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Culture and heritage

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Barwon Bluff was a particularly significant place for local Wauthaurong people who made their home from Ballarat to the coast. With combinations of sea, rock platforms, rivers and extensive wetlands, the area was an important summer camping ground for many thousands of years. Numerous artefacts from this rich history are found locally in the form of shell middens, campsites, and tools. There are many protected midden sites, all of which are located directly on the Bluff and also to the west along 13th Beach. Bluff Marine Sanctuary includes the wrecks of two ships, situated on the outer part of the reef.

In early European history Barwon Bluff was an important landmark for ships entering the Port Phillip Heads. There were a number of wrecks in the area resulting from the mistaking of the Bluff for the entrance to Port Philip Bay, particularly during the wars as many coastal identifying features were obscured to protect the coast from enemy spies. One the most famous of these wrecks was the steamer Orungal, the boiler of which can be seen sticking out of the water to the north of the Marine Sanctuary. An immigrant ship, the Earl of Charlemont, was also wrecked here in 1853 during the gold rush period.

The Barwon River was the basis of a small commercial fishing fleet and a number of historic buildings in the river relate to this period of Barwon Heads history. Its development as a major port was limited by the treacherous sandbars across the entrance and the strong tidal flow.

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