Prom pilgrimage: the beauty of Wilsons Promontory
The beauty of this Victorian family favourite strikes a chord with all who visit.
I almost walk straight past him. A furry, snuffling ball of herbivorous determination, munching around some fern roots by the edge of the car park. I call the kids and we pull out our phones to capture the moment: our first Wilsons Prom wombat.
I’ll never forget the time my parents took me to Wilsons Promontory. I was about 10 and it was like visiting another world: Wombats, emus, swamp wallabies and a vast, 50,000-hectare national park playground forming the southern-most tip of mainland Australia.
More than 30 years later I’ve returned with my own children.
Morning mist from Foster North.
Wilsons Promontory – affectionately known as The Prom – is home to traditional owners the Gunaikurnai and it’s the kind of place that gets under your skin and becomes a part of your family’s folklore.
It happened to much-loved author and former Australian Children’s Laureate Alison Lester. She was born and raised on a cattle farm overlooking the Prom in nearby Foster. “When I was a kid I thought it was mine,” she says. “Because when I was really small my father and uncle used to lease the southern part of the Prom to run cattle on. There’s a very strong family connection there.”
These days the award-winning creator of classics such as Magic Beach, Are We There Yet? and Noni The Pony lives in Nar Nar Goon North, but she has inherited a patch of the old farm where she regularly catches up with her three children, their partners and seven grandchildren. Four years ago Alison opened a bookshop in Fish Creek, just north of the Prom. It’s been a great success, and last year she convinced friend and fellow children’s book author Roland Harvey to set up shop too.
Roland, an author of award-winning picture books including My Place In Space, Islands In My Garden and On The River, already had a connection with the Prom. His family had a timeshare plot of land near Yanakie in the 1980s. “We had 10 acres looking out over the water and we used to just camp on it,” he says from his kitchen in Falls Road, in the centre of town. “We loved it and got to know Sandy Point and the Prom, of course.”
Turning off the South Gippsland Highway, you’ll travel along back roads that offer breathtaking views.
The arrival of Alison and Roland strengthens an established creative arts scene, which includes contemporary art gallery Gecko Studio, Andrew McPherson’s Ride the Wild Goat gallery and workshop, and the exquisite botanical art of Celia Rosser.
Nearby towns such as Meeniyan are attracting visitors too, with good food (such as Trulli Woodfire Pizzeria), great op shops and free wifi for tourists. Pubs such as the art deco-styled Fish Creek Hotel, laconically draped with a giant mullet, offer a cosy fireplace in cooler months and decent food all year round. Known by most simply as the Fishy Pub, it’s been a meeting place for locals since 1939.
Driving in the area is a treat. Turning off the South Gippsland Highway you’ll travel along back roads that offer breathtaking views: from stunning green rolling hills and herds of grazing cattle to stands of native forest replanted by landowners. And, if you feel like taking in the sights more actively, the Great Southern Rail Trail winds its way for 74 kilometres from Leongatha to Port Welshpool (bikes are available for hire from Leongatha, Meeniyan or Foster).
If you prefer coastal country, you won’t be disappointed either. Alison’s favourite beach is in Walkerville South, a fascinating spot for the historic lime kilns that dot the cliffs like Roman ruins (although these date back to a mere 1878).