Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shipwrecks in Port Phillip Bay

The not-so-benign waters of Port Phillip Bay has claimed about 130 vessels, with a further 50 at the narrow Port Phillip Heads between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, according to Heritage Victoria (Ref 1). Many people are fascinated by shipwrecks because each wreck tells a story of the vessel as well as numerous stories of the people on board. There is always an element of mystery associated with things from the past, that are not well known and that involve much drama, as exemplified by the Titanic disaster.

The map below shows the locations of the various shipwrecks in Port Phillip Bay. Click a placemark to view the GPS coordinates and other information on the wreck. The GPS coordinates are obtained from the Australian National Shipwreck Database and some of them may not be accurate, as they point to locations on the land.

As you can see in the map above, the shipwrecks are concentrated at the Head and Port Melbourne, which is not surprising given the high traffic and narrow passage there. Below is a Youtube video showing a shipwreck at the Barwon Heads Ships' Graveyard where the hulls of scrapped ships are left to decay and disintegrate (Ref 2).

Video by GNRHexen

HMVS Cerberus on Wikipedia
Photo by Allan Green
The best known Port Phillip shipwreck is that of the HMVS Cerberus, less than 200m from the shore of Black Rock and in about 3m deep of water.

In 1866, the Victorian government ordered the building of this naval ship to defend Port Phillip Bay. Cerberus was completed in 1870 and arrived in Port Phillip in 1871. By World War I, its weapons and boilers were inoperable and the ship was retasked as a guardship and ammunition store. In 1921, the ship was renamed HMAS Platypus II and tasked as a submarine tender for the Royal Australian Navy's six J class submarines. Cerberus was sold to Melbourne Salvage Company for £409 in 1924. After being disassembled at Williamstown Naval Dockyard to remove scrap, the remaining parts were resold to Sandringham council for £150 in 1926 for sinking in Half Moon Bay to serve as a breakwater for the Black Rock Yacht Club.

Photo by Ways
Over time, the wreck became a popular site for scuba diving and her exposed decks were regularly used for picnics. The ship interior was also used as a training course for assault swimmers.

In 1993, due to a major structural collapse, Cerberus began to subside at 16 mm per year. Following this, a 100m exclusion zone was placed around the wreck. In 2002, Friends of the Cerberus was formed to promote preservation of HMVS Cerberus. In October 2004, the Victorian government provided an A$80,000 grant to remove the four 18-ton guns from Cerberus, reducing the load placed on its deck. The guns were coated with preservative, electrolyzed and placed on the seabed next to the wreck. Cerberus was listed on the Victorian Heritage Register in 2005. In July 2008, A$500,000 of federal funding was made available for its structural preservation, with the work scheduled to start in 2011.

Photo uploaded to Wikipedia by Googsey
Ozone is another well-known wreck. Built in 1886, she was regarded as one of the finest paddle steamers ever built. Her first bay excursion was on 18 Dec 1886 when she sailed from Melbourne to Queenscliff. On arrival, she collided with the pier at Queenscliff. Ozone had subsequently collided with the vessel Elfin, in Hobsons Bay near Williamstown in 1889 and with May in Port Phillip Bay in 1894. Ozone was

Early wreck photo uploaded by Googsey
withdrawn from service in 1918. In 1925, she was sold for scrap, dismantled and sunk 50m offshore at Indented Head to form a breakwater for small craft. Its wreckage remains visible and is an easy shallow dive. One of Ozone's two anchors has been incorporated into an historical monument which stands on the cliff-top near Taylor Reserve, overlooking the wreck, at Indented Head.

Other more significant wrecks in the bay include Mountain Maid (sunk off Swan Island after colliding with SS Queen in 1856), Wauchope (sunk off Sorrento coast in 1918), HMAS J3 (scuttled in Swan Bay in 1926) and HMAS J7 (scuttled off Hampton Beach in 1926).

