Minna’s Story

Minna’s Story

I grew up in Balnarring but have lived in Coburg North for the last 6 years. I am lucky enough to still be connected and able to visit my parents (pre Covid lockdown) at this beachside paradise that I will always call home. It has always been a great pleasure and honour to share this special coastline with fellow travellers, and my loved ones over the years. I have many stories I could tell. Like the morning after my wedding day, when my husband and I felt the urgency to begin our own unique adventures as a wedded couple. Boarding a deflating blow up boat at Balnarring Beach, we rapidly gained speed, drifting out towards Philip Island. We began to realize the potential risk of our situation, witnessing all our most beloved lining the beach in distress. With panic rising, we started to paddle as fast as we could to shore, when my husband asked me in alarm, ‘Are there sharks here?’ Having noticed large shadows under our boat we quickly recognised the dolphins, who, once we arrived at shore exhibited a twirling display for us. We have since shared these same beaches with our two young children, exploring the rock pools for crabs and rolling in the waves.

It is through my distance from it that I have begun to understand more deeply the grounding that this place has offered me throughout my life. In particular, Merricks Beach is a place that I long for, and even visit in my imagination, for respite and nourishment. With the caves and coastal banksias, the memories of swimming with stingrays and in storms, this beach in particular, has offered me many moments of rapture. The beach stretching from Balnarring to Merricks, and less frequently to Somers, has soothed my soul. Even on colder days, a quick dip in the salty bay is enough to enliven the body; nestling my feet in the sand and allowing the wind to whip my worries away while I watch as the sunset welcomes the calm of night.

In moments of heart ache and sorrow the waves have soothed me. Their rhythm and consistency have reminded me that the world will continue to turn, even in times of pain and suffering. These same waves remind me that these are the unceded lands and waters of the Bunurong (Boon Wurrung) people; this bay can offer unconditional nourishment for generations to come, as it has so done for thousands of generations before.

I wonder who are the decision makers here, and how can they better honour the rightful custodians of these lands and waterways? In the name of ‘progress’ AGL offer yet another effort to dislocate and disregard our right and responsibility to a healthy ecosystem. While I hold hope, I also sit with dread for how much more could be destroyed before it’s realised we have lost too much.

Anne Tillig’s Heart Story

Anne Tillig’s Heart Story

My connection to Western Port Bay started in 1996 when we purchased land fronting the bay.  Elizabeth Island is now my home.  I feel lucky to wake up to the sight of Western Port Bay all around me, every day. 

Most days I circumnavigate the island in my pedal paddle kayak.  It takes just under an hour.  Then I jump in and swim for a while.  This connects me intimately to the water, the shoreline and the birdlife and leaves me feeling alive.

The bay is a special place that rewards for spending time with it.  Day by day it grows on you.  It doesn’t show its splendour at first.  It wants you to slow down, stop and be with it a while.  Over time you get to know its tidal shoreline.  Orange lichened rocks, ancient sandstone, pebbles, sand, mudflats that become lakes with the tides.  The shoreline has rockpools and mangroves with pink pigface and other plants with names like bidgee-widgee and beaded glasswort.  Fish of all sorts nurture their young amongst the mangroves.  In the bay are gummy sharks, King George whiting, snapper, Australian salmon.  We pluck oysters from the rocks and eat them fresh.  Pacific gulls and oyster catchers sit atop shoreline rocks, looking like they’re standing on water.  Herons and spoonbills stalk around the mudflats finding food.  Swallows, wrens and willy-wagtails eat the insects on land.

You can tell it’s a delicate balance of interwoven life.

I am horrified and aggrieved that any government would allow a private company to irreparably destroy our beautiful natural resources for their short-term gains.

My home, Elizabeth Island, and the bay, belong together.  The bay is integral to my life and my wellbeing.  I will soon be publishing a book about my relationship to this special place.  I want to share with you an excerpt from my upcoming book, which is about that relationship.  Elizabeth Island has grounded me and given me a sense of place.  The bay is integral to that.  This excerpt describes my first encounter with the island.

‘Half-dried sea grass lined the high-water mark.  It sat in a continuous line atop a shore of partially submerged brown pebbles and rocks. Shells washed smooth by the tides were caught in the browned sea grass.  Through the lifting light clouds, the sun warmed the brown and grey burnt sea grass salty bath to barely visible steam and marshy odours.

We ventured into the tussock grass above the shoreline, nervous about what might lie under the thick grass.  Two black swans glided past, poking out their necks at us, as if wondering what we were doing in their territory.  Other sea birds squawked and landed on the rocks.

I could tell this was a unique and special place.

Michael returned to the boat, concerned about the fast-running tide.  He got us all aboard and the boys pulled up anchor.

