The Western Port Road started at Dandenong and traversed the old Shire of Cranbourne from Cranbourne to Tooradin to Tobin Yallock (the original Lang Lang township). This section is now known as the South Gippsland Highway. The road later continued onto Corinella and Bass and this section eventually became known as the Bass Highway. The section of road from Dandenong to Tooradin had obviously been passable to some extent as early as 1839 because we know that Samuel Rawson and Robert Jamieson overlanded their cattle to Tooradin in the December of that year and then continued on by boat to their Yallock Station on the Yallock Creek.
Niel Gunson in his book The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire* says it was fairly clearly defined by the 1850s, however it wasn’t until 1859 that a permanent roadway was surveyed which allowed access by wheeled traffic and livestock. In spite of this, Gunson writes that transporting stock from the Yallock Creek Station to Melbourne still took four days in the 1850s and 1860s. Even though the road was formed it wasn’t until 1868 that the section from Dandenong to Cranbourne was metalled.
The main problems with the road was the need to cross the inlets (such as Lyall’s and Moody’s Inlets) before bridges were constructed. In 1845, Edward Cockayne was given the right to operate a ferry service but he was a bit eccentric and unreliable and sometimes ignored the signals of the travellers (such as a lit fire or the firing of a pistol) so they were forced to spend a night marooned on the side of the inlet. His licence was finally cancelled in 1853. Cockayne occupied a hut where Harewood is now located and it is believed that the stables on the property date back to the time of Cockayne’s occupancy. Cockayne Inlet in Western Port Bay is named after Edward.
In 1864, a John Carson offered to conduct a ferry service, but this was declined by the Cranbourne Road Board. In 1865 James Smethurst erected two bridges over the Inlets, according to Gunson, I am not sure which Inlets he is referring to but the same year the mail contractor, John Murphy, complained about the state of the Yallock and Tobin Yallock bridges. The bridge at Tooradin was built in 1873.
However, people were resourceful in those days and traversing creeks and inlets didn’t stop commerce and the trappings of civilisation as on November 13, 1860 a weekly mail service was introduced to Corinella via Yallock and by 1865 there was a two day a week coach service from Cranbourne to the Bass River also via Corinella.
The southern end of the Western Port Road was constructed in the 1860s. Joseph White, author of the book One hundred years of history: Shire of Phillip Island and Woolamai 1875-1928, Shire of Bass 1928-1975** said the road was originally surveyed in 1862 and the first route from the settled areas near Tobin Yallock in the Shire of Cranbourne was by a cattle track that kept to the tops of the range as the coastal route was swampy and needed many creek crossings. The opening of the road led to settlement being opened up and as we said before the establishment of a Cobb & Co. coach service. Very little work was done on this section of the road until the Shire was formed in 1875 and it received another boost in 1913 when the Country Roads Board was established and took over responsibility for the road.
There was a report on the state of the Western Port Road in the Leader newspaper of September 19, 1874. The newspaper correspondent was talking about the development of the Grantville area and had this to say about the journey to the settlement.
A coach (Cobb's) leaves the Star Hotel from Dandenong every morning in week days. There is a very good metalled road from thence to the flourishing post town of Cranbourne - 9 miles - but the remainder of the road from the latter place here is simply execrable. Some portions of it are even worse than execrable, for they are, in this season of the year, and the three months just passed, absolutely dangerous, and do anything but credit to the road surveyor's department. After leaving Cranbourne, there is a couple or three miles of fairly metalled road, but after that (and this passage I pen for the especial benefit of the above department) come the counterparts of the Great Dismal Swamp, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. One spot in particular, called Frenchman's Hole, or Flat-bottomed Creek, is highly dangerous to a stranger. The mails are carried over this beautiful spot twice a week, on horseback, and no doubt the man who carries them could give a much more graphic account of this picturesque route than myself. Be that as it may, the traffic on it is much on the increase, and I consider it shameful neglect on the part of the post-office authorities not to organise a better system of mail delivery for this district; and the sooner they let us have three deliveries a week instead of two the better for our convenience and their reputation. [You can read the full article here.]
Frenchman’s Hole was near Lang Lang and according to Niel Gunson, a Frenchman had tried to cross the two miles of the flat land but he disappeared down a hole, covered with water and only his hat was ever discovered or so the legend goes.
*The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire by Niel Gunson, published by the Shire of Cranbourne in 1968
**One hundred years of history: Shire of Phillip Island and Woolamai 1875-1928, Shire of Bass 1928-1975 by Joseph White, published by the Shire of Bass in 1974.