Minna’s Story

Minna’s Story

I grew up in Balnarring but have lived in Coburg North for the last 6 years. I am lucky enough to still be connected and able to visit my parents (pre Covid lockdown) at this beachside paradise that I will always call home. It has always been a great pleasure and honour to share this special coastline with fellow travellers, and my loved ones over the years. I have many stories I could tell. Like the morning after my wedding day, when my husband and I felt the urgency to begin our own unique adventures as a wedded couple. Boarding a deflating blow up boat at Balnarring Beach, we rapidly gained speed, drifting out towards Philip Island. We began to realize the potential risk of our situation, witnessing all our most beloved lining the beach in distress. With panic rising, we started to paddle as fast as we could to shore, when my husband asked me in alarm, ‘Are there sharks here?’ Having noticed large shadows under our boat we quickly recognised the dolphins, who, once we arrived at shore exhibited a twirling display for us. We have since shared these same beaches with our two young children, exploring the rock pools for crabs and rolling in the waves.

It is through my distance from it that I have begun to understand more deeply the grounding that this place has offered me throughout my life. In particular, Merricks Beach is a place that I long for, and even visit in my imagination, for respite and nourishment. With the caves and coastal banksias, the memories of swimming with stingrays and in storms, this beach in particular, has offered me many moments of rapture. The beach stretching from Balnarring to Merricks, and less frequently to Somers, has soothed my soul. Even on colder days, a quick dip in the salty bay is enough to enliven the body; nestling my feet in the sand and allowing the wind to whip my worries away while I watch as the sunset welcomes the calm of night.

In moments of heart ache and sorrow the waves have soothed me. Their rhythm and consistency have reminded me that the world will continue to turn, even in times of pain and suffering. These same waves remind me that these are the unceded lands and waters of the Bunurong (Boon Wurrung) people; this bay can offer unconditional nourishment for generations to come, as it has so done for thousands of generations before.

I wonder who are the decision makers here, and how can they better honour the rightful custodians of these lands and waterways? In the name of ‘progress’ AGL offer yet another effort to dislocate and disregard our right and responsibility to a healthy ecosystem. While I hold hope, I also sit with dread for how much more could be destroyed before it’s realised we have lost too much.

Anne Tillig’s Heart Story

Anne Tillig’s Heart Story

My connection to Western Port Bay started in 1996 when we purchased land fronting the bay.  Elizabeth Island is now my home.  I feel lucky to wake up to the sight of Western Port Bay all around me, every day. 

Most days I circumnavigate the island in my pedal paddle kayak.  It takes just under an hour.  Then I jump in and swim for a while.  This connects me intimately to the water, the shoreline and the birdlife and leaves me feeling alive.

The bay is a special place that rewards for spending time with it.  Day by day it grows on you.  It doesn’t show its splendour at first.  It wants you to slow down, stop and be with it a while.  Over time you get to know its tidal shoreline.  Orange lichened rocks, ancient sandstone, pebbles, sand, mudflats that become lakes with the tides.  The shoreline has rockpools and mangroves with pink pigface and other plants with names like bidgee-widgee and beaded glasswort.  Fish of all sorts nurture their young amongst the mangroves.  In the bay are gummy sharks, King George whiting, snapper, Australian salmon.  We pluck oysters from the rocks and eat them fresh.  Pacific gulls and oyster catchers sit atop shoreline rocks, looking like they’re standing on water.  Herons and spoonbills stalk around the mudflats finding food.  Swallows, wrens and willy-wagtails eat the insects on land.

You can tell it’s a delicate balance of interwoven life.

I am horrified and aggrieved that any government would allow a private company to irreparably destroy our beautiful natural resources for their short-term gains.

My home, Elizabeth Island, and the bay, belong together.  The bay is integral to my life and my wellbeing.  I will soon be publishing a book about my relationship to this special place.  I want to share with you an excerpt from my upcoming book, which is about that relationship.  Elizabeth Island has grounded me and given me a sense of place.  The bay is integral to that.  This excerpt describes my first encounter with the island.

