Robe, SA

Historic port and charming holiday destination

Robe is one of the most charming and unspoilt holiday destinations in Australia. Located on Guichen Bay, it combines a dramatic rocky, windswept coastline with a number of attractive and secluded beaches including the beautiful, 17 km long Long Beach. It is notable for its sophisticated town centre which not only has a wealth of historic buildings (the Heritage Trail lists more than fifty) but also offers fine dining with great local wines and chic cafes with very classy coffee. The real charm and character of Robe can best be experienced by walking the original streets which have been little altered since the 1860s. It is a very special town with a seductive ambience which has been well protected from overdevelopment.


Robe is located 336 km south of Adelaide via the Princes Highway through Murray Bridge and along The Coorong.


Origin of Name

The town was named after Governor Frederick Holt Robe who sailed into Guichen Bay in 1846 aboard the Government cutter, Lapwing. He chose the site for the town.


Things to See and Do

The Bush Inn
As travellers enter Robe from the north via the road from Millicent they pass The Bush Inn, a simple stone building on the left hand side of the road. It was built in 1852 and licensed in 1855. It was also known as Mac's Hotel and Carrier's Arms until 1871. It's the only surviving roadhouse inn which originally catered for teamsters carting wool to Robetown port. It was also used by travellers making their way from Robe to the Victorian goldfields. It is now used as a self-contained holiday accommodation option with two bathrooms, three double bedrooms and a fourth bedroom. Check out for details.

Exploring Historic Robe
Robe is a superbly preserved historic town. There has been no high rise development and most of the historic buildings, particularly in Smillie Street, have been carefully and thoughtfully preserved. The Robe Visitor Information Centre, conveniently located on the corner of Smillie Street and Mundy Terrace, has three useful brochures:
* Heritage Walk
* Heritage Drive
* Scenic Drive
But another way to enjoy the history of the town is to follow the Blue Plaques around town. They have been placed on many of the buildings and simply walking up and down Smillie Street, and then exploring Mundy Terrace, the Royal Circus, Davenport Street, Hagen Street, Sturt Street and Victoria Street will result in an understanding of this rare and beautiful town.
This is a town that deserves at least a day to savour its history. The brochures are comprehensive. Here is a list and an easy walk which gives a full flavour of this remarkable town.

Historical Walk
* The Institute Building and Visitor Information Centre
Located at the corner of Mundy Terrace and Smillie Street, this complex includes the Institute Building which was built in 1868 and remains the town's cultural and social centre; the Public Library which was opened in 1983; the Visitor Information Centre which has a wide range of brochures about the town and the area; and  the Historical Interpretation Centre with is interesting illustrated history of Robe.

* Soldiers Memorial and German Mine
On the corner of Smillie Street and Victoria Street, near the park, is the Soldier's Memorial, which dates from the Great War, and a German naval mine (on the corner and painted silver) which was found offshore and was towed to Long Beach by a fisherman in 1941. The sign reads: "National Trust. This German mine was found on the beach about 10 km south of Cape Jaffa lighthouse on 18th July 1941 by William John Fletcher. Further history is recorded in the Customs House Museum."

* The Buildings on Smillie Street
Smillie Street, which runs from Devonport Street to Hagen Street, was originally the main street of Robe. Today it has a number of impressive historic buildings which were all built in the 1850s and 1860s.

Grey Masts: Grey Masts was built for George Ormerod in 1853 to store wool salvaged from a shipwreck. The Blue Plaque explains: "This picturesque house at the entry to the old town of Robe was built in 1853 by shipping entrepreneur George Ormerod. The house, originally named Stoneleigh, has one large central room with east and west wings. The floor boards in the east wing were salvaged from wrecked ships. Through Ormerod's generosity, the house accommodated some 80 young women sent to Robe from Adelaide as domestic staff for surrounding stations. Many married settlers in the district. Later the well-known Savage family lived here and raised 12 sons."

Davison's Shop: Davison's Shop is a fine example of a traditional European shop on the town's main street. The Blue Plaque explains: "This two-storey shop appears to have been built by August Beyer, a storekeeper from Adelaide, in about 1855 as a draper's shop. It was leased for a time by William Nield, who, however, failed and departed Robe in 1866. The George Lord family owned it between 1867 and 1895 but as Thomas Davison conducted the shop for the longer period from 1923 to 1949, the building became known locally as Davison's shop. From 1949 it was Foord's hardware store. It is now a private residence."

