Pauline Thompson
Story Two

Everybody talks about how much Elwood has changed over the years but they always focus on the houses and the people. What they forget is how much the landscape has changed and how it has altered the way we experience the sea.

In the late 1950’s a whole lot of land was reclaimed down there. We’ve lost so much of the ocean. It used to be just lovely of an evening to walk from here one street away and be right on the water’s edge. You could sit on the two foot high wall and look all along the beach to St Kilda and out to sea.

It was just so lovely to go down there even in winter. You’d rug up and watch the sea and watch its violence as it crashed against the rocks. Watch it rage over the twelve-foot high wall and crash onto the road. You weren’t the only ones there either. People would come out, dozens of them, come down and look and watch it. It was something fascinating; it was nature showing you what it could do with its violence. When there was a storm particularly, we’d always go down there because it was so marvellous to watch.

Another spectacle to see in any weather that I haven’t seen for a long time were the waterspouts. They would shoot up to three hundred feet and stand there, spouting like a geyser and then just drop – completely gone. Sometimes you’d see four or five or six at a time. One would come up and then another would come up, and then they would drop low. Then another would come up and then drop. Then all of a sudden another great big one would come racing towards you and you’d think, “OOOOOHHH we’re really going to get it”. But no, you were safe this time.

These spouts of water would generate such extraordinary speeds. What caused them and why they came I don’t know but they were a regular occurrence in the bay. They’d come across from Williamstown and Port Melbourne and head straight for the canal entrance especially if the tide was coming in. One time we had a storm and the geysers came with such ferocity that they mowed right down the canal to Tennyson St. Every house that had a flat roof had it torn off.

When there was a storm cars wouldn’t drive down one side of Marine Parade because the sea coming over the rock wall would be anything from five to nine feet high. In those days the road only had two lanes and the seaside lane would be absolutely drowned in a huge swell of water. Those waves and wind were so strong they could blow a car anywhere; crash it, turn it, make it go the other way. That was seeing the sea with its might.

The kids used to love playing in the storms. There was one section where the waves came crashing over the wall between Meredith and Dickens St. When it was really wild they used to say, “next one, and next one” and they’d try and run under the waves. The boys would get tumbled and washed against the wall, that was part of the fun, but they never did it when the waves were very high.

During winter you could never see anything out of the front windows of the houses onto Marine Parade at all. They were constantly covered with sea mist. Even in springtime when the spring tides were around there was nothing you could do about it. There was always water crashing around there, so you just had to leave the sea mist on the windows. You’d go into people’s houses and all you could see was a blur. That’s the only view you got at that time of the year.

Every year we always lost our beach this end of Elwood between the Life Saving Club and Point Ormond. We always swam right up until the end of autumn. You’d go there perhaps for a walk in May. Oh it was lovely; you’d take the children down for a play but next Sunday you might decide to do the same thing again but that time there wouldn’t be any sand left to walk along. It was gone. Then it would be gone all the winter months, the sea would come up and the beach would be full of seaweed and all sort of debris from ships. People would go down and collect wood. We used to go all the time in winter with a couple of empty bags each to collect chips of wood. They were wonderful to start the fires up.

Then we’d go down in August and you’d go “Ooohh how much longer have we got to wait before the sand returns”. And then you’d go down the following Sunday and you’ve got one hundred yards of sand, come from nowhere, nowhere at all and it was all back. And you knew it would stay there right through the whole summer. But during the spring tides in October a bit might wash away, shift around a bit. You’d always think Mother Sea would be saying, “it’s not quite where I want it all to be”, so she’d take a little bit away from what she’d given you and take it a bit further around to somewhere else and fill in their beaches.

In 1969 when Council started to reclaimed the land and widen the road they built a boundary of rocks and dirt around the edge of the area they wanted to claim. Then they started to fill it with rubbish, it all went there instead of the tip. The garbage trucks would drop anything and everything.

One evening when it was nearly two thirds filled we went for a walk along the path that ran between canal and the tip. I kept looking into the tip because it was like the sea with a gentle flow. It was a soft movement you could see across this whole wasteland and I said, “Do you think the tides coming in underneath?” My husband said “No”, but he didn’t say what he thought it was. I said, “Oh, I can’t understand that”. I soon turned my attention to my sons who were busy throwing stones into the canal and told them to stop because we must keep the bottom empty so the tide can come in and out. Then they asked “Can we throw it into that side then Mummy?” I said, “I can’t see any reason why not”. So they started lobbing rocks into the tip. And that’s when the soft movement became a sea of scurrying rats heading straight for us. There were thousands of them. I just jumped on my husband’s shoulders. He said, “Get down” and I shrieked “I won’t” and I would not, not on your life. I was terrified and so were my sons. They were up on his shoulders too, hanging on each side with legs around his waist. Poor Joe had to just stand there with the rats running up and down his trouser leg if he had moved it would have been a disaster. It was only a few minutes I suppose, but it felt like an hour and then all was silent. And Joe said, “You can get down”. I’ve never seen so many rats in my life, and they just went everywhere all over us scurrying around us. They were like big water rats about eight inches to a foot long. They came at us, YUK, running all over your head and face oooh, it was dreadful and very scary.

The new land has been long established, the park is great for the kids and kite flyers but it’s much harder to get to the sea because you have to cross six lanes of traffic. Trails have been built and shrubs have been planted to tame the winds so there really isn’t anywhere to watch and the sea that used to be so wild.