Solastalgia by Jan Parker

Solastalgia by Jan Parker

Westernport Bay is a beautiful, wise, unsung quiet achiever; gentle beach coves, surf beaches, nature walking trails, unparalleled bird watching, unique coastal scrub and freshwater lakes.
Westernport Bay has a natural integrity that is precious and irreplaceable. That is evident in its listing as an internationally recognised, significant Ramsar Wetland site since 1982. It is well known as one of the three most important areas for migratory shorebirds in south-east Australia.
The Bay was also declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2002 (one of only nine in Australia).

I have been a visitor to many parts of the bay consistently over the past 20 years. To walk, observe, regenerate and to take photographs for my art practice. When I alight on any part of Westernport’s shores, she is instantly recognisable as being a very important and unique natural environment with a great deal to offer. The bay’s wetland areas are so fascinating to me. I particularly love mangroves and am so in awe of their quiet strength in stabilising coastal systems, nutrient cycling and the wildlife habitat they provide.

I gain much inspiration from their resilience and subtle complexities.

Westernport Bay is an understated beauty, a jewel in Victoria’s crown, a surviving example of other precious environments that are now just a memory…. a memory of ones that heavy industry has smashed down before for short term financial gains.

My love is for the mud, marshy swampland that is hard to traverse, tangled roots of mangrove, seagrass meadows and saltmarshes. It doesn’t seem like much is going on there………but underneath the water, inside the mud and marsh, skittering along the shoreline around the mangrove roots and in the scrubby trees is a complex, fragile, incredibly rich diversity of fauna, flora and marine life, the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.

It is a bay with extraordinary, ecological values. The wetland flora diversity creates the food chains that sustain marine life and provide food for the 36 species of migratory shorebirds that land there for a sustained time every single year coming from within the Arctic Circle. It provides for thousands of local avian lives every day.

It is very quiet there, lapping water a constant companion, major tidal swings always bringing a different view and places to explore. It is a place for meandering, observing, sitting, contemplating, regenerating and somewhere just to be with an unsung hero…nature.

As I said, Westernport Bay is a quiet achiever.

AGL I believe you are being dishonest with Australians. Claiming that Victoria needs a gas terminal in Westernport Bay for its domestic needs and not owning up to the facts that the huge sell off in 2015 to GLNG and then selling your entire free gas portfolio to the LNG plants as the real reason for the shortfall.

That the plant will drive gas prices down is blatantly untrue. The LNG will be imported at raised international prices. AGL, you are a gas company, how could you not have been acutely aware of the decline in Bass Strait and stepped up sooner in moving to renewables?

AGL you do not have social approval to go ahead with this project. There is overwhelming community protest.

AGL your risk assessments merely contain regurgitated publicly known facts but contain no real, scientific investigations into the specific impacts of the plant on Westernport Bays environment.

AGL if you go ahead with your proposed re-gasification plant and the subsequent, inevitable and irreversible major degradation of the fragile ecosystems of Westernport Bay you will be responsible for creating a cultural malaise amongst the millions of local and visiting people who love unique Westernport Bay for what she is, a rare opportunity to experience a sense of wilderness less than 2 hours from Melbourne.

My message to our politicians is, ‘How could you even consider agreeing to the senseless pollution and despoiling of such a precious environment and be prepared to lose Victoria’s premier tourism destination worth billions of dollars?’

Personally, I will feel an incredible environmental grief if this Bay is pulled asunder by AGL’s dirty gas plan.

Will there never be an end to our desecration of nature?

Heart Story by Stacey Chilcott

Heart Story by Stacey Chilcott

I grew up in a seaside town known to many as Hastings, in Victoria. I learnt about nature with my Mum who would take my brother and I along the Warringine Park boardwalk after school. As a young child, I used to sit and curiously watch the mud crabs scurry around, dwarfed by the mangroves and melaleucas that surrounded us. Connecting with nature on these walks taught us that there was more to our world than burgeoning local industries and housing developments.

At that age I had no idea about bureaucratic and financial terminologies adults used to value ecosystems like this. Nor did I know that this place would qualify as a Ramsar wetlands or a Biosphere Reserve. All I knew was that it was a special place for me and my family. So special, it inspired me to become an aquatic biologist and dedicate my life to protecting fragile and integral ecosystems like Westernport Bay.

