Basils Farm sits on the shores of Swan Bay – a shallow, 30 square-kilometre marine embayment at the eastern end of the Bellarine Peninsula in Port Phillip Bay. Matthew Flinders named the bay “Swan Ponds” after its black swans, up to 2,700 of which can be seen in summer and early autumn.
It is partly separated from Port Phillip by Swan Island, Duck Island and Edwards Point. Most of the area is included in the Port Phillip Heads Marine National
Park as well as being listed as a Ramsar Wetland of international importance. Swan Bay contains a variety of ecosystems that make it environmentally
important for water birds and migratory waders. These include salt marsh, intertidal mudflats and vast seagrass beds on which, almost everything living in the bay relies on for food.
Although now home to a vineyard, café, cellar door and produce gardens, Basils Farm has an interesting history. Originally owned by the Walpole family, it was the building site for 53 foot 2-masted schooner named ‘Fidget’.
In service around Port Phillip Bay from 1869, its use included being a timber and lime carrying barge. The last recorded history of ‘Fidget’ was in 1919 when it went out of register. Its fate is unknown.
The farm site has been home to a number of owners since the mid 1800’s. It contained the only dam in the area which was constructed by the State Government for the local graziers and dairy farmers as it was long before mechanical diggers were invented. It became a catch up meeting place for surrounding farmers to water their stock.
The original farmhouse was once the local St. Leonards school building which had been transported to the site in the early 1900’s. A ‘private school’ was also situated on the land adjacent to Basils Farm. Local farmer Phil McDonald still remembers his uncles attending the school and has several ink bottles that he has dug up in recent times. Sadly the building no longer exists.
The current property ‘Basils Farm’ takes its name from one of the previous owners – Basil Halsall, who farmed various crops on the site.
In 1953 Basil won the ‘Sun Tour’, one of Victoria’s most prestigious cycling events and one of the oldest stage races in the world. To this day, the Sun Tour is a major cycling event in Australia and the Bellarine Peninsula remains a popular cycling destination and home to another cycling great – Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
Whilst Basil has moved on, the property still carries his name and is also home to some of his tools, bike parts and farm machinery including an historic harvester and wheat chaff.