OF SEAWEED AND SAND ~ By Hannah Lewis

OF SEAWEED AND SAND ~ By Hannah Lewis

I started coming to Balnarring Beach for holidays when I was 6 years old and moved permanently to Balnarring 36 years ago. This is my story.

My earliest memories of Balnarring are the mountains of seaweed that we clambered through as children and threw handfuls at each other, watching my grandfather cook large periwinkles in a saucepan and being awestruck by the rockpools full of Neptune’s Necklace and sea lettuce out on the rocky shelf.

When my parents built a house in 1972, their block, covered in pigface was planted out over 4 decades with eucalypts and other trees that provided perches for sulphur crested cockatoos and koalas. It became a thriving habitat.

My memories of being a teenager are of catching flounder and garfish by spotlight at night with a spear and net, eating whiting and leatherjacket caught out on the bay by my dad and riding bikes around the streets of the Balnarring and Merricks foreshore, clambering up to the cave in Merricks (now filled with plastic foam) and imagining who might have sat there 100 years before me. Days of hot pink sunburnt skin and peeling noses and slathering ourselves with coconut oil and ‘bronze’ tanning lotion.

I remember the quaint dark green fibro and weatherboard post office and milk bar, now Tulum café, and the old store in a gravel carpark with iced over freezer chests, where the shopping centre now is.

A decade later and we were settled in Balnarring with three kids, buying icy poles for them on 38-degree Summer days and taking them for swims at Balnarring Beach and Merricks Beach after school. Summer brought Nippers at Point Leo, followed by surfing lessons with local legend Prue Latchford at the East Coast surf school. At 36 and 35, the boys still come back here to surf as often as they can and my daughter comes to share the beach of her childhood with her 5 and 2 year old.

My nostalgic memories of the bay and beaches were replaced by a different level of understanding when I had the privilege to work as an educator for over 25 years at Western Port Secondary College in Hastings. I worked with CERES Environment Park and Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to get our school accredited as a sustainable school. This started my journey into informed environmental awareness. I was involved in a range of arts based and environmental projects with Peninsula Health, Warringine Park and the shire.

I learnt from rangers Sean Wilmore and Gerard Cooke what a unique and special place Warringine Park is, from its ephemeral creeks and wetlands through to the southernmost coastal mangroves. As part of the school’s year 9 program, VCE biology and environmental science curriculum we walked its trails, boardwalks and beaches with 100s of students learning about its rich history and its incredible environmental value as a Ramsar wetland. We were incredibly lucky to have this as a local living, breathing resource.

I watched a year 8 boy gut and fillet a fish, like an expert, on a fishing expedition and fished off the Crib Point jetty with year 9s. Some of the boys would bring fresh fish to school, in an esky, for their favourite teachers after a weekend’s fishing. I travelled by ferry with the year 7s for over a decade, to get to their annual camp at Phillip Island, marvelling at the dolphins and whales we were lucky enough to spot, just out from Crib Point.

I was invited to take a group of students into the squelching mud of the marine park mangroves to observe and film a senior marine biologist from The Melbourne Museum and university students, carry out a core drilling exercise, the first one to take place since the 1970s.

The work I did at the school gave me a new lens on Western Port Bay and privileged experiences. This was my education into the deeper beauty, value and fragility of this landscape and place.

While I had visited Warringine Park, Jacks Beach and the area around the Crib Point jetty numerous times, I hadn’t been to the site of the AGL proposal till 2 years ago when I went there to take photos at Woolley’s Beach and get a grasp of where it was in relation to the marine park and wetlands. The coastal reserve has healthy remnant indigenous habitat: coastal tea, tree, orchids and healthy grasses. It has been, until more recent times, a quiet, unspoilt place where people walk their dogs and have a picnic.

The FSRU development would be in horrifyingly close proximity to the wetlands, mangroves and shoreline habitat and the fragile ecosystems within.

So how do I feel about AGL, their tactics and their proposal?
I feel a simmering, relentless anger. I feel anguish, fear for our bay and, at times, despair.

My story only skims the story of my connection to this place. I live it, breath it, walk it every day. When I pull the blind up in my bedroom in the morning, I glimpse its blue.

My roots are here. Its salty spray, Winter winds and bird cries are in my veins. It uplifts me, cleanses me and holds me close. Sometimes, when the wind is right, I can even hear its soothing waves at night.

I want this bay to be pristine and unspoilt for my grandchildren and future generations of children. Future generations don’t deserve to lose the joy and memories that this place offers. I want its mangroves, mudflats, shoreline and blue waters to remain healthy and the marine life and migratory birds to be put before profit and corporate greed. I don’t want its gentle landscape to be adulterated by an FSRU the size of the MCG and 17 stories high.

Heart Story and Poem from Rory McGinley

Heart Story and Poem from Rory McGinley

My message for AGL

Warn-mar-in (Westernport bay)

One sky
One humble bay
Blue-grey water
Time too far away
If you could just leave now
We could all stay

The sea
Is enough for all of us
Silver wave, beach, fallen tree
A foreign island
Just let us be

Shore scrub, simple sand
Innocent tide, needless land
Cleansing our unwashed hands
Humble waves surge
How could you so misunderstand

Bird song, fish
Cormorants gather
Low tide, the pure sands shift
The eddy’s fill the pools
In the morning mist

Herons fly above
Dolphins swim free
Whales dance
Without fear, the children
play on the quay

The tea-tree maze, greets
The beach, the healing waves
Across my heart this untouched water
Must be left alone
Or the gods will bring, the end of days

Rory Shaw McGinley, Crib Point July the 5th 2020


Rory’s Story

We came here from St Kilda because we no longer wanted to live in the clutter of the city. I didn’t really want to come, but I did. What it’s done has changed my life. My lifestyle has totally changed. I go to the beach most days and swim all year round.
When I found the beach, I found a reason for being here and I believe that God lives I Merricks beach. That’s why I go and see him every day.