Most recently, this area has been subject to a development proposal by AGL and APA Group, who intend to develop an intrusive Floating Regasification Unit (FSRU) and pipeline in Westernport Bay, in the heart of the Warringine Ramsar Wetlands. I feel fortunate to be a part of a dedicated and stoic community group who are fighting this proposal by reflecting the intrinsic connection we all share with this special place, our home. This community group, called Save Westernport, has garnered the attention of an NGO, Environment Victoria, who are supporting our cause to push for the protection of this area because they recognize how ludicrous it would be for our government to permit AGL to install a 300m long gas factory in the wetlands.

Collectively, we are all concerned that there is no need for this development, that the development is not financially beneficial for the region or environmentally safe for the climate, that the local environmental impacts, such as light pollution, bushfire risk and damage to the coastal areas are going to be disastrous for the longevity of this 25 year project. But personally, I am worried that this development will have a detrimental impact on current and future generations, who will suffer solastalgia.

I implore our politicians to stand with our community and fight with heart against this project and to push for a strengthening of our environmental laws. This proposal should never have come so far.

I want to thank my local community, our Boon Wurrung Traditional Custodians and everyone who has pitched in to support this campaign to keep AGL out of our beautiful, sacred waterways.

These special places should be protected for every being.

Link to Stacey’s powerful video

Heart Story by Elke Emerald

Heart Story by Elke Emerald

I didn’t mean to live on the Mornington Peninsula, but life has habit of having its own way sometimes.
So, after joyful years living in NZ – life bought me to Bittern.

I had no idea that this delightful place was tucked away here south of Melbourne.

There are bike paths, and walking paths and beautiful beaches. Wineries, breweries, gardens.
Without a lie, I’ll tell you this – we moved to Bittern in Oct 2018 and we had houseguests every night from Dec 22 2018 to April 25 2019: waving one dear friend off and welcoming another, with just enough time to change the sheets!

This speaks to the enthusiasm to visit this part of the world.

Our ‘guest trail’ is beautiful – bike rides from Jacks Beach to Hastings, lunches at breweries and wineries, swims at Gunnamatta Beach, snorkeling at Flinders Pier, learning about the Ramsar listing, Coolart wetlands, visits to ‘the other side’ (Port Philip Bay side), walking at Arthurs Seat and treks to the very end of Nepean Point.

What a beautiful place – all within a couple of hours on the train to Melbourne-town for a day of museums, galleries, shopping and restaurants.

And now: the grief of the possibility of losing all this to foolish profit, greed and mistaken arguments about ‘essential power’. I learnt of this proposal in an almost offhand comment from the Estate Agent, after we’d signed the contract. I guess it was a case of buyer beware. But I am not sorry I am here. I delight in this beautiful community still.

But here we are, fighting to stop all this being given away, the bay destroyed – all for the profit of faraway business leaders and faceless shareholders.

What a travesty.

Westernport Bay – BR Sallmann

Westernport Bay – BR Sallmann

My relationship with Westernport bay is that it has functioned as a compass since moving to the peninsula with my family when I was eight years old. It started at its southern entrance – Flinders ocean beach – where one day I found myself crunched up in the shallows in winter, starting to question my conviction that moving to the beach from the city meant I absolutely needed to swim in the ocean every single day.

My addiction to the coast has since softened as I have moved further north along the bay, however I am becoming increasingly aware that if I found myself living inland in the future, tucked away from the coast, something would be missing. I am too well-adjusted to that salty taste, and the crisp southern air, and the grits of sand that constantly pepper my carpet and stick to my toes. Yet amidst the ongoing refusal by myself and likeminded others to allow AGL’s commoditisation of the bay, I find myself wondering if I could even stand to see the waterline at all, polluted with the money-man’s toys.

Running along the bay at sunrise has been a consistent habit of mine for years and knowing how easily I’d give that up if the proposal went ahead shows me how deeply disturbing AGL’s idealised reality would be. Even for those with a merely superficial connection to the bay – those who overlook it from wealthy clifftops and see the bay primarily as an asset – stand to lose their money to the pockets of the powerful.

