Visiting Arthurs Seat - Oral History
Narrator: Jean Rotherham
Coordination: Jean Rotherham, Dromana & District Historical Society
Production: Lavender Hill Multimedia, 2014
Dromana & District Historical Society
History of Arthur's Seat, narrated by Jean Rotherham.
Arthurs Seat which rises 314 metres above the sea at Dromana is the natural feature which dominates the landscape of the Mornington Peninsula. To the Boonoorong people the Indigenous inhabitants of the area, it was known as Wonga. Its’ gullies provided food, clear drinking water from the streams and creeks.
It was home to many species of birds and animals which were part of the Boonoorong diet. It also provided bark and timber for shelter, and stone for hunting implements and weapons. Wonga was a meeting place for the small family groups which made up the Boonoorong people and many of their tribal ceremonies were held in its’ shadows.
Arthurs Seat was named by Acting Lieutenant John Murray after a similar feature in his home town of Edinburgh when he entered Port Phillip Bay in the ship Lady Nelson in February 1802. Later that year Matthew Flinders came ashore and climbed to the summit of Arthurs Seat. He marked the spot where he looked out across the southern peninsula with a pile of stones. On this spot a cairn was built to commemorate his visit. The botanist Robert Brown and landscape painter William Westall accompanied Matthew Flinders on his climb. They recorded many of the plants they saw and sketched the landscape.
Andrew and Georgina McCrae built McCrae homestead on the lower slopes of Arthurs Seat in 1844. In 1851 they sold to the Burrell family who ran the property until 1925. The house is still standing and is now a National Trust property.
The township of Dromana which developed at the foot of Arthurs Seat became a popular spot for day trippers and holiday makers from Melbourne. The building of the pier at Dromana increased the number of visitors.
Many of these made the trek up Arthurs Seat to view the area from this lofty vantage point. The first structure with a viewing platform was a trig point. In 1888 part of the old wooden lighthouse at McCrae was hauled by bullock teams to Arthurs Seat for use as a viewing tower. This added height gave visitors a 360⁰ view of the area over the treetops. A simple kiosk served refreshments to visitors.
A track was cleared which wound up the side of the mount to allow better vehicular access to Arthurs Seat. Later a bus service ran to the summit.
Local real estate developer Spencer Jackson was part of a committee formed to raise funds to improve this rough track. A successful fundraising ball was held in the Mechanics Institute Hall in Dromana. The improved road was opened in December 1929 by the governor Lord Somers.
In the early 1930’s architect Howard Radcliff Lawson designed and built a complex at the summit called Holywood this included a restaurant and ballroom. An impressive tourist feature called ‘Garden of the Moon’ included a swimming pool, camera obscura, a wishing well and fountain.
In 1934 the wooden lookout tower was replaced with a concrete structure designed by George Brown, the Shire Engineer at the time. The tearooms were updated to compliment the facade of the Holywood complex.
By the 1960’s the swimming pool had been converted to a fishpond the restaurant was renamed Mountain Peak Restaurant , a milkbar was added and the Garden of the Moon and Camera Obscura were open to visitors.
In 1960 a chairlift was built and opened giving those riding down the slope on the chairlift fantastic views of the bay. A ride on the chairlift became a feature of a visit to Arthurs Seat especially in the warmer months.
By the early 1970’s the upper levels of the Garden of the Moon and the Camera Obscura were closed due to structural issues. The ballroom had already been closed for some years. During more recent renovations the Camera Obscura structure has been removed and the complex renamed Arthurs Hotel.
In 2013 the lookout tower was demolished because of structural decay and the chairlift was dismantled due to the expiry of the lease. A proposal to build a new chairlift is being developed.
Other current attractions at Arthurs Seat include Seawinds State Park which is home to statues carved by William Ricketts, the Enchanted Adventure Garden and the Arthurs Seat Car Museum.
Over the years the local Lions and Rotary clubs have donated time and funds to build or refurbish picnic shelters and a children’s playground and also provide a seat for photo opportunities.
Recent years have seen the emergence of the winding road up Arthurs Seat become an important cycling and fun run route and also for the occasional classic car race which is reminiscent of the 1930’s hill climb.
The man made attractions of Arthurs Seat have changed over the years, but the stunning panorama from this vantage point brings visitors back time after time.