Balcombe Creek after rain

After 75mm of rain in the last day or so I took the opportunity to see how the local creek had responded. Balcombe Creek runs down from the slopes of Mt Eliza and is usually a slow moving flow. Yesterday morning it looked more like a river, running into Port Phillip Bay and discolouring the bay with the sediment and soil washed out.

It was nice to be able to get outside for a few hours after a very wet week.

Upstream, the moving, swirling water flows to the bay.

Living Beside the Sea

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my relationship with the sea, and why I haven’t written more about that, in an overt way. The sea, and its associations, imagery and sensations, is in a lot of my poetry, but I’ve rarely written specifically about what it means to me to live near a vast body of water.

I was reminded of this again, today reading a blog post The Sea and the Soul on the Marginalian site and by earlier reading that’s sat with me, most recently, Joseph Conrad’s The Mirror of the Sea and Rachel Carlson’s The Sea Around Us

I live on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, Australia, a beautiful place that sits between two bays; the vast dish of Port Phillip Bay, locked in with a narrow and dangerous entrance with Melbourne at its head and the narrower, more tidal, Western Port Bay with its mangroves and reefs that are open to the south-west swells from Bass Strait and where I spent a lot of time surfing.

I’ll often say something off-hand like I couldn’t live away from the water, but I think I really mean it, but what does it mean to be near the water like this? It is something more than the ease and convenience of being near the sea that’s happening here? I remember reading one writer (Roger Deakin?) pondering what difference it might make for a person in England growing up on a chalk landscape like the South Downs, as distinct from a place of limestone or something else.

The philosopher Denis Dutton has argued in Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology that people around the world have an intrinsic appreciation for a certain type of landscape — a grassy field with copses of trees, water and wildlife — because it resembles the Pleistocene savannas where humans first evolved:

Beyond a liking for savannahs, there is a general preference for landscapes with water; a variety of open and wooded space (indicating places to hide and places for game to hide); trees that fork near the ground (provide escape possibilities) with fruiting potential a metre or two from the ground; vistas that recede in the distance, including a path or river that bends out of view but invites exploration; the direct presence or implication of game animals; and variegated cloud patterns.

I’m not sure this explains the sea, or dangerous places like mountains, that are fundamental to some people.

A while ago I was reading the harrowing accounts of the carnage of war in John Keegan’s The Face of Battle while on holiday in the beautiful landscape of Augusta, by the sea, in Western Australia. The contrast between the two worlds: the evoked horrors of the Somme in World War I and the sheltered estuary I was reading in, full of sea birds, big light-filled sky and reflected calm, could not have been more profound. After reading of the terrible realities of war it was physically calming and somehow restorative to walk out into the light and the sounds of the ocean.

This weekend I walked beside both bays on sunny winter mornings. At Mt Martha, Balcombe Creek was over-brimming after the rain last week and about to spill into Port Phillip Bay. At Somers, on Western Port Bay the next day, Merricks Creek was flowing clear and cold into the milky sea.

Balcombe Creek and Port Phillip Bay
Balcombe Creek, Mt Martha, 9th July 2022
Somers Beach
Derricks Creek enters Western Port Bay, 10 July 2022

Does any of this explain what the sea means? Or what it means to live beside the sea and not beside a great river or a mountain? Not really. Except that it does mean something and does matter, somehow.

Stone Circles

I’ve always been intrigued by neolithic stone circles, hill forts and the archaeology of ancient Europe and have been lucky enough to have seen some of these in location in England, France and Ireland and have written occasionally about those encounters like in this early post on Standing with Stones I’m not sure what it is, but I’m not the only one drawn to the simple beauty and mystery of these ancient sites.

So, I was pleased that one of these poems ‘Stone Circles’ was published in a recent issue of Allegro Poetry Magazine UK. It was inspired by the question I asked myself when I first saw this circle: why here?

It was inspired by a visit to Castlerigg Stone Circle , near Keswick in England, in 2014. Here’s the poem, and a photo I took at the time.

stone circles

The landscape came first,
something captured in shared imaginations
solidified in stone

Why build here?
Someone found it beautiful
and proclaimed it holy.

The rest follow as naturally as light
falls across the soon-to-be-sacred stone
on mid-winter morning

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Photo: Warrick


I was lucky enough to visit Walden Pond on a trip to the USA over ten years ago now, in a time when travelling overseas seemed a normal thing that one might aspire to. It was a pilgrimage of place, to the place that inspired Thoreau in his life and writing.

You can read a bit more about that trip on my earlier post HERE

I was reminded of all this by this short film I came across, just called Walden, a Ewers Brothers Production with input from Ken Burns and narrated by Robert Redford. I enjoyed it on a rainy late winter morning. You might too.

You can read more about Walden HERE

Flying towards Bird Rock

A friend of mine bought a drone and too me out flying it, setting up dual controls. He flew, and I took some photos. I was interested in the change of perspective, of seeing this familiar coastal strip from a different angle. Here’s footage, flying towards Bird Rock, where I’ve spent many summer afternoons. It was a clear winter day and the water was so clear.

The Layers of Fossil Beach

What do you learn when you consider this landscape as it once was?

Hard to say, but I thought there was something worthwhile in the consideration of that idea, as there I was, on a cold and showery Saturday morning, joining perhaps thirty others, to watch the launch of a series of heritage signs at a local beach: the appropriately named Fossil Beach, ten minute walk from my home, and a place I’ve written about before.

What did we expect I wonder?

We saw signs unveiled and launched, and we heard first-hand, the stories of the family who excavated this place. Those who told the stories were children then and returned to the place. They told of regular weekends spent unpacking the debris of the past.

We heard of the shifts in the earth that sent this place askew, pushing fossils out of the base clay, the layer called Balcombe clay, and how few places there are where you can see the evidence of how such things happen.

We heard of the indigenous people who live and ate here and walked these tracks and of the shells they left in heaps through the thousands of years of their passing. We heard how their oral history of a great flood matched the geological records of the bay filling, a thousand years ago.

Then, with settlement, industry; a short-lived cement works whose remnants lie in broken stones intriguingly half-hidden in the bush; this is progress you might be seduced into thinking, putting these stones together which have already gone to pieces.

Later, we heard of a young woman artist who painted the ruins of the cement works, a Romantic gesture like Wordsworth’s salute to the ruins of Tintern Abbey. She was eighteen, taught and influenced by the colonial artist Eugene von Guérard. An expert talked lovingly of the perspective and the frame; she’d spent months researching the provenance of the frame; what Melbourne company might have made this.

What do you learn from all this? Maybe you learn about the layers. First the primeval. The geological, the tectonic.

Then indigenous, their stories of the Bay as a great, open swampland, before the ocean rushed in, that ancient memory story, now backed by scientists.

How quickly progress became nostalgic in the art of the ruined romantic landscape.

And, finally, stories of the near-present, the place bordered up with warning signs and cyclone fencing, for years you couldn’t get in.

We listened to the speeches with rain coming in bursts from over the bay. Looked at the arrangements of rocks and the place where the tower was. A month later, and two of the fresh new heritage signs have been ‘tagged’ by some teenage vandal eager to leave his incoherent layer to all this as well.

The layers of the past
The ruins of the Cement Works
Unveiling one of the signs
Aboriginal sites