Every ship would represent a failure – for us, for the wildlife, for the future of energy production and power division – to win a fight that should never have taken place at all. I refuse to lose to an opponent who fights in blatantly corrupt and manipulative ways. I refuse to lose upon a land rich in the potential for sustainable energy production to an archaic and toxic exploitation of finite resources. I refuse to accept the decisions of those who favour the whip of fast cash over what is ethical, and healthy, and compassionate, and sustainable. And those inside and outside of the community who choose inaction, whose failure to become angry and question what they are told represents the easiest form of compliance.

I am only twenty-five, I do not own land here nor pay rates. I do not feel any sense of ownership over the bay or feel pulled to the cause by any sense of personal affront that I could lose my beach, as it is not mine, nor yours, nor (and especially), business dealers and money makers. I do, however, feel a responsibility to speak up for it. Like all other natural environments, Westernport bay is a collective space that deserves respect. It gives life and takes nothing from us in return. It serves as a lesson to us that greed does not perpetuate infinite resources, but that the bay too, can suffer and become weak if we take too much.

We need to learn to tread lightly and protect our generous environment from those who do not.

Sacha’s Story

Sacha’s Story

Westernport has a particularly special spot in my heart. It’s been my playground since I was a teenager. It’s my saltwater therapy. A safe, reef-lined bay full of surf breaks, tree lined shores and peaceful beaches. Westernport has given me space, healing, time to be myself, play, be free, feel wild and human. I owe this wilderness for keeping me true to myself and on my best path in life. Priceless. Such is the roll of wilderness that is disappearing around the world. Ancient cultures often used time alone away from villages and in nature as a right of passage. The value of this has been lost to most in our modern culture, but in our heart of hearts, not forgotten.

As we become more familiar with wild spaces, we begin to relate to them as more than ecosystems. To me Westernport is a living, breathing entity. Her mangroves and seagrass beds are lungs drawing down 4 times the amount of carbon than terrestrial forests. They’re also kidneys filtering toxins from storm water, keeping our oceans clean and fish stocks healthy. Her breath is the tides, each one regenerating and reinvigorating the system and exchanging nutrients with the ocean. Her blood and flesh are the mudflats, offering up nutrients to the birds that migrate from around the world to feed on. Her bones are the reefs creating waves we can surf and have fun on. Her shallow waters are her arms, a nursery for fish, sharks and rays, seahorses, crays and crabs. Her deep channels are home to the Burrunan dolphins, and an appreciated quiet pitstop for larger whales along their migration paths.

The value of Westernport surpasses economic value that could be put on her. She effortlessly maintains the systems we need to protect us from climate change, unfunded and unaided. She provides us with healthy aquaculture, delivers us fun and happiness in the forms of waves, fishing, diving, and simple ocean gazing. She homes, feeds and protects all the species that form an integral part of the health of her overall system and the ones linked to her. And she cleans our air by replenishing life giving oxygen and mood boosting ozone. Did you know two-thirds of the planet’s total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton?

So take in 3 breaths and thank the oceans for 2 of them.

 

Brian Thomas’ story

Brian Thomas’ story

My first memory of Western Port was driving down Stony Point Road to the jetty and there on the mudflats was a small group of Yellow–billed Spoonbills. This was sometime around 1978 or 79 and as a newcomer to Australia the sight of spoonbills just milling around near the shore was terribly exotic and etched itself into my memory. I had no idea at the time of course that I would return to live and work within cooee of this endlessly fascinating bay.

I was on my way to French Island with a friend and this was also my first introduction –albeit brief – to that amazing island. Years later, I was to take part in catching koalas on French Island for relocation to the mainland and this took me to parts of the island seldom seen except by residents and rangers. The beautiful heathland in flower in spring time and wildflowers and orchids springing up on the fire breaks were memorable moments.

Visiting with the Peninsula Birdwatchers in the 1980s we were led by the indefatigable Des Quinn, striding over the countryside, on his long legs, dragging a weary group of birdwatchers in his wake. He showed us some wonderful birdlife – Cape Barren Geese in the paddocks, Swamp Harriers drifting low over the mashes and Sea Eagles soaring high overhead. It was all a wonderful introduction to the very special wildness of Western Port.

