Heart Story from Tom Hiney

Heart Story from Tom Hiney

I first met Westernport Bay 5 years ago when my partner, now fiancée, and her father took me to meet her for a surf. We arrived in Shoreham and strolled through the beautiful woodlands above her shore and as we broke through the tree cover, I could see her in all her beauty.

The views over to Philip Island, out through her heads into the Bass Straight and the beautiful coastline down to Flinders. The waves were perfect, the crowd was friendly, and the water was beautiful. Clear enough to see the sea grass and rocky reef below my feet as they hung down into the sea.

Weeks later we would come back on a swell-less day to snorkel here and spot Sting Rays and Weedy Sea Dragons.

Over the years, Westernport Bay and I have become firm friends, I see her every day, on my morning runs around Balnarring Beach and surf her waters as often as she provides swell. Always delighted to paddle out in her regardless of the temperature or season, I know I’ll have fun with her.

I’ve introduced my family and friends to her when they’ve visited from the UK and all have been impressed and amazed at her beauty and vistas, the sandy beaches and the wildlife filled mangroves. A stroll along her board walk in Warrangine, or standing on the Flinders Pier on a blustery day watching Gannets and Albatross soar.

Her wildlife is incredible, I’ve surfed with penguins and Fur Seals, snorkelled with Sea Dragons and Sting Rays and watched in amazement as Hooded Plovers and Red capped plovers scamper along her beaches trying to raise their young.

When I heard there was a Save Westernport group, it made complete sense to be involved to protect my dear friend.

The thought that AGL could propose a FSRU to ruin this magnificent space is heart breaking. Anyone who has set foot on her beaches and looked out across her will be staggered by the thought of industrialising her.

I urge any politicians thinking that AGL’s ridiculous and horrid plan is a good idea, to come and visit Westernport Bay, let me show you her dolphins, let’s watch the birds swoop over her waters feeding and admire the wild spaces along her boundaries.

If the FSRU goes ahead, my heart would break, knowing that my friend, my source of joy and wonder is going to be slowly destroyed by mans greed and ignorance – especially when two alternative locations exist that are not Ramsar wetlands or Marine National Parks and have the infrastructure in place.

 

EES Directions Hearing Begins

EES Directions Hearing Begins

The Directions Hearing for the Environment Effects Statement on AGL’s gas import proposal was held on September 17.

For the first time an EES Hearing will be live-streamed via video link due to COVID restrictions.

The Hearings will be chaired by Kathy Mitchell, Chief member of the five-member Inquiry Advisory Committee Panel. The Panel was appointed by the Victorian Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne to oversee the EES Hearings and advise him of their findings at its conclusion.

Ms Mitchell was clear and direct as she explained the purpose of the Directions Hearing, and laid out the schedule. The Panel Hearings will review the Environment Effects Statement that AGL prepared, and the thousands of submissions that the public has written in response. 

The IAC Hearings will begin October 12continuing every day except Fridays and weekends until mid December. The Panel will break for Christmas and return their finding sometime in mid-February 

The Hearings will be live streamed, and recordings made available the following day along with other information on the EngageVic IAC website here

At the Directions Hearing on September 17, each of the Panel members introduced themselves, followed by the legal teams for the represented parties. These were:

– The local Mornington Peninsula Shire Council

– Cardinia Shire Council 

– Key community and environmental groups Save Westernport, Environment Victoria and Victoria National Parks Association, (VNPA) represented by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA)

– the EPA 

– the Proponents AGL, and pipeline company APA

– the Port of Hastings Development Authority

An article about the Directions Hearing appeared in the Australian Financial Review the following day. 

The two most important aspects of the Directions Hearing were. 

1. Legal Counsel for Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (MPSC) requested the Hearings to be adjourned on the grounds that expert witnesses have not been able to conduct necessary site inspections due to current Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions.

They argued that it would be procedurally unfair to require expert witnesses for the Council and other groups to give evidence on subjects including visual amenity, marine impacts, coastal flora and fauna, traffic and more, without the benefit of visiting the various locations that would be affected by AGL’s project.

The IAC Panel seemed reluctant to allow any change to the Hearing schedule, but gave no reason for the rushed agenda.

In May this year AGL CEO Brett Redman claimed in The AGE that the EES process should be ‘fast-tracked’.