‘Half-dried sea grass lined the high-water mark.  It sat in a continuous line atop a shore of partially submerged brown pebbles and rocks. Shells washed smooth by the tides were caught in the browned sea grass.  Through the lifting light clouds, the sun warmed the brown and grey burnt sea grass salty bath to barely visible steam and marshy odours.

We ventured into the tussock grass above the shoreline, nervous about what might lie under the thick grass.  Two black swans glided past, poking out their necks at us, as if wondering what we were doing in their territory.  Other sea birds squawked and landed on the rocks.

I could tell this was a unique and special place.

Michael returned to the boat, concerned about the fast-running tide.  He got us all aboard and the boys pulled up anchor.

We began to circumnavigate the island, approaching the northern point.  We could see less than half a metre of water under the boat.  The fast receding tide forced us back. 

That was my first encounter with Elizabeth Island.  Tides ruled.  Back then I’d fancied myself as close to nature.  Many years on, I marvel at what slowly unfolded:  an engagement with that island and surrounding seas that brought me into a dance with nature I could never have imagined. 

The feel and direction of the winds, the heaviness of the rain, the height and direction of tidal flow, the seasons, moonlight, cloud cover, sunlight.  The response of the sea between the island and the mainland to daily, monthly and yearly cycles of the sun and moon – this all determined decisions about where and how to be, explore or do, on and around the island. 

Having so squeezed me into Elizabeth Island time, the surrounding sea would dance its moods to my passage on or off land.’

Westernport Bay surrounds my home and greets me with stunning vistas every day.  It is my home.

On most important things that happen or are about to happen around the bay, the instigators reach out to locals.  I have not seen this happening from AGL in the same way.  I am not aware of organised engagement by AGL with residents.  It is indicative of a disregard for the people and place they are impacting.  I wonder how much our government has engendered in them that stance.

I guess it’s difficult to comprehend that you would have to tell this to a government.  Of course, this proposed project will destroy our valuable bay and its delicate ecological balance. 

This development is on the other side of the bay to me, so I won’t see the visual impact.  I can’t imagine how it would be for anyone who walks that shoreline, to have to look at a large gas platform like that.  But I know the ecology of the bay is so interconnected, and we as humans are so interconnected, that I will notice the impact over on this side.  I have already noticed the effects of climate change.  There are fewer insects on the island now, and this means fewer land birds.  The special sea birds that used to be around feeding off the mudflats seem to have disappeared, replaced by hardier breeds.

We are already seeing the impact of climate change on our planet and our local environment.  It is a result of putting big business ahead of smart connected communities in healthy environments.  We want a government that will recognise what matters and put people and our environment first.  A government that approves this AGL project will not get my vote.

Anne Tillig



Save Westernport by John Butler

Save Westernport by John Butler

John has sent us this message:
‘To all the Victorian family who are doing it tough with COVID I’m sending you my love and prayers right now.
I was asked by some locals in Westernport Bay to help get their message out about protecting their beloved home.
These are very complex and turbulent times but we can’t let the fossil fuel industry use this moment as a massive chess game strategy to twist our state and federal governments arms to their will. If ANYTHING these already established resource companies, that have massively profited off the back of our nation, making BILLIONS of dollars every quarter, should be TAXED at least as much as I am to help with the economic fall out of COVID.
Here’s what the @savewesternport group would like you to know :
Save Westernport says AGL’s plan is an environmental and social disaster.
Right now it’s still just a plan. But AGL’s Environmental Effects Statement (EES) is now
up for public comment and it’s time to say
AGL is using its EES to get state government approval for it’s cancerous plan. AGL will say it can manage risks to people and the environment. AGL’s track record says otherwise.
From a 6,000 litre sulphuric acid leak to an ash slurry overflow into endangered woodlands, the company has left too much environmental wreckage in its wake.
But AGL doesn’t get it.
They don’t care that Westernport communities have said NO! to bad ideas for over 50 years.
So what have our communities stopped? A uranium enrichment plant on French Island; a petro-chemical plant destined to discharge waste into the ocean through a pipeline
crossing Phillip Island; the gouging of kilometre after kilometre of shorelines to make wharves
for heavy industry; a huge container terminal that stood to kill the bay’s sensitive wetlands;
aluminium smelters and processing for paper and zinc.
The list goes on.
Save Westernport has talked with thousands of locals, and we know what you want. You want
a real say about what happens in your towns and communities. You want a clean bay that’s
safe for the people, businesses and wildlife that rely on it. You want an economy that protects
the beauty and promise of this incredible place.’
Help Stop AGL. Get help with your EES submission!

