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The story of ...

Fyansford Hotel - Swan Inn pp.jpg

Fyans’ Ford with its naturally-occurring river crossing, increasing local population of graziers, pastoralists, viticulturists and merchants, rapidly developed into a not-insignificant community; more than just a place to pass through. The 1850s gold rush and the rise of the wool trade as well as the success of several local businesses combined to ensure the growing township soon became an important regional hub. In fact, it wasn’t long before a timber bridge was necessary; being erected downstream from the ford. As is frequently the case, one of the first permanent buildings in the district was a public house. A key player in the early development of Fyans' Ford was  John Atkins, Fyansford's first publican.

The Swan Hotel 1860, drawn by Samuel Calvert. Image (State Library of Victoria)

Fyanstown Inn   

The Fyanstown Inn (also known as the old Swan Inn, Swan Hotel and Riverside) was built in 1843, and is on the Register of the National Estate.

Local historian and blogger, Jo Mitchell, in her Barwon Blog  of 8 June, 2016, reminds us:

“In 1842 when Atkins and Clarke selected the site for their inn, they chose a prime position on the track to the ford. The flats nearby were used to hold some of the region's earliest horse races as well as other sporting matches. After only a handful of years however, the original owners, were forced to sell up having overstretched themselves financially. According to The Stepping Stone: A History of the Shire of Bannockburn by Derek Beaurepaire (1995) the early 1850s saw the property used by the Mercer family as the base from which to administer their property which extended to the west. They used the name 'Fyansford House'.

"In 1856, the inn passed to William Bohn who undertook repairs and opened the property as the Swan Inn. It was during this time that Bohn was suspected of being complicit in the 1858 death of his wife. After Bohn, the property was owned by Mr Hopeton, owner of the Fyansford flour mill at which time it went by the name of 'Swanville'. Next the property passed to the Synot family who used the name 'Riverside'. In general the hotel had a successful history, by the 1860s, boasting what were said to be "charming gardens" stocked with fruit trees, ornamental plants and a generous kitchen garden.

"Changing times during the 1950s however, saw the inn finally close its doors for the last time, being converted instead into a farmhouse. By this time of course, the ford near which the Swan was built was long gone, replaced in 1854 by a bridge which would be located around 350m downstream of the ford, leaving the hotel at some distance from the new road which was formed to carry traffic from the bridge to the Western District.”

Jo explains how, until April, 2016, “John Atkins' Swan Inn still stood; derelict but intact, until the evening of 22nd April, 2016 when a fire - believed to be a deliberate act of arson - gutted the main building. What remains of the Swan Inn can still be seen from various points around the town".

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National Trust

The National Trust Database records describe how the former Fyanstown Inn, 20-50 Hamilton Highway, Fyansford, (Classified 13/02/1964),

“… on the Barwon River at Fyansford, later referred to as the Swan Hotel, was erected in 1842 and opened in January 1843. Alexander Skene of Geelong was the architect of this substantial bluestone building with steep pitched roof, Colonial Georgian casement windows and French doors opening onto a wide verandah. The contractor was Mr Marr who built this Inn for licencee John Atkins".

Located near the important ford across the Moorabool River this structure was “one of the oldest buildings in Victoria and of paramount importance to the history of settlement of Geelong and western Victoria. The Colonial Regency style inn with attendant stone stables is a significant early work of pioneer architect/surveyor and later Victorian Surveyor - General A J Skene. The Inn is an essential element in the now almost obliterated 19th century settlement of Fyansford.”

The former Fyanstown Inn has since “been sensitively adapted to a farm house. The original attic dormer windows have been removed and the original shingle roof replaced with slate in 1856. The stables are in ruins”.

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Victorian Heritage Database Report

Old Swan Inn Fyansford, Hamilton Highway, Fyansford

Victorian Heritage Register Number H0267 October 9, 1974 (Report generated 25/11/17 Last updated on - June 4, 1999)


What is significant?

Fyansford, located at the junction of the Barwon and the Moorabool rivers, was named after Captain Foster Fyans, who had been stationed here as police magistrate in 1837. The ford provided a convenient crossing place, and the small settlement became an important stopping point for pastoralists and others travelling between Geelong and Ballarat, and on the principal western road from Geelong to Hamilton (now the Hamilton Highway).

The Swan Inn, Fyansford, originally known as the Fyanstown Inn, was built by its first licensee John Atkins in 1842 and opened the following year. The building contract for the hotel was let to Mr Marr. Atkins also had Mack's Hotel, in Geelong. The Swan Inn was built to a design by Geelong architect A.K. Skene; he was also an important early government surveyor who introduced the theodolite to the practice of surveying in Victoria, and served as surveyor-general of Victoria (from 1857 to post-1870?).

