Torquay, 21 km south of Geelong and 80 km west of Melbourne, provides one of the nearest surf beaches to western Melbourne, the metropolis itself having only bay beaches. Because its population doubled between 1991 and 2011, not least because of many workers commuting to nearby Geelong and Deakin Universities two local campuses, some of its former holiday charm has been lost to redevelopment, with a similar fate befalling the nearby township of Jan Juc.
Torquay, a coastal town on Bass Strait, is on Zeally Bay, a sheltered east facing inlet. Whilst it was the sheltered bay which encouraged settlement and beach excursions, it has been the unsheltered surf coast to the west that has stimulated Torquay's growth and popularity since the mid-twentieth century.
Richard Zeally was one of several farm settlers around Torquay in the 1840s-60s, at that time known as Spring Creek which is now Torquay's western boundary. The Jan Juc national school opened in 1861, inland from Torquay.
In 1880 town lots at Spring Creek were put up for sale and in 1888 a coffee palace was opened for visitors and holiday makers. The next year a town improvement association was formed and in 1892 Spring Creek was named Torquay after the popular seaside town in Devon, England. The Jan Juc school had closed in the 1870s and a school in Torquay was opened in 1900 in a recently built Presbyterian church. Ten years later a school building was erected in Bristol Road west of the town's main business area in Glibert Street. (The school site has been vacated for a larger campus out of town and Torquay Central shopping centre has replaced it.)
By the early 1920s Torquay had three stores, the Palace hotel (former coffee palace), Follett's boarding house and a golf links. James Follett, who had built the coffee palace, also pioneered Torquay's tourist trade with a wagonette service from Geelong and a bathing house on the beach. The local shire council described Torquay in the 1924 Victorian municipal directory as a delightful summer resort with good fishing and shooting.
In 1945 the Torquay surf life saving club was formed. Visitors were assisted by a motor garage in the town along with a motor hire service.
Bells Beach, seven km south west of Torquay, became a premier surfing venue. Its first carnival was held in 1961. Eight years later local entrepreneurs started up the RipCurl business, starting with making surf boards and branching into wet suits in 1970. The RipCurl factory also saw the beginning of Quiksilver and its new design for boardshorts (1969). In 1986 Quiksilver became an American public company.
Torquay's population went form 1100 in 1961 to 2900 in 1981 and 4900 in 1991. Jan Juc on the other side of Spring Creek also became urbanised. They had a combined population of 8000 in 2001. The Geelong Regional Commission devised urban structure plans for Torquay/Jan Juc. The commission predicted a combined population of 8600 by 2010, nearly 5000 short of the actual figure. Acknowledging Torquay as the undisputed capital of the Surf Coast, the plan emphasised preserving coastal scenery and open space. The result has been a continuous foreshore reserve, but with the biggest parcel of land being the golf links taken over by the private RACV Country Club. There is also a linear park along Spring Creek with sports and club facilities.
A Catholic primary school opened in 1986, opposite the campus of the State P-6 college (909 pupils, 2014). They are on the northern outskirts of Torquay. Further north on the road to Geelong there is the Surf Coast council office.
Torquay's eastern area takes in The Sands golf course and large flora and fauna reserves, Karaaf Wetlands and a Moonah woodland. The dunes here are culturally significant to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative. Torquay's old town area is around the Gilbert Street shops, where there are also Anglican and Uniting churches, a community centre, and Taylor Park with the Torquay bowls club (1924). A camping ground at the mouth of Spring Creek is within walking distance. Road travellers bypass the old town area, encountering highway venues such as take-away food outlets, a holiday park, a tourist information centre and fuel stops on the Geelong Road. Proceeding further, they cross Spring Creek to the start of the Great Ocean Road.
Despite community protest, the State government approved a controversial residential development on the western boundary of Torquay at Spring Creek in 2014, up to 1 km west of Duffields Road.
Surf World Museum (1993) at Torquay is one of the most significant centres of world surfing heritage. It is recognised as the world's largest surf and beach culture museum, and is home to the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.
Torquay's census populations have been:
Torquay and Jan Juc's census populations have been:
Torquay/Jan Juc structural plan, Geelong, 1992
John Pescott, South Barwon 1857-1985, City of South Barwon, 1985