We began to circumnavigate the island, approaching the northern point.  We could see less than half a metre of water under the boat.  The fast receding tide forced us back. 

That was my first encounter with Elizabeth Island.  Tides ruled.  Back then I’d fancied myself as close to nature.  Many years on, I marvel at what slowly unfolded:  an engagement with that island and surrounding seas that brought me into a dance with nature I could never have imagined. 

The feel and direction of the winds, the heaviness of the rain, the height and direction of tidal flow, the seasons, moonlight, cloud cover, sunlight.  The response of the sea between the island and the mainland to daily, monthly and yearly cycles of the sun and moon – this all determined decisions about where and how to be, explore or do, on and around the island. 

Having so squeezed me into Elizabeth Island time, the surrounding sea would dance its moods to my passage on or off land.’

Westernport Bay surrounds my home and greets me with stunning vistas every day.  It is my home.

On most important things that happen or are about to happen around the bay, the instigators reach out to locals.  I have not seen this happening from AGL in the same way.  I am not aware of organised engagement by AGL with residents.  It is indicative of a disregard for the people and place they are impacting.  I wonder how much our government has engendered in them that stance.

I guess it’s difficult to comprehend that you would have to tell this to a government.  Of course, this proposed project will destroy our valuable bay and its delicate ecological balance. 

This development is on the other side of the bay to me, so I won’t see the visual impact.  I can’t imagine how it would be for anyone who walks that shoreline, to have to look at a large gas platform like that.  But I know the ecology of the bay is so interconnected, and we as humans are so interconnected, that I will notice the impact over on this side.  I have already noticed the effects of climate change.  There are fewer insects on the island now, and this means fewer land birds.  The special sea birds that used to be around feeding off the mudflats seem to have disappeared, replaced by hardier breeds.

We are already seeing the impact of climate change on our planet and our local environment.  It is a result of putting big business ahead of smart connected communities in healthy environments.  We want a government that will recognise what matters and put people and our environment first.  A government that approves this AGL project will not get my vote.

Anne Tillig

 

 

Help Stop AGL. Get help with your EES submission!

Help Stop AGL. Get help with your EES submission!

It’s no surprise that people are feeling daunted by AGL’s EES – it’s over 11,000 pages of technical information with just weeks to make a comment. 

But it’s not that hard and you can make a difference. Make your voice heard, and your concerns about AGL’s proposal known by writing a submission. 

Last week Save Westernport and Environment Victoria held online workshops on How to Write a Powerful Submission. 
You can read some tips and information from that forum here.

We’re currently planning a public forum to discuss what this project would mean for the region, and why it’s so important to stop AGL in Westernport. We hope our elected representatives will join us to talk about what they are doing to prevent it hear what they have to say about the campaign.

Remember during the Federal election last year Save Westernport held a public meeting where each of the candidates for the seat of Flinders campaigned against the AGL project?

Read about it here in the June 2019 issue of the Balnarring Bridge. 

The details of that online forum are still being finalised, watch this space and sign up here to receive Save Westernport’s regular newsletter for all the details as soon as they’re available
https://savewesternport.org/newsletter/

Remember over 22,000 individual submissions were received against the Narrabri gas project !

The Minister needs to receive as many submissions as possible against AGL’s plans in Westernport, so he’s in no doubt about the extent of Community opposition to AGL’s dirty and exploitative gas proposal.

Brian’s Story

Brian’s Story

My affinity with Westernport Bay began in earnest about 1969 when I started a Diploma of Teaching at Frankston Teacher’s College, now the Frankston campus of Monash University. Before this I used to stay for the odd weekend at the “Shacks”, which were well put together humpies at the back of the sand dunes at Point Leo. Life Savers and surfers used these shacks to be close to the beach and do what they really enjoyed, surf. I met blokes like Sandy Mc Kendrick, Gus and Robbie Tankard who remain long-time friends.

While I was at Teacher’s College I met Paul Trigger, Graham Quail, Murray “Wogs” Walding and Tidal wave Ted Bainbridge. We formed a tight little surfing group that would take every opportunity to skip lectures and go surfing when the swell was up. We surfed all the known beaches of Westernport but we also surfed new places like Balnarring Point, Merricks and the Farm at Flinders. It was probably the boards we had in those days that made these places seem like jewels of the bay. A bloke called Alan “Wally” Tibbals lived for a short time in Somers and we started surfing another place when the swell was big, Somers River mouth. Another friend I made was Keith “Atlas” Robinson, who, being a goofy foot, was always looking for a wave that broke left. He found it at the Pines in Shoreham and surfed it regularly. Of course we called this break Atlas.

