Moyjil / Point Ritchie

Moyjil / Point Ritchie

About 35,000 years ago, a volcano (now known as Tower Hill) erupted, showering the surrounding land with ash, and subsequently over the millennia soil accumulated.

From Point Ritchie you can gaze out over a basalt reef to the mighty Southern Ocean.

This basalt reef is just a small part of the Western Victorian Volcanic Plains which cover an area of 2.3 million hectares, more than 10% of the state. It is the third largest volcanic plain in the world. These basalt plains were formed by volcanoes over the last 6 million years with the most recent eruption being at Mount Napier 7,200 years ago.

About 35,000 years ago, a volcano (now known as Tower Hill) erupted, showering the surrounding land with ash, and subsequently over the millennia soil accumulated. Underneath the ash, a calcarenite, or limestone, layer contains fragmented turban shells (Lunella undulata) that are still abundant in the nearby reef. The shells are also a traditional food source for the original owners of the land and sea, represented today by three local organisations — the Eastern Maar, Gunditj Mirring and Kuuyung Maar, who know the site as Moyjil.

The rocks beneath your feet, the heath-covered dunes and the life in the Hopkins River tell a great story, the story of a people who lived and gathered at this place, Moyjil, for tens of thousands of years, collecting shellfish from the ocean and catching eels from the Hopkins River. A record of this extended period of human occupation is preserved in the rocks and in the sand dunes of Point Ritchie-Moyjil.

In 1979 a young academic, John Sherwood, arrived in Warrnambool from Sydney. Within a short time he had encountered former National Museum of Victoria Deputy Director Edmund Gill, a scientist whose interests included palaeontology, geology and archaeology.

In 1982, Warrnambool naturalist Jim Henry showed Gill and Sherwood an unusual collection of shells (Turbo undulatus) situated at the mouth of the Hopkins River. The deposit showed many characteristics of a midden. Earlier research established an age of 60 thousand years or older for the deposit but could not establish whether humans or animals such as seabirds were responsible for its formation.

The shells were to be the catalyst for a scientific investigation that has the potential to rewrite our understanding of how humans came to colonise the globe.

In March 2019 research into the origins of the shells and what could be an ancient hearth was published by the Royal Society of Victoria. The research, produced after several years of study and analysis by scientists from a range of disciplines, can be viewed at the CSIRO publications website.

In summary, the research revolved around determining whether the 120,000 year old coastal midden was a naturally occurring event, or the result of human habitation. Apart from the shells there was a distinctive population of transported stones derived from a calcrete (a limestone formed by the cementation of soil, sand, gravel or shells) and bearing variable dark grey to near-black colouration suggestive of fire. Experimental fire produced similar thermal alteration of calcrete.

The distribution of fire-darkened stones is inconsistent with wildfire effects. Two hearth-like features closely associated with the disconformity provide further indications of potential human agency. The data are consistent with the suggestion of human presence at Warrnambool during the Last Interglacial.

Proof of fire created by humans within these middens would rewrite the record books for the earliest habitation of Australia.

Information courtesy of: and CSIRO –

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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.