Help Stop AGL. Get help with your EES submission!

It’s no surprise that people are feeling daunted by AGL’s EES – it’s over 11,000 pages of technical information with just weeks to make a comment. 

But it’s not that hard and you can make a difference. Make your concerns known by writing a submission. 

Save Westernport and Environment Victoria want to help you to add your voice by holding online workshops next week on How to Write a Powerful Submission.

RSVP via one of these links to join a forum on:

Thursday 6 August, 6:00-7:30pm
EES workshop 1

Friday 7 August, 12:00-1:30pm
EES workshop 2

We’re also planning a public forum to be held soon so people can discuss what this project would mean for the region. We hope to be joined by our elected representatives to hear what they have to say about it.

Remember during the Federal election last year Save Westernport held a public meeting where each of the candidates for the seat of Flinders campaigned against the AGL project?

Read about it here in the June 2019 issue of the Balnarring Bridge. 

The details of that online forum are still being finalised, watch this space and sign up here to receive Save Westernport’s regular newsletter for all the details as soon as they’re available

Remember over 22,000 individual submissions were received against the Narrabri gas project !

The Minister needs to receive as many submissions as possible against AGL’s plans in Westernport, so he’s in no doubt about the extent of Community opposition to AGL’s dirty and exploitative gas proposal.

Reflections- Growing up in Somers ~ by Sue Byrne

Reflections- Growing up in Somers ~ by Sue Byrne

Three generations of our family have lived in Somers. Pa, Ron Stone, built the General Store in 1927. Mum and her brothers grew up there and we grew up across the road.

Growing up in Somers on Westernport Bay was wonderful. Dirt roads, a few cars and
a small population. Families became extended families, looking out for each other.

As kids we explored the bush and beach, the rockpools and sea life. I learnt to swim in the bay with aunty Bren holding my waist, telling me to kick and float as waves washed over us. Terrifying at first but I grew to love swimming and the sea.

We enjoyed family picnics on the beach especially during warm still evenings after closing the store. The dads enjoyed spotlight fishing. We were allowed to go occasionally. Garfish were the main fish caught, (so many bones!).

The summers were a buzz with visitors, and new friends to play with at the beach; water-skiing, sailing, swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding etc. We rolled down sand dunes and built cubbies in the bush. We were blessed to see dolphins silently cruising and joyfully playing with humans and dogs.

We’ve watched the changes to the beach landscape; erosion, shifting sands, rock walls and groins.

As we drift off to sleep, the sound of waves lashing or lapping on the shore is very soothing.

The bay is abundant with sea creatures and birdlife. There was much to learn. We also learnt to respect the bay and her moods.

It would be so devastating to have AGL interrupt the serenity and pristine eco system of Westernport Bay with such huge infrastructure and commercial destruction.

I pray they stay away.

All Our Somers…………by Marnee Fraser

All Our Somers…………by Marnee Fraser

Somers Beach is a very special jewel in the crown of Westernport Bay. Over the past 40 years, I have watched its dynamic shoreline change with every passing year. Its crystal-clear waters stretch from Coolart, Somers School Camp and Merricks Creek, all the way east from the yacht club, through to Williams Point and around past the 100 Steps to Sandy Point where French Island opens up across the bay.