Horseshoe Forge:  George Lord, a blacksmith, built this modest blacksmith's shop in 1856 at the same time as he was building an inn, the Frankfort Hotel, next door. The ever-informative Blue Plaque explains: "Early resident George Lord, amongst his various business interests, was a blacksmith by trade. He built the Forge in 1856. Robe's first Police Inspector, Alexander Tolmer, recorded that his horses were shod at the Forge for the sum of 9 pounds 18 shillings. Beside their local importance, horses were a major export from the district. In the 1860s many thousands were sent by sailing ship to India as army remounts."

Criterion Hotel: This classic early Australian Inn was, as the Blue Plaque explains, "erected as the Frankfort Hotel by George Lord in 1856 and licensed to Peter Roberts, this building was renamed the Criterion Hotel in 1859. The Criterion's licence expired in 1909 when Henry James McConville surrendered the lease, having been granted the licence of the Robe Hotel, and the Tolley family sold the freehold. From 1924 to 1949 the property was held by Leonard Denyer Niehus who operated it as the Temperance Hotel."

Bank House: Bank House, unlike most of the modest buildings in Smillie Street, is an impressive building. The Blue Plaque explains: "This fine Italianate building, stone with stucco masonry, was designed by Edmund Wright, the architect for some prominent buildings in Adelaide. It was built in 1859 for the Bank of South Australia, which opened the following year. Robe historian Kathleen Bermingham wrote that 'this was one of the largest banking institutions outside Adelaide, with a succession of popular managers and accountants.' The tower was added around 1920, when the building was privately owned." It was occupied as a residence and bank by a number of other banks' managers until the Australia-wide depression of the 1890's.

Robe Hotel: Located on Mundy Terrace, around the corner from Morphett Street, the Robe Hotel was originally named the Bonnie Owl. The Bonnie Owl, which was Robe's first hotel, dates from 1847. It was replaced by the handsome two-storey Robe Hotel. The location has held a continuous licence since 1847.

Ormerod Cottages: Located at the corner of Cooper and Smillie Streets are the Ormerod Cottages. The Blue Plaque explains: "The land where these cottages stand was close to the busy Port of Robe, officially opened in 1847. The leading shipping entrepreneur, George Ormerod, acquired the land in 1857. Mr Ormerod built the four cottages for workmen employed in his Shipping House (since demolished), which was known as the 'Gateway to the South East' and served as a store for the district's wool awaiting export to London."

Our Lady Star of the Sea: Located in Hagen Street south of Lake Butler is the very simple Our Lady Star of the Sea which is famous for its connection with Saint Mary McKillop. The Blue Plaque explains that it was: "Built in 1858, this was the first place of worship completed in Robe and one of the earliest Catholic churches in South Australia. Priests such as the renowned Fr Julian Tennyson Woods visited to conduct services. Between 1867 and 1888 the Sisters of St Joseph, a teaching order founded by Mother Mary McKillop, ran a school for parish children in two rooms attached to the Church." A second plaque outside the church explains that Fr Woods parish covered 56,000 square kilometres and that he had "a vision of founding a religious order of women devoted to the education of disadvantaged children in this region, and his vision was realised when he co-founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Penola with his close friend Mary McKillop. The Josephite Sisters set up a school inside this church in 1868 and continued until 1882, living in the sacristy and teaching lessons in the body of the Church. Mary McKillop was a source of strength and inspiration to her religious sisters during her regular visits." It is a simple church and some observers have noted that this reflects the poverty of Catholic worshippers, many of whom were Irish servants and labourers.

* Some Buildings in Victoria Street
No less impressive than Smellie Street, is the town's current main street, Victoria Street. Nearly every building in this impressive shopping centre (it is notable for restaurants and excellent coffee shops) has a blue plaque and to wander up the street is to experience some impressive and fascinating buildings all of which were constructed in the 1850s.