My interest in birds has drawn me into several surveys – some one-offs and others with a bit more longevity. One of my first was a banding trip with the Victorian Wader study Group. This group has done incredibly valuable work in the study of migratory and resident shore birds by fitting identification bands on the legs of birds to track their movements and in recent years with advanced technology, by fitting geo-locators to birds to do the same. Some of the results have been mind boggling with birds flying up to 10,000 km non-stop on their migratory journey! On this occasion, though the gods were against us and we were unable to catch any birds, however what sticks in my mind was the bay itself as we walked back along the shoreline. The sea was perfectly still – like the proverbial millpond – and in the setting sun, the reflections of the mangroves and the lines of colour on the water and in the sky was a sight that Turner could have painted.

Another banding expedition I took part in was catching Pied Oystercatchers. The Oystercatchers are one of the few shorebirds whose population is doing OK. French Island is important for these ground-nesting birds because of its remote beaches (with few people) and the absence of foxes. What I remember best about this outing was laying behind the scrub covered fore-dune and watching the sandpipers, stints and godwits slowly making their way towards us as the tide rose and covered their feeding grounds and drove them quietly towards us.

I also took part in a bird survey which was related to a port development proposal of some sort (I forget exactly which one, but there always seems to be someone who wants to “develop” Western Port and we always seem to have to repeatedly supply information as to why they shouldn’t). Anyway, this was Western Port in a different mood. Part of the survey was done from a boat (the part that I was participating in) and the weather was wet and windy but we managed to complete the survey (one of several) despite the conditions.

I also had the opportunity through my work learn a bit about a habitat that although I was familiar with on a superficial level I soon discovered that I knew little about the actual plants and animal that lived there. For a couple of years I coordinated an intertidal survey called Reef Watch at Mushroom Reef, Flinders. This involved surveying and recording the sea life within quadrants (metre squares) placed on the reef. To do this the surveys had to be timed for low tide and it was always a worry that I’d get the times wrong and the team would turn up to a submerged reef. Fortunately this never happened but there was one occasion when we had to beat a hasty retreat as the tide started to fill up the neck of the reef (our way back to shore) and we had to splash through the rising tide.

What I did get from this work though – thanks to the very knowledgeable volunteers who had been doing this for years – was an appreciation of just how varied the life is in this inhospitable zone and of course one couldn’t help notice the birds that use this zone too; the Sooty Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the rocks (one of these Turnstones wearing the aforementioned geolocator was tracked flying 4000 km non-stop on its migration), Red-necked Stints following the tide in and out on the sandy beach and Double-banded Dotterel amongst the sea weed, this New Zealand shore bird breeds in NZ and is the only east-west migrating shorebird in the world.

At present apart from enjoying the bay on a casual basis I take part in two bird surveys: the Orange –bellied Parrot Survey – a search for what is probably our rarest parrot (to date we haven’t seen one but we live in hope and there are always other interesting birds about) and the Western Port Bird Survey – possibly the longest running bird survey in Australia. The Western Port Survey is always interesting, especially if you have the luck to survey some of the more remote corners of the bay. The birdlife is astounding; Red-necked Avocets with their impossibly thin, delicate, upturned bills, yapping Black winged Stilts on their ridiculously long pink legs, flocking migratory birds in their hundreds, flotillas of hundreds of ducks, Caspian Terns with their long red bills, Gull-billed Terns with their neat black caps and so much more.

It’s an avian wonderland worthy of a David Attenborough documentary here on our door step, or if not exactly our door step at least a short walk down the garden path.

 

Ella’s Story

Ella’s Story

Not one day has passed without a soft smile of gratitude for this special place on my lips. It is heaven here. When we first moved here over a year ago I explored the walking tracks around the beach and bay and felt I’d come home, my heart fulfilled and excited for my children to grow up in this space.It’s like time has stood still here.

From the couch where I have been counselling since covid hit I can look out across the bay. The water reassures me. The big sky and towering pine trees remind me of what’s important. The spirit of the bay energises and grounds me. Locals express such appreciation and love for the place regularly to me.