This led to concerns that the AGL CEO’s comments might have unduly influenced Minister Wynne’s decision that led him to announce that the EES would proceed without due regard for the difficulties of COVID-19, the State of Disaster, or the escalating restrictions of Stage 4 lockdown that as predicted, have been making participation in the EES process so difficult for the public. 

The Minister for Planning refused to be swayed by appeals from Save Westernport, from the Mornington Peninsula Mayor, local Member for Flinders Greg Hunt MP, and hundreds of members of the community, requesting that he consider how greatly the limitations of the pandemic would compromise people’s ability to write submissions and participate in the Public Hearings if the EES were allowed to proceed with COVID restrictions still in effect.

This will be the first time an EES Hearing has ever had to be remotely operated. DELWP representatives have confirmed that it is also the most complex EES ever held in Victoria.

Just as COVID restrictions limited the ability of the public to collaborate on reviewing thousands of pages of AGL’s EES reports to make a submission, AGL will also benefit from the inevitable advantage they’ll receive due to the considerable challenges of COVID-19 and the ways that will impact the EES Hearing. 

For the last two years, Witnesses for AGL have been able to visit the area without restriction. In contrast, our expert witnesses may not ever have the chance to see the proposed locations before being required to give evidence at the Hearing. 
Groups including Save Westernport will have difficulty  advising our legal teams in real time when neither of us can be present during the Hearings.  

In response to the request for an adjournment, the IAC Chair asked whether the local Council could simply issue permits to allow expert witnesses to visit the proposed locations. Panel members we’re issued with permits to visit the area last week.

In his response the Shire’s legal Counsel referred to the State government’s list of exemptions to COVID restrictions, pointing out that it does not allow for witnesses.

The Panel Chair stated that twice during their recent visit to the area, the Members’ vehicle was stopped by local police patrols to check their permits and ask where the group was going.

According to Ms Mitchell, unless permits for site visits can be arranged, we may have to accept that our expert witnesses will have to give evidence without the benefit of ever viewing the areas they’re required to report on.

Nevertheless, expert witnesses will play an important role, challenging AGL and the information they provided in their EES reports during the Hearings.

You can help us meet to costs of providing expert witnesses by DONATING to Save Westernport’s Fundraising campaign here. Expert witnesses will test AGL’s claims, and present detailed evidence on key subjects at the Hearings.

 

2. The second point of interest resulting from the Directions Hearing was Panel Chair Kathy Mitchell’s announcement that the IAC overseeing the Hearings and the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council have each issued AGL and APA with requests for further information that was not available in their EES reports.

Among the many tabled documents on the IAC website, are the extensive lists of further information that the proponents must supply.

These requests confirm what we discovered when AGL’s EES reports became available: they lack important detail and rely on flawed modelling, questionable data and incorrect assumptions.

The lists of extra information required by the IAC Panel and Mornington Peninsula Shite Council  are extensive and include requests for details of tidal and weather conditions that should’ve been provided with the original field work in the original EES reports and pipeline application.

Data on greenhouse gas emissions, on the handling of chlorine and formaldehyde, management of contamination by potential acid sulphate soil (PASS), management of increased truck traffic, the inadequacy of mitigation strategies and disposal of the oily sludge produced during regasification are further examples of the kind of extra information that is sought.

Other examples were listed in an article in the Financial Review this week.

AGL needed two years to prepare their EES reports. They now have until September 25 to outline how they plan to provide all that requested information to the Panel.

Counsel for the proponent AGL, Mr Townsend attempted to make light of the requests, claiming that additional information is routinely requested at this stage. However, if these details were available to AGL, surely they would have included it in their original EES it was released.

A recording of the Directions Hearing, and thousands of submissions from the public have been made available on the IAC Planning Panels website here

https://engage.vic.gov.au/crib-point-IAC

Panel Chair, Ms Mitchell provided this list of the main themes emerging in the public submissions so far. 

Members of the public who made submissions on the EES will be able to address the Panel at the Public Hearings. Whether people initially requested to speak for one hour or one minute, the large numbers of people wanting to address the Panel has made it necessary for spoken submissions from the public to be limited to just 8 minutes each.

This stage of the Hearings probably won’t commence until about mid November, and everyone who applied to speak will address the Panel via Zoom video link.

