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.

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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.

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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?

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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!]

 

My first week at Police Point

Yes, the first week has flown by.

There were a couple of hiccups, such as me stuffing up the dates yet again but they only little hicks. Now I am settling into a creative routine, which I will talk to you about soon. First let me give you a tour of my domain.

My little cottage is in Police Point, a park managed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire, who run this amazing residency programme. It has four rooms off the central hall ~ two bedrooms, a lounge and the kitchen. An addition out the back is a sitting room, the utilities, and my studio. It’s very snug, which is necessary as it’s Winter, and comfortable.

However, the studio is the best! It is spacious, and has big windows that let in the Winter sunlight, and let me look out across the green expanse to Port Philip Bay. I could sit here all day, just looking at the changing light, watching the clouds scamper across the sky, seeing the sea sparkle and turn silver, and work out the time from the ferries that go between Sorrento and Queenscliff.

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But I don’t just sit and watch…I have been working!

Police Point Park abuts the Point Nepean National Park, so there are lots of walks. And lots of interesting shaped trees. I thought I would be captivated by them from the get-go, but it is the cliff faces that have caught my attention. I will come back to the vegetation, because I have the luxury of three more weeks down here. But this week I have been exploring the gnarly, striated rocks of the cliff below Police Point. Rocks like these:

 

I thought I had a little understanding of the geology of these rocks until I came to write it down for you. Trying to explain it made me realise that I understand very little! However, I do know how the knobbly ones are formed. The sand was cemented by calcium carbonate and other minerals in the ground water. The water seeps down through the soil, perhaps along the pathways of plant roots, and precipitated the calcium carbonate to form hard rock ~ calcrete rock. The calcrete remains as the rest of the rock is eroded. The bumps and spikes are the calcrete and the holes and crevasses are formed by erosion.

I loved this rock on the waterline. I wonder how long before it gets eroded right away.

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So I have explored the beaches and the cliff faces, wandering, photographing and sketching. It’s made me think about weathering and time, and layers ~ layers of sediment, of human history, of vegetation.

Back in the studio I have set myself the task of producing something every day. I have been working on small studies of the rocks. They are only A5 size.

Study #1 was simply a first draft, and it told me not to rush, not to assume I understood what I was doing.

With Study #2 I felt confident enough to add embellishment from the sewing machine. I had learnt some things, but still not enough to capture what I was seeing in my mind. But there are a couple of good things about being here. Firstly, there is tomorrow to do it again. At home tomorrow would be filled with other things. Here tomorrow is filled with working in the studio.

Secondly there is time to reflect about the works, to think about why it’s not working.

With this study I realised that I had missed the sense of edges, of layers of rock, rather than frills. I quite liked the sewing, but it was taking things off in a different direction.

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Study #3 was more thoughtful, and I was happier with the edges. I think you could imagine feeling your way under them.

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But the sense of ‘rockness’ was still missing. I realised that it was lacking context, and drama. Friend’s comments on Facebook and Instagram confirmed what I was thinking.  So I looked at different rocks and came up with Study #4. Certainly dramatic!

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I had thought of putting in the background to give more context, but I don’t think I will.

And today I was fired up with confidence to create Study #5.

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With this one I have gone back to my default position of going straight to the detail. There is too much, especially at the top. To my eye it looks like a fancy old fashioned hat on top! Tomorrow I will give it another go and axe the hat!

It has been a week of settling in, of finding new routines and rhythms. Most importantly it has been a week of carefree and joyful creating in a very beautiful environment.

Off to Police Point

I am spending all of June in a little cottage on Police Point, the edge of the Point Nepean National Park. You may have read about it in the letter from my studio that I sent out yesterday. Or you may remember me talking about it a while ago. But if you haven’t heard about it, don’t get my newsletter and don’t want to click the link to catch up, let me explain.

I have been granted an artist in residence position by the Mornington Peninsula Shire, to spend a month in the Gatekeeper’s Cottage creating and exploring art. How amazing, how luxurious, how special is that?

Point Nepean is the eastern arm of Port Phillip Bay, and you can see the red dot way down on the edge. Can you see the white dot for Moonee Ponds, just north of the word Melbourne? That’s where I live, about 2 hours drive away.

Map of Point Nepean

And in this photo, can you see the red roof? That is where I will be, with the wonderful national park away to the right. (This photo came from the Mornington Peninsula Shire.)

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Some photos I took when I visited in late 2017.

A couple of years ago I was an artist in residence at Flinders Island. Fantastic experience, which lead to my obsession with the shapes and textures of that windswept coastal heathland. Point Nepean has similar vegetation, buffeted by the winds off the Southern Ocean. I want to wander through that environment, with my sketchbook, looking at the shapes, noticing the details. Then back in the cottage I want to explore how to translate what I see onto the paper.

I will be using watercolour, and sewing onto the paper. (My sewing machine has gone for a service, to make sure it is in tip top condition.) I would like to explore ways to work larger because at the moment I am constrained by manoeuvring the paper around the machine.

But I want to be open to creativity, to let the ideas dance and sing in my brain.

On the practical side, there are art supply shops in towns along the coast road down the Peninsula….just in case I need something vital! And while I don’t want to come back home, it is nice to know it is only a few hours away.

It will be important to not fritter my time away, and I know how good I am at doing that! So, to make myself accountable I am going to try to post on Instagram and Facebook each day, and have a weekly round up here. So, if you would like to follow along with me, I would love to have your company.