Anglesea, a coastal township and holiday resort facing Bass Strait, is 95 km in a direct line south-west of Melbourne and 35 km from Geelong. It is at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road which follows the coastline westwards.
Anglesea is protected from westerly weather by Point Roadknight, and the beach forms an arc in a north-easterly direction. It is crossed by the Anglesea River, originally called Swampy Creek because of its greater inland width back from the beach sands. Swampy Creek provided good fishing.
In 1884 local land owners subdivided land for sale into 8 ha lots, about three years after a boarding house had been opened for holiday-makers. Shortly afterwards a post office (1883), Presbyterian church (1887) and hotel (1890) formed a village, but the population was mostly visitors. The name was changed to Anglesea in about 1884, probably derived from the Isle of Anglesea in Wales.
Unlike Aireys Inlet, 10 km south-westwards along the coast, Anglesea had acceptable road access from Geelong and Torquay. During the early 1900s it attracted several holiday homes, a general store and a new road (1915), an Anglesea regatta (1916) and the beginning of the Great Ocean Road (1919). The Anglesea Scout camp (1923) was the first prominent Scout camp in Australia. A forest plantation was established at Anglesea in 1924 and three years later the increased population, of whom several were forestry workers, required the opening of the primary school (108 pupils, 2014). Golf links, tennis courts, reticulated electricity, the Great Ocean Road and more shops and tea rooms were opened before World War II.
An important aspect of Anglesea's future tourism emerged with the formation of the Surf Club in 1952. In 1958 exploratory mining uncovered abundant brown coal, and six years later Alcoa of Australia Ltd began construction of a mine and power station to supply electricity to its aluminum refinery at Point Henry, Geelong. The open cut mine and power station (1969) are behind the town, about 2 km from the beach. In 2014 Alcoa put the mine and the coal-fired power station up for sale following its closure of the Point Henry aluminium smelter.
Anglesea has been menaced by numerous bush fires since early settlement. In 1966 fourteen houses were lost, in 1982 the camping ground was burnt and in 1983 the severe Ash Wednesday fires destroyed 142 homes.
Anglesea had over 2700 dwellings at the 2011 census, of which two-thirds are holiday homes. It reaches a peak holiday population of over 10,000 persons, of whom nearly 3000 are caravanners, campers and young people in youth camps. There are shopping areas on the east (Melbourne) side of the township, which is the main one, and across the river in small groups. There is also a small one at Point Roadknight. Next to the river there are Catholic and Uniting churches, and the Anglican church is close to the shopping area. The beach is backed by a foreshore reserve which has an arm extending back along the Anglesea River. Forest reserves and the pine plantation are at the back of the town. There are also reserves containing tennis courts, bowling greens and sports ovals, and a golf course adjoining the forest reserve.
There are two surf life saving clubs between Anglesea River and Point Roadknight.
Anglesea's census populations have been:
Anglesea structure plan, Geelong Regional Commission, 1991
Keith L. Cecil, Anglesea, a history, 2 vols, Anglesea and District Historical Society Ltd, 1994
Ian Wynd, Barrabool: land of the magpie, Barrabool Shire, 1992