Caledonian Inn: Located at 1 Victoria Street, this historic building (known to locals as 'The Cally') was licensed in 1858 and completed in 1859 by a Scot named Peter McQueen. It is now an excellent upmarket restaurant and English-style pub. It was important in the literary life of the town. The poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, having fallen from a horse, recuperated at the Inn and was nursed by the innkeeper's daughter, Margaret Park, who he subsequently married. For more information check out

Attic House: Located at 18 Victoria Street (and currently the cellar door for Governor Robe Wines), the Attic House Blue Plaque describes the history of the building: "This charming, distinctive house was built in 1865 from sandstone gathered from the coastal cliffs. Mr. William Trail McLean, who arrived from Edinburgh in 1861, set up business here as a tailor, living downstairs and using the well-lit attic as his workroom. McLean made suits for the local gentry and racing silks for prominent horsemen such as Adam Lindsay Gordon. His strangest order, it is said, was a suit of clothes for a dancing kangaroo! The front verandah was a favourite gathering place for smartly dressed local men."

Skye: Located in the heart of Victoria Street, Skye, according to the Blue Plaque, was "Built around 1861 by William Savage, the stonemason, this cottage was the home and workplace of some prominent early residents. Well sited on the main thoroughfare into Robe, it became John Calder's Store, which was later taken over by Henry Stephens. Both were known as good businessmen and leading citizens. At the turn of the 20th century the cottage belonged to the Bridgeland family, who were esteemed for their generous kindness. Later resident, Bob Somerville, is still recalled for his lavish, well-tended vegetable garden."

William Savage's House: Located at 22 Victoria Street, this distinctive residence was, according to its Blue Plaque: "built in 1875 by William Savage, a leading local stonemason. It is sited in the early Robe village of Syleham, land purchased and sub-divided by Charles Reeves in 1856. Besides its thick stone walls, the original house had a wooden shingle roof, lath and plaster ceilings and stone stables at the rear. The house was owned by the Tripp Family for some 30 years, after which it was owned successively by R.T. Affleck, Arthur Goddard a wool classer, Henry Langberg a farmer and Henry Hansford a carpenter."

* Royal Circus
The Royal Circus is located at the point where the flagstaff was planted to mark the spot where Governor Frederick Holt Robe and Surveyor Thomas Burr took the first theodolite bearings for the town in 1846. Elevated above the town it has the advantage of being not only the focus of Robe but also being large enough to allow bullock drays to manoeuvre as they brought their produce to be shipped from the port. There are a number of features of historic interest around the circus including the monument to Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin; the Koenig Cannon; the survey flagstaff; the Telegraph Station and Post Office; the Customs House and the Chinese Monument.

Monument to Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin: In the centre of the Royal Circus is a plinth with the busts of Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin which celebrates the survey of the South Australian coast by Captain Matthew Flinders in 1802 and, before Flinders, the French naval expedition, led by Captain Nicolas Baudin, which also surveyed the coast, naming many features, including Guichen Bay. Baudin Rocks, which are visible from the circus, were named by Flinders after Baudin. This was the last placename applied by Flinders in South Australia. The sign records: "Capt. Matthew Flinders, R.N. 1774-1814; Sub Lieutenant Nicolas Baudin 1754-1803. Flinders & Baudin both engaged in scientific and survey work, had an unexpected meeting at Encounter Bay in 1802. The islands visible to the north are named Baudin Rocks. Guichen Bay was also named after the French Admiral De Guichen. Sculptor: Patricia Moseley FRSASA."

Koenig Cannon: The cannon located at the Royal Circus is probably from the barque Koenig Wilhelm II which was shipwrecked in Guichen Bay during a gale in 1857.

Robe Electric Telegraph Station and Post Office: Located near the Royal Circus on Mundy Terrace is the old Magnetic Telegraph Station and Post Office (now a private residence) which was designed by the Colonial Architect, C.A. Perry, and built in 1858. 1858 was the year the telegraph line from Adelaide to Melbourne was opened and it ensured Robe's importance in the communications between Victoria and South Australia.

Chinese Memorial: On the Guichen Bay shore is a simple monument to the Chinese: "During the years 1856-1858 16,500 Chinese landed near this spot and walked 200 miles to the Victorian Goldfields in search of gold."