In the waters near Altona, there is Thames, a steamer that was run ashore in rough weather at Altona in February 1852, a decision that saved the lives of its passengers. The search for Thames remains elusive. Henrietta, a cod-fishing boat from the US, was built in 1918 and sank off Point Cook in 1940. It remained undisturbed until 1967, when an abalone diver located the wreck. All that remained is 90-tonne pile of pig-iron ballast in 3m of water, 400m offshore. The boat's nameboard, which was used to adorn the entrance to the Altona Homestead Museum, was lost. On 29 Jan 1937, the steel steamer Kakariki collided with another steamer Caradale off Williamstown, sinking within minutes and killing 5 people. Salvage was hampered by the vessel being stuck in 4m of mud. The wreck was eventually blown up but parts of the mast, bridge and bow still remain. The Albert William, built in 1863, hit a reef at Point Gellibrand in 1955 while carrying a cargo of wool from Melbourne to Geelong. The clipper bow, anchor chain and a few fittings are still recognizable.

Cassandra Philippou, the Maritime Archaeologist of Heritage Victoria, pointed out that the remains of shipwrecks are not necessarily romantic or even easy to recognize. She said: "Many old boats were scuttled or dumped at places such as what is now the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary off Williamstown. All you might find there, in two or three metres of water, are straight lines among the reef, suggesting archaeological rather than natural features." (Ref 1)

I have once read a newspaper article that there is an incredible amount of space junk in orbit around the Earth. We too have a lot of man-made artefacts in our marine backyard, hidden from sight in the depths of the waters of Port Phillip Bay. Fortunately, sunken boats are more likely to be refloated and salvaged nowadays. Otherwise, no matter how big Port Phillip Bay is, it will reach saturation one day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Islands in the Sea

During the past one month, on those days when the temperature rose beyond 30 degrees Celsius, we would wait until it got cooler in the early evening after which we would hit for the Altona Beach.

The water would have receded by then, exposing large parts of the seabed and leaving behind what I fondly call "islands", as a result of the uneven elevations of the seabed. These exposed portions are called sandbars, as pointed out by Daniel Dendy (see comment).

Ansea Land B by Linda & Anthony Ang, on Flickr

These islands serve as "refuge" for seabirds and playgrounds for the beachgoers. Even adults play out their childhood fantasies on these islands.

Altona Pier A by Linda & Anthony Ang, on Flickr

This "Insea Land" phenomenon is a feature of the Altona part of Port Phillip Bay. If you have not been here before, come and see the islands, watch the setting sun and enjoy the evening breeze from the Pier.

Monday, February 21, 2011

2010 Melbourne Top Growth Suburbs

The REIV has just released the Melbourne annual median house price for 2010, the strongest year for price growth since 2001, increasing by 20.4% ($95,000) from $465,000 in 2009 to $560,000 in 2010. The star performer is Altona, with median house price surging by 34.7% ($169,000) to $656,000. The top 20 growth suburbs for capital gains are shown in the table below (Ref 1).

Henry Da Silva, director of Ray White Altona, said having Prime Minister Julia Gillard living in Altona had added to its prestige. He said: "I think people's curiosity has (brought) people to the area and they have decided it is a good place." (Ref 2)

Trends over the past 5 years show the western suburbs increasing in popularity with Altona, Braybrook, Maidstone and Footscray West all in the top 10 growth suburbs (Ref 3). In 2010, the western suburbs that experienced double-digit growth include Altona, Keilor East, Sunshine and St Albans (Ref 2).

However, some of Melbourne's most expensive suburbs did not perform well in 2010, with their values going backwards. Armadale had the biggest loss with 7% ($117,500) wiped off its median house price, followed by Toorak where prices fell by 2.1% (Ref 2).

2010 Median
2009 Median
1 Year Change
Keilor East
Heidelberg Heights
South Yarra
Heidelberg West
Oak Park
Caulfield North
Springvale South
Airport West
Albert Park
Avondale Heights
Fitzroy North
Box Hill South

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Altona Loop Duplication

If two trains that take you to the same destination arrive minutes apart, which will you take? You will say the first train based on common sense. Not so for the peak-hour passengers based at Laverton Station. Some commuters will pick the second train if it runs express between Laverton and Newport. By skipping the Altona Loop, a few minutes can be shaved off the journey despite the train departing later at the boarding station. Hence, passengers west of Altona will actually welcome any timetable change that will take the Altona Loop off the train schedule.