Suggested sites for the IAC Panel to visit, and numerous witness statements are available in the Tabled Documents for the Hearing. This list is constantly being updated.

For more information on the EES Hearings contact Andrea Harwood or Georgia Thomas of Planning Panels Victoria (03) 8392 5116

cribpoint.IAC@delwp.vic.gov.au.

The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has suggested that the Panel should visit sites on French Island, Woolleys Beach and Warringine Park. It’s hoped that Panel members will appreciate the extent of environmental degradation the AGL proposal would bring unless it is rejected.

Warringine Park, between Crib Point and Hastings lies within the Westernport Ramsar site. The Park is considered significant to the survival of critically endangered migratory bird species, including the Far Eastern Curlew and the Fairy Tern. 

If the project ever went ahead, Warringine Park would be severely impacted by the construction of a new gas pipeline that would bisect its fragile wetlands.

A Virtual Tour of Warringine Park is available here

Bass Coast Council has also suggested several a locations on Phillip Island.

A virtual tour of Ryhll on Phillip Island is available here

If AGL proceeded with their deeply unpopular plans, upper estimates of 40 LNG tankers per year would increase commercial shipping traffic in Westernport by as much as 40% for the next twenty years.

The ever-present spectre of AGL’s proposed floating gas factory at Crib Point, the visiting LNG tankers, dredging (‘levelling’) and diesel-belching tug boats, would permanently change the character of Westernport, altering its vista across the Bay from nearly every lookout and vantage point.

This and other disastrous impacts and safety concerns are detailed Save Westernport’s submission against the AGL proposal and EES. Read it here.

Despite the limitations and difficulties of COVID, we should congratulate ourselves that a total of 6,059 submissions have officially been received by the EES Panel in opposition to the AGL proposal.

These public submissions can be viewed here on the IAC website ( Inquiry Advisory Committee).
The Panel Chair confirmed at the Hearings that a controversial decision by Planning Panels Victoria has resulted in thousands of submissions being excluded from the official tally. Save Westernport raised this matter through our legal representative at the Directions Hearing. This resulted in the official tally being revised upwards from 3083 to 6059.

Even though this total smashed all previous records for EES submissions received in Victoria, the Panel’s decision not to count as many as half the submissions received has angered and disappointed many people.

This outcome was attributed to “incorrect advice” that meant thousands of submissions were lodged through an alternative government email address.

Understandably, the decision has been confusing, because the department acknowledges receiving some, but not all of the submissions through the alternate, (incorrect) website, and all submissions in question were received before Planning Panel’s deadline on August 26.

While submissions in this group will not be counted as individual submissions, Planning Panels Victoria states that they WILL be still be reviewed, and the information they contain taken into account. 

The enormous number of submissions against the AGL proposal is still many times greater than the numbers usually received for EES projects in Victoria, which confirms the extent of community interest, concern and overwhelming opposition to AGL’s plans.

Remember, Save Westernport is still raising urgently needed funds to take on AGL at the Panel Hearings on October 12.

 

Save Westernport will be represented during the EES Hearings by Environmental Justice Australia. However, we are still short of our target to provide legal Counsel throughout the two months of Hearings, and to engage expert witnesses to challenge the inadequate technical and ecological information contained in AGL’s EES reports. 

The average cost of an expert witness to provide a report and undergo cross examination by AGL’s barristers is over $5,000 each.

You can help by donating to help us meet the costs of expert witnesses and legal representation to take on AGL at the EES Hearings. Our barristers will be required to attend up to ten weeks of Hearings, and will be appearing at a greatly reduced rate. 

If you’re able to help us challenge AGL, you’ll also be helping us make sure the community’s interests are represented at the EES Hearings, 

PLEASE MAKE A DONATION TODAY.

We are determined to demonstrate how inappropriate and unnecessary AGL’s Gas import plans in Westernport really are.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Save Westernport’s EES Submission

Save Westernport’s EES Submission

:

Save Westernport’s  Submission against AGL’s Environment Effects Statement has been lodged with Planning Panels Victoria, who will now oversee the Public Hearings for the EES.

Our submission can now be viewed here

Many Thanks to everyone who collaborated to produce this wonderful work, and to Chris and Jane from Save Westernport for bringing together the many contributions.