I have walked on this beach every morning for many years and everyday, no matter the season, it takes my breath away when I emerge from the foreshore near the creek mouth and take in the view down to Flinders and across to Phillip Island.

Each season brings its own surprises in the sea, the clouds, the shoreline, the birdlife and our very own pod of dolphins. Over the years I have witnessed attempts to subdue the tide and its erosive effects. Rock walls, groins and sea walls have come and gone over time – some successful, most not –nature just continues to do her thing.

Our children have walked Somers beach, explored its foreshore, surfed its creek mouth, snorkelled over its reefs and sea-grasses and played with their friends on its sand. They continue to do so as adults and want their children to experience the same joys as they have.

AGL is simply not to be trusted to love our bay like we do. Their record of environmental damage is testament to this with $6,500,000 being paid out in fines over the past 5 years.


Brian’s Story

Brian’s Story

My affinity with Westernport Bay began in earnest about 1969 when I started a Diploma of Teaching at Frankston Teacher’s College, now the Frankston campus of Monash University. Before this I used to stay for the odd weekend at the “Shacks”, which were well put together humpies at the back of the sand dunes at Point Leo. Life Savers and surfers used these shacks to be close to the beach and do what they really enjoyed, surf. I met blokes like Sandy Mc Kendrick, Gus and Robbie Tankard who remain long-time friends.

While I was at Teacher’s College I met Paul Trigger, Graham Quail, Murray “Wogs” Walding and Tidal wave Ted Bainbridge. We formed a tight little surfing group that would take every opportunity to skip lectures and go surfing when the swell was up. We surfed all the known beaches of Westernport but we also surfed new places like Balnarring Point, Merricks and the Farm at Flinders. It was probably the boards we had in those days that made these places seem like jewels of the bay. A bloke called Alan “Wally” Tibbals lived for a short time in Somers and we started surfing another place when the swell was big, Somers River mouth. Another friend I made was Keith “Atlas” Robinson, who, being a goofy foot, was always looking for a wave that broke left. He found it at the Pines in Shoreham and surfed it regularly. Of course we called this break Atlas.

The lure of the beach was too much for me and I moved to Carisbrooke Street in Balnarring and rented a house with some mates. Unknown to me at the time there was a family who used to camp on their block behind the house us blokes lived in. The daughter in that family was Mandy Palmer and she is now my life partner.
Westernport Bay has always been a jewel, with a country feel and a slower pace. It hasn’t changed all that much. Mind you, sitting in the “cave” at Merricks Point watching the bay and eating a chicken pie from Mrs Pickler’s or going into the old Balnarring General Store for food may have disappeared, but if you search hard, that same feeling of country can be satisfied.

After I graduated from Teacher’s College I moved to the Otways and taught at Lavers Hill. I got married and thought I would settled down on the rugged South West Coast of Victoria. When my son Simon was born though we thought it best to move back to family and conveniences. So Westernport Bay here I come again! We lived in Bittern when it was very rural and it was here that I got very involved with the late Councillor Lorna Bennett and the late Brian Cummins. We were quite political and had paddle outs at the Crib Point refinery attempting to stop them from polluting our bay. Brian was an inspirational man and I’m sure his spirit is with us in this new campaign against AGL and its gas plan.

I furthered my studies and got a Diploma in Outdoor Education which had an academic focus on the environment. Doctor Leon Costermon was one of my lecturers and it wasn’t long before I was studying Westernport Bay and its vegetation both around the bay and in the water. The white mangrove was fascinating to me and my major evaluative work was spent on this species and its crucial relationship to our bay.

I have always been involved with the community around Westernport Bay and was either a teacher or principal in Hastings for over 30 years. This lead to many experiences and chances to promote the area and our school was always involved with many environmental and community programs.

