By Jane Canaway
Published in Royal Auto magazine, June 2012
Fish Creek is to Gippsland what Brunswick is to Melbourne: creative, eclectic, colourful and happy to be a bit different.
Over the past decade or so, a series of pioneering artisans have made the township home, many attracted by the picture-perfect landcapes of rolling hills, morning mists and breathtaking beaches.
Scattered around the town is whimsical public art – fish-mosaic benches and bus stops and a corrugated fence painted as a coral reef; combined with many colourful shops, it feels like the town is smiling.
Arriving by road from Inverloch or Meeniyan, you are greeted at the town’s main crossroads by two mermaids proclaiming One Fish Furnishings, and a cheerful display of ducks, wickerwork and timber goodies that demands a browse.
Drive up from Waratah Bay or the Prom and you are met by a row of giant timber sculptures that stand guard outside the Celia Rosser Gallery and Banksia Café. Botanic artist Rosser, famed for her remarkably detailed watercolours of Australia’s Banksia plants, painstakingly painted over 25 years for Monash University, shows much of her own work as well as complementary nature-inspired work by other local artists and is usually on hand to talk visitors around the gallery, which is run by her son, Andrew.
Rosser grew up nearby but remarks on the area’s proliferation of artists: are they drawn to a creative community or does the scenery inspire art?
The town was first settled in 1886 and a railway followed in 1892, carrying passengers and freight, including oil via the Barry Beach rail line servicing the Bass Strait oil fields.
Dairy cattle still graze the hills, but the Butter Factory is now closed, as is the rail line past Leongatha; in its place is a well-maintained bike, walking and riding trail, bringing the latest source of income – tourists who love slow travel.
A welcoming sight for travellers is the joyfully blue Flying Cow Café, which offers simple, comforting fare – big breakfasts, creative cakes (including gluten-free options), hot soups and light lunches.
Food inspired by local produce is also found at the newly opened Café K, offering bar grill-style lunches and evening meals, and at the Fish Creek Hotel, or “Fishy Pub”, which also has an excellent bottle shop featuring a good range from local wineries (expect cool-climate whites, pinor noir, shiraz and sparkling).
While weekends and summer holidays are when the town bustles, its friendly nature shows through in the way both the cafes and galleries plan days off around each other, ensuring off-peak visitors will always find something open.
There are three galleries in this tiny town of fewer than 700 folk.
As well as Celia Rosser’s there is Ride the Wild Goat, where furniture-maker-turned-artist Andrew McPherson displays a fascinating selection of aesthetic and functional pieces wrought from what salvaged and recycled farm junk – machinery parts, old cars and fridges, barbed wire and hand-worn timber bearing the patina of generations. Further up is the Gecko Studio Gallery, which offers an eclectic mix of art materials, gifts, cards, ceramics, jewellery, retro-inspired knick-knacks, and several walls displaying the latest exhibition. Owner-artists Kerry Spokes and Michael Lester also run one- and two-day art workshops.
Next door is a bibliophile’s delight, Fish Tales Bookshop, taken over about four years ago by city-escaping architects Bridget Crowe and Michael Chang. Slowly converting its shelves to their tastes, it now has a gorgeous collection of vintage books on show, as much for their cover art as the stories, and many adventure, travel and design titles.
Two hours from Melbourne, 30 minutes from Inverloch and 10 minutes from Foster, Fish Creek is a top lunch stop en route to the prom (40km away) or a day trip for holiday-makers needing a break from the beach.
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