From Geelong, Australia’s only UNESCO City of Design, to the forts, art galleries and cultural centres of the Bellarine Peninsula, this region has a wealth of attractions to uncover.
Going strong since 1896, this is one of the oldest art galleries in regional Australia, and housing more than 6000 works of art, Geelong Gallery possesses a collection not to be sniffed at. Among the collection you’ll find an array of Australian and European paintings and decorative arts, created between the 18th and 21st centuries, from porcelain and silver to prints and sculpture.
Even the gallery’s store is worth writing home about, purveying all kinds of independently made handicrafts that make thoughtful gifts: think small-batch soy wax candles poured in Torquay, digitally printed scarves made in Melbourne from tree fibres, and speciality hardback books published here in Australia.
The gallery prides itself on accommodating a wide range of needs to boot. The space is wheelchair accessible, features Braille and raised letter signage, provides all-gender toilets, and offers iPad-operated augmented reality visits for children aged five to 10 years old, with a dyslexia-friendly font available.
A hub for events in Victoria’s second city, you can count on the Geelong Arts Centre for thoughtful and eclectic programming. The venue plays host to all kinds of performances: theatre, stand-up comedy, cabaret, dance, circus, talks and live music concerts. Better still, it’s all neatly tied up in a knockout building that fuses a heritage-listed church façade with a mammoth modernist translucent structure atop, completed in 2019. More redevelopments await this Geelong institution, with the next round due to come to fruition in 2023.
A library might not normally feature within the realms of a ‘must-do’ list, but this is no normal library. An architectural marvel with a ‘vertical village’ design, this Geelong landmark has collected numerous accolades since opening in 2015, including top honours at the National Architecture Awards, the Marion Mahony Award for Interior Architecture, the William Wardell Award for Public Architecture and the Victorian Architecture Medal.
Beyond its arresting aesthetics, the so-called ‘Dome’ also houses an exhibition space curated by the Geelong Gallery, a cafe with an outdoor deck area and terraced gardens that overlook leafy Johnstone Park, and a comprehensive heritage centre that houses an impressive collection of archives and interactive digital displays.
As eccentric as it may seem, the National Wool Museum is actually a rather riveting find. Run by an enthusiastic coterie of volunteers in a restored 1872 bluestone wool store, you may be surprised to learn the lengthy journey involved in the processing of textiles from sheep’s back to clothes rack. A further enlightening discovery is that Geelong was once known as the wool centre of the world.
Expect interactive exhibits, such as the award-winning On the Land: Our Story Retold, daily demonstrations of old carpet looms, and two curated galleries that feature regular travelling exhibitions from Australian and international museums. Naturally, there’s a shop that stocks all the woollen garments and gifts your heart could possibly desire, from beanies, gloves and scarves made of merino wool and possum fur to sheepskin rugs, toys and more. It’s located in the same building as the Geelong Visitor Information Centre.
For a dash of contemporary Australian art, make a beeline for this Queenscliff gallery. The exhibition space is spread over two levels at this former drapery store, showcasing works from a wide variety of styles and disciplines including paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics. Far from your typical private gallery, you won’t find whitewashed minimalism here; instead, the upstairs exhibition space at Salt Contemporary Art is dimly lit, with brick walls painted in sultry shades and antique timber furnishings peppering the room.
Perched on the edge of a bluff, this well-preserved fort, dating back to the 1860s, offers an insight into colonial Australia. It’s also the sole coastal fortress in Victoria, and one of the largest of its kind in the country. Accessible only by organised tour, the brick walled complex features underground magazines, heritage buildings, a working lighthouse and a military museum that houses weapons, ammunition and more.
A hub for Indigenous culture on Wadawurrung/Wathaurong Country, Narana has several strings to its bow. There are native gardens to explore, an emu enclosure, a playground for little ones, and a gallery brimful of works by Indigenous artists. A cafe serves breakfast and lunch, the menu flecked with plenty of native ingredients; its wattleseed scones with jam and cream are a house signature. There’s also an onsite shop stocking all kinds of handmade Indigenous items, such as clothing, books, health and beauty products, native herbs and spices, and a selection of homewares.
But the not-for-profit’s crowning glory are the touring options available, delivered by cultural interpreters. The two-hour Introduction to Aboriginal Culture tour offers an insight into Aboriginal history and cultural rites, from boomerang throwing to learning more about bush tucker, as well as traditional tools and weapons.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.