Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Past and present of Scenic Estate Conservation Reserve, Phillip Island

Last updated on 08-Jul-21

Speaker:  March 2017

Member John Eddy spoke on “Scenic Estate Reserve; Past, Present and Future” with a Power Point presentation.


John Eddy, coordinator of the Friends of Scenic Estate Reserve, gave an illustrated presentation  entitled“Scenic Estate Reserve: Past, Present and Future”


1. What is it? Where is it?

SER is the new 28 hectare (70 acres) Conservation Reserve on Phillip Island, in the area formerly known as “Chinamans”. Its purpose is the conservation of some very significant native vegetation, and to allow the public to enjoy the natural environment. It was created by a partnership of Bass Coast Shire Council, Phillip Island Nature Parks, Parks Victoria and Regional Development Victoria, and is located on the north side of the Tourist Rd opposite Forrest Caves.


2. Geology

Like most of the Island, the area has volcanic origins extending back about 50 million years. The nearby cone-shaped hill suggests it was a volcanic eruption point. The weathered remains of the lava and ash form the coastline today.Most of the present day reserve is an alluvial basin, which was inundated by the sea over 100,000 years ago. Sea level then fell, rose again to slightly above present day levels, then receded. Evidence of a beach level just over half a metre above the present one can be seen on the SER coast.


3.  Pre-Settlement Vegetation

Consisted of mostly Swamp Paperbark Scrub, with Moonah Woodland along the coast (Seddon 1975). There was little or no grassland.


4. Aboriginal Visits

Boon Wurrung people were frequent and regular visitors to the south coast of Phillip Island but probably only occasional visitors to the bay coast in this area. A 2014 survey as part of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan uncovered 2 small artefacts on the foreshore, quartz chips probably use as scrapers. Hence the site is a designated “Aboriginal Place” but of low significance.


5. Closer Settlement

In 1868, Phillip Island was divided into many small lots. SER now occupies half of the original Lot 150, which was 140 acres. We are indebted to local schoolteacher and long time resident June Watkins , a member of the Forrest family, for recording her recollections of the area in 1999. The first owner of Lot 150 was John Love, from Scotland, who with his wife, built a wattle and daub hut on the block, farmed there, and had a garden. When Mr Love died, Mrs Love moved back to Scotland. In 1883, Capt John Cleeland acquired the land and grazed sheep there. June, as a child, remembered the block being “covered in teatree”.


6. The “Heritage” Years – 1950 to 1959

In 1950, Cleelands split Lot 150 into two, and sold the western 70 acres to Arthur Heritage from Longwarry. He came with a dairy farming background, possibly also in forestry. June Watkins, Sue Chambers and Ted Jeffery all have good recollections of this period. Arthur and his wife Myrtle built a simple wooden house right on the edge of the foreshore, with a substantial vegetable garden inland, and established a dairy farm on the property. They were keen fisher folk, and constructed a slipway across the shore for their small dingy. Remains of the house chimney, slipway posts, pipeline and dairy shed gutter are still evident today.

Except for some of the coastal Moonahs, a saltmarsh area in the NE corner and scrub along the western boundary, the whole block was cleared for the sowing of pasture. After the larger scrub was bulldozed, smaller patches ploughed in, Ted Jeffery remembers having the job, as a 16 year old, of  discing the whole block prior to sowing of the pasture. The farm was judged by other s to be a “good farm” and grew good hay in the higher paddocks. However, by the end of the 50’s, small dairy farms were becoming less viable, and Heritages decided to sell up.

7. Birth of Scenic Estate 

In 1960, Heritages sold to a Mervyn Frank Falls, and the 70 acres was quickly subdivided into 332 blocks, with road construction starting in January of that year. The saltmarsh area in the NE corner was set aside as a Public Purposes Reserve. The development was also known as “Holiday Isle Estate” and blocks were marketed overseas, particularly in Hong Kong where many blocks were sold. Hence the locals referring to it as “Chinamans”. Some Phillip Islanders also bought blocks. Eventually, most of the blocks were sold.