Serendipity has played its role and I now find myself living back in Balnarring with my partner Mandy. We have built a new home and we love it here. Because we are both now retired we have the opportunity to walk the beaches, swim, surf and thoroughly enjoy the whole bay environment. It has become quite a spiritual or meaningful place for us. I will never forget Mandy bathing in the soothing waters every day after her radiation treatment for an unexpected cancer which was a little hiccup for us. Mandy’s parents were long time Balnarring residents and they chose to have their ashes sprinkled into the bay. It’s not uncommon for us to visit this quiet spot and watch 2 dolphins at play. I’m sure everyone sees the dolphins but we like to think we have a special connection. We find the bay comforting and emotional, in a good way! To us, the bay has an essence of the cycle of life.

I still surf as much as I can even though my body has let me down a bit. I have crook hips and knees so my son Simon has shaped me a board I lie on. He calls it the GS….the Gut Slider! It keeps me in the water and my special moments are still connected with the waves of the Peninsula, but in particular, Westernport Bay. My friends are still here and they have selected this area to live because of the bay. It’s still clean and alive and has a huge impact on all of our lives. I believe I have lived in some great times and have experienced some wonderful moments in the water both with my son Simon and my friends. I now want my grandchildren to have the same opportunity to experience some of the joys the bay has given me. Mandy and I want our ashes spread in the bay to become part of this magical place and I sure as Hell don’t want to share the water with the pollutants from a floating AGL gas factory.

Brian Forward

[photo: Rory McGinley]

The Signwriter

The Signwriter

When I was 2 or 3, we lived in Mt Martha in a beautiful stone cottage, Briarswood Cottage. My father was in the navy. He was sent to Cerberus when he was 13 or 14. We used to spend a lot of time on Mt Martha Beach, but we used to go on a big adventure to Point Leo. I can remember always thinking that the waves seemed so much bigger there. That’s probably my earliest memory of The Peninsula. We were there for some years.

Several years ago, for something to do and for cathartic reasons, I was picking up bits of old timber furniture, fixing them up and turning them into arty pieces. I would go to markets, like Emu Plains at Balnarring. One day this nice bloke came along with his wife and they were interested in two bedside tables and bought them. He asked if I would mind delivering them and I said, ‘No that’s not a problem.’ He said, ‘Where are you?’ and I said, ‘Crib Point’ and he replied, ‘Well I’m at Cerberus.’

It turned out that he was the Commanding Officer at the naval base so we made arrangements and he explained how we would get to the Commanding Officer’s house. I turned up and I said ‘I’m fascinated to come in here because my father was here in the 30s. He asked me if I wanted to do a quick tour of the house, and I said, ‘I’d love to.’ He showed us around the living quarters which were fairly grand. I think the house was built when the base was built, in the 20s perhaps. He took us in to the dining room which had a large dining room table. I had this slightly odd feeling when I was in there which I can’t really describe.

A few days later I was visiting my elderly mother in Main Ridge and she said, ‘How did the market go?’ I said ‘OK. Interestingly the Commanding Officer bought a couple of bedside tables, so I got to get a bit of a tour of the residence’, and she said ‘Really! That’s interesting. Your father and I met in that dining room at Cerberus.’ It turned out my mother’s father was a high ranking Australian naval Officer.

My father had been promoted to commander and was, at the time, the youngest commanding office appointed in the navy so I came to the conclusion that it was a set up and my maternal grandfather decided that my mum Ann should meet Tony, he being Captain and my father being Commander, it would all work really well, and it did. After the birth of their fourth child my father left the navy and took over my grandfather’s real estate business in the city.

In the early 70s he bought 200 acres In Boneo Rd which then incorporated Bush Rangers Bay We used to drive through there to get down to the beach. It was the most magnificent place to visit because there wasn’t anyone there. It’s a vastly different situation now. My father was what was known in those days as a Collins St farmer. He had his business in the city in the Reserve Bank building. They bought the 200 acres and put cows on it. They loved going there every weekend. Eventually they sold it and bought something smaller backing on to Green’s Bush. They called it Gwennmarlin. From there they moved to Main Ridge. My father died in the garden in Main Ridge.