Thanks also to Victor and all Save Westernport’s campaign partners at Environment Victoria- EV, Westernport Peninsula Protection Council- WPPC, Phillip Island Conservation Council- PICS, and Victorian National Parks Association- VNPA, and to all our wonderful friends.

I am so encouraged by what we were able to achieve in just 40 days, under extremely difficult lockdown conditions. 

The next stage of the EES will be the Panel Hearings beginning on October 12.

You can DONATE to support us at the EES Hearings against AGL 

Those of you who indicated in their submissions that they’d like to address the Panel directly will have the opportunity to do this via video link at the Hearings. 
Planning for the Panel Hearings will begin on October 12.

Remember, these Hearings will require us to go up against Energy giant AGL—to take on the limitless resources of a corporation with past convictions for “deceptive and misleading conduct” 

But we still have to reach our fundraising target.
Funds are urgently needed to secure the best legal support and expert witnesses to ensure 
the interests of our community are represented at the Hearings.
This will be essential to challenge AGL’s exploitative plans.

To contribute to this monumental effort, please consider…‘What Does Westernport Mean to Me..?.’

and PLEASE Donate Here.

By pooling our resources, however large or small, we can make sure those without a voice  are heard.

Donate Now to the No AGL Campaign

And let’s do this!!

Julia Stöckigt,

Secretary Save Westernport 

 

 

Still Time to Make a Submission

Still Time to Make a Submission

Making a Submission before September 1 is the best way to STOP AGL.
It’s our chance to have a say and stop the exploitation of our precious natural world.

You can write you own submission on the EngageVic website here 

OR

Write a ‘fast and furious’ submission  using Environment Victoria’s   Survey-to-Submission tool 

 

1.) To write your ‘fast and furious’ Environment Victoria submission follow the steps below:

Yesterday the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) decided that each submission must go through their site, so they have put another step in place:

1. Go to this link: https://environmentvictoria.org.au/build-submission

2.Fill out the survey and amend if necessary, then submit
Due to DELWP’s new requirement that all submissions must go through their EngageVic website, Environment Victoria will then email your submission back to you.

3. Once you have received your submission from EV go to the DEWLP site:
engage.vic.gov.au/crib-point-IAC  click on: Make your submission.

4. Answer their questions then copy and paste your submission into to the “Add your submission” box

Job done. (Thanks Rod Knowles)

2) If you can write your own, more detailed submission and/or would like to attend the Panel Hearings in person to have your voice heard, make sure you tick the box when submitting here:

3) Check out Environment Victoria’s tips on How to Make a Deadly Submission against AGL  here 

4) Last week Mornington Peninsula Shire Council voted unanimously to oppose AGL’s dangerous, unnecessary plans.
Council’s Submission against AGL is now online here.
You might find it helpful when writing your own submission.


They suggest writing about whatever point/s  you decide to make, whether that’s Marine Life, Safety, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Birds, etc using the words of the ‘Evaluation Objectives’.

The EVALUATION OBJECTIVES  are in the blue box at the start of each section of the Council’s submission..
Please feel free to copy and paste text from their online Submission, but to give it more value, they advise adding some of your own perspective and words.
MPSCouncil’s submission starts on page 4  here.

We’ve heard the number of Submissions AGAINST AGL that Minister Wynne and the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) have already received has Blown the previous record right out of the water !

Let’s keep going, and really send the message home—
There’ll be NO AGL IN WESTERNPORT !

Habitat & Home, Where The heart Is by Chloe Farmer

Habitat & Home, Where The heart Is by Chloe Farmer

Western Port Bay is a place sacred to me. It holds a special place in my heart. I have lived in Somers, Flinders and Shoreham, and in recent years returned from bayside Melbourne to Balnarring.

Like a holdfast tethering strands of seaweed in underwater forests, this place anchors the many threads woven throughout my life. Experiences, memories, connections…personal, family, community…social, environmental, artistic, spiritual.

And I know this is not unique to me. People from communities around Western Port Bay, and beyond, hold similar sentiments. People are connected to place, not separate from it. Our stories, our lives, are inextricably woven with the lands and waters.

For many thousands of years the Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation, have sung up these lands and waters with their stories, living in sacred balance, with great reverence and care for Country.

