Places we call Home ~ By Melanie Attard – August 2020

My name is Mel, I have been a wildlife rescue volunteer for many years. I have seen first-hand the negative impacts of industrialisation, over development, habitat loss, bushfire, pollution, and climate change, on our flora and fauna. We see animals breeding out of season as the climate warms, their natural food sources unavailable. We see them moving into sheds, roller doors, wall crevices, and building sites, desperate for a tree hollow to sleep or breed in. Rubbish strangles our water birds. We have seen heat stress events killing off birds and possums in ever increasing numbers every summer. We were inundated with hundreds of ringtail possums in one single incident in Summer 2019 at Somers beach, Western Port Bay, after a record heat wave. I walked that beach with numerous other volunteers in 40-degree heat searching for survivors. The possums were so dehydrated and desperate, they drank sea water. I picked up one poor little possum sitting soaked, as the seawater lapped over the sand. We managed to rehabilitate a few of the survivors, who were later released back home into the foreshore vegetation. Our wildlife cannot tolerate such extreme conditions year after year.

I learned to surf around Pt Leo and Shoreham. I had one beginners surf lesson with East Coast Surf School and was totally hooked. I was a late starter! That refreshing cool salt water, new friendships, the physical challenges, and pure thrill of gliding across the face of a clean unbroken wave were enough for me. I have chased the days of big ground swells reaching further up the bay to locations such as Somers and Merricks. I have been delighted by penguins, dolphins, seals and those huge bull rays’ surprise appearances. I have been dumped and tumbled by energetic waves. Feeling the force of nature is such a wonderful thing. Working up the paddling strength to get onto waves, the fitness to pop up. To balance on a board with this moving force beneath you. Feeling the wave and adapting to her surges and lulls. Seeing the wild weather changes rolling in, dark clouds, icy rain, blasting wind, seeing the glassy surface of the water turn in an instant to chop and bump, the waves becoming a tangled mess of white soupy bubbles. Appreciating what is sent my way, just being out there. Some days are better than others…. getting dumped, holding my breath on the big swell days out at Second Reef (Pt Leo). Tucking my head in as I am tumbled like a ragdoll above the reef, at the mercy of that water I love so much.

I learned to sail at Balnarring Beach in dinghies. Pacer, Laser, Micron, Bic, wonderful little sail boats to harness the natural power of the wind, tacking this way and that, opening up the sails for a lazy down-winder back towards to beach. Tipping the boat right over and being thrown out while learning how to tack and jibe, sitting up on the rail, hanging over the edge of the boat with just water gliding beneath. Sprays of water causing excitement and laughter. Huge grins and cold hands, it’s all part of the adventure. Enjoying some fun social racing, making good friends, learning new skills. I joined Western Port Yacht club a few years ago and completed the beginners sailing courses. I have always enjoyed the friendships of like-minded salty sea lovers.

I have enjoyed years of cooling summer swims with good friends, picnics, birthday celebrations, long walks and adventurous beach and trail running around Hastings, Crib Point, Somers, Merricks, Balnarring, Pt Leo, Shoreham and Flinders. Hot chips and potato cakes from the Balnarring fish and chip shop on cooler days, a real treat. Ducking into the Op shops for a bargain. We are blessed to have an abundance of koalas at Coolart Wetlands, a wonderful bushland region to visit and walk. The peaceful hidden gem that is Jacks Beach at Crib Point, and the boardwalk to Hastings is a gorgeous place to walk or cycle, with intertidal mangroves and other salt loving vegetation visible off the edge of the boardwalk. A snap shot of the region as it once was, before European Settlement. Sea Eagles, Magpies, Mud Crabs, Silvergulls, Swamp Harriers, Pacific Gulls, Herons, Pelicans, Darters, Gannets, Ibis, Fairy Wrens, and Kookaburras, all visible on a quiet wander through the Warringine Bushland Reserve, one of the best boardwalks I have ever had the pleasure to meander along. I remember when summer bushfire ripped through the Warringine area in 2015, burning nearly 5000 hectares. My Dad and step mum were at home in Crib Point on evacuation alert, too late to leave, they stayed put.

I have enjoyed wonderful snorkelling around the reef edges. Seeing all sorts of marine life, large leathery kelp, bright green sea lettuce, knobbly Neptune’s necklace, fancy extravagant sea slugs, big eyed curious spikey puffer fish, and swift patterned little rays and skates. I enjoy the clean salty air, green spaces, wetlands, creeks, coastal habitats and bushlands surrounding Western Port Bay. My artwork reflects a strong connection to and appreciation of the local environment. Capturing the light, movement, the energy of these beautiful places that I call home.

I would like to keep it all this way. Big polluting, dangerous, fossil fuel industries are not welcome in Western Port Bay. It would break my heart to see AGL industrialise Crib Point with a massive floating gas terminal and pipeline. I want to know that these natural places will remain, for our flora and fauna to thrive, and for our kids to enjoy what we have been blessed and privileged to enjoy.

Picture above shows my 44th Birthday celebrated with friends on the foreshore of Western Port Bay (an annual event!)