AS A student in the 1980s, I used Dilemma at Westernport by Weston Bates and Fay Marles for a recreational/environmental planning subject. With the current push for development in the bay, I thought it well worth dusting off this insightful book for another look.
Published in1978, it provides insight into attempts to impose an industrial complex on the Western Port region in the 1960s. It examines Liberal Premier Bolte’s grand design of creating the Ruhr of the South across Hastings, French Island, Long Islands and Western Port.
His vision included inducements to heavy industry, nuclear power and refineries to locate there.
The authors detail the forces at play in this push for industrial development, including land speculation and the activities of a local real estate syndicate, and the conflict with growing tourism and recreational activities.
They highlight the environmental sensitivity of the region and research by Monash University that found that without stringent controls Western Port would be poisoned and irreparably damaged.
A major oil spill crisis in December 1970 led to calls for heavy industry to be banned from Western Port, alongside the consolidation of the conservation lobby and moves to better municipal planning that had a greater emphasis on environmental considerations.
By the 1970s, the state government had virtually reversed its laissez-faire approach to the region. Some industry remained, but the nightmare of Bolte’s Ruhr faded.
Fast forward 40 years –Western Port’s International Ramsar Convention status, marine national parks, Phillip Island Nature Reserve, the Penguin Parade, Seal Rocks, Ventnor’s Shearwater colony, multiple habitat restoration and conservation areas – massive tourist attractions, recreational and economic benefit for all to enjoy.
Much has been achieved with the custodianship of local community, resistance to over-development, vigilant protection of species such as the hooded plover, and involvement through groups such as Landcare, the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council and the Phillip Island Conservation Society.
Sadly, in 2013 we now have a Liberal state government espousing the “Shanghai of the South” for Western Port. So is it back to the 1960s under another name and less than transparent window dressing?
On September 2, The Age reported on an environmental simulation that showed Phillip Island’s fairy penguins and other wildlife in and around Westernport would face serious threats from an oil spill. Modeling showed that oil spilled under any spill scenario had a high probability of spreading widely throughout the estuary system, could wash up on the shore around Western Port within minutes and could hit marine and land protected areas within a few hours, leaving little time for shoreline protection.
The Dilemma at Westernport authors are now respected, retired academics. In their conclusion, they caution about future pressure for port construction at Hastings and the critical importance of community activism in halting any incarnation of the Ruhr vision.
We are getting glimpses of the frightening scale of Premier Denis Napthine’s Shanghai vision for Westernport. As we enter the peak Christmas tourist season it’s important to reflect on Western Port’s legacy and to appreciate its economic, social and environmental value.
The authors of Dilemma at Westernport point out that it was the middle-class property and holiday home owners on the Peninsula, initially looking after their interests, that got the effective lobbying going.
As a community, it’s time to respect the lessons of the past, take up the baton of the 1960s and tell Spring Street that Western Port is off limits, for the sake of our heritage, the environment, sustainable tourism and future generations.
Council backs independent study
Bass Coast Council will work with local community groups to try to secure funding to commission an independent Economic Impact Statement on the potential effects on Phillip Island of the proposed development of the Port of Hastings. The motion was passed unanimously at the December 13 council meeting.