Refuge Cove: 17 days of discovery

Refuge Cove, a beautiful, secluded part of Wilson’s Promontory, was a third-choice destination. For the Melbourne Grammar students and teachers planning a 17-day scientific expedition beginning on 27 December 1960, nearby Anser Island, or even Deal Island in northern Bass Strait, were more exciting prospects. But having settled for a “mainland substitute”, the trip to this remote area turned out to be, in the words of one student, “one of the turning points of my life”.

With the first Leslie Gladstone Robertson (LGR) Camp having taken place two years earlier, the 1960s marked a significant period in Melbourne Grammar’s evolution as a school known for outdoor education. That said, the 34 students, five teachers and five tonnes of luggage headed to Refuge Cove did not have an auspicious start to their journey. The weight of their gear blew out a tyre before the party reached Dandenong—a delay that was followed by engine trouble, a missed boat and a four-hour trip across Bass Strait the following morning. Already, both students and teachers were being challenged to find their true sense of adventure.

Once at Refuge Cove, the students took on their new roles as geologists, surveyors, entomologists, botanists and marine zoologists, as well as documentarians who clustered around a typewriter set up on the beach. Photographers, radio operators and, of course, cooks also had essential work to do, with hungry crews giving the meals an enthusiastic reception at the end of each hard working day. Each member of the party took their tasks seriously, with some staying up all night to track the activity of birds or note other changes in their surroundings.

The footage in this video was shot during the Refuge Cove expedition. A longer version is available here.

In between research tasks, there were breaks for swimming (with obligatory shark-watchers on duty), campfires, baseball matches, jazz concerts, fruitcake eating competitions and the rehearsal of songs and skits for the evening Refuge Revue. On New Year’s Day, a party attempted to reach Waterloo Bay, misjudged the distance, and ended up spending a night in the open. A later expedition to the top of Mount Wilson was more successful.

Seventeen days after leaving Melbourne, the tired but satisfied party arrived home in the early morning, having stopped along the way to phone ahead for their final exam results. The Refuge Cove team went on to win the 1961 Science Talent Quest with their report from the trip, send their scientific discoveries to the Melbourne Museum and National Herbarium of Victoria, and receive coverage in The Age.

Many of the students who went to Refuge Cove continued to test their adventuring spirit throughout their lives. Their collective achievements have included trips to Antarctica, sea kayaking ventures across Bass Strait, following the Shackleton traverse of South Georgia and expeditions to conquer Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mera Peak in the shadow of Mount Everest.

Whether the Refuge Cove trip was a particular factor in these efforts or not, it clearly remains significant in the minds of those who took part. Two well-attended reunions—marking 35 years since the trip in 1996 and 50 years in 2011—brought together many of the original party members. “To us, the chief results of the trip were not scientific,” wrote student Andrew Yuncken in his 1961 report. “[They were] the friendships we formed, the fun we had, and all the memories we brought back.”  

Refuge Cove expedition members


  • John Henthorn (Expedition Leader; Administration, Ornithology and Marine Zoology teams) 2
  • Weston Bate (Photography and Communications and Documentation teams) 2
  • Simon Eckersley (Surveying)
  • Tony Smith (OM 1949) (Surveying and Geology teams) 1, 2
  • Graham Withers (OM 1949) (Botany and Entomology teams) 2


  • Mrs Neilma Gantner (“Banksia Documentologist”)


Survey and Geology team

  • David Barraclough (OM 1961)
  • Peter Greenberg (OM 1960)
  • Miles Lewis (OM 1960)
  • Robert Little (OM 1960)
  • Richard Oppenheim (OM 1961) 1, 2
  • Brian Pyman (OM 1961) 1, 2
  • Michael Tronson (OM 1960)
  • Robert Weymouth (OM 1960)

Botany team

  • Peter Brown (OM 1961) 1,2
  • Robert Pratt (OM 1961)
  • John Robert (OM 1962) 1, 2
  • David Street (OM 1960) 2

Marine Zoology team

  • Peter Eldridge-Doyle (OM 1960)
  • David Draffin (OM 1960)
  • Robin Hickman (OM 1961)
  • Bill Robinson (OM 1961) 1, 2

Ornithology team

  • Michael Dore (OM 1960) 1,2
  • Daryl Evans (OM 1960) 1,2
  • John Riches (OM 1960) 2
  • John Vance OAM (OM 1961)

Entomology team

  • Chris Graham (OM 1962) 1, 2
  • David Knight (OM 1961) 1, 2
  • Oliver Streeton (OM 1959) 2

Cooking team

  • Carrillo Gantner AC (OM 1962) 1, 2
  • Roger Haskett (OM 1962)
  • William Standish (OM 1961)

Photography team

  • Richard Bainbridge (OM 1960) 1
  • Dick Wettenhall (OM 1961)

Communication and Documentation team

  • Ted Barnard (OM 1961)
  • Peter Field (OM 1959) 1, 2
  • Clem Furphy OAM (OM 1961) 1, 2
  • Andrew Yuncken (OM 1961) 1, 2

Administration team

  • Peter Druce (OM 1960)
  • Brian Gillespie (OM 1961)

1 Attended 1996 (35 year) Reunion
2 Attended 2011 (50 year) Reunion