The Foreshore at Rye - Oral History
Narrator: Helen Turner
Co-ordination: Prue Found and Pauline Powell, Rye Historical Society
Production: Lavender Hill Multimedia, 2014
Rye Historical Society
The history of holiday making in Rye, narrated by Helen Turner.
In the early years of settlement, Rye was known for lime burning, wood cutting and fishing industries. The building of Melbourne was under way, and the lime burnt from stone kilns at Rye was transported by dray, then barge, onto small sailing vessels. The lime industry gave employment to wood cutters, quarry men and lime burners and a settlement soon developed.
Rye had the natural bounty provided by the bay and ocean beaches. Fish was in great abundance and provided a living for some families. As well as putting food on the table for many others, the rocky edges at the ocean beaches were a rich source of crayfish, and the bay held a multitude of species.
The early settlers brought cattle to the area still known as Tootgarook. In 1862 land was opened up for selection and soon cattle was grazing in abundance, land was ploughed for crops and dairy herds flourished.
In the supplement to the illustrated Australian News, Melbourne, Saturday 18 December 1886, we read:
"From those who wish to escape from the maddening crowd, the little seaside village of Rye appears a peaceful and soothing retreat."
And in the Mornington Standard, October 1903, we find:
"It is hoped that being in close proximity to the favourite watering place of Sorrento, visitors will be induced to patronise the place in the summer season, especially as excellent accommodation will be available at the Gracefield Hotel and at Mrs Rowley's private boarding house at moderate charges."
Guesthouses such as Seaview and the Gracefield (later the Rye Hotel), provided comfortable and very popular accommodation for weary travellers after their long trip down the peninsula.
During the period up to World War II, there was little development in the town, but as roads were built, day trippers and holidaymakers came further south to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Holiday homes were built on the sandy tracks, and the foreshore was a popular site for campers.
George Hodder remembers holidays in Rye, "..the family came down to Rye on the paddle steamer Reliance to the Rye Pier. They brought tents and all the gear with them and setup opposite the Rye Hotel. Father went fishing in a row boat, when he brought the catch in they lit a fire on the beach and cooked the fish in a tin."
Families with children enjoyed the safety of swimming in the bay, collecting shells, and building sand castles. Fishing became a popular leisure activity, as did sailing. And the calm bay waters were dotted with small boats and yachts.
Elma Grinta recalls camping at Whitecliffs on the Rye foreshore, ".. for as long as I can remember my family have always travelled to the peninsula for our summer holidays. Dad had an old Maxwell car and later an Erskine. Tents were often tarpaulins draped over poles cut from the bush, but later we got a tent. Cooking was done over a camp fire with primus as a backup. Mum never got the knack of lighting it properly, one day she set the whole camp alight, and so never used one again."
The popularity of the town grew, and so too did the number of holiday makers arriving for their annual summer holidays. Many families setup camp for several weeks, and so services and goods were needed. Stores such as the Pier Store, Hall's Store, Whitecliffs Store and Tootgarook Store provided the goods needed by the visitors.
Holidaymakers who were not keen on camping found plenty of affordable accommodation in the many holiday flats that multiplied in the 1950s. These included the Dundas Flats, Napier Court and Robina Court. Milk bars and cafes such as the Coralyn were popular with young people, and these became social meeting places after long, hot days on the beach.
The Whittingslow Carnival was a great place for families on summer evenings, and the bright lights and the excitement became a special holiday treat. Many adults enjoyed evenings dancing, music and socialising in the Phillip Ballroom on the Nepean Highway.
The ocean beaches were wild inaccessible places in the early days but these beaches later became magnets for surfers, who braved the large waves and dangerous rips.
The tourism industry, which had such humble beginnings as far back as the 1880s, had become the mainstay of Rye by the 1960s. A place of happy family holidays of freedom and adventure, many will remember their holidays in Rye.