The Chinese At Robe in the 1850s
In an attempt to stop the Chinese arriving in Melbourne and heading for the goldfields the Victorian Government, in 1855, passed the Chinese Immigration Act which imposed a £10 head tax on every Chinese migrant entering a Victorian port and restricted their number to one per ten tonnes of a ship’s cargo.
The solution was simple. Ship owners simply landed Chinese miners in South Australia (particularly at the port at Robe) and the miners walked over 500 km to the goldrush areas, particularly Bendigo, in Victoria.
At one point “22 tall ships landed between 17 January 1857 and 25 May 1857 carrying 12,011 Chinese as recorded in the Robe Customs documents. In addition, some may have landed in Robe from steamers and other coastal vessels from Adelaide. It is said by some sources that 6,200 Chinese sailed to Port Adelaide with 4,300 of these sailing down to Robe, some as early as April 1856. However eyewitness reports dispute this and there is no record of Chinese arrival or encampment in Robe before the Land of Cakes landing on 17 January 1857. The South Australian Government Restriction Bill was passed on 11 June 1857 which introduced similar restrictions on Chinese immigration as existed in Victoria, including a poll tax. The volume of arrivals dropped off almost immediately although a further five ships completed their journey to Guichen Bay arriving between 15 June 1857 and 10 November 1857. In September the Guichen Bay correspondent observed that "the China Ships that had previously made the streets teem with people were very scarce and would probably disappear altogether when the New Act came into operation... there had been no new arrivals for some time and none were expected." ... By September 1863, the Chinese ceased travelling through Robe to the goldfields as gold was becoming harder to find and the life for a Chinaman on the goldfields was even more difficult with excessive fees and the constant threat of violence against himself or his property. Overall 28 British, 5 Dutch and 10 American ships, carrying 16,261 Chinese men and 1 Chinese woman arrived in Robe between 1857 and 1863 in addition to the Chinese who may have landed from steamers and other coastal vessels ...It is not known how many Robe-landed Chinese were able to return to China with their gold to pay off their loans. Of the 62,990 Chinese who came to the Victorian goldfields, 48,000 left Australia returning to China on the same China Ships that had brought them a few years earlier." For more detailed information check out from which this extract is taken.

Robe Customs House
The Robe Customs House stands proudly as an important feature at the Royal Circus and is open periodically and by appointment. The Blue Plaque explains that: "This iconic Robe building was erected in 1863 as the office of the Harbour Master and Receiver of Wrecks. It is built of limestone with brick Quoins, on a five-sided block with a panoramic view of Guichen Bay. Robe's first Harbour Master, Henry Melville, recorded the need for speedy customs turnaround so that ships were not caught in the treacherous winds of the Bay. The building later became Robe's Council Chambers. Now a Museum, it contains a wealth of information and artefacts relating to the Port of Robe." It was built to cater for the large number of Chinese passing through the port. In 1969 it was saved from demolition by the National Trust and it now houses Robe's Nautical Museum. For more information and opening times contact the Robe Visitor Information Centre (08) 8768 2465 or 1300 367 144.
The exhibits in the simple five-sided main room include "Why Robe?" which explains the choice of the port; "Imports and Exports" which looks at the goods that passed through the port in the 1850s; "Henry Melville" - the story of the port's first Customs Officer, Receiver of Wrecks and Harbour Master; "George Ormerod - the town's early entrepreneur and benefactor; the story of the town's military barracks; and the history of the Chinese who arrived at Robe and walked to the goldfields in Victoria;

The Story of Henry Melville
There is a panel and a lifesize model of Henry Melville in the Nautical Museum which tell the story of this fascinating early resident. “In 1855 Henry Dudley Melville was appointed Customs Officer, Receiver of Wrecks and Harbour Master. He had had a remarkable time in the fledgling colony, being a member of the first party to swim cattle across the Murray River, and serving on the Gold Escort with Inspector Tolmer. He was to serve with distinction at Robe for fourteen years. Much of Melville’s work involved rescue and salvage attempts from shipwrecks. He supervised several such operations, invariably under hazardous conditions. On a number of occasions he was able to save lives at the risk of his own. An early crisis was the arrival of large numbers of Chinese at Robe, which served as the gateway to the Victorian goldfields. He was immediately confronted with the issue of smuggled goods, particularly opium, recording in his diary:
“One night when landing was going on I took a small box of opium from one fellow when he drew his knife and not caring to incur the risk of getting it between my ribs I planted a blow under his ear that knocked him off the jetty … Fortunately for him and me too the boatmen dragged him into the lighter before any further damage was done.”