Western Port Bay is a place of unique charm, natural beauty and clean, clear living waters. A place of international ecological significance. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with Ramsar wetlands, and three marine national parks located within its boundaries. A haven for wildlife, shores where migratory birds return. The Bay’s varied habitats host an abundance of diverse species, some endemic, like the magical Weedy Seadragon.

For me, walking the shoreline is a never-ending source of artistic inspiration, a soul nourishing practice of contemplation and communion. I marvel at the cycles alive in the changing tides, colours of the skies and waters. It continues to fill me with wonder and teach me about the miraculous web of life.

I feel great sadness that unpolluted wild places are rapidly shrinking all over the world. Oceans are polluted and overfished. Land and waterways poisoned. Humans continue to plunder and destroy so much of our environment in the name of ‘progress’, the consumption of resources, and the pursuit of money – to feed an insatiable ‘machine’.

Places like Western Port Bay are precious. They are irreplaceable. Priceless. To threaten to harm them is irresponsible, unconscionable and sacrilegious. Companies such as AGL show their greed, short-sightedness and blatant disregard by continuing to invest in infrastructure for fossil fuels in the midst of a Climate Emergency.

This place is home to many more species than humans. We are part of a complex ecosystem that has functions and needs beyond ours. It is our duty to care for, not our entitlement to plunder. We must protect places like Western Port Bay, before it’s too late.

For future generations. For the dolphins, whales, seals, fish, sharks, penguins, birds, koalas, seagrass beds, mangroves and indigenous flora, for the myriad forms in the web of life that call this place Home.

CASSANDRA CALLING

CASSANDRA CALLING


(click on the images for more about this book)

 

An essay by Peg Mcguire

 

… the concept of conservation faces enormous, apparently almost hopeless odds. Already much of the biological and environmental damage is nearly irreversible … the outspoken conservationist is seen as a Cassandra prophesying woe – he may be right but he will not be popular.[1]

 The present sees us bedevilled and bewildered by frightening new realities on home soil, the inescapable effects of climate change that wrought wildfires across tropical rainforests and temperate coastal beaches alike followed on its heels by the invisible pandemic entailing unemployment and social isolation. It is surely now inconceivable that AGL continue to bribe and bully its way to restart the rampant destruction of marine, island and mainland habitat on a monumental scale? If AGL succeeds, its mega-plant will obliterate all prospects but itself from the foreshore. With banksias still blackened by an arsonistʼs fire four years ago, the prospect of fire onboard the robotic liquification plant is catastrophic; ignition would begin a fireball a kilometre across.

Woolleyʼs Beach is at the heart of Westernport and remains central to the struggle for the preservation of its huge coastal nursery and bears the wounds of 20th century industrialisation. Take the now alienated, heavily polluted elevated ground in Disney St fronting the Esplanade with its flat, far-reaching views. In 1963 Victorian Premier Henry Bolt colluded with British Petroleum to create an oil refinery here built to last for generations aided by excessive subsidies for infrastructure. Abruptly closed down some twenty years later and abandoned, now known locally as the ‘tank farmʼ, pampas grass prospers, a vestige of the original, sweeping landscaping. [2] Only the award winning 1965 Administration Building below was preserved and is now serving as a militaristic maritime museum.

In 2020, Crib Point is at the heart of AGLʼs grandiose, global plans just as it was for the industrialists last century. Overlooking the long jetty built to span the shallows and reach the channel, once so largely gifted to BP, AGL eyes the bay hungrily; their impatience grows. Ordered to halt all works while an ecological survey is made, AGL has nevertheless made preparatory moves. Their access via Woolleyʼs Rd has been considerably upgraded since, presumably paid for, not by AGL, but by the responsible authority, Vic Roads. Then just a month ago, alerted by Save Westernport members, the local paper spread a front page photo of a bulldozer having gutted out the foreshore vegetation; the caption read:

The Save Westernport group has described as “appalling” the clearing of several hectares of native bushland at the proposed site of the AGL floating storage and regasification unit at Crib Point jetty. Contractors hired by the Port of Hastings Development Authority used a bulldozer and backhoe for the works. [Westernport News 10.03.20]

The collusion apparent between the private company and our public entity is a recurrent, grave concern.

A previous incarnation of a Save Westernport movement began in 1970 to protest the usurpation and despoliation of the western foreshore between Tyabb and Stony Point by energy-hungry industries. We felt it was high time to reveal how the plan to destroy Western Port began, who will profit from it and how Australia will lose if it isnʼt stopped.