Gayle, my wife, was brought up in Razorback Rd in Flinders, so she too, had connections with the peninsula. She built up a business designing a range of skincare products using indigenous plants, because a lot of them are high in nutrients, which was quite unique at the time. We moved from our house in Flinders to Red Hill, where we could have horses and then to 25 acres in Myers Rd where we built a straw bale house. Before we left Red Hill, she had a serious riding accident on the Red Hill Trail. Her horse reared up and jammed her up against a large pine tree and she shattered her pelvis totally and broke various other bones. In the midst of that we moved from Red Hill to Balnarring.

In Feb 2009 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and that was a pretty unfortunate four and a half years. She had seven operations and palliative care at home. It was very upsetting and distressing and she left us on Good Friday 2013, which was unfortunately the year my daughter was starting her VCE and my son was starting his first year at uni. It was a very difficult year. The bank pulled the pin on us and we had to sell, and I had to try and find homes for 15 horses. Some of our horses died and we lost our oldest labrador, to a rare cancer.

We had to sell and there wasn’t really any money left but I had enough to buy a house in Crib Point. Crib Point was always regarded, as some sort of mosquito ridden swamp and I think it still is by some. We’ve been in Crib Pont for seven years. I came to realise that that this is actually far from the truth. It’s a fascinating landscape, incredibly rich in flora and fauna.

We have the most amazing assortment of orchids that come up on the foreshore. Just down the road form us we have a bushland reserve. It’s full of the most extraordinary flora, especially during the winter months; orchids, chocolate lilies, acacias, kennedias, xanthorrhoea minors, not the big spectacular ones but the small ones that still manage to poke up these great stems. The bird life is terrific. We’ve got sorts of parrots and insects. It’s the natural environment that is so precious.

Since we’ve been in the house, we’ve been threatened by two fires, one coming for Warringine direction, the northwest. That one we were home for, and I can still remember the ash falling on the house. Nowadays we have a new type of fire which is driven by climate change, strong winds, low humidity, that sort of thing, so that was a bit of a worry, but the wind changed, and it was brought under control. A year or so after that there was another one that started down south where the current proposed site for the AGL jetty is, and that was being driven by a southerly. It was coming in our direction as well but once again the wind changed, and they managed to get it under control. There have been any occasions when have thought Gayle’s been at work on those situations!

I think this AGL gas plant project was announced in some form in 2017 and I remember thinking ‘This is a ridiculous suggestion and it will never happen’. It seemed like only a few months later that it was on the front page of the paper, and I thought ‘This is terrible.’ A few months later Save Western Port was revived. The mother of one of Gayle’s childhood friends started the original Save Western Port campaign in the early 70s because it was under threat then from industrialisation. The bitter irony for me is that my father, being involved in real estate, was part responsible for putting together a land package in Western Port Bay for BHP steel.

I had moved to Crib Point and had realised that, in fact, it was a really special place. Then I started to realise that Western Port bay itself was even more special. It’s clean. It’s a beautiful environment and I know this because I have walked on it every morning for the last 12 years with our dogs.

When Gayle was going through her surgeries and her 4 and a 1/2 years of dealing with ovarian cancer, chemo, radiotherapy and alternative therapies, she would swim at Merricks Beach. She was a champion swimmer when she was young and for nine months of the year, she would do laps at Merricks Beach most days. This was part of her therapy to restore herself, because she was always very fitness oriented and healthy and watched her diet.

She prompted me to try and do something to prevent the destruction and I don’t think destruction is too strong a word, because to picture what is likely to be queueing off the Nobbies and sailing into the top end of Western Port Bay is truly horrifying. It’s not just the plant itself. It’s the fact they we’ll be having huge ships coming in from overseas bringing all sorts of problems with them. If there’s any sort of problem with a ship, in terms of an oil spill, it would be a total, absolute disaster. If anyone bothered to look at a map WP is tiny compared to Port Phillip. It’s very tidal. The average depth is 6 meters so the only way these people can get away with facilitating what they plan to do is to dredge it severely which will destroy it as we know it. There’s no way this project can go ahead.