The construction of a bridge across the Moorabool River in 1854 led to two additional hotels (the Fyansford and the Balmoral) being built in Fyansford that year. The township serviced surrounding agricultural and horticultural interests. As the township declined, however, it was no longer able to support three hotels, and the former Swan Inn was adapted for use as a farm house.

The Swan Inn is a single-storey rectangular building of linear form, constructed from bluestone, rendered and ruled on the north side, and painted on all other elevations. There is stone quoining to the main entrance and windows. Its steeply pitched gabled roof extends over the verandah on the north and south sides. Attic windows are located within the gable ends. The roof is believed to have been originally clad with timber shingles but these were replaced with slate in 1856; the roof was later clad with concrete tiles. There are 12-pane double-hung windows with bluestone sashes, and multi-paned French doors that open to a wide verandah. The verandah was altered on the south side with the addition of brick piers, and was infilled in the c.1950s, but the original chamfered timber posts remain extant on the northern side. The large stone stables are in ruins.

The building is located on a picturesque siting near the Moorabool River. The site was celebrated for its scenic value and was captured by artists such as Samuel Calvert in his wood engraving Fyansford and Swan Hotel (1862).


How is it significant?

The Old Swan Inn, Fyansford, is of historical, architectural and archaeological significance to the State of Victoria.


Why is it significant?

The Swan Inn, Fyansford, is of historical and architectural significance as the oldest known surviving building in the important early rural township of Fyansford. It is of historical significance because of its association with the important river crossing over the Moorabool River, which marked the track taken by the western-bound pastoralists in the late 1830s and early 1840s. The surrounding country has great associated historical significance as one of the earliest areas of Victoria to be taken up by graziers from 1836.

The Swan Inn is of historical and architectural significance as an early vernacular structure built in Victoria in the 1840s and as an early surviving hotel building in Victoria. The Swan Inn is an important element in the historic fabric of Fyansford, with other contributing buildings including the Fyansford Hotel (1854) [H744].

The significance of the Swan Inn is enhanced by the celebrated picturesque quality of its setting at the base of a steep escarpment in the Barwon River Valley.

The Swan Inn, Fyansford, is also of historical significance for its association with the notable Victorian architect and surveyor Alexander K. Skene, and with early Geelong publican John Atkins. [Online Data Upgrade Project 2004]

Off Hamilton Highway, Fyansford

Click image to enlarge

An interesting May, 2014, blog entry by SUPERMARKETMONKEY (no longer on line) paints a contemporary picture observing...

We wandered around this old building and bluestone ruin overlooking the picturesque Moorabool River, musing about its origins. The better half thought it was a lock up, due to the inch thick rusty iron bars in the windows. But a little internet research … Revealing that it was the old Swan Inn, built in 1842. The bluestone ruins were stables. Which will no doubt delight the better half. My ancestors may have stopped here for a refreshing ale, and perhaps to glean some local wisdom about prospects in 1854 when they crossed the Barwon from Geelong on their way to Meredith. And it would have been quite the busy little roadhouse during the Gold Rush in the 1860s, no doubt, as it was on the main route from Geelong to the Ballarat gold fields.


The main building was converted into a farmhouse in the 1950s. We didn’t see any sign of squatting or habitation, and truth be told, I was a little reluctant to investigate too closely in the darkened rooms.  Yet the place looks like it has been inhabited in the last 20 or 30 years. There was a trampoline lying in the grass up ended, which denotes some modern habits, not to mention the presence of children!  I was pretty amazed at its lack of vandalism. Being heritage listed this is probably a good thing, but it looked as if it had not been disturbed since whoever lived there last had vacated and left everything behind. Including the gas barbeque on the front porch and the dozen or so terracotta pots lying in knee high grass.


The remnants of the recent and not so recent past haunted every nook….

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Erin Pearson for the Geelong Advertiser 

described in April, 2016, how the Old Swan Inn was destroyed under suspicious circumstances.

"GEELONG has lost an integral part of its pub history after arsonists set fire to the heritage-listed old Swan Inn at Fyansford.

Fire crews were called to the historic building, near the intersection of Lower Paper Mills Rd and Hyland St, after reports it was well alight about 9.30pm Friday.

Police remained on guard overnight and throughout Saturday while arson chemists probed the scene.

“We believe it’s suspicious,” Detective Senior Constable Simon Keogh said.

“We’re working hard to catch those responsible for all the suspicious fires at the moment.”

The old Swan Inn was the oldest known surviving building in Fyansford but had been left in a poor state for some years, with a significant amount of rubbish and graffiti littering the site.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000.

Source: Geelong Advertiser

2017 ~ I spy....

Can anyone throw any light on this amazing resurrection...?

Congrats to the owners (Gen Fyansford). 

Is it too much to ask (in light of its history)

for it to be a licensed outlet...


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Footsteps through time...