The lure of the beach was too much for me and I moved to Carisbrooke Street in Balnarring and rented a house with some mates. Unknown to me at the time there was a family who used to camp on their block behind the house us blokes lived in. The daughter in that family was Mandy Palmer and she is now my life partner.
Westernport Bay has always been a jewel, with a country feel and a slower pace. It hasn’t changed all that much. Mind you, sitting in the “cave” at Merricks Point watching the bay and eating a chicken pie from Mrs Pickler’s or going into the old Balnarring General Store for food may have disappeared, but if you search hard, that same feeling of country can be satisfied.

After I graduated from Teacher’s College I moved to the Otways and taught at Lavers Hill. I got married and thought I would settled down on the rugged South West Coast of Victoria. When my son Simon was born though we thought it best to move back to family and conveniences. So Westernport Bay here I come again! We lived in Bittern when it was very rural and it was here that I got very involved with the late Councillor Lorna Bennett and the late Brian Cummins. We were quite political and had paddle outs at the Crib Point refinery attempting to stop them from polluting our bay. Brian was an inspirational man and I’m sure his spirit is with us in this new campaign against AGL and its gas plan.

I furthered my studies and got a Diploma in Outdoor Education which had an academic focus on the environment. Doctor Leon Costermon was one of my lecturers and it wasn’t long before I was studying Westernport Bay and its vegetation both around the bay and in the water. The white mangrove was fascinating to me and my major evaluative work was spent on this species and its crucial relationship to our bay.

I have always been involved with the community around Westernport Bay and was either a teacher or principal in Hastings for over 30 years. This lead to many experiences and chances to promote the area and our school was always involved with many environmental and community programs.

2.
Serendipity has played its role and I now find myself living back in Balnarring with my partner Mandy. We have built a new home and we love it here. Because we are both now retired we have the opportunity to walk the beaches, swim, surf and thoroughly enjoy the whole bay environment. It has become quite a spiritual or meaningful place for us. I will never forget Mandy bathing in the soothing waters every day after her radiation treatment for an unexpected cancer which was a little hiccup for us. Mandy’s parents were long time Balnarring residents and they chose to have their ashes sprinkled into the bay. It’s not uncommon for us to visit this quiet spot and watch 2 dolphins at play. I’m sure everyone sees the dolphins but we like to think we have a special connection. We find the bay comforting and emotional, in a good way! To us, the bay has an essence of the cycle of life.

I still surf as much as I can even though my body has let me down a bit. I have crook hips and knees so my son Simon has shaped me a board I lie on. He calls it the GS….the Gut Slider! It keeps me in the water and my special moments are still connected with the waves of the Peninsula, but in particular, Westernport Bay. My friends are still here and they have selected this area to live because of the bay. It’s still clean and alive and has a huge impact on all of our lives. I believe I have lived in some great times and have experienced some wonderful moments in the water both with my son Simon and my friends. I now want my grandchildren to have the same opportunity to experience some of the joys the bay has given me. Mandy and I want our ashes spread in the bay to become part of this magical place and I sure as Hell don’t want to share the water with the pollutants from a floating AGL gas factory.

Brian Forward

[photo: Rory McGinley]

Warren Cooke’s Heart Story for Westernport

Warren Cooke’s Heart Story for Westernport

I don’t ‘use’ Westernport, it actually gives to me. I find a sense of wholeness when I connect to the natural beauty of this place through art making, swimming, surfing, sailing and beach walks with family and friends. I also do my best to give back to it, by collecting rubbish, protesting as needed and by honouring this place in my art practice.

Westernport is a place of great beauty to admire and marvel at throughout the seasons; grand coastal banksias and mangroves, undulating waters, dolphins, shore birds and migratory birds as they feast along the waterline. It is a sanctuary. It is home to an internationally recognised RAMSAR wetland and for many creatures, both land-based and marine, it is their nursery and home.

AGL is being dishonest with Australians, claiming that we need a gas terminal for their imported gas. This is blatantly not true. With climate change upon us, any proposed energy plans must be both clean and renewable. Gas is neither of these.

During their proposed regassification process, AGL’s gas terminal will pump millions of litres of chlorinated sea water into Westernport – dead water, on a daily basis. The loss of microscopic life is like the tip of a spear which would harm all of the fauna and flora that live here. We cannot think that we are separate to that damage, it will affect humans too.

My heart is heavy at the prospect that AGL could go ahead with this proposal. The loss is not only for the close community who reside around Westernport but to all the living things. We must continue to stand as a community, loud and strong against projects such as these.

With climate change upon us, it is more important now than ever.

Warren Cooke
@artbycooke

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.

The Le Fevre Family’s Heart Story

The Le Fevre Family’s Heart Story

We are looking back through 15 years worth of family photos camping at Balnarring and trying to find the essence of what is so special about this place for us.

