Melbourne Odds and Ends Travels

My new love affair with Port Phillip Bay

I grew up in Brighton, a bayside suburb. I would like to say that the beach was a big part of my life, but I can’t. We lived about 3 miles away, almost as far away as you can get and still be in Brighton. I was never much of a swimmer, and am even less of one now.

It was a part of my childhood. We would head down to the beach after a hot day at school. My memory is that we would arrive about the same time as the cool change would blow in! Often we would swim in the Brighton Beach Baths, a stretch of sand and water enclosed by iron railings. Like a swimming pool, but with sea water and waves. There’s a smell that always takes me back to the changing rooms. I guess many people were happy to pay for the diving board at the deep end. For me, I was, and still am, happy to meander along the shore line, paddling, looking, picking up shells.

Brighton Beach is one of the long sandy beaches that circle Port Phillip Bay. The Bay is wide and flat, the waves gentle. It has always been one of the backdrops to my life, but never something I really thought much about.

Until I came down here to Portsea. Now I have fallen in love. As I have said many times, I am fascinated with the play of light across the stretch of water I can see from my studio. The water can be pure silver or a series of sparkles or deep blue as the wind whips up the white caps. The clouds throw shadows onto it. At sunset it turns pink and grey. Sometimes I can see clearly right across to Queenscliff, but when the rain comes in, I can’t see very far at all.

I am captivated by its moods.


Beauty is a great beginning for a love affair, but intrigue is important too. I am intrigued by the Bay’s geological history.

Wikipedia says this about its formation

Port Phillip formed between the end of the last Ice Age around 8000 BCE and around 6000 BCE,[2] when the sea-level rose to drown what was then the lower reaches of the Yarra River, vast river plains, wetlands and lakes. The Yarra and other tributaries flowed down what is now the middle of the bay, formed a lake in the southern reaches of the bay, dammed by The Heads, subsequently pouring out into Bass Strait.[3]

Indigenous people were living here then. They have been here for at least 20,000 years, and probably twice or even three times that long. Before it filled, the Boonwurrung would have hunted kangaroo and cultivated the yam daisy on the plains. It is quite mind-blowing to know that people witnessed the formation of Nairm, as the Boonwurrung people knew the bay.

In fact they have seen the water dry up too. About 2,800 years ago the Heads, the small opening at the southern end of the Bay, closed. The basin, which is fairly shallow, dried up. Good hunting ground again. However, about 1,000 years ago the ocean broke through and water cascaded in. It is thought that water levels would have risen quickly.

The Boonwurrung remember the event through their story, and have passed it down to the current generation. You can read Aunty Carolyn Brigg’s telling here. If you are interested in reading more about the Boonwurrung, jump over to their website.

Before I move on, let me acknowledge that I live on Aboriginal land, of the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation. As I walk this land I pay my respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and hope that I walk with an open heart and an open mind.

Even now there are many sand bars and shallow channels at the entrance to the Bay. Ships require a pilot to guide them in and out of the Heads, and to set them onto the shipping channel that will give them safe passage to Melbourne. The channel runs close to Portsea, and seeing the big ships glide by enthrals me.


I love to watch the ferries ply between Sorrento and Queenscliff. They leave on the hour, and usually come into my view after about 25 minutes. So who needs a clock when you have the ferries?


This body of water, that seemed so mundane in my childhood, has a rich history. It has sculpted the rocks that I am fascinated with, and is home to the weedy sea dragon, one of my all time favourite creatures. To see one in the wild is up there on my list of Things That Would Make Me Very Happy.  This one is cruising under the Portsea pier. I always look when I walk the pier.

I am not sure that I want to see the mass migration of spider crabs, but it is the biggest migration in the marine world, and it happens in the Bay. As it occurs in early winter,  it might be happening right now, by the light of the full moon.

Often we need to see the ordinary from a different point. Once we see the extraordinary we are more likely to treasure it. What do you see from a different point of view?

[Don’t forget you can see my daily doings on Instagram or Facebook. It’s more than my daily latte, I promise!]