I became aware of AGLs intentions because of the legendary work of ‘The Signwriter.’ (It was only recently after reading his heartstory that I realised I actually know who he is because we are dear friends with one of his family members and I recognised sections of his story!) I have much respect for him and all community members fighting for their beloved country and sea.

I look at my children Charlie and Aiya playing in the water and they’re just so damn happy here. We teach them to look after Mother Earth, that we are not the masters but part of the ecosystem itself. How do we fight the greed?

I dream of mass action in order to make the Govt listen. I fear that profit so often wins out and leaves a trail of destruction. Yet we must keep hope. We must keep fighting. Earth warriors have won before and we will win again. Let it be this battle.

Let us do all we can to protect this rare sanctuary and all its inhabitants. Let us use our anger as our momentum. We can’t let Richard Wynne. (Surprised and disheartened to learn he was once a Social worker as I am- Social justice being a core value of our practice)

Our house is kept warm by gas but I’d sacrifice it. We don’t actually need gas to survive and thrive. Let us live more wisely and more simply so our children get to see the beauty of this place at our age, so they too can look for dolphins playing in the water with their own kids as we do.

 

Heart Story from Bianca F

Heart Story from Bianca F

I decided to make the tree change/ sea change to the Mornington Peninsula just over 10 years ago. I was rebuilding my life after a nasty marriage and a welcome divorce. I quickly realised that the Westernport side of the peninsula was for me and, after several months of house hunting, found my Forever Home.

Slowly I explored the region that I had called home. I discovered Balnarring Beach…. I discovered the pelicans at Stony Point…. I discovered Hastings jetty and foreshore… I discovered Tooradin… I discovered how lovely the drive is around Westernport as you head to Phillip Island…

In the meantime, I remarried and had children.

And, would you believe, it has taken me 10 years, but I only discovered this year the “secret path” at Crib Point, that starts adjacent to the jetty?! It has quickly become our favourite family walk destination. (Luckily, it is within 5km of home so we can still enjoy the walk despite the current lockdown.)

The tranquillity of the region has been a great balm for me. I feel rather chuffed that I live alongside an internationally recognised (RAMSAR) region. The natural beauty of Westernport is obvious and the thought of it being desecrated by heavy industry is sacrilegious.

Go away AGL. (For that matter, go away Kawasaki too.)

Leave our community alone and in peace.

 

Libby Moore’s Story

Libby Moore’s Story

My family purchased our house at Somers when I was born. I have spent long lazy summers and cold invigorating winters at Western Port Bay. Each day I see the beach like a newborn with wonder and awe. The colours, tides, winds, clouds, rainbows, sounds and marine life bring with them a new daily combination and surprise. Secure in its beauty and unpolluted beaches, the subtle and dynamic changes of Westernport Bay are addictive. They are an integral part of my life memories from a childhood spent rowing my boat up the creek, swimming, fishing and sailing to a parent-hood sharing my special place with my children. They grew up swimming and boating with inquisitive dolphins, snorkelling the rock shelf and surfing.

It wasn’t always like this. There were dark times when in 1965 BP built a refinery for Crude Oil at Crib Point. Lights shone all night and a flame burned. Lumps of oil washed up on the beach at Somers along with dead Penguins and seals who were covered in black oil. After a trip to the beach we would have to wash outside with special detergent and throw away ruined towels and beach wear. Surf boards would be covered in thick oil. The rubbish from the tankers also washed up on the beach. Plastic containers and food waste thrown overboard. Fortunately, the refinery was closed down as it was not financially viable.

AGL maintain this would not happen again with their project. Do they really care? Have they done extensive risk management for the marine life in Western Port Bay? Will the mangroves which are fish breeding grounds and water filters, survive the proposed chlorine and water temperature changes. It is easy to pay a fine and leave the penguin, seal and dolphin carcasses washed up on the beach. AGL have extensive fines already for failing to meet emission targets, which indicate that the environment is not a priority.

Please save the pristine beauty of our bay and its marine life.

Please develop renewables for the future or our world.

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

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.