Our kids aged, about 9 and 12, seeing dolphins for the first time, swimming close by as they sailed out on the catamaran. Seeing a humpback whale another time.
The queue of about 10 other kids waiting their turn to go out on said catamaran.

Getting lost on a bush track coming back from the beautiful Coolart Wetlands, talking to my dear friend the whole way and not worried that it is was getting dark.
Trying to draw the dear Fairy Wrens, who are too fast, flitting in and out of the sheoaks.

Swimming at midnight under a full moon, feeling safe in this protected Bay.
While the adults were playing games beside the camp lights, the kids were running around the bush, getting muddy in the creek. Something they will never forget. We had talent shows. We sang together. We sat on the beach feeling like no time would ever pass and this stunningly divine place would stay the same forever and we would look forward to bringing our grandchildren here.

We want the shoreline and the vista to stay pristine and gorgeous as it is now, to be able to see across to Phillip and French Islands. We don’t want to have to apologise to our grandchildren for not doing enough and letting industry spoil something so precious to us, and the flora and fauna of the area. It simply must not happen.

From the Le Fevre Family, submitted by Jo Roszkowski

STOP PRESS ~ The EES is out now!

STOP PRESS ~ The EES is out now!

In 2018 Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne called for an Environment Effects Statement on AGL’s giant gas import proposal in response to community concerns about countless safety and environmental risks.

The EES has now been released and the documents are available online.

Q: Why does AGL continue to publish lovely photos of Westernport on their reports?
We know how beautiful the Bay is. What we need to know is WHAT the spectre of the proposed FSRU ship, 17 storeys tall, would really look like at our beach. The pictures provided by AGL are misleading; they have been cropped and the schematics shown in their EES reports are not to scale.

The Public Comments period for the EES on AGL’s proposal on the Mornington Peninsula commenced on July 2 and will run until August 26 2020.

That’s just 40 business days for submissions, under and a declared Stage 4 State of Disaster. But we must prevent fossil fuels companies like AGL and APA the pipeline corp, from taking advantage of the global pandemic. From the threat to marine life and Endangered Species, to Social and Climate Impacts, there are countless reasons why this project must not be approved.

We encourage you all to make a submission during this time. You can focus on just single area or areas of concern to tell the Minister why you object to AGL’s dangerous and unnecessary plans. 

Or sign up here for support and advice from Save Westernport and Environment Victoria on how to make your submission. 

Minister Wynne needs to hear from this community, and from all Victorians why AGL’s plans to import and process gas, and to construct a 60 km gas pipeline are entirely incompatible with the proposed location in Westernport Bay.

There is nothing that AGL could do to tweak this project to make it acceptable. The government and Victorians have been misled with tales of gas shortages and cheaper prices, with AGL only now admitting that the price of imported gas would be set by international markets.

Rather than helping us transition from fossil fuels as they claim, AGL’s project would keep us burning gas for the next 20 years or more.

This project is the last thing we need. AGL have shown they are not worthy of our trust, and they’ve admitted it will not result in cheaper gas. Why would we risk degrading our precious marine life, when there is NOTHING in it for Victorians? 
This is our chance to tell the Minister why AGL’s project MUST NOT BE APPROVED.

The EES reports are now available online
This includes  AGL’s Summary Report and a document called How to Navigate the EES

There’s an Executive Summary, three volumes of reports, and several attachments including Environmental Risk and Climate Change Risk Assessments and Maps. 
The EES also contains the following technical reports:

Technical Report A: Marine Biodiversity 
Technical Report C: Surface water
Technical Report D: Groundwater
Technical Report F: Greenhouse gas
Technical Report G: Air quality
Technical Report H: Noise and vibration
Technical Report I: Landscape and visual
Technical Report J: Transport
Technical Report K: Safety, hazard and risk
Technical Report L: Land use
Technical Report M: Social
Technical Report N: Business
Technical Report O: Agriculture
Technical Report P: Aboriginal cultural heritage
Technical Report Q: Historic heritage


Watch this space for more information about how to write your submission —and make sure your voice is heard.

This is our opportunity to tell Minister Wynne that we unequivocally object to the AGL corporation and their brazen and foolhardy attempt to take-over Woolleys Beach and exploit Westernport Bay to promote and prolong the burning of LNG, a fossil fuel just as dangerous as coal.

There are numerous reasons why we have no intention of allowing this irresponsible corporation’s plans to harm our precious environment and endanger the health and safety of local communities.

Make a submission or Donate now towards our fighting fund. Your donations will help pay for our own experts to refute the various technical reports and to take on AGL with their limitless resources at the public Hearings for the EES.

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]