IT stretches the boundaries of credulity to think there was not a link between Warrnambool councillors gathering at the breakwater this week to bluntly tell the state government it could take the management of the city’s port back if it didn’t fund proposed upgrades and the announcement the next day that the latest application for government cash for those upgrades had been rejected.
But let’s face it, things are a bit crook at the far end of the bay. The breakwater itself, a stark but oddly beautiful and historic structure, is flaking and fracturing away. The boat ramp is a bizarre piece of engineering that pleases no-one, one or two lonely boats ride at anchor and the seaweed continues to pile up.
It is a crumbling set of ideas in search of some new ones based on consensus.
Various plans for its future have floated and sunk. Fishing groups want an enclosed harbour, the council doesn’t. A marina was mooted. The state government doesn’t seem to have a view. Meanwhile at Port Fairy, a fishing fleet keeps its port’s heart beating. Further afield, Portland maintains a commercial footing based on timber, agriculture and aluminium cargo, the odd cruise liner and seemingly a millennia of shiny recreational tuna fishing boats.
But what is clear is that time has passed Warrnambool’s port – or more accurately, harbour – by. As has consensus on what to do with it next.
The council’s harbour masterplan aims to replace the boat ramp and upgrade amenities such as car parking, walkways and toilets as well as a user-pays system for its upkeep. The plan, built around a public survey, has met with muted approval from some and frustration from the proponents of an enclosed harbour.
The state government owns the harbour and appears to have no view at all. It’s mumbled lines about “continuing to support the council on the ongoing operations of the port” are meaningless beyond the $91,000 it gave last year to maintain it.
In this vacuum, dimly lit by the council’s masterplan which falls short of articulating a vision, the only consistent sound heard is the splash of shedding pieces of the breakwater and the swearing of boaties on the ramp. If walkers, bathers, horse trainers, fishos, council and local politicians could unite behind a single idea for the port, perhaps this space could be filled with the sound of things more mercantile, practical and rewarding.