (although I’m sure you will be!) if amidst a great splash of water a large fleshy eel presents itself briefly on the mud beside you before hurling itself back into the water as you pass!