Henry Bolte had headed the Liberal Government since 1955 and as its treasurer had determined a policy of ‘Selling Victoriaʼ overseas, discretely courting industrial investors while currying public favour at home by mocking and vilifying trade unions, intellectuals, protesters and the press. By the mid 60s, the rich oil deposits deep under the turbulent waters of Bass St could be safely accessed with the new technology in machinery. Bolte boasted that he would birth the biggest container port in the country and that Westernport would be Victoriaʼs Ruhr. His vision was pinned on the illusion that Westernport was naturally serviced by a deep water channel when, subject to shifting shallows of mud and sand banks, it requires dredging. Planning was in the hands of the Westernport Regional Planning Committee, including accomodating local councillors untroubled by pollution, dirt and noise and more immediately preoccupied with profiting from rising real estate prices. Bolte, at the zenith of his remarkable political career, pushed through two more projects, the Esso plant on Long Island 1967 and Lysaght steel in Hastings 1970.

For the first three years of the 1970s a civil campaign was fought to highlight these egregious planning decisions and to defy the further industrialisation of Westernport, climaxing in a public rally at the Melbourne Town Hall in March 1972. Central to this hard fought campaign was a drive for signatures on a petition protesting further incursions of industry to be delivered to the Federal Parliament after the March rally.

Poet, conservationist and activist, Judith Wright, identified as the inaugural President of the Wildlife Protection Society of Queensland, was invited to be the key speaker. A squatterʼs granddaughter of the New England Tableland, she had begun question her colonial inheritance in 1962 with a growing awareness of the destruction her immediate forbears inflicted. In lectures and essays Wright explored the new science of conservation – not the museum concept of preserving species but the preservation of whole ‘ecosystemsʼ. She studied the new terms, ecology and biosphere and pinned a moment of human change in our attitude to the planet back to the astronautʼs view of it in 1969 as small, frail and beautiful. Wright, widowed with a young adult daughter, was finding a bigger, engaged audience among the idealistic young who could afford their altruism, eager to be friends and defenders of Spaceship Earth. She highlighted the potential for a humanist dimension in new science:

The newly emerged concept we have called conservation, and its allied science of ecology … are concerned with life. They hold the possibility, at least of an imaginative participation in a life-process which includes us, and to which we contribute our own conscious knowledge of it, as part of it, not separate from it.

Aware that her ideas left her open to the mockery of contemporary philosophers who derided terms like value and meaning, Wright acknowledged the role of the emotions in our apprehension of art and nature, challenging the touted objectivity of science. Art and science are two creativities free to work together rather than serving as opposing forces. If we fail to win this reconciliation, the machinery we invent to serve our needs will instead rule us: …

we also have a responsibility for seeing that [our planet] does not become so poor and ugly, so polluted by our waste-products, so monotonous and unvaried by other existences than those of human beings, so generally unpleasant to live in, that we all develop mental illnesses and die of mutual hatred, boredom and distaste.

Judith Wrightʼs support mattered because of her national reputation; she was knowledgeable about environmental issues across the country from the march of the desert in arid interiors to the erosion of coastal wetlands. Living on Mt Tamborine within a walk of the views from the edge of the rainforest with its distant prospect of the high rise on the Gold Coast at waterʼs edge growing ever closer; she was intimately involved in protecting the rich wetlands along the Coral Sea, and prominent in the protests against mining the coloured sands at Cooloola and the oil and limestone miners coveting the Great Barrier Reef. Moreover she understood the power and persuasions of their autocratic Premiers. The ingenue Jo Bjelke Petersen had swept the National Party to power in 1968, seeking the Victorianʼ Liberalʼs support and modelling himself on Bolteʼs public persona, posing as a simple farmer while scheming with the rich and powerful. Money is power Wright noted and power in a hurry.

Wright would have been sent sent a copy of an ambitious booklet published by the Save Westernport Coalition in the winter of 1971 and consisting of 24 pages of text and image. It is a remarkably concise publication condensing large complicated ideas into coherent, persuasive arguments and selling for just 30cents. Here she learnt that wild Westernport Bay was in danger by plans to improve access to onshore industry by infilling the muddy shallows – demonstrated in their opening pages with Keith Tarrantʼs bespoke aerial photograph of Lysaghts building a kind of causeway reaching out into the bay. (At just 10% of the infill planned, these works destroyed some 70% of the seagrass; abalone divers working off French Island recalled diving into waving neck-high stands of seagrass). The fill came from dredging including some from slopes bulldozed on their property and granite from Arthurs Seat.