There are two major factors that determine the dynamics of train priorities in this area. The first is the physical limitation of the Altona Loop. Its single track creates a bottleneck, holding up a train as it waits for the train from the opposite direction to clear before it can run through the Loop. Altona is not alone in having this primitive rail structure. There are single-track sections in other parts of Melbourne, such as on the Epping, Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Belgrave lines, whose existence probably came about due to a combination of poor planning, lack of foresight and short-term cost-savings outweighing long-term benefits. The Altona Loop is unique in that the Werribee Train can bypass it by travelling in a separate set of tracks north of residential Altona while I do not think trains in other lines can bypass their single-track sections.

The second factor is the relative population of Altona to that of its more westerly neighbours. Altona is an oddity sandwiched between two more populous areas. We have the higher density Newport and Yarraville on one side, where median land size is generally smaller than that of Altona. On the western side is the City of Wyndham, the fastest growing municipality in Victoria and the fourth fastest in Australia (Ref 1). The Wyndham area is now riding a population boom, a favourite with first home buyers and new migrants, due to its housing affordability and land availability. In the foreseeable future, the patronage of the Werribee Line will increase substantially in line with the population growth in this area.

As the last Zone 1 train station, Laverton is a very heavily-utilized station, servicing people from the surrounding suburbs of Laverton, Point Cook, Altona Meadows, Seabrook, Williams Landing and Truganina and with catchment as far as Hoppers Crossing and Werribee. In contrast, though Altona has 3 train stations, its combined patronage is far less than that of Laverton alone. Altona has practically no remaining unbuilt land and is geographically limited from expansion by the sea in the south and the industries in the north. Hence, its population growth will be very much contained and the contrast from its western neighbours is bound to increase in the future. Consequently, the train operator will continue to introduce measures that will shift customer emphasis away from the Altona Loop.

However, it will be a great wastage not to make full use of 3 existing well-positioned Zone 1 train stations. As the Altona Loop runs through the middle of this wide and flat suburb, all houses in Altona are in fact within easy access of the 3 train stations. In an age when public transport is strongly encouraged to promote sustainability and environmental protection, we will be backpedalling if we do not optimize the usage of these 3 stations.

What should be done so that Altona is not marginalized in terms of train services with respect to the upstream faster growing areas? First of all, the Altona Loop needs to be duplicated to remove the existing bottleneck. This may not be too costly according to the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) and is advocated by the PTUA and other rail experts (Ref 2, 3, 4). I do not know whether land has been reserved for the track expansion on the Altona Loop. This probably requires realignment of the existing tracks and removal of trees and vegetation besides the track. I am not sure whether this duplication will affect the roads and houses along the track. I had witnessed the building of the train infrastructure in Singapore. I was originally perplexed of how the existing roads could provide enough space to add the train tracks. The engineers were however very ingenious and managed to achieve what the layman wold think impossible. In Melbourne, you would have noticed how additional lanes and ramps have appeared miraculously on Princes Freeway/M1 near the Westgate Bridge. Hence, one should not doubt what feats engineers could come up with. Another issue that will be of great concern to the Altona passengers is whether the Altona Loop will be closed during the period of duplication. I could not answer this question as I am not a professional in this field. But I think the long-term benefits will be worth any short-term sacrifice. Of course, people living next to the track will oppose this plan as they will be adversely affected, ranging from the less significant such as inconvenience, dust and noise caused by the construction to major issues such as reduced road width and possible acquisition of properties.

Secondly, the population of Altona may need to increase to maintain a proportionate representation and influence on various population-dependent policies such as building of new infrastructure, services and getting its fair share of public transport priorities. As with other suburbs, this may not go down well with the majority of Altona residents who will oppose property subdivisions and building of higher-density housing such as townhouses and apartments. However, no Melbourne suburb will escape the effects brought about by increasing population, which include not only the rise of property value but also the emergence of more higher-density residences. Toorak, which is the most expensive suburb in Melbourne, has also a considerable number of apartments. I believe that it is only a matter of time before Altona experiences the same sort of density increase seen in other suburbs.

