From St Kilda to Crib Point by Candy van Rood

We didn’t know anything about AGL‘s plans for Crib Point when we moved here from Melbourne.

A friend rang me to tell me that on the front page of The Age, there was an article about how AGL were going to install a massive gas import jetty into Westernport.
She had been to visit the weekend before and, like me, was struck by the subtle and delicate beauty of Westernport.

I should thank AGL because they forced me to have a much deeper look at where I was living. AGL tell me I was the first person to phone them from this area and ask what was going on.

They were very keen to meet me, as they were on a campaign to make ‘friends’ with the community. They were setting up info nights for the community and invited me to their up-and-coming meeting at Crib Point Community House.

I was the only one in the room questioning the validity of their proposal. I got many dirty looks and a lot of antagonism that evening, but I was following my intuition and all my instincts were telling me this was a serious threat to the well-being of Westernport.

My partner and I walked along Woolley’s Beach almost daily, and at first, being city people, we thought ‘yukky smelly mangroves’ but it didn’t take long for us to actually get that the mangroves and sea-grasses were teaming with life and were something extraordinarily beautiful.

My first reaction to AGL was ‘not in my back yard. I don’t want a big factory up the end of the street thanks.’ Then I started to find out that there are all these unique creatures, and exotic flora, vistas and landscapes like we’d never seen before.

I started talking to people who I was meeting and learnt through my curiosity and enquiry, the importance of wetlands, how much carbon they sequester, and how they are the feeding centres and home for so many eco-systems and unique creatures and endangered shore birds. An example is the Eastern Curlew that flies to Siberia every year without stopping. This wetland, this tidal bay is linked globally, by these creatures. There are many other unique creatures, such as the Southern Brown Bandicoot, that lives in Warringine Park.

I am a visual artist and I’ve only ever drawn and painted people or my pets, but now I’ve started drawing birds and fish. This place informs my work, not just in a literal sense but in a metaphorical sense, it has opened my heart and mind to a much deeper nature and ecology.

I’d never seen anything like little Red Hooded Plover, or the local Crib Point orchids. And of course, these unique life forms inform my aesthetic and understanding. My whole colour palette has changed since we’ve lived here. It is much more subtle and earthy. My life has changed because living close to relatively pristine nature is so healthy and enlivening. I love the clean air and clear waters of the ever-changing shorelines, and the deep silences.

I thought that surely there must be others down here who treasure this, like I do. I could feel it, but I wasn’t meeting them in my local area. So, I went on social media talking about what I was finding and asking people what they thought about AGL’s plans. This was when I started the No AGL page on Facebook (August 2017). It attracted a lot of people and then the AGL meetings started to fill with the people who were on that page, and their neighbours, and there were people representing both camps.

It was Rod Knowles, the ex-fireman, who at the end of one of the meetings in Hastings, stood up and said, “Hey are we going to let them do this or what?” He invited people to put their email address on a list which he called ‘the loop’ and out of this, several of us formed the first SW committee. There were about 10 of us in the beginning and we would meet at the Red Hill bakery in Balnarring for the first few months. People arrived and then departed. There was a lot of practical and expert community input. Other local groups such as WPPC, PICS and VNPA started to help us.

Joanna Macy says you have two important tools to change the world: ‘Compassion and Wisdom’. That’s what I try to keep referring to, when I get provoked or angry.
I was in the supermarket one day and this woman and I started talking. I started to talk about AGL and she said “Oh no, no, no. It’s going to bring jobs. It’s going to be really good” and I said, “Sorry to tell you but, there are no jobs for locals. If you want more information, please look at our website” and she got very angry and a little abusive, but with my commitment of Peace, I said ‘I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m sorry this is making you so angry.’

When I go out there and I look at that beautiful bay I think ‘You’re not going to get ruined. I’m not going to let it happen! It’s in my blood to fight for justice. My grandparents and parents were activists. My father was in the Council for Civil Liberties. My mother was in WILPF: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, so I’ve had that modelled to me.

What keeps me going? When I think about the children … it really upsets me. I can’t bear it. I want them to have a natural world to interact with, I want our species to learn that we are part of nature, that Earth is our only home and we must live with her, as part of her.

Have you thought how life will be for your grandchildren? Have you thought about the mass extinctions that are happening right now? Have you thought about your health and your children’s health and their children’s health? Do you really want to lose our only home?

Joanna Macy talks about ‘the Great Turning’ that we’re in right now, it comes after the ‘Unravelling’. The falling apart of the old world of exploitation and endless unsustainable growth. We could turn this whole thing around, and it could become a new world that is based on values of a sustainable equality, a human partnership with the environment, where we work with nature, with the deep knowing that we are part of nature. I think that COVID has made us pause, and although the tragedy of lives lost and the breaking up of the way things have been is hard for us to go through, we have the opportunity to change the whole paradigm.

I see that the way for us to get through this to the other side is through building and nourishing local community. I think local communities are the most important thing now. This is a global trend, and it is the movement away from globalisation and all the horrendous inequalities this fosters. If you can build a community that loves and values the local environment, like the one we’re currently building through our mutual love for Western Port bay, then we will be a very strong force to be reckoned with. There’s no way we can ever compete with the amount of money and corporate power that AGL has but we’ve got another kind of power which is priceless.

Many people think their voice is not enough, too small, that their contribution won’t make any difference, but one of my teacher’s taught me. ‘If you think your voice is too small, think about the mosquito in your room at night.’

I was a jeweller and had a business for 30 years in the fashion industry. I was in the city and all caught up in that fast and furious rat-wheel world.

I had no idea that when we moved to Crib Point, I would be completely taken over by the spirit of this magnificent place and that with my whole heart I would be making sure that it is protected for the long term. I’m in this for the long haul and I’m dedicating this part of my life to this bay. It’s symbolic of areas like this all over the world that must now be cherished.

To the politicians I would say that it’s not business as usual. We can not go on wrecking and ruining and exploiting natural places anymore. We cannot afford to build fossil fuel infrastructure which within the next decade will be a stranded asset. All our efforts and money must go into to renewables. We have to focus on the bigger picture, our long-term future as a global community: the partnership between human beings and the natural world.

A coming back to Life of our relationship to our planet Earth.

(painting of an Eastern Curlew by Candy van Rood)