8. Quick Descent into Limbo

The late 1950’s and early 60’s was a time of subdivision madness on Phillip Island. Alarmed at the rapid decline of the rural landscape, the State Government of the time, via its Town and Country Planning Board, placed an Interim Development Order over the Island in 1961. This prevented further subdivision, and controlled the issuing of building permits. Because of the low-lying , swampy nature of most of “Chinamans” estate, it was deemed too wet to build on. Many irate owners expressed their frustration, and several tested the resolve of the Council and the Government by constructing holiday shacks on their blocks, but were soon directed to remove them. The situation was not fully clarified until 1983 when Scenic Estate was finally placed, by the State Government,  on a list of subdivisions that were inappropriate and never to be built on.


9. Decades of Infamy, Mistreatment and Neglect ...........

The roads of the Estate remained open to the public, and people could legitimately access the coast for picnicking and walking. However, the site soon became notorious for illegal camping, rubbish dumping, wild parties and drinking and drugs. One local sporting club had a regular fundraiser on Sundays when a barrel was on tap, and that part of the coast became popularly known as “Bottlenecks”.Broken glass certainly became a feature, and June Watkins recounts how she picked up, over a period, enough glass to fill four 44 gal drums, which Council staff removed for her.  In later years, dirt bikes and 4 wheel drive vehicles took to the roads on the estate and created their own tracks through the scrub, damaging vegetation and creating large compacted and rutted areas. Dismayed conservationists and other locals frequently voiced their anger to Council and in the press, but little action was forthcoming.


10. ...... and Regeneration!

Despite the mistreatment and disturbance over these years, an amazing thing was happening over the old estate. The farmland was slowly reverting to bush again. Gradually, native grassland took over from pasture, and  Swamp Paperbark Scrub encroached on grassland. Even the Moonah Woodland strengthened its hold. Three aerial photos covering the 40 years from 1969 to 2009 graphically illustrate this.


11. A Resolution Slowly Emerges.

The creation of the Churchill Island Marine National Park in 2001 – 3 was probably the catalyst for ending the impasse. The Park abutted the coastline of Scenic Estate, and a major clean-up of rubbish, including many old, dumped cars on the beach, was required. This demanded a cooperative effort between Parks Victoria, Bass Coast Shire Council and the Phillip Island Nature Parks, paving the way for clean-up efforts to be extended over the rest of the estate. A vegetation survey of the area by the Landcare Network in 2012 revealed that the regenerating native vegetation was of very high conservation significance, and by this time the Council, gradually over some years, had acquired title to a majority of the blocks. Together with the continuing public outcry over environmental damage and safety issues, the stage was now set for decisive action. In 2012, with police support, the Council finally locked up the old Chinamans Estate.


12. Creating a New Conservation Reserve

In April 2013, Bass Coast Shire Council formally set aside all the Council-owned blocks in the old estate as the Scenic Estate Conservation Reserve. Diana Whittington was the Council staff member responsible for the project. Many truckloads of rubbish were carted away, and in 2014, a Landscape Design Master Plan, and a Cultural Heritage Management Plan were produced. Funding of $300,000 was received from Regional Development Victoria, with the Council contributing $73,000, and smaller contributions from Phillip Island Nature Parks and Parks Victoria. During 2014/15, infrastructure including:  tracks, wetlands, boardwalk, picnic shelters and a viewing platform were put in place, carefully designed to avoid blocks still in private ownership. Weed and rabbit control was undertaken, and the iconic Butterfly sculpture erected in the carpark. On 1st July, 2015, the new Conservation Reserve was finally opened to the public. The official Opening, by the then Minister for Environment, Lisa Neville, was celebrated on 3rd March 2016.


Butterfly sculpture at SER. 13.9.15 closeup.jpg

Butterfly sculpture by “DAK”, Scenic Estate Reserve.


13. Formation of a Friends Group.

The Bass Coast Shire Council initiated the formation of a Friends group for the new Reserve, seeing its role as assisting with management, facilitating the visitor experience and acting as a channel for community ideas and feedback. The Phillip Island Conservation Society agreed to have the Friends group operate under its auspices. At a public meeting on 1st Sept 2015, the Friends of Scenic Estate Reserve (FOSER) was officially formed, with John Eddy appointed coordinator, and a small committee endorsed.  The formation was marked by an official Launch by the mayor, Cr Kimberley Brown, at the Reserve on 1st Nov 2015.


John then showed a number of slides illustrating the activities of FOSER, and some of the wildlife to be found in the Reserve.


Vote of thanks:

Christine Grayden (John’s wife) thanked John for all the work he had put into accumulating the history of Phillip Island’s newest reserve and presenting us with such an interesting talk.