Over a week in November 2009, four of us walked the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay, from Sorrento to Port Melbourne. We called the journey Port Phillip Rising, and it was an attempt to raise awareness about the reality of climate change, the need to get mobilised and demand action from our governments, and the need to protect this low lying bit of coast from rising sea levels. It was also an attempt to tap into people’s connection to place, to hear their stories, of what they love and what they fear losing, and what that means to them.
Almost 100 people joined us for various parts of the walk, and we were blessed to have incredible local ecologists, like Gidja Walker, guide us and explain some of the depth of the natural and human history of this big arc of coast. Not being an overly coastal type of person, I don’t know the Bay so well. When I do explore the coast, its more to the wilder areas, out east or west. So in some ways my expectations were perhaps a bit low, I had assumed it was mostly a highly modified – and simplified – land and sea scape. What amazed me as we walked north was the sheer diversity of the country, from long sweeps of low sandy beaches, rocky bluffs, beaches composed just of boulders, some great estuaries, old growth banksia forest right down to the shoreline …
The sense of wildness, especially in that higher country between the top end of Safety Beach, through Mt Martha, and Mornington almost to Frankston, was great. Near Mt Eliza we passed by the boundary of the urban zone, into a sprawl of housing, some of it really appropriate but lots of it just boxy and out of place, un sympathetic to the locale. And as we left Sorrento, almost at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, and headed north, we had the distant companionship of Wonga (Arthurs Seat) and Mt Martha. Finally, as we came around Pelican Point, almost to the border with Frankston, we glimpsed the vast sand belt of southern Melbourne and, beyond that, the blue rise of the Dandenong Ranges. I felt almost back in my home region. There are some great stream systems coming into this section, draining what used to be an immense complex of wetlands that sat in behind the primary dunes and stretched from what is now Frankston to Mordialloc. As many people we met commented, nature seems determined to reclaim some of these low lying areas in coming decades as the sea levels rise.
Its strange that the site of the original attempt at European settlement was Sullivans Cove, down near Sorrento, where there was no (easy to find) permanent water, when there is the Kananook Creek, Patterson River, and Mordialloc Creek all a little way further up the Bay. This seems to be a central motif of so many of our problems – we get into trouble because we are not very good or perhaps just not interested in reading the land. We certainly find it hard to accept that there are ecological limits. The sprawl goes from Frankston a full 40 kilometres north, til you hit Melbourne city, then continues for another 30 beyond that. We have left so little of the natural landscapes intact. And that is why the Bay, that interface between human terrain and ‘nature’, is so important. Time after time we met people out walking or sitting or just soaking it all in, finding joy in being outdoors somewhere clean and wild and fresh.
And finally, it was great to just get out and have the luxury of a leisurely walk in my home city, finding new perspectives on a landscape that can seem so ordinary. I was reminded of my friend Maya Ward and her journeys to the headwaters of the Merri Creek and Yarra River and the simple but profound truthes to be found through getting out and walking slowly, with your eyes and mind fully open to what ever might come along….
We did a website for the walk, which has lots of photos, reports and video diaries, here.