It strips me back to who I am, to who I really am, barefoot. It gives you a connection to the heart. Merricks Beach is a lovely place. It’s always beautiful, but at low tide it’s especially beautiful. There’s a kind of metaphor there for being uncovered, the bareness of low tide, baring all of who you are. There it is, warts and all, like it or not kind of thing.

You see dolphins down there. A whole lot of shorebirds, eagles … it’s just beautiful, beautiful bush at the back of the beach as well. You get rid of all that crap from what you do. I work in construction. I work in multi storey buildings. It’s such a contrast being at Merricks Beach in a pair of bathers. It’s the other end of the world.

What I really l like about Western Port bay is the kind of humility it has. It’s not beckoning people like the south of France, the Riviera, or even Port Phillip Bay with its hype, really. Western Port Bay just sits there quietly being beautiful. It’s a very simple kind of bay with French Island right in the middle of it. For me it’s the innocence and humility it has and that’s why it doesn’t need anything else added to it.

I love Wooley’s Beach. It’s a great place to go and sit and contemplate. I love the contrast there with the mangroves, the wetlands compared to the beaches you get further down the bay. Crib Point’s just a lovely little haven really. A place where you can get away from it all. Once again, it’s humble.

It doesn’t need any complications. It doesn’t need to be added to with a great, ugly FSRU.

At first, I didn’t think much about AGLs proposal. Then I started reading some of the initial environmental studies and found out that they’re going to use the water from the bay to evaporate the liquified gas. They are going to create chlorine for the electrical reaction system, to keep the heat exchange clean and pump that back into to the bay, at a temperature 6 to 7 degrees lower than it would have been when it got drawn in. There’s a whole eco system there and now it’s 6 degrees lower and stinks of chlorine! Things began to mount, and I realised, this is wrong it’s totally wrong.

I think a lot of people are ignoring the potential for a very bad accident as well. This a huge vessel and it’s full of liquified natural gas. If that goes off, if we were sitting here, which is 800 meters maybe a kilometre from it, it would be the end of it. It’s got such potential for an environmental disaster. That’s what really worries me.

If I was sitting across from the politicians, I’d say, ‘You need to come for a walk with me to Merricks Beach. Come with me for a ride around the bay and then tell me you want to dig a bigger trench because the shipping lane’s got to be widened, you want to bring in 12 to 40 more liquified gas carrier ships a year and you want to shove this horrible great thing in Crib Point, near my house. Come with me for a ride around the bay and see if you still want to do it.’

They wouldn’t know what Westernport is. Most people, they say, ‘Where do you live?’ and I say, ‘Crib Point.’ And they say, ‘Where’s that?’ I like it that way. I would show them the diversity of flora and fauna that exists in the little biosphere. Let them see. Why would you want to change this, make it different? We’re kind of devoluting evolution. We’ve done enough to the planet. Let’s leave the rest alone. What we’ve got left of it we are ruining.

Our beautiful Bay. That’s what I’d be showing them.

I was born in London and came here when I was 13 and even in England, we were always moving houses. We came to Australia and moved houses 2 or 3 times again and I have lived in 3 different places around St Kilda, for example, before we moved here. Even though when I go to London, I really have that sense of place, I’ve also found it here. There’s more to life than the day to day samsara, more to life than living and working in the city, with all the great cafes and restaurants.

I know I belong. This is where I belong. It’s a good place to stay and see it out. It’s grounded me. It’s made me see the world from a different point of view.

Western Port Bay – Liz Walker

Western Port Bay – Liz Walker

Western Port Bay – Liz Walker

I find Western Port Bay simply magical. Gazing out at the water, marvelling at its changing colours and watching the waves and eddies is such a joy but it’s the shoreline that brings me back time and time again.

I’m an artist and much of my work reflects the natural beauty surrounding us. I’m particularly interested in the small things that so often go unnoticed – shell and crustacean fragments and shards, scraps of seaweed and various other marine life- things that get washed up daily onto the sand.

To me the hightide line is absolutely beautiful – beached weed and shells, seagrass and holdfasts all tangle and weave together to form an ephemeral beach installation that is different each day and varies greatly during the year.

Watching the birds, collecting fishing line tangled in seaweed, sketching and thinking about the importance pf preserving this unique bay all inspire my work and my way of life.
Western Port Bay is the place I take my grandchildren to when they come to visit and it’s also the place I like to sit quietly and chat to my mother who died 2 years ago.

Stop AGL Westernport Summer Action Launch

Stop AGL Westernport Summer Action Launch

Come to our
Stop AGL
Westernport Summer
Action Launch!

Join us at Somers Hall for afternoon tea
with others who care about
our precious and unique Westernport environment. 

Westernport needs you! 

Find out about our campaign to protect
the Bay’s Internationally recognized wetlands,
its spectacular creatures and ecosystems
from the threat of AGL’s heavy industry.

Sunday December 1st, 2019

2-4pm 

afternoon tea

Somers Hall, RW Stone Pavilion,
68 Camp Hill Road
Somers

                                        *Please Note the 2pm start time, not Midday as reported elsewhere*