Three of us head off to Campbell’s Cove on Sunday morning to paddle to Point Cook Homestead and back. The area is often romanticised as something of a backwater and unspoiled beach. It is that section of the bay more or less around Werribee, better known for market gardens, the Point Cook air force base and the sewerage farm.
The week had been pretty windy but some respite was forecast up until lunchtime, so we take advantage of the conditions and head south. None us have any idea what to expect, since Lara and I had only met last Friday night at the VSKC rolling night, and I had only met Ron when we got chatting on St Kilda beach the same weekend. On arriving, we realise that Campbell’s Cove is a nudist beach, one of four in Victoria apparently, identified by a sign saying ‘clothing optional’. Later, a quick search on Google suggests that it’s a pretty sleazy area. There are a couple of men huddled in between the saltbush lining the edge of the upper strand, looking undecided about where to settle in the tepid spring warmth and wind. Trying not to stare, we unload the boats and paddle off.
The day is a little overcast but not too windy close to the shore. Point Cook seems a fair way off but we eat up the kilometres, and eventually Ron stops worrying that he might have to rescue the two women.
We paddle through the Point Cook Marine Sanctuary. The remains of an old pier capped with seabirds almost perfectly imitates the distant city skyline.
After about five km, reach a sandy spot on the shore below the homestead and pull up for a stretch. A few people who have wandered down to the beach and stop for a chat.
The homestead is surprisingly and nicely low key, especially considering it has bed and breakfast accommodation, a large café and had drawn a fair few day visitors. The garden and lawn is windswept and the buildings are in various stages of renovation. It was built by two Scottish brothers in 1857 but after a number of ownership changes after 1920, became derelict before being bought by the State government and restored.
A big bluestone building in the middle of the lawn, that seems oddly out proportion to the living quarters, provided housing for all the other activities associated with the homestead – the stables, a ‘rabbiter’s hut’ and other quasi-domestic functions.
Among the salt bitten Norfolk Pines and cypresses and post and rail fences, the remains of the original gate is a solitary structure on the lawn, like a plastic gate in a kids toy farm set.
After a coffee, we head back down to the beach and glide off into the water. The wind has started to pick up, so we stay pretty close to shore. Most of the coastline is part of the RAAF base and the low dunes along the foreshore are strewn with metal wreckage from collapsed fences and various other bits of junk.
It would be worth coming back on a clear day to get a better view of the reef below. Even with the water a little murky, it’s possible to get an idea of the pattern of seaweed and rocks and a hint of stingrays, banjo sharks and fish. Even in a headwind, we still make pretty good progress, although by the time we approach the long RAAF jetty, the wind is rising and seagulls are flung about in the gusts.
Back at our starting point after a ten km paddle, at one end Campbell’s Cove is a collection of multi-coloured fishing shacks clustered together on the water’s edge. Four wheel drives and aluminium fishing boats define their boundaries. Occasionally a big bloke in wrap-around sunglasses emerges to fiddle with boat fittings, rearranges some tools, or just wanders out from through a fly wire screen door and looks around. Otherwise, most shacks seem uninhabited.
Months later, a friend tells me of the abuse her husband copped while they were looking at one of the shacks advertised as up for sale: “Get out of here ya fuckin’ Asian”. Actually, he’s a fuckin’ Fijian.
At the other end of the beach, pale men’s bodies appear and disappear among the saltbush. Only one man stands on the beach, hands on hips, fat rolls, pubic hair and genitals defiantly turned windward, staring at us as we paddle toward the shore.
A couple of months later in January, there’s another paddle to Point Cook, this time from Altona on a day of blustery onshore winds and choppy sea. Coincidentally, we meet four others on the beach who are off to Point Cook, so we decided to paddle together.
It’s all a bit nerve racking in the rough sea and a bit of a slog but soon we hop out on the beach and walk up to the homestead for a coffee. In spite of rolling up in sandy kayaking shoes and looking pretty scruffy, the staff at the cafe don’t seem to notice and serve up coffees, scones and jam with good cheer.
On the way back the surf’s up and soon we’re spread out across the waves. My boat skims across the crest of a wave for about ten metres. Once I get used to the feeling it’s exciting, so I try out a bit of stern rudder to stay perpendicular to the waves. Trouble with this boat is it feels very high out of the water and a bit tippy, even though the chines stop me from going over. Later, Ron tells me, somewhat wryly, that I’m getting cocky and am sure to capsize sooner or later. He’s probably right, and looks annoyingly comfortable in his British kayak. The digital photos tend to flatten the swell by the way…
Once back at Altona Beach, we have to navigate a multitude of kite surfers close to shore and it’s here that I nearly come out. Nearly but not quite. Jackie can’t believe that she didn’t fall out and neither can I. Pleased, we haul the kayaks up the beach and back onto cars, then have a late lunch in Williamstown and later, Japanese in East Brunswick. Another great day on the Bay.