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.
[photo: Rory McGinley]