Lake Butler or Robe Marina: Located to the east of the Royal Circus, Lake Butler was named after Robe's first Government Resident. It was originally a natural lake which was used by the local fishermen to moor their boats. A channel to the sea was cut in 1964 and it became important for the mooring of the local cray fishing fleet as well as holding 100 recreational berths.

George Ormerod was an important early entrepreneur and benefactor in Robe. He built both the Grey Masts in Smillie Street and the Ormerod Cottages (the former Barracks) and in 1853 he built Moorakyne House in Sturt Street. It is a handsome twelve room residence made out of local stone which is characterised by barge boards, large stone lintels and outbuildings including a stone coach-house. The Nautical Museum has a special panel devoted to Ormerod which explains how he settled in Robe in 1851 and established a shipping company, George Ormerod & Co., which was vital to the export and import trade through the port. It goes on to explain that he "amassed a large personal fortune. In 1856, he built Moorakyne, a substantial residence still standing, now listed on the State Heritage Register. His shipping business did much to bring wealth and prosperity to the district: the import and export of wool through the town led to a range of subsidiary trades and industries, among them blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, fellmongery, roadside inns and a sheep boiling-down works on the outskirts of town."

Lakeside Manor
Located at 22 Main Road, this elegant residence, built between 1880-1884 on the shores of Lake Fellmongery, was built for George Danby (his real name: George Affleck and prior to inheriting the Danby Estate he had been a labourer washing wool in the lake) the youngest son of a clergyman, Sir Robert Affleck. He changed his name to Danby when he inherited the Danby Estate, an English baronetcy, but was such a profligate spender that he managed to go through his inheritance and the Danby fortune before he died.
'Fellmongery', as in Lake Fellmongery, means 'wool wash'. A ship, the Duilius, carrying a cargo of wool was shipwrecked in Guichen Bay in 1853. The cargo was salvaged but it was full of salt water. It was subsequently washed in the lake and when it arrived in England it fetched a higher price. Subsequently local wool exporters decided to wash wool in the lake and a fellmongery works was established on the banks of the lake. Check out for a detailed history and description of this impressive house. It notes: "After inheriting his fortune and prior to building Lakeside, Sir George returned to England for two years, but he longed for sunny South Australia with its free and easy ways. So, he charted an English sailing ship and with his team of skilled craftsmen (builders and French polishers), English Oak beams, selected Italian marble fireplaces, Indian teak, art collectables, fine cedar furnishings and a pocket full of cash, he sailed to Robe, bought the land he used to work on and established his mansion.
"The building was based on a plan of one of the Affleck mansions in England and was originally intended to have a second floor as evidenced by the timbers in the ceiling - massive 7 by 3 imported timbers. In the ceilings, also, still intact, are the lengths of copper tubing, as the whole building having been lit by a carbide-gas system."


Other Attractions in the Area

The Drains in the Area
As the visitor drives into Robe they cross a number of channels which were specifically dug to move water from the low lying inland swamps so that it could be released into the sea and the land could be used for agriculture. A sign beside Drain KL explains these unusual "drains": "The South East of South Australia is high rainfall area which is without natural drainage in the form of rivers or streams. Consequently water ponds behind a series of low, sandy ranges which run parallel to the coastline. Historically flooding occurred on the fertile flats between the ranges and the coast and artificial drainage was necessary to remove this water and allow the land to be developed. Drainage has been constructed in stages since 1862 to the completion of major works in 1969. This involved the removal of 25 million cubic metres of material. This Information Sign has been erected at Robe near the outfall of Drain KL. In 1915 the cut was made through the rocky cliff to the sea and the series of small lakes connected to the outlet by way of Drain KL. Lake Fox, Lake Nunan, Lake Battye, Lake Ling are now semi-saline lakes influenced by tidal movements. The lakes and the channel are an important landmark in Robe and are well utilised for recreation by visitors and local inhabitants. Dense thickets of paperbark and T-tree abound and these are important wildlife habitats." The extent of the drainage works can be understood by visiting the Drain L Lookout which overlooks the Woakwine Cutting on Drain L.

