My Port Phillip Bay
A beautiful boundless Bay
I can't imagine not living close to the vast expanse of Port Phillip Bay. It's Australia's largest tidal lagoon and covers around two thousand square kilometres with a maximum depth of over 30 metres.
It's surprisingly shallow, almost an inland sea, and it has only a narrow 3 and 1/2 kilometre-wide entrance.
Every year millions of people enjoy its vast coastline, world-class swimming beaches and coastal parks. They sail, swim, surf, dive and photograph the wild life for recreation.
Just a submerged flood plain.
Very young by geological standards
Port Phillip is a young bay by geological standards. It was formed only about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, when the sea-level rose to drown what was then the Valley of the Yarra.
So essentially, the whole Bay is a flood plain, now submerged, with the river channel running through to the ocean in Bass Strait.
The Grey Bay
254 Shades of Grey
Photos of the Bay almost always show it to be blue, but that's a trick of the light on a summer's afternoon, for the Bay is really a deep grey.
There are 254 shades of grey and the slow moving waters shift from a pale ash colour into a saturated cyan swirl then a warm yellowish tinge with flashes of silver. Each one moves, swirls and rolls over to the next. Just beautiful!
I challenge you not to be calmed by sitting and watching the play of light over the slow moving waters.
Wild Life on the BayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Wildlife photos by :The Baykeeper, Neil Blake
Melbourne, on the Bay
In Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria and my hometown, Port Phillip is familiarly known as 'the Bay'. Its piers, jetties, islands and marine reserves are used all year round, the city is built along its gentle curves for best advantage.
The bay is huge, roughly the shape of a distorted diamond, seven kilometres from the Rip to the city of Melbourne, and eighty kilometres across from east to west.
I love the bay. It's certainly no Sydney Harbour, but there's a serene beauty in its grey vastness.
Early days on the Bay
My childhood memories are full of going out on the bay with my father.
He taught me to row the dinghy, and my job was to secure it when we reached the boat offshore. I learned to fish here, with a line made from a Coca-Cola bottle. October was the busiest month when the schnapper ran in immense shoals though the bay.
In Springtime the schnapper still run in the bay. As do flathead, whiting, bream, gummy sharks, squid and garfish -- but the mussels I used to scrape from the jetties have all gone.
Shipwrecks in the Bay
When Lt. John Murray first sailed through the notorious Rip into Port Phillip in February 1802, he noted the turbulent seas and treacherous rocks and declared it to be a a formidable obstacle.
The bay itself is relatively safe, with few navigational obstacles -- it's the entrance that causes trouble.
The Rip is flanked by reefs to the west and to the east, with less than one kilometre of water between them. There's also a deep trough, one hundred metres deep, across the entrance, which creates turmoil as the tide surges into the bay, and more turmoil as the tide retreats. The end result is a short stretch of sea that is one of the most dangerous in the world.
We know of almost 200 sunken ships in the waters of Port Phillip Bay but more have been lost without trace around the Rip. The sea still holds many secrets.
Port Phillip Sea Pilots
HMAS Canberra arrives in Port Phillip Bay assisted by Tugs
Because of the narrow entrance of the Rip, all vessels need to be navigated with extreme caution. Large ships require expert local guidance to enter and exit.
This is where the Port Phillip Sea Pilots are indispensable.
The pilots are experienced and qualified seamen possessing extensive local knowledge of the channels, the different depths of water, the shifting currents and all the dangers within and around the port. All of our pilots are expert sailors and experienced ship handlers.
St Kilda Penguins
Neil Blake, Baykeeper and Penguin Researcher, tends one of his charges
St Kilda is home to a colony of Little Penguins, about 1200 of the birds taking up residence on the Breakwater. A remarkable feat, given the close proximity (5 kilometres) to the urban centre of Melbourne.
Little penguins spend most of their time in the waters of the bay feeding on pilchards, anchovies and other small fish. At night they return quickly to the safety and protection of their burrows within the breakwater.
Neil Blake, with a group of volunteers, has been researching and protecting this colony since 1986.
Come and see for yourself
I hope you can visit Melbourne one day and see this lovely bay.
Visitors are beguiled by Sydney with its deep water harbour and iconic landmarks but I prefer the quietness of Port Phillip, the boundless horizon it offers me, the deep rolling waves and the daily sight of great ships being guided safely to port by colourful bustling little tugs.
It's a vista for reflection. And for counting your blessings.
© 2008 Susanna Duffy