29 replies on “My new love affair with Port Phillip Bay”

What a lovely post! I too love the sea and one of the things I still miss about our former home on the Exe estuary in Devon is being able to walk along the shore. Now I am about 45 mind drive from the sea I can go North. West or South but the distance is the same – just far enough to deter me from ‘popping’. Enjoy your new love affair.


Aren’t they are the most amazing creatures? I didn’t get to see a weedy sea dragon, but today I did see a WHALE! It was breaching just outside the heads. i still have a large smile on my face!


I’m a beach walker rather than a swimmer too, Anne. But mostly I am a mountain person, which is lucky since I live nowhere near any body of water! Recently I’ve had cause to try and think why it is I connect so much to the mountains as that is not where I was raised. I’m enjoying your residency and glad to read about your journey and observations. Thank you for sharing it with us.


Yes I can see Mt Gillen in the MacDonell Ranges from our house. Yes, I have figured it out, mountains feel like the earth is enveloping me—protecting me. I think it is similar to what the eastern cultures see in Feng Shui. I’ve only been able to identify this since a trip earlier this year to the Southwest of the USA which has a similar climate and landscape.


That is a beautiful image, that the earth is protecting you, so being able to see Mt Gillen each day must be a solace. Isn’t it interesting how we can see things more clearly when we are away from them.

Liked by 1 person

Not a swimmer, but a lifelong beach addict, even the rather pebbly beaches of my UK childhood. I’ve told the Husband I never want to live further from the sea than we do now…. at least I can get my ‘fix’ in 20 minutes. I loved living in Altona, getting off the train after work and inhaling the marvellous briny, life-giving smell of the sea.


Dear Anne, I enjoyed reading this post. The light and skies by the coast as endlessly fascinating. I am glad that you acknowledged the fact that you live on Aboriginal land because I was just starting to wonder about that and how it influences you as an artist/person.


It is light like this that you capture in your paintings, Emma. As for the Aboriginal influence, I feel the layers here, especially the layer of it being Boon Wurrung land. Apparently the area was an important women’s area, where they would come to give birth. I am still thinking about it, and will write more about it.

Liked by 1 person

It’s a beautiful spot, just gorgeous! I live on the shore of a large lake (120 miles long) so I have some sense of the appeal of having water close at hand. It isn’t ocean but it moves and swells and has a personality that changes with the weather. I will make a more conscious effort to appreciate it, after reading your thoughts!


Kerry, I am sure that you deeply appreciate it. ‘It has a personality that changes with the weather’ is a strong image, and I am sure you often just look and admire.


I am honoured to be able to walk in the footsteps of these Elders, whose stories need to be shared far more widely. It is amazing to think that people have been here for tens of thousands of years, managing the land so wisely.

Liked by 1 person

Glad to have been of service to you! There are a couple in the aquarium, where I fell in love with them. I love the colours, and the whacky shapes, and their gentle natures.


I can see the essence evolving for you is “time” – a time to just sit and muse after you have walked about a bit, sketched a few things, photography or basically if it was me think later after dinner “now what is still floating in my memory of today…”

I know that since I came back to the city, that things are definitely missing from “drifting” which was quite different to what you are experiencing. But it has got me thinking again on going somewhere and staying put a bit longer…”where in NZ” is the quest 🙂

yes, I missed the mountain/lake of Queenstown, but now it would be very busy there – all the skiers and associated other recreators. Or should I go and recheck another interesting place…or go somewhere quite different.


It sounds like you have had an incredible time. I think we too often forget the importance of the great world we live in, the small things, the bigger things. They all make a difference and I find also improve my creativity!
Thank you for such a great newsletter and post. Very positive and encouraging!


Your post today resonated with me ~ location is an important part of creative thinking. And the time to pay attention to the small things as well as the bigger ones. Thanks for the encouragement.

Liked by 1 person

I do love the coast and a beach. Spending a four weeks immersing oneself in the environs is marvellous. It has been lovely following your residency via the various social media snippets. I’ve enjoyed seeing how your observations about not just its beauty and natural wonders but its history and sense of place have translated into creative process and art.


One of the things I really wanted to do with my time here was to, as you say, translate the history and place into my art. I am so pleased that it is coming through. I am glad too that you have been enjoying my residency too!

Liked by 1 person

Nothing like a good natter, so let's have a chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.