Portland 150th ball in the transit shed

The transit shed on the K.S. Anderson Wharf, set up for colonial ball. Gift of the Syd Cuffe Estate, 2013. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

When it comes to a party, Portland residents sure know how to throw one.

There have been several large-scale celebrations held in Portland over the decades – the "back to Portland" events in 1922 and 1929, and the centenary celebrations in 1934 to name a few.

But it was the party thrown to celebrate Portland's 150th anniversary in 1984 that holds a special place in recent history.

"People still talk about the ball on the Saturday night," says Lynda Cooper, who was the Executive Officer of the four-day celebration.

 

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Street parade, 150th celebrations. Photograph by Iain Grant. Courtesy: Portland Family History Group.

"It was absolutely fantastic; we all had such a wonderful time."

From a huge street parade, concerts and communal meals, to historic displays, marching bands, dances, a watermelon-eating contest and even free crayfish, the weekend was jam-packed with dozens of activities designed to celebrate 150 years since the Henty family came to Portland and created Victoria's first permanent European settlement. The celebration was not only Portland's 150th, but the entire state's.

There were whip-cracking displays, cannon firings, marching girls, aerobics displays, barbecues, a bush dance, a disco for the kids, a woodchop competition, open days, presentations, historical tours, balloon and dove releases, bush bands, barbecues, art exhibitions ... the list was almost endless.

People dressed in 1840s period costume for their day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping, school and work, as well as for all the events including the official opening on the foreshore on the Saturday afternoon, when the Premier John Cain and the Governor of Victoria, Rear Admiral Sir Brian Murray, officiated and the Roulettes performed a flyover and display to get everyone in the festive spirit.

 

Portland 150th crowd outside History House

Portland 150th Celebrations outside History House (former Town Hall). Gift of the Syd Cuffe Estate, 2013. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

A committee of 17 people chaired by Keith Wilson OAM – plus many more community volunteers on sub-committees – was charged with organising the commemoration and Lynda says every single person was very excited to be a part of the important occasion.

"Organising the whole celebration took many years of preparation and it was a wonderful culmination of everyone's hard work to see it all come together on that weekend," she remembers.

"We all felt such a great sense of pride being a part of something we hoped would be a fitting celebration, something that would be remembered for years to come. And it certainly has been remembered!"

It was estimated that around 30,000 people from all over Australia – including former residents, navy personnel and government officials – converged on Portland for the weekend.

 

Portland 150th envelope

Commemorative envelope, Portland 150th celebrations. Gift of Betty Vivian, 2012. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

The event kicked off on Friday November 16, 1984, with festivities including entertainment in the streets and on the foreshore, the afore-mentioned watermelon competition, and free crayfish for those who entered a second – and very popular – eating competition.

"Contrary to what some visitors may believe," the official souvenir program states, "Portland people do not enjoy crayfish meals three times a day ... but with typical Portland hospitality, there will be FREE crayfish for ... contestants in the crayfish eating contest."

While all these festivities were well received by the people of Portland, Lynda says it was the 150th Birthday Colonial Ball that is etched in most people's memories.

 

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Front Page, Portland Observer, 21 November 1984.

The ball was held in the huge transit shed at the Port of Portland – the same venue used for the Portland Harbour ball – and was attended by around 3,600 people most of whom, according to the Portland Observer, were wearing colonial dress. The event included dinner, the navy band, dancing and, of course, lots of fun.

In the Portland Observer the following week, journalist Jane Belfield wrote the words that seemed to sum the weekend up perfectly.

"Somebody threw a party and EVERYBODY came. And their enthusiasm didn't falter – despite sunburn, sweat and sore feet.

"Change that to the present tense. The party isn't over yet. And even when it is, it'll be remembered for a long time ... at least 150 years."

 

Exactly how many people attended, and exactly how many different activities and events were held during Portland's 150th Anniversary celebrations?

What was served for dinner at the 150th Birthday Colonial Ball?

And, most importantly, who won the crayfish-eating competition?

To find the answers to all these questions and more, visit Glenelg Shire Council's museum and research centre History House, where you will find photographs, newspaper articles, documents and official programs from the birthday weekend.

 

And you'll also find passionate volunteers willing to share their immense knowledge with you!

 

History House – Museum and Research Centre
Cliff Street, Portland VIC 3305 (PO Box 409)

Phone: (03) 5522 2266

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Open daily 10am-noon and 1pm-4pm. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.