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Port Phillip (commonly referred to as Port Phillip Bay to distinguish from the City of Port Phillip, and usually known locally just as "the Bay") is a large bay in southern Victoria, Australia. Melbourne, the state's capital city, is located at its northern end, near the mouth of the Yarra River. Melbourne's suburbs extend around much of the northern and eastern shoreline, and the city of Geelong is located on Corio Bay, a subsidiary bay in the southwest.
Port Phillip contains many bays and beaches including Beaumaris Bay , Corio Bay, St Kilda Beach, Brighton Beach, and others. The narrow entrance to the bay, called the Rip, between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean features strong tidal streams made turbulent by the uneven contours of the seabed. The best time for small craft to enter the Rip is at slack water. Large ships require expert local guidance to enter and exit, provided by the Port Phillip Pilot Service . There is currently a proposal to deepen the entrance, to allow newer, larger container ships to access Melbourne's docks.
The eastern side of the bay is characterised by sandy beaches extending from St Kilda, Sandringham, Beaumaris, Seaford, Frankston, Safety Beach/Dromana and Rye to Portsea. Longshore drift carries sand from south to north during winter and from north to south during summer. Cliff erosion control has often resulted in sand starvation , necessitating offshore dredging to replenish the beach.
Numerous sandbanks and shoals occur in the southern section of the bay, so that the shipping channels from the Rip to the deeper northern section must be continually dredged. The Mud Islands, off Sorrento, are an important breeding habitat for Silver Gull, Australian Pelican and Pacific Gull. Australian Gannets also breed on navigation beacons in this area, and it also hosts breeding colonies of Australian Fur Seal. Saltmarsh in the northwestern sections of the bay is listed as significant wetlands with the Ramsar Convention and the critically-endangered Orange-bellied Parrot is found at three wintering sites around Port Phillip and the Bellarine Peninsula .
Port Phillip was formed about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, when the sea-level rose to drown what was then the valley of the Yarra, which flowed down what is now the eastern side of the bay. The Aboriginal people were in occupation of the area long before the bay was formed, having arrived at least 20,000 years ago and possibly 40,000 years ago. Large piles of semi-fossilised sea-shells known as middens, can still be seen in places around the shoreline, marking the spots where Aboriginal people held feasts. They made a good living from the abundant sea-life, which included penguins and seals. In the cold season they wore possum-skin cloaks and elaborate feathered head-dresses.
The first Europeans to see Port Phillip were the crew of the Lady Nelson, commanded by Charles Murray, which entered the bay on 15 February 1802. Murray named the bay Port King after the Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, but King later renamed it Port Phillip, in honour of his predecessor Arthur Phillip. A few weeks later Matthew Flinders in the Investigator entered the bay, unaware that Murray had preceded him. As a result of their reports, King sent Lieutenant Charles Robbins in the Cumberland to explore Port Phillip fully. One of his party, Charles Grimes , became the first European to walk right round the bay, and thus to discover the mouth of the Yarra, on 2 February 1803.
King decided to place a convict settlement at Port Phillip, mainly to stake a claim to southern Australia ahead of the French. In October 1803 a party led by Lt-Col David Collins and consisting of about 400 people landed near the modern site of Sorrento, where they established a settlement called Hobart. Lack of fresh water and good timber, however, led this, the first attempt at European settlement in Victoria, to be abandoned in May 1804. Collins and party sailed to Tasmania, where they established the modern Hobart.
Port Phillip was then left undisturbed until 1835, when settlers from Tasmania led by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner (who had been at the Sorrento settlement as a child) established Melbourne on the lower reaches of the Yarra. In 1838 Geelong was founded, and became the main port serving the growing wool industy of the Western District. For a time Geelong rivalled Melbourne as the leading settlement on the bay, but the Gold Rush which began in 1851 gave Melbourne a decisive edge as the largest town in Victoria.
As Melbourne prospered its wealthy classes discovered the recreational uses of Port Phillip, and bayside suburbs such as St Kilda and Brighton were established along the coast southeast of the city. Later resorts further south such as Sorrento and Portsea became popular. The more swampy western shores of the bay were not so favoured, and have been used mainly for non-residential purposes such as the Point Cook Royal Australian Air Force base and the Werribee sewerage farm. In recent decades however the population along the western side of the bay has grown more rapidly.
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