Sarah the Boltcutter
A town with no water
Venus bay is a small town in South Gippsland that swells from a permanent population of around 450 to well over 5000 every summer, plus masses of day visitors. There are always new and old faces, it’s a wonderful place for seeing multicultural Australians at play, if you can suck up the environmental damage from the sheer numbers.
One road in - one road out; sold in the 1960s as a holiday destination, the Venus Bay peninsula is an isolated and fragile eco-system of ocean and river. Indigenous history tells of plentiful food, sacred sites and contested space. Agricultural history is of boom and bust; drama is in the DNA, the ocean is dangerous and some of the locals are too!
This peninsula should never have been built on, an internationally recognised migratory bird habitat, it’s wild and beautiful, wombats rule the joint and I love it. Don’t worry I see the hypocrite in me all the time :)
With only 18% of its 1600 dwellings permanently occupied, the community undergoes massive seasonal demographic change. Along with city-dwelling holiday house owners, a good chunk of the half a million p.a day visitors to South Gippsland come to this 28km long stretch of wild ocean with its 5 access roads. It's a crazy mixed up town.
Every summer a whole stack of people arrive with little concept that there’s one road in and one road out, that the frequent ocean rips kill people, that the whole town is on tank water and septic and when black outs occur all the pumps stop working - which means no water - it’s a death trap in the wrong circumstances.
I didn’t know all of this when I fell in love and bought there five years ago. I soon got a reality check interviewing a member of the Tarwin Lower Fire Brigade for an arts grant. I’ll never forget him calmly telling me, “you have no idea what it’s like until you see animals, massive Roos screaming past you in the opposite direction to where you’re going, if there’s a fire in Venus Bay there is no safe place.”
On Dec 30 there was a town wide black out, it was 38 degrees and windy and no-one had access to tap water, but it seemed like nothing compared to what was going on 220km down the road in East Gippsland.
Right now in Venus Bay? The water from the taps is bad, ash keeps settling. Supermarkets in neighbouring towns are out of 10L drinking water and owners have been officially advised not to refill tanks until the smoke and haze clears, so it’s a drinking water stalemate, you have to BYO.
Our normally oblivious visitors are starting to understand the environment they are in, and they are leaving in droves. I wonder if they will return next year and treat the place with a little more respect.