With views of Western Port and Churchill Island, Scenic Estate was a developer’s dream. Now a 50-year planning disaster is ending with plans for Phillip Island’s newest coastal reserve.
November 2, 2013
Shaded by moonah trees at the cliff’s edge, near the narrowest point of the island, the Swan Bay clifftop offers beautiful views across Western Port to Pleasant Point to the north and Churchill Island to the east.
In the 1960s a development company called Scenic Developments saw dollar signs. The company bought a 28-hectare farming block here and subdivided it into 337 lots. They called it Scenic Estate.
Many of the buyers lived in Hong Kong, hence its local name: “Chinamen’s Estate”. They bought their seaside blocks on the basis of some pretty photos and some pretty good marketing. Most had never been to Australia, let alone Phillip Island.
The president of the Phillip Island Conservation Society, Margaret Hancock, remembers giant billboards advertising the estate, sometimes called Holiday Isle Estate, on the main road near the road to Cape Woolamai
“We thought no one is going to buy there! It was obviously a very wet area. But there was a good deal of Asian interest and a lot were sold unseen to Asian investors.”
Other people, including locals, bought blocks to build their dream cottage with views of the bay. The dream turned sour as it became apparent the land was too boggy and too low-lying for a drainage scheme. Finally, in the 1980s, the state government declared Scenic Estate an “inappropriate subdivision” that should never be built on.
In the 30 years since then, the subdivision has stood empty. The melaleucas grew back, and the birds and wallabies returned, along with the motocross riders and rubbish-dumpers.
Now the long-held dream of local conservationists to see the land become a conservation reserve is about to come true.
On Thursday, council staff who have been working on the plan took residents and media on a guided tour of Scenic Estate to show what’s already there and what’s planned, including a car park at the western entrance, gravel walking paths, boardwalks, revegetation, a wetlands, viewing platforms, picnic areas and an observation tower.
The first section of the walk, from the main highway, called for gumboots, demonstrating why it was never suitable for housing. Much of the vegetation has regenerated and the roads are now little more than walking tracks.
On Thursday, the council’s environment manager, Alison Creighton, remarked, “This is a beautiful place, and as you go further in it gets better and better.”
Local ornithologist June Watkins, who lived opposite, kept a bird diary for 70 years. She used to take people on expeditions through the estate pointing out whistling kites, sea eagles and cuckoos.
The coastal section, with copses of iconic moonah trees, lichens and grasses, drew many expressions of pleasure. “The foreshore is gorgeous,” said Mikala Peters, who lives at Surf beach. “I can’t wait till it’s more accessible.”
Alison Creighton said the regenerated vegetation was remarkably free of invasive weeds and of high conservation value, particularly the grasslands, which are classed as rare.
“It’s been almost destroyed by people. Now we need people to love it and take an interest.”
“No one has known what to do with it,” Ms Hancock said. “But it’s never gone off the agenda. I’m absolutely delighted.”
The council welcomes local input on the Scenic Estate landscape design plan.
Return to sender
Almost 50 years after lots in Scenic Estate went on the market, many of the owners are uncontactable, either dead or long since moved.
For many years, Bass Coast Shire Council has had a standing offer to buy back Scenic Estate lots at their current value but by the start of this year it had secured only about 100 of the 337 lots.
This year the Australian Securities and Investment Corporation ordered a bulk transfer of 57 lots from the now de-registered Scenic Developments to the council. With close to half the lots, the council once again wrote to its list of owners repeating its offer to buy their lots.
About 70 council letters of offer sent to owners in Hong Kong were returned to the council marked “Address Unknown”.
While many of the owners have moved, many more must have died by now. After so many years, their descendants are probably unaware that they own a tiny patch of “Happy Isle Estate” on Phillip Island.