I am suggesting higher-density housing be encouraged in the immediately vicinity of the train station. Pier Street North is an obvious ideal candidate for this type of transformation. Nobody will object to the replacement of the light industries there with a mix of residential and commercial property developments. Shops could be on the ground and the second level, with apartments occupying the higher levels. This will improve the surrounding environment and make Altona a more chic and upcoming place. I do not advocate the building of higher-density housing further away from the train stations as this will increase the demand of carparking spaces at the stations. To prevent this from happening, there could be policies and incentives to encourage development of highrise residential buildings very close to the train stations. These buildings can go higher than the current 3-4 levels that we have seen and if they can provide ample supply, then there will be no incentive to build higher-density housing further away.

Thirdly, get more people to come to Altona. You do not need to be living in Altona to increase the usage of its train stations. The importance of the Altona Loop can be enhanced by making Altona the hubs for various activities, such as for sports and recreation, arts and culture, learning and education, nature seeking and so on. Altona is already developing in the direction of a family-oriented place. Why not further enhance this advantage by establishing a Educational Centre for Children and Teens, where parents can bring their children to learn various stuff such as tuitions, music, arts, sports, Taekwando and so on. Make this even bigger by incorporating other community activities and learning for adults as well such as calligraphy, painting, cooking lessons, knitting, yoga, parents' clubs, etc. Expand the Fine Arts and Performing Arts in Altona. The trick is to schedule these activities in the non-peak hours so that incoming passengers to Altona will not compete with Altona residents during peak hours and the train usage will be more evenly spread throughout the day.

With the new timetable to be introduced in May this year and no indication that this change will be dropped, the Altona Community should think of ways of how to prevent the Altona Loop from being completely marginalized with further extension of the shuttle service to peak hours.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Capital of Romance

Today is Valentine's Day. I believe few people know its origins. It is named after St Valentine, who could be the Valentine of Rome, the Valentine of Terni or a third Valentine, all honoured on February 14. Valentine's Day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 A.D. but was removed from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI though its religious observance is still allowed.

Neither of the Valentines was linked to sentimental love. In 1382, Geoffrey Chaucer, an English author wrote a poem called the Parliament of Fowles to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. This poem contains the first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love:

For this was Saint Valentine's Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

It was assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine's Day. However, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England. Chaucer could instead be referring to the Valentine of Genoa, whose Saints' Day falls on 2 May.

A folklore was created in modern times to make the connection between Valentine's Day and romance. In this story, Roman Emperor Claudius II found it difficult to grow his army because married men were unwilling to join the army due to their strong attachment to their wives and families. To solve the problem, he passed a law banning all marriages and engagements. A priest called Valentine defied this law by secretly performing marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out this, he had Valentine arrested and executed on 14 Feb, 278 A.D. For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death. American Greetings, the world's largest greeting cards company, added a new element to this story. In this extended version, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, whom he had befriended and healed, and signed it "From Your Valentine." (Ref 1, 2) Many people have propagated this folklore as a historical fact when it is actually a product of modern invention.

Valentine's Day equates to big business in Asia. It is interesting to learn that current traditions could have originated and become entrenched as a result of marketing strategies by companies. In Japan, Morozoff Ltd introduced Valentine's Day in 1936 when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. It began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates in 1953. The custom that only women give chocolates to men on 14th Feb appears to have originated from the typo of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaign. Women give iri-choko (obligatory chocolates) to male co-workers, chō-giri choko (ultra-obligatory cheap chocolates) to unpopular co-workers, honmei-choko (favorite chocolates) to a loved one and tomo-choko (friendly chocolates) to friends. In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to get men give women white chocolates on 14th March in return. This day is hence called the White Day.

South Korea follows a similar tradition but expands it by making the 14th of every month a love-related day. On Black Day (14th April), those who did not receive anything on the 14th of Feb or March go to a Chinese restaurant to eat black noodles and "mourn" their single life. The 15th of each month from May to Jan is called Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, Hug Day and Candle Day respectively. In Taiwan, the order is reversed with men giving gifts to women on Valentine's Day and women returning the favour on White Day. This is a good case study of how modern-day traditions can spread across geographical borders, driven by commercialization.