Karatta House
Located on the western side of the Robe Marina at 7 Karatta Road is the impressive Karatta House, which is listed in the SA Heritage Register. The Register notes: "Karatta House is a large, early, and relatively intact example of a seaside holiday house, a type of dwelling more usually associated with the rise of a city based economy rather than a country based economy as represented here. Its historical significance rests on its associations with the events and personalities of the early settlement of the South East of South Australia, and the growth of the important coastal port of Robe. Built in the mid-1850s for Naracoorte grazier Henry Jones, who had become wealthy supplying beef and mutton to the Victorian gold fields, it was subsequently occupied by a number of persons of local, regional and State significance, including Governor of South Australia Sir James Fergusson, who leased it as a summer residence for his family between 1869 and 1871. From the mid 1870s it was occupied by a succession of distinguished pastoralists, including Robert Stockdale, the Honorable George Riddoch and H H Dutton, before being converted into a guest house in the late 1920s. Architecturally, the house has some significance through its association with its designer, E A Hamilton, a former Colonial Architect." It is a private dwelling and not open to the public. For more information check out

The Old Gaol
Located on Obelisk Road on the route to the Obelisk and Cape Dombey are the ruins of the old gaol. A stone building was constructed here in 1860-1861 but it was closed in 1881 - prisoners were sent to Mount Gambier - and subsequently the gaol fell into disrepair. During its lifetime it was used to house prisoners who had been sent to Adelaide for trial. There were a number of escapes from the gaol with prisoners attacking the guards and even digging through the soft sandstone walls which resulted in sections of the gaol being reinforced with boiler plates retrieved from the shipwreck of the SS Admella. Parts of it were demolished and used for road gravel in the local area. It is now nothing more than some small walls with signs indicating exactly where the cells, the  Exercise Yard and Underground Tank were located.

Obelisk on Cape Dombey
Located at Cape Dombey - it lies to the west of the town and beyond the Robe Marina - is the Obelisk which is currently fenced off from the public because of dangers of erosion of the cliffs. The old sign at the site explains that it was "built in 1855 by local builder George Shivas at a cost of £230, the limestone was carted to the site by a 32-bullock wagon team. Originally mariners were unhappy with the white painted obelisk as it was still difficult to differentiate the marker from the sand hills on Long Beach and the limestone cliffs along the coast. In 1862 the Obelisk was repainted in alternate red and white horizontal bands and it can now be seen from a distance of 20 kilometres on a  clear day. Given the South East coasts notoriety for shipwrecks, with 30 wrecks occurring in Guichen Bay in 1853 alone, the Obelisk was used to store rockets which were fired to distressed ships which carried life lines and baskets for bringing passengers ashore thus saving many lives. The Obelisk is 40 feet tall (12.1 metres) and stands 100 feet (30.4 metres) above sea level, defying rough weather and the decaying limestone cliffs of Cape Dombey." When Matthew Flinders first sighted Cape Dombey in 1802 he described it as "a point of moderate elevation, sandy but mostly covered with bushes".

Cape Dombey Walks
In recent times the Robe Council have built a series of excellent walks around Cape Dombey. It is possible to walk from Fox's Lake to the east of the town along the shoreline - including Hooper's Beach and Town Beach, around the Robe Marina and then along Karatta Beach and around Cape Dombey to The Obelisk, the Old Gaol Ruins, the Encounter Signal, the Blow Hole, Doorway Rock and around to Commodore Lookout. The walk is a superb introduction to the coastline around Robe - the cliffs to the west of the town are dramatic and impressive.

The Encounter Signal
Standing only a few hundred metres from The Obelisk is The Encounter Signal "a modern sculpture constructed for Robe's Encounter 2002 celebrations to pay tribute to Robe's ongoing maritime tradition and the exploration of Robe's coast by English Captain Matthew Flinders and French explorer Nicolas Baudin. The sculpture was designed by Robert Spooner."

