Boon Wurrung Shell Midden (Phillip Island, Australia)

Phillip Island is a two-hour drive southeast of Melbourne, nestled at the opening of the Western Port Bay. On the day of my journey to Phillip Island, the cold, stormy Victorian winter greeted us with heavy raindrops beating down on the rental car. The windshield wipers worked their hardest to grant us some level of visibility as we travelled south.

The Phillip Island Road is the sole entry point to the island from the mainland, providing single lane bridge access between the small coastal town of San Remo and the island itself.

Google Streetview screenshot of Phillip Island bridge
Credit: Google Streetview

Driving into Phillip Island, the main road leads you west, becoming Ventnor Road, along to the western tip of the island where the Nobbies Centre is located. On the day of our visit, the Nobbies Ocean Park Discovery Centre was closed, but the main attraction at this spot is the boardwalk that leads around the edge of the island, giving a panoramic view of the Bass Strait.

Despite the temperamental weather, the view was still stunning, with a few small islands visible nearby dotted in the wide blue ocean.

View of the Nobbies Round Island

Following the steps of the boardwalk around the edge of the island, a small plaque commemorates this spot which, at first, doesn't stand out too much from the surrounding landscape. Regardless of appearances, the small pieces of shell that are just visible below attest to the great cultural significance of Phillip Island.

This site is the home of a midden, which is a mound of materials discarded by humans, containing shells, bones and charcoal, that have been left behind and accumulated over time by the Boon wurrung people of this region throughout generations of occupation. This is a coastal midden, but middens can occur in a range of varieties. The presence and content of middens provides insight into the subsistence and consumption patterns of local peoples throughout time, presenting a manifestation of traditional cultural knowledge and practices that meld with and are part of the surrounding landscape.

As the plaque acknowledges, the Boon wurrung have occupied their traditional lands for over 20 000 years; the oldest midden found at Phillip Island has been dated to 2000 years old. Members of Boon wurrung clans are involved in the management of archaeological sites and other significant places around Phillip Island.

Continuing along the boardwalk, the track leads to the Nobbies View Point, where there is a broader view out over the ocean, including the blow hole at the cliff base and the Seal Rocks beyond. On the day of our visit we were fortunate enough to see seals swimming and jumping about in the water, making splashes that were just perceptible from the lookout point.

This easy paced boardwalk journey also offers the public the opportunity to view another of the main attractions at Phillip Island, the wildlife. Penguin burrows are dotted around the edge of the island, sometimes with little penguin feet just visible through the doorways. Wallabies are also a common animal encountered throughout the island.

Penguin burrows and wallaby grazing

The promise of a better view of the penguins brought us to Penguin Parade where, everyday at dusk, the penguins journey from on the ocean onto the beach, and waddle along to climb up the cliff faces and into their burrows for the evening. From the Nobbies area, it is a short drive to the Penguin Parade, either back along the main road or along The Boulevard, an unsealed road that affords a beautiful view of the coastal area and the wildlife, with wallabies all around. Unfortunately no photography is permitted at the Penguin Parade as it disorients the penguins, but I can confirm that it is definitely a very worthwhile and adorable experience!

Here's a Tripadvisor photo of the penguins instead.
Credit: Tripadvisor

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