I BELIEVE IN GOD, ONLY I SPELL IT WESTERN PORT BAY by Kay Treloar

It was not love at first sight. As a toddler I was terrified by my first visit to the beach, convinced that my siblings were about to drown in the expansive sea of sand that they threw themselves down upon. White gold, soft, warm, shifting; immense. Then mum picked me up and pointed to the big blue beyond and said, “That is the sea.”

My transition to water-baby was immediate and every summer thereafter I peeled skeins of skin from my burnt nose and bear the scars to prove it. An auto-didactic, I learnt to swim in the rock-pool, no family in sight (oh the good old days of free-roaming) after sinking to the bottom countless times before building up my dog-paddling expertise so I could cross the vast expanse to the other side. (To my young mind is was an Olympic sized pool… it was about 6 feet across). That pool held me safely in its womb, just as Western Port Bay has embraced me all my life. My parents honey-mooned here and my father’s city dwelling parents pioneered holiday making on this side of the Peninsula. I have travelled but always drifted back. The bay was the sparkle in my family’s eye and it glitters on, dimmingly.

Why does it matter? Such adoration is surely mere sentimental hogwash. Yes, a very pretty place indeed, but an unaffordable luxury to remain as such. Let’s get practical, we need gas man. Jobs. Progress. Collateral damage. Broken hearts. Destroyed sea-lines as the bottom-line tramples above all. Sea temperatures rise. Fish suffocate. Shorebirds are decimated. The eco-system is defiled. Disease is bilged out. Invasive species are in. Migratory birds starve on arrival. Our hearts are misguided. Nothing is sacred. Life is compromised. Ironically (scream),

I have a property on French Island (that overlooks the proposed AGL site) that was purchased in the 80’s after the planned ‘Nuclear’ Site (and other gross industrial developments & ports on the island) were defeated in the 70’s by conservationists on environmental concerns, the unique habitat was protected and the investors off-loaded it. History is repeating itself now with the AGL proposal and I am grateful to all Save Westernport organisers & supporters.
Hark back to that sparkle in our eyes as we delighted in our summer (powerless) camping by the sea-side; when we swam and surfed and beach-combed and played beach cricket and everyone joined in so you could never make a run except the dog who would run off with the ball. When we’d swim around the seaweed encrusted rocky outcrops at low tide and name them Madagascar and Ceylon(!) and duck dive down to explore the seabed’s myriad plants and creatures.

Evening walks along the beach, strolls at sunrise ahead of the heat. Year after year.
One thing led inexorably to another. The long Endless Summer holidays were not enough. When we needed a fix, the family would pile into the loaded car on day trips from the city to the coast.

Then one day, after being rudely abandoned on the beach by our parents (again, the good old days) for so long that the squabbling between us four kids over food and drink remnants was reaching a murderous pitch, they at last returned, their working class faces wreathed in the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen before or since. “We’ve just bought a beach shack” grinning at us idiotically, we all sat on the sand in stunned silence, then all hell broke loose. A weekender!! with sea-views! Before too long, clad in our PJs, we’d saunter over from that shack to the sea-cliff edge to watch the sunrise and check out the surf. Dad fished to his heart’s content and Mum took long early morning beach walks.

Next came the sea-change, where we were living the dream all year round. When we learnt that in winter, reality bites and expands well beyond the benign fair-weather friendship. I grew to understand an isolation and aloneness new to me in this alien place, and in time, gained great solace and resilience through that connection.

I’d sit on a rock and stare out to sea; adolescent, alone, chilled and bereft. Until that inward gaze turned outward to the howling winds, scuttling clouds, soaring birds, buffeted banksias, wild seas and roaring huge winter swells. Decades on, my appreciation of Western Ports’ complex eco-system has deepened; but still it is my rock by any other name. “When no-one can hear me calling, I have you I can sing to”. Its sanctity allows me to carry my grief, as I lose the ones I love, for there it is, in all its wonder, the nurturing spirit of Western Port Bay, offering us all its priceless embrace.