This rare booklet could only have come from the collaboration of an informed collective else the specificity of each page and each issue would not have crystallised. The eight members of the editorial committee were careful at all points to be precise and accurate. Mild looking now, it was as innovative as it was unequivocal. Printed on one of the new offset lithography presses which allowed new freedoms in lay-out, it begins dramatically with an almost square cover printed black with the title highlighted in white: ʼTHE SHAME OF WESTERNPORT Speculatorʼs Dream … Environmental Nightmareʼ.

Sixteen organisations worked together under the title, the Save Western Port Coalition, to publicise the beleaguered Bay so close to the capital yet remaining unknown and content in its bucolic obscurity. They argued that the capital and beyond needed to be informed as the locals live to live with the consequences. Melbourne was changing, Hare Krishnas added music and colour on the streets, women were claiming rights equal to menʼs; soon a generation of ordinary young Australians would be suddenly free to get a higher education. Monash University was rising from the paddocks of Bundoora and, like the nearby new art school in Preston, determined to make change. The Coalition aimed to bring together artists, scientists, students and other citizens concerned to protect the future. Flanking a column of text headed The City of No Escape is a futuristic photomontage showing a flattened landscape lost under factories and a confusion of freeways:

A decision to industrialise Western Port would turn Melbourne into an unending metropolis from Wonthaggi to Geelong.

There were particulars of the pollution traps combining a variety of effluents, quoting a crowd of Australian scientists from their statement to the press in May 1971:

This faith [in technology] is unfounded … The web of life which nurtured man for a million years and on which man depends for his survival is falling to pieces.

The peculiar shape of the bay was in itself a pollution haven Wright read. The editors included the findings of a Master of Business Administration survey showing the cost of treating effluent prohibitive because it never left the shallow bay but was washed back shorewards by every returning tide. Altona was cited as the better option.

John Iggulden is listed at the head of the editorial committee. Born and raised in Brighton he had been a champion glider, the inaugural president of the Port Phillip Conservation Society and a talented writer. The editors concur with the emphasis Wright put on intuition, declaring themselves unashamed

to lay the case for all sorts of emotional things like penguins and seals and clean beaches. We need these more than oil refineries.

The broad format of ʼThe Shameʼ was chosen to advantage the impact of their arguments by incorporating a range of media as a parallel persuasion. It was designed to capture the largest amount of attention, printed in large numbers and available for 30 cents, the price of a good coffee perhaps. A page of newspaper banners, cuttings cobbled together, faces text on the other outlining the Secret Plans of the notorious Westernport Regional Planning Authority before giving way over-page to the contrasting pristine nature photos of Elizabeth Wilkins, one of three women listed as editors (and the only one not married within the Coalition.) This suite of Wilkinsʼ photos highlighted the wildlife on French Island all 84 acres of which the planners roundly declared worthless land, a fine place, they were told for a nuclear reactor.

As the date for the Melbourne rally grew closer, the outspoken journalist, Rohan Rivett whose most likely informant from the Coalition was John Iggulden, brought both sides of the argument under sustained scrutiny. Grandson of Alfred Deakin and son of the first head of the emerging CSIRO, Rivett remained unafraid of controversy, unpopularity and the cost of libel suits. He was writing on politics in Melbourne for ʼThe Canberra Timesʼ [02.02.1972] as Rupert Murdoch refused to employ him in Flinders St. Given generous space on p 2 his title read ʼNew Look at Forgotten Landʼ with a small map inserted below showing the contested western coastline between Tyabb and Flinders in relation to Melbourne.

Rivett acknowledged that the amount of attention conservationists were gaining had been unimaginable even six years earlier. 15,000 had signed Save Westernportʼs petition and more were expected to before the final collection at the rally. (Signatories included ACTU President Bob Hawke, artist John Perceval and architect Robin Boyd.) Nevertheless Rivett was confident so long as Bolted was Premier, he would rule supreme, concluding:

It may be too late for the sluggish forces of the conservationists to arrest Sir Henryʼs biggest scheme but there is every prospect of some ‘braw an bluidyʼ fighting before the critics succumb.

