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(3931, 47 km S, Mornington Peninsula Shire)

Located on the shores of Port Phillip Bay on the Mornington Peninsula, Mornington was originally known as Schnapper Point, but was renamed in 1864 after the Earl of Mornington, later Governor-General of India. Matthew Flinders in HMS Investigator landed nearby at Bird Rock on 28 April 1802 and walked around to Schnapper Point to make his first survey of Port Phillip Bay. Early pastoralists moved into the country around Mornington in the late 1830s, one station having as its base the site on which heritage property Beleura still stands. William Thomas, Assistant Protector of the Aborigines for the Westernport District, had his own station, Towerong or Tuerong at nearby Moorooduc by 1841. Located on a natural and safe harbour, Schnapper Point was a focus for the fishermen and timber-getters who worked in the district from the 1840s. Timber fellers cleared the trees from Mount Martha, Mount Eliza and the Moorooduc Plains. Fishermen made use of the plentiful snapper, loading their cargoes bound for Melbourne from rock platforms at Mount Martha and Mount Eliza or onto boats moored in the harbour at Schnapper Point until the pier was built around 1858, specifically intended to help local workers transport their goods to Melbourne.

A small community began to develop around the pier. Government Surveyor Permein planned a small township and local merchant, Thomas Allchin, opened the first shop in 1859 using the pier to ship firewood to Melbourne, importing supplies for his store by return journey. In 1854 government geologist, A.R.C. Selwyn, reported the existence of a fine collection of fossils in limestone cliffs, to the south of Mornington. Fossil Beach, as it became known, was the site of a short-lived industrial attempt in the 1860s to extract cement from the limestone for building purposes, and the ruins of the ill-fated Patent Septaria Co.'s works can still be found in the cliffs and dunes.

Pastoralism and fishing remained predominant industries at Mornington until the mid-20th century, but the pier and the location soon made it a commercial and administrative centre for much of the Mornington Peninsula. In 1860 the Mount Eliza Roads Board, a forerunner to the Shire of Mornington, was established, with Mornington at its centre. A courthouse and lockup were built in Main Street that year, a post office in 1861. By this time Mornington and its picturesque coastline had already assumed the role of a resort for Melbourne residents. As well as the pastoral homesteads already dotted along the coast and the rural hinterland, a number of Melbourne's wealthy citizens began to build holiday houses, or came to stay at one of the large hotels built from the 1850s to the 1870s. Public sea baths were built in the township in 1879 and day-trippers or picnickers were attracted to visit the Mornington Park, gazetted as a public park in 1863. As early as the 1850s tourist guides wrote glowingly of the 'exceedingly pleasant' scenery at Mornington and predicted that it would become Melbourne's Ramsgate or Brighton. The commodious holiday homes of the 19th century gave way to an innovative 'Mornington Peninsula style' in the 1930s, as architects such as Roy Grounds designed houses full of sunlight and with an air of casual spaciousness.

From the 1860s until the 1930s many visitors arrived at Mornington on one of the bay steamers that offered first a twice-weekly and then a daily service. Some visitors travelled by coach and later by motor car along a track that, as early as 1841, took much the same route as the present Nepean Highway. In 1889 Mornington was connected by rail with Melbourne, via a spur line from Baxter. The railway passenger service was closed during World War II, reopened in the 1960s, and closed again in 1981.

Between the wars Mornington began to acquire some of the community facilities necessary to a country town. A fire brigade began in 1917, and the bush nursing hospital was built in 1937. While Mornington retained its standing as a beach resort in the postwar decades, increasingly the pastoral acreage near the township was subdivided for housing. An underwear manufacturer and chicken factory offered local employment and both the Housing Commission of Victoria and A.V. Jennings built residential estates here. Between 1950 and 1990 the shire's population rose by over 20 000, and many of the residents commute to work in central or suburban Melbourne. The suburb features the Mornington Country Golf Club and the Mornington racecourse.

Jill Barnard