Pillar 9 - Safety beach bay trail

Safety Beach was named by Aitken
when his sheep, from Tassie taking,
almost drown; aground and quaking
in the brig ‘Chili’.
Some Kooris saved his sheep from drowning
… willy-nilly.

This ‘Jingle’ was written by Tom McCullough in 2015 to record that the name of Safety Beach was given and officially registered at an early time in Victoria’s history. In the mid-1830s the new township of Melbourne was being settled mainly by residents sailing from Tasmania with their families, livestock and possessions. One of them, a Scot named John Aitken was bringing approximately 1,800 sheep  in the sailing brig ‘CHILI’ across the Bass Strait in the hot summer of 1836. Aitken had already lost half of his sheep from the heat and lack of fresh water sailing across the Bass Strait in light weather. When the brig ran aground in the South Channel, Aitken had about 800 remaining sheep rowed about four miles ashore in case they drank salt water enroute. With the help of local aboriginals, Aitken hand-carried about 800 sheep from the boats onto dry land, where fresh grass was available on some previously burnt-out bushland. No reports have been found of why the aboriginals helped Aitken with his large flock, but he somehow got their co-operation and eventually delivered the 800 sheep to Melbourne, appropriately naming his first landing place ‘Safety Beach’.  

John Aitken prospered as a settler, and was a physically strong and successful farmer according to his friend, George Russell of Golf Hill Station. Russell also told of Aitken’s later conflicts with hostile Kooris on his selection near Bacchus Marsh, so Aitken’s manner towards aboriginals at Safety Beach was either a friendly, bargaining one, or perhaps he used a more bullying tactic of a desperate, probably well-armed man. Some of the Bunurong also went with Aitken all the way to his Sunbury property, beyond Melbourne’s early boundaries.

Willingly or otherwise, up to 80 of the men of the Bunurong tribe probably saved Aitken from financial disaster in March 1836 at the place thereafter known as Safety Beach.

Mornington Peninsula Shire funded these poetry pillars that were designed* by Safety Beach Foreshore Landscape Committee Inc., in 2016 (*copyright  T. McCullough).

There are 11 of these pillars with different ‘Jingles’ on each one. The pillars are spaced at intervals of about 200 metres apart, alongside the Bay Trail at Safety Beach foreshore. Marine Drive is parallel to the Bay Trail which runs from the south at Nepean Highway intersection, to the northern end at the Mt Martha cliffs (or Tassell’s Beach) opposite Bruce Road intersection, Martha Cove Marina’s channel entrance and S.B. Sailing Club building. Each Pillar has a red ‘port’ square or green ‘starboard’ triangle on it, similar to Channel Markers leading into an anchorage. They are meant to reflect our channel markers in Port Phillip Bay leading northward to Melbourne.

Picture: 1841 Sketch from the Russell Narrative 1


P. L. Brown (Editor, 1841), Narrative of George Russell, pp. 87-88  and 101, Oxford University Press, 1935.
W. Calder, Mt Martha Lands & People, p. 22, Jimaringle Press, 2008.
G. Patterson, Coastal Guide to nature and history Port Phillip Bay, pp. 153-161, Coastal Guide Books, Victoria, 2013.

For further information or questions, please write to: The Secretary, Safety Beach Foreshore Landscape Committee, 65 Victoria Street, Safety Beach, Victoria, 3934.