Wright was courted in a manner that mattered to her, given the chance to see for herself the territory that needed defending. Arriving in Melbourne she was met by Coalition members who took her on a day tour along the shores of Westernport. At least one journalist accompanied them. At Woolleyʼs beach she studied the shallow crib-like shape of the deceptively small-looking bay foreshortened by a profile of the Dandenongs to the east, by the bulk of French Island extending a long finger of land low enough to show the rising hills of South Gippsland beyond and pointing to Phillip Island and rounded off by Stony Point, shielding the long view to Flinders. Behind her she saw the last of the wildflowers blooming on unploughed land. The Age reporter quoted her otherwise private advice to the Coalition:

Because you have put up a big resistance, a few concessions will be made to you. There will be a hurried ecological survey of some kind there will be promises about effluent disposal you will be told it is possible to have the best of both worlds … But of course it wonʼt work. You are to be the Ruhr of Australia.

At the Rally that evening the poet and mistress of rhetoric did not hold back. To the audience of 2000 she began:

Nobody ever refers to your opposition as a coalition to wreck Westernport … itʼs a coalition to wreck the planet … It is made up of the forces of progress (a holy word I believe, I breathe it carefully), of industry, and technology, and money. And it owns the world, financially at least. It has a motto ‘Progress and Profit before Peopleʼ and it pays for nothing extra – like planning for the environment – unless itʼs forced to pay. To all intents and purposes, this force does own the world but we live in the world, and some of us are willing to fight for it.

It was at this rally that Wright welcomed the word ‘Greeniesʼ coined by government bureaucrats as an insult to protesting conservationists. The rally concluded festively with Glen Tomasetti singing her latest, ‘Here Come the Greeniesʼ. [The Age 2.2.72]

The shift the Coalition made from a local to a national audience would bring their quixotic campaign to a satisfactory conclusion aided by Boltʼs unexpected resignation from politics late in 1972. He foresaw his power evaporating in the changing society he had dominated for so long; he had watched as Liberal plans to open up the Little Desert for settlement were overturned in the courts giving victory to the environmentalists. Unlike his northern protege, dreaming of becoming Prime Minister but heading for k. l. m. corruption charges, Bolte saw the writing on the wall, resigning just months before Whitlam headed the Labor Party to victory.

Where the first generation of modern conservationists needed to outface the corruption of the Westernport Regional Planning Authority and the might of international capital, we face the obscurantism and evasions of the Port of Hastings Development Authority – last reconstituted and renamed in 2012. Today their website opens at a page with an image of industry at waterʼs edge brandishing big words: Naturally Deep & Positioned for Growth, surely another nod to AGL. We are back at the lie that Westernport is accessible to large craft through a naturally deep channel running between the islands and the mainland, the Speculatorʼs Dreaming of the 1960s. The deep water ceases at Sandy Point. [4]

Note:

  1. In the legend Cassandraʼs predictions prove correct but it is her fate never to be believed. My citations from Judith Wrightʼs essays on conservation in ʼBecause I Was Invitedʼ 1975 Oxford University Press.
  2. The Victorian Government came up with a novel strategy for housing the new workforce of refinery workers nearby. They could select a site to build their house on a 99 year lease, owning the house but not  the land which was then and is reserved by the Port Authority for container storage. I watched the last owner-built dwelling removed from the Esplanade just last year. This discrete arrangement explains the abundance of redundant driveways on weed-infested ground in lower Disney St, and along Bay St (the only housing remaining in view of the foreshore are some few brick dwellings built for officers from Cerberus.) The obscurity shrouding who owns what where and for what purpose grows.
  3. The first on the list was a 1970 colour film ‘Turn of the Tideʼ which had its origins in the Department of Engineering at m. n. Monash when twelve engineering students were allowed to leave the laboratory for fieldwork to study the effects the three new industries were having on the ecology of Westernport. A copy was deposited at the State Film Centre and incorporated into ACMI. It is yet to be seen as the Centre is closed at present.
  4. The Preserve Western Port Action Group ‘A Discussion Paperʼ presented to the Victorian Parliament 2014 prompted by plans for a container port in Hastings. [parliament.vic.gov.au]
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*