I think business and exploitation, the psychology of digging things up and shipping it out is obviously, logically flawed. You just can’t keep doing it. I’m horrified but the intrusion on our First Nations people. I wonder if AGL has even considered to ask the First Nations folk what they think of this activity they’re planning for Western Port, particularly in the light of what has just happened in WA with the destruction of 46,000 years’ worth of sacred history.

I feel duty bound in Gail’s memory to do everything to try and prevent any destruction. I think it’s a tragedy because the bay itself is really just now coming back into itself. The water is crystal clear. It’s beautiful. There are penguins, dolphins, there has been an increase in whale sightings. I believe there have been orcas sighted in Western Port which has been previously unheard of.

My general view of everything with regards to wildlife is that humans are incredibly arrogant and destructive and it’s a shocking state to have humans deciding we should be in control and the planet is just put here to be plundered. My objection is tinged by the fact that I have a history here and I feel that I have an obligation to many people, not just Gayle but to my children as well. There are a lot of children around Balnarring and Crib Point and I see them, and I think ‘Well, we owe it to them to do everything we possibly can to preserve Western Port’.

The other thing about Western Port is it is so close to Melbourne. It’s too precious. It’s a Ramsar listed wetland. Birds migrate from Siberia. What we’ve got left we need to hang on to, not to mention the economic case for tourism. For all the locals, tourism may not be their ideal but the amount of money that comes from tourism would totally eclipse any benefits to the community from any industrialisation. It can’t be justified on economic grounds. How ridiculous to have a situation where there is an increase in whale viewing, talk of a car ferry from Stony Pont to Phillip Island, and to then suggest this horrible, polluting monstrosity.

It became fairly obvious, early in the piece, that community were not aware of what was being planned, in the short term, let alone the long term. I started by putting up signs in Flinders. People pay millions for land and spectacular views of the Nobbies and Phillip Island How can they not consider the impact of queues of tankers out in front of their properties? My first signs were along the lines of ‘Do you realise what is happening, what these people are proposing?’ These people needed to know and could be in a position to stop it.

I chose the signs because there was no other way. I was putting up a sign about six months into my sign campaign. They’d already started to disappear by this stage which was encouraging me even more. Whoever it was who was taking them, I thought, ‘I don’t know why you are doing it.’ I heard there were various sources of sign removal, but it became increasingly obvious that it was an orchestrated campaign to keep the population ignorant about what was happening.

On one occasion I was putting up a sign in Balnarring itself. A gentleman approached me and said, ‘You’ve been putting up the signs.’ and I said ‘Well I have put up a couple. Why do you ask?’ and he said, ‘I’m just wondering.’ He was fairly polite and said ‘I’m a rate payer. I live in Balnarring and I just want to know why you’re doing it.’ ‘Well because the community need to know what these people are planning’, I replied, and his response was ‘But they’re messy. There’s too many of them’ and I said, ‘Really? I didn’t quite understand that, because was he aware of what was involved in the plans for Western Port and how messy that was going to potentially be?’

The more signs disappeared, the more I put up. I would say I have put up 1000s. Sometimes they would disappear within 24 hours. I spread them across the peninsula. I went as far as Tuerong. The record for disappearance is an hour and a half. I put up a couple in Balnarring went to Flinders for coffee. When I returned they were gone. The last thing I wanted to be doing was buying plastic from Bunnings and making signs, but someone is continually removing them, so I feel an obligation to continue to get the message out there.

To me, the most effective way was to put up signs that would entertain people perhaps, catch people’s attention, educate them, then maybe they would go home and look into the issue further. I’ve had various responses from people. I get abused by passers-by and congratulated. I did actually visit a café on the southern peninsula to ask them if they were aware of what was being planned and had they seen the signs and the response was ‘I’ve seen the signs, but they appear to be a little bit or mad or angry.’ I thought ‘how absurd, that is actually what I’m trying to convey’. They did get madder and angrier because that’s what it’s all about. I tried to keep them as reasonable as possible, but it made no difference. They have just disappeared.

