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, 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.
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?
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