My wife and I are regular visitors to Port Fairy, Victoria. As a daughter of a Western District farming family, Susan has connections aplenty there. No less than three of her cousins have holiday homes in the town, including the little bluestone (basalt) cottage on Sackville Street, in the heart of town, that we often stay in.
The cottage, the town and the coast feature often in my fiction, as they do in my life.
The Bellarine Peninsula juts between Port Phillip Bay and wild Bass Strait like the knobbly head of a monstrous sperm whale, toothy jaws agape.
Our northern shores are nibbled by the choppy waves of Corio Bay and Outer Harbour; our southern beaches are thrashed by the big surf. In the jaws of the whale lies quiet Swan Bay. The chain of sand islands which almost close the mouth are the whale’s teeth.
Under the whale’s chin lies the fearsome Rip. All vessels that enter and leave Port Phillip Bay must run this gauntlet.
The little creek near my house is my favourite walking route. Once it was an important thoroughfare for the Wadawurrung people — from the Bay to the waterholes which are the only permanent fresh water in the area. They called the creek Gurnang.
After ‘settlement’ (i.e. theft) of the lands around Port Phillip Bay (Narrm Narrm) by British colonists from 1835 onwards, our peninsula was largely cleared of native vegetation and became an important agricultural hinterland for the bustling port city of Geelong.
When my wife and I came to this area in 2002, the creek, now known as Griggs Creek, was a weed-choked seasonal trickle of water on the edge of town, bordering low-grade pasturage with a few cattle dotted across it.
I’m no great fan of urban sprawl, and was concerned to discover that plans were afoot to build 3,000 dwellings on the other side of the creek — in effect, a brand-new township.
In the event, this well-planned development has brought both recreational and environmental benefits to our community.
Where there was once a gullied cow paddock, there are neat streets of houses — but also wetlands teeming with life. A walking and cycling track winds through parklands planted with indigenous shrubs and trees to the Bay and a perfect view of the You Yangs peaks on the opposite shore.