Aireys Inlet, a holiday resort on Bass Strait, is between Anglesea and Lorne and is 105 km in a direct line south-west of Melbourne. It is reached by Geelong and the coastal Great Ocean Road. The inlet receives river waters from iron bark forests of the Otway State Forest and from several streams which rise in the Angahook Forest Park.
In 1839 John Airey took up a pastoral run near Point Roadknight, east of the inlet. By 1842 his holding expanded along the coast beyond the inlet and was named the Angahook/Angohawk Run. It is probable that Aireys Inlet is named after him, although his brother George was a Commissioner for Crown Lands in the Geelong district, 1839-44. The Angahook homestead (c1862) is in Gilbert Street, Aireys Inlet. In 1887 the relatively inaccessible inlet area was subdivided and about one hundred blocks were sold. A few were occupied. In 1890 the construction of a lighthouse was begun on the site known as Eagle's Nest Point (renamed Split Point in 1913). The heritage listed lighthouse, 100 metres above sea level, is made of cement-rendered concrete. A school was opened in 1893, for children of families involved in Otways timber milling and of the few families at the inlet. The first school room was in a boarding house, and it continued until local timber milling declined after World War I.
A post office and the Grand Hotel opened in 1893 and 1894. Agricultural and pastoral activities supported the village. Aireys Inlet received a brief entry in the 1903 Australian handbook:
Access to Aireys Inlet, however, was by travel along the beach from Lorne at low tide or by road over the mountainous Otway Ranges. In 1905 a survey disclosed that a track along the edge of the coast was possible, and its construction was later taken up as a project to employ returned soldiers. The Great Ocean Road Trust was formed and the road between Lorne and Anglesea was opened in 1922. (Completion of the road westwards to Apollo Bay took another ten years, which put Aireys Inlet on a coastal through-route.) The opening of the Great Ocean Road ultimately produced a sufficient population for a school to be reopened in the 1930s, and for an Anglican church to open in 1936. The population was borderline, though, and the school closed in 1942. It remained so until 1960 when classes were recommenced.
Aireys Inlet has a general store, a hotel, motel, caravan park and numerous flats and bed-and-breakfasts. The town centre does not have a large range of shops, as tourism depends on the coastal and bush-walking activities. The Angahook Lorne State Park (22,350 ha) contains heath lands rich in orchids and ground plants, several types of eucalypt forest, meluleuca swamp and a fern gully. There are walking tracks on the lighthouse reserve.
During the early 1950s the Australian crime author, Arthur Upfield, lived at Aireys Inlet. His novel The New Shoe (1951) is based on the township and some of its characters drew on local identities. (The body was hidden in a cupboard in the lighthouse.)
West of Aireys Inlet, on the other side of the inlet, there are the surfbeach and residential settlement of Fairhaven (1948) and the older settlement of Eastern View which had a guest house around 1910. The Eastern View subdivision estate was sold in the 1920s to raise money for the Great Ocean Road. Moggs Creek is nearby.
The median house price in Aireys Inlet in 1987 was $74,250 and in 1996 it was $140,000. The low figure in 1987 was three years after the Ash Wednesday fires which destroyed 219 houses in Aireys Inlet, 177 in Fairhaven, 87 in Moggs Creek and 32 in Eastern View. Dame Joan Hammond's house at Aireys Inlet and her career's memorabilia were destroyed. Although 83% of dwellings in 1976 were holiday homes, the proportion has fallen to two-thirds by the 2011 census.
In 2014 residents rallied against a decision by Barwon Water to connect Airey's Inlet and Fairhaven to the Geelong water network through an 11 km pipeline replacing the water treatment plant at Painkalac Dam.
Aireys Inlet's census populations have been:
The census populations of Aireys Inlet-Fairhaven have been:
Aireys Inlet to Eastern View structure plan, Geelong Regional Commission, 1993
Ian McLaren, Aireys Inlet from Anglesea to Cinema Point, Anglesea and District Historical Society Inc, 1988
Ian Wynd, Barrabool: land of the magpie, Barrabool Shire, 1992