The major tactic of AGL has been to come under the radar with this project and that has been their modus operandi from the start. They will say they have had various community meetings which they have. I went to one and wished I hadn’t. I Ieft because I was so angry. They had pictures of weedy sea dragons up on the wall and they appointed a special person, (I can’t remember what he was called, their conservation and wildlife officer or something to that effect.) The whole lot feels like a con. This company has a long history of deception and long history of fines. I think anyone who digs up fossil fuels is probably entitled to that reputation. To this day there are still a large number of people on the southern peninsula who aren’t aware of what’s involved in the industrialisation of Western Port, and specifically this project, and it has so much more relevance now because this project is dealing with fossil fuel. There’s no justification for fossil fuels being invested in or used anymore.

I have been totally withdrawn from everything for some years for personal reasons This has been an outlet for me. My son works with Indigenous people in the Pilbara. He made the comment that many people were wondering who was putting up the signs. I made the comment that he obviously wasn’t telling them it was his father. I’ve had funny circumstances where I actually outed myself to someone and the response has been ‘I’ve known that for ages’, so I’ve had a laugh about it.

Early in early on threats were made, not against me personally but to people who were working for Save Western Port, not physical threats but threats enough to be of concern. Early in the piece I was a bit concerned. There was deception going on and I didn’t want to be named. I didn’t want my activities to be interrupted by anyone or anything.

I think my job is sort of done. It’s getting to the point where I think it’s almost redundant because most of the community now is aware of what’s happening and I’m not taking credit for that. At the time that I started or at least for the first year or two there was a great need for the community to be informed.

I’m not interested in respect from the community. I’m an extremely private person and I don’t deal with social situations, I’m not at all interested in any accolades.

The one thing that will make me happy is if we can send these people packing. I think the next step once that’s done is to have all of Western Port declared a marine national park and I would also like to see Crib Point restored to its formal natural glory The Esso refinery site’s still there. The tanks are still there. I don’t even think they should necessarily be removed. They could become fantastic community assets. They could be decorated like the silos in western Victoria. They could have staircases leading to viewing decks on the top where you could see right over the mangroves, the wetlands, over to French Island, Sandy Point, into Gippsland and with binoculars you could see whale and dolphin activity. They’re sitting there waiting to be utilised. That would be the ultimate.

Warren Cooke’s Heart Story for Westernport

Warren Cooke’s Heart Story for Westernport

I don’t ‘use’ Westernport, it actually gives to me. I find a sense of wholeness when I connect to the natural beauty of this place through art making, swimming, surfing, sailing and beach walks with family and friends. I also do my best to give back to it, by collecting rubbish, protesting as needed and by honouring this place in my art practice.

Westernport is a place of great beauty to admire and marvel at throughout the seasons; grand coastal banksias and mangroves, undulating waters, dolphins, shore birds and migratory birds as they feast along the waterline. It is a sanctuary. It is home to an internationally recognised RAMSAR wetland and for many creatures, both land-based and marine, it is their nursery and home.

AGL is being dishonest with Australians, claiming that we need a gas terminal for their imported gas. This is blatantly not true. With climate change upon us, any proposed energy plans must be both clean and renewable. Gas is neither of these.

During their proposed regassification process, AGL’s gas terminal will pump millions of litres of chlorinated sea water into Westernport – dead water, on a daily basis. The loss of microscopic life is like the tip of a spear which would harm all of the fauna and flora that live here. We cannot think that we are separate to that damage, it will affect humans too.

My heart is heavy at the prospect that AGL could go ahead with this proposal. The loss is not only for the close community who reside around Westernport but to all the living things. We must continue to stand as a community, loud and strong against projects such as these.

With climate change upon us, it is more important now than ever.

Warren Cooke