Doorway Rock
Located  just off the coast and visible from the paths around the shoreline between The Obelisk and Factory Bay is the impressive Doorway Rock, an unusual coastal limestone formation, which is typical of the rapidly eroding limestone which characterises the area.

Little Dip Conservation Park
Located 2 km south of Robe, Little Dip Conservation Park can be entered from a number of points on the road south of Robe. The park is characterised by a number of small lakes which vary from the "marshy and shallow" Lake Eliza to the salty Big Dip Lake and the deep Fresh Water Lake. All the lakes attract an impressive array of birdlife making the park particularly attractive to bird watchers.
It is also ideal for bushwalking with attractive sand dune formations which fringe small beaches with rock pools to explore and beaches to walk along. It is a fine example of some of Australia's most pristine coastline. The National Park South Australia website explains: "The area features a ruggedly beautiful coastline including a large area of coastal sand dunes. The foreshore of Lake Eliza was home to the Boandik people some 10,000 years ago - large numbers of middens (shellfish remains) can still be seen in the park today. The coastal scrub that gives way to thick groves of melaleuca, dense rushes and samphire flats surrounding the lakes is a haven for birdwatchers. The beaches provide good opportunities for beachcombing and surf fishing."
There is an excellent, downloadable brochure which can be accessed at



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Robe was home to the Boandik (sometimes written "Buanditjs") First Nations people.

* In 1802 Guichen Bay was named after Admiral De Guichen by the French explorer, Nicolas Baudin.

* In the 1820s and 1830s the area was regularly visited by whalers and sealers.

* The town was named after Governor Frederick Holt Robe who sailed into Guichen Bay in 1846 aboard the Government cutter, Lapwing.

* Governor Robe chose the site for the town and later in 1846 it was surveyed by Thomas Burr.

* In 1846 Captain Gerard Butler became the first Government Resident in the town. He was responsible for collecting government revenue.

* In the 1840s and 1850s the majority of people travelling to Robe arrived by sailing vessel, bullock wagon or horseback. 

* A Police Station was opened in 1847.

* A Court House was built in 1848.

* By the 1850s it was the second-busiest port in South Australia.

* In 1855 large numbers of Irish and Scottish immigrants reached the port. That year saw the opening of the Customs House and telegraph station.

* In 1855 a stone obelisk was built on Cape Dombey to guide ships along the coast.

* In 1856 the town became a landing point for Chinese gold miners trying to avoid the taxes imposed at Victorian ports. They walked to the goldfields.

* Between 1856-1866 more than £1 million of wool was shipped from the port.

* In 1857 some 15,000 Chinese miners landed at Robe. That year saw 32 American, British and Dutch ships arrive in the port.

* In 1858 Governor Sir James Ferguson took his summer holiday at Karatta House. That year saw The Caledonian Hotel open.

* By  the 1850s the area was providing the British Army in India with horses and the products of the local sheep industry - tallow, wool and hides - were being shipped to Europe.

* By the 1890s the population of the town had dropped to less than 200 people.

* In the 1920s and 1930s it became a popular holiday destination.

* By the late 1930s the town had become an important lobster fishing port.

* In 1944 SAFCOL - a fishing cooperative - was formed in the town.

* In 1968 the first Robe Easter Classic surf carnival was held.


Visitor Information

Robe Visitor Information Centre, Mundy Terrace, tel: (08) 8768 2465 or 1300 367 144. Open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out for details about eating and accommodation.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

2 suggestions
  • Enjoyed reading about Robe – the Robe that I never knew despite visits to the beach 60+ years ago! Keen to visit now! Big question: George Ormerod built Moorakyne house – where did this name come from? Curious, as I went to Moorak School near Mt Gambier – are the names connected? thanks

    Helen Sutherland
  • My parents lived in Robe. I went to the primary school there. My father was a fisherman most of his life. He loved fishing. My parents had thirteen children all up. I was the oldest daughter to Betty. My Mother was Alva Betty Brooks maiden name Miller and my father Ronald Mathew James Brooks – they used to call him Shad. I love Robe growing up in the Fifties, and I still love the place I grew up in. I remember we only had one store to do our shopping in those days. And we loved playing on the old jetty

    Cherie Anne Harrison