Phillip Island & District Historical Society

History of some environmental issues on Phillip Island

Last updated on 08-Jul-21

July 2016   Speaker: 

Christine Grayden gave a presentation on the history of some environmental planning issues on Phillip Island.She was speaking as a long-term member of the Phillip Island Conservation Society Inc which was established in 1968 and has been fighting for the Phillip Island environment ever since.


PICS started in 1968 due to a proposal to have a marina in the Rhyll Inlet, which some people (including the councillor who owned the land and wanted the marina) regarded as muddy and mosquito-ridden. Nowadays we understand how valuable the area is environmentally, for both fauna and flora, with over 30 different types of  vegetation and many species of birds present. PICS was able to galvanise the public into protesting, including newspaper articles by well known naturalist Graham Pizzey. The council eventually knocked back the marina under huge public pressure. 


The developer then proposed a stock car racing circuit on the land. When council decided that would be too noisy for nearby residents, the developer put the land up for sale. PICS members then quickly put down a deposit, securing the land, with the legals being done pro bono by another member. The Australian Conservation Foundation was asked to be a conduit for tax deductible donations toward the land purchase. About half the money was raised, and after intense lobbying to the government by various PICS members, the government agreed to take over the land purchase, and once finalised the land became a reserve, now known as “Conservation Hill”.


The next issue discussed was Summerlands Peninsula. Christine was on the Penguin Reserve Committee of Management which made the decision to buy back the Summerlands Estate. This was because the urban pressures – traffic, dogs, cats, buildings – were resulting in a decrease of the penguin population. The conservation minister at the time, Joan Kirner, was very supportive as she was a firm believer in habitat protection being all important for the protection of species. She not only put money towards the start of the buy-back, but also towards penguin research, so more than the C/ee could have hoped for. The Minister and the Premier, John Cain, arrived at Summerlands for the big announcement, and were met by placard-waving locals calling them “Nazis” and telling them to “Go Home”, “Hands Off”, etc. It was quite a shock to them, and John Cain declared he would never come to Phillip Island again. But eventually the residents and holiday-home owners came around, as successive governments of both persuasions continued to fund the buy-back, and home owners were getting market value for their properties, allowing them to move to other parts of the island. The buy-back was completed in 2010. 


Before the buy-back came the dusk til dawn road closure, so that rangers could prevent drivers from entering the reserve at night and running over scores of penguins each night. The penguins make use of the roads to preen, gather in groups and socialise before going to their burrows, so they were sitting targets for drivers, even if it was not the intention of the drivers to run over them. The move was not popular at first, but people eventually accepted it. Now, due to the buy-back and the road closure from dusk til dawn, thousands more penguins make the peninsula their home, leading to more penguins coming up the beach, more penguins breeding, and better visitor satisfaction.


The Saltwater Creek canal-based Hotel and Residential development was another in which PICS ran a campaign, this time in conjunction with the Ventnor Progress Association who auspices the Saltwater Creek Action Group, or SWAG.



Apart from completely urbanising what was farmland with waterbird habitat, this development would have involved high concrete walls going across the beach and out into the sea some 50 metres to keep the mouth of the creek open and the canal navigable for the residents’ boats. This would mean the beach would be lost to users – many of whom were families – and that the natural flow of sand along the beach would be completely disrupted, causing erosion from Red Rocks to Cowes. This was on the advice of coastal geomorphologist, Eric Bird. 


SWAG quickly gained membership and campaigned hard, using the media and goods such as car stickers and ti-shirts, and guiding people to write letters to council and ministers of conservation and planning. Council was deluged, and eventually caved in, rejecting the proposal in a meeting reported in the local press as seeing a “SWAG of protest”. 


PICS members were eventually able to sit down with the developer and work out a compromise, where three rural residential lots took up the bulk of the land, with strips of urban development on two sides, and a creek reserve created. The whole plan is governed by an S173 agreement, signed by the council, the developer and PICS. It was a good outcome after all.


The Isle of Wight site has seen a number of inappropriate proposals, including a high rise hotel, all of which have been challenged by PICS and many residents. Since the fire destroyed the hotel, the site has been for sale, and we presume that the last permit has lapsed, so the whole process will have to be gone through again if and when the site is sold. There are a number of historic trees on the property, linked to Baron Ferdinand von Mueller.


Watch this space!


Another inappropriate proposal which was challenged by PICS at VCAT was the 506 two and three storey units and golf course development proposed for the paddock alongside the Grand Prix circuit. This would have created a township by default but with few amenities. In the end VCAT rejected the application due to the ‘town’ to be created being outside township boundaries, abutting the coast in a National Trust classified landscape, and being larger than the Smiths Beach township but with fewer amenities. This was something of a “Samson and Goliath” win for PICS.


Rhyll Caravan Park used to be such a happy place where many friends congregated year after year. A developer proposed a multi-storey over-development of the site. A local group called “Rhyll Raid” was formed of concerned residents and holiday-home owners, and together with PICS and others, fought the developer, not once but twice! Very little has happened on the site since the VCAT decision went against the development.


The Newhaven Boys’ Home proposal was another example of over-development of a site. The developer wanted to partially demolish the Boys’ Home registered buildings and create studio flats inside, construct 12 new two storey units and subdivide the rest of the land. This was the catalyst for the formation of the Newhaven Residents’ Association, who went to VCAT along with PICS. PICS’s concern was with the lack of consideration for the disposal of storm water, as the proposal was to simply run it all out into Western Port, in an area adjacent to a Marine National Park. VCAT rejected the developer’s plans, and the land has since been sold to a consortium of internationals, and the registered building is basically being trashed. What is known as “demolition by neglect” seems to be taking place there. BCSC is trying to address this.


Another campaign that PICS fought alongside the community was the Vehicular Ferry proposal to convert our relatively small jetty and picturesque jetty triangle into the terminal for a large vehicular ferry. While not opposed to the idea of a vehicular ferry, the community just did not want their precious jetty and jetty triangle ruined by the amount of infrastructure required. An action group was formed to guide the protest and in the end BCSC voted to NOT have the vehicular ferry at that controversial location.



The last development proposal Christine spoke about was that of the Forrest Caves caravan park, on low-lying land adjacent to the Forrest Caves dunes and on the main Phillip Island Tourist Road. The dunes are home to thousands of short-tailed shearwaters every season, and the beach is home to the endangered Hooded Plover, and a very dangerous beach as far as swimming is concerned. The land was so low-lying it would not have been easy to drain, or would have to have been built up. This recent proposal was for 286 sites, mainly the RAV short-stay market. There was much community unrest about this proposal, and in the end it was withdrawn by the proponent.


Christine said the time has gone when someone can say “It’s my land, I’ll do what I like with it,” because we now know that development often has negative social, economic and environmental consequences. The community needs to be ever-vigilant to guard against inappropriate development proposals on Phillip Island.


Vote of thanks: Pam Rothfield thanked Christine for her informative talk and her insights into development proposals of the past.