1842 Atkins and Clarke selected a site on the track to the ford for the future Fyanstown Inn. 

1843 Fyanstown Inn, built for licencee John Atkins.

1850c Property, named 'Fyansford House', used by Mercer family as the base from which to administer their land holding.

1856 Property passed to William Bohn who undertook repairs and opened the property as the 'Swan Inn'.

1858c Property owned by Mr Hopeton, going by the name of 'Swanville'.

1859c Synot family took over the property which was then named 'Riverside'.

1860c The 'Riverside' hotel had gardens stocked with fruit trees, ornamental plants and vegetables.


1950s Inn closed and converted into a farmhouse.



2016 The now-crumbling building destroyed by fire.

2017 Signs of a re-birth...

2018 Not quite totally out-of-view...

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Fyanstown Inn Reborne


J. Flatt 2017

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In 1842 the Fyanstown Inn, Fyansford’s first public house (also known as Fyans Ford Inn and Atkins' inn and later to be known as the Swan Inn)was built by its first licensee John Atkins, on the western bank of the Moorabool River and adjacent to the Great Western road which led to the Western district.  The site was celebrated for its scenic value being set at the base of a steep escarpment in the Barwon River Valley and close to the fertile confluence of the Moorabool and Barwon rivers. Its beauty was captured over the years by many artists (Samuel Calvert, George Alexander Gilbert, Samuel Thomas Gill, Charles Norton…).

For the next two decades the inn served the community well passing through the hands of several owners/licencees.

However, unfortunately, what had previously been a perfect location with the passage of time became somewhat of a backwater, i.e. after erection in 1854 of a timber bridge 300m further downstream. The inn, now isolated from the fast-growing township east of the river and the now-relocated, well-travelled road, proved unviable.

During the 1950s the hotel was converted into a farmhouse. This over time became a derelict though largely intact ruin. On 22nd April, 2016, the once historically and architecturally renowned inn was destroyed, when a disastrous fire (considered by many to have been a deliberate act of arson) gutted the building. The remains of the historically important public house can still be seen standing forlornly by the river.

Everything that's happened

   on my doorstep

        (a site that has since closed)

stressed importance of the Old Inn...

"The Swan Inn, Fyansford, is of historical and architectural significance as the oldest known surviving building in the important early rural township of Fyansford. It is of historical significance because of its association with the important river crossing over the Moorabool River, which marked the track taken by the western-bound pastoralists in the late 1830s and early 1840s.

The surrounding country has great associated historical significance as one of the earliest areas of Victoria to be taken up by graziers from 1836".

Through others' eyes...

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Click image to enlarge

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Courtesy Paul & Val Synot

I spent a totally delightful afternoon with Val and Paul discussing Fyansford's past, sampling Val's fruitcake

and generally enjoying

old-fashioned hospitality.

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There is always something else out there.....

This collection of amazing photos arrived in my email this morning...

Click first image to view at full size.

Evocative of an earlier time...

Courtesy of Dane Carmody

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Google Earth maps (3).jpg


Google Earth


Fyansford's very own Rambling Rod recently posted a report in Geelong History on the current state of the historic old building....

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The other day, I walked across the old Fyansford Monier Bridge to see if the Tawny Frog Mouth owls were in the trees on the South side. Sadly, they were not there.


When I got to the Western end of the Monier Bridge, I noticed that the lower gate on the right-hand side to the old quarry was open. I decided to walk down the path to the old Swan Inn.


The Swan Inn was Geelong's oldest hotel - built in 1842 and opened in 1843.

The Swan Inn was originally known as the Fyanstown Inn and was built by its first licensee John Atkins in 1842 and opened the following year.  In later years the Synot family purchased the Swan Inn (and lived in it for many years), and they also owned the surrounding land, which was in later years sold to property developers.


Whilst in the ownership of developers, it was reported in Geelong Advertiser, (complete with a photo), that on 23rd April 2016 there was suspicious” fire which burnt out the Swan Inn. After the fire the Swan Inn was vandalised and became covered in graffiti.


As the Swan Inn is listed with Heritage Victoria, to keep it intact as possible with a view to restoring it, the developers had a new corrugated iron roof put on and boarded up all openings. But vandals still visit Swan Inn.


One Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I caught 8 kids aged between 13 and 15 trying to smash their way in. They took off when I went off at them.


At the rear of the Swan Inn are the remains of old Bluestone/Sandstone walls which look as though the building may have been stables. The remaining walls, which are very thick, have props to keep them from falling.  To the rear of this old stone building is a dairy which looks to have been constructed in the late 1940s to 1950s.


With the Swan Inn and the stone remnants of the old stone building behind being listed with Heritage Victoria, I believe it is the intention of the GenFyansford developers to restore the Swan Inn and the stone building at the rear.

For more by Rambling Rod see here.

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