Coming back to home turf, Hobsons Bay is recently crowned the Capital of Romance by the Leader newspapers (Ref 3). The "Leader’s Cash for Comment" survey, which asked people across Melbourne about what makes them happy and what bothers them, found that 20% of Hobsons Bay people in relationships think their partner is “extremely romantic”, compared to just 14 per cent of people across Melbourne.

Where have you spent your Valentine's Day? There is one place in Hobsons Bay that would probably be most remotely linked to romance in the minds of most people. One very humorous and entertaining newspaper article was written, right after Julia Gillard became the Prime Minister. Quoting from this article:

Julia Gillard has done one great thing since she got in to power. And no, it's not settle the mining tax issue or give redheads credibility....No, she's put Altona on the map............ now with Julia Gillard, the new Queen of Altona, the crowds are about to turn up. It's only a matter of time before visiting stars like Clive Owen will be seen having a beer and a schnitzel at the Millers Inn. The trendsetters will follow. Sam Newman will tie up his boat on the foreshore, Paul Kelly will write a song about Pier Street.............

And world leaders will have to come to her. When Barack Obama finally gets here, he'll have to head straight to Altona via the Tullamarine and then the West Gate Bridge. And what a schedule he'll have. First a walk around Cherry Lake to stretch those legs. Then a visit to the Altona miniature railway......Then Obama could take a walk along the beach, drop in on the Angling Club and meet eight Maltese guys called Joe. Finally, dinner at the Altona RSL, but stick to schedule as meals are only on between six and eight.

If Obama wants to get all romantic with Michelle, he can park the limo near the refinery and take in the twinkling lights and the burning off towers.

Altona Refinery Night Lightings
Photo by Mugley
Click the photo to enlarge and again to return to this page.

Don't write off this suggestion as sometimes, the most memorable memories happen in the least expected situations and places. For example, in the movie Titanic, one of the most passionate scenes took place in the cargo room.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Myki Fiasco

The Baillieu State Government is making a decision soon whether to axe the trouble-plaqued $1.4 billion Myki system (Ref 1, 1A). This system has gained such a notoriety that it is being used as a synonym for any problematic project, particularly those that are failing, overdue and over budget. For example, the HealthSMART program that is designed to link computer systems in Victorian hospitals is being referred to as the Myki of the health system (Ref 2).

I am from Singapore and have used both Myki and EZ-Link, Singapore's contactless smart card system so I am able to compare between the two systems. Unlike Myki, EZ-Link was rolled out in 2001 as planned, without major glitches and its smooth implementation was taken for granted, like most other things in Singapore that are run with clock-like efficiency on a daily basis.

Myki is built and operated by the consortium Kamco (Keane Australia Micropayment Consortium), which is wholly owned by Keane Inc, a US-based IT firm. The EZ-Link card is based on Sony FeliCa smartcard technology, which is widely used in Japan and also by Hong Kong's Octopus card, the world's first contactless smart card for mass transit payment (launched in 1997) and the most successful and mature one (Ref 3). Both the Octopus and EZ-Link systems were designed by ERG (now Vix ERG), an Australian-based technology company which has designed, supplied and operated automated fare collection systems for a large number of cities around the world. Ironically, ERG which has created Melbourne's Metcard, had repeatedly offered to upgrade Metcard to a smart card system for under $100 million since the current Metcard validating equipment has built-in support for a contactless validating mechanism (the yellow circles on the front of current Metcard machines) (Ref 4, 5). The main contract was eventually awarded to its competitor, Kamco (Ref 6, 7). The Myki, Octopus and EZ-Link systems are compared in the table below.

WhereMelbourne/ VictoriaHongKong/Macau/ShenzhenSingapore
Previous SystemMetcard & VLine
(stored value paper tickets)
Common Stored Value Ticket (flexible magnetic plastic card)TransitLink (flexible magnetic plastic farecard)
Start Date of ProjectAU$494 million contract awarded to Kamco on 12/7/20051994US$78 million awarded to ERG-Motorola alliance on 5/4/99 (Ref 8)
Scheduled Completion DateMar 200719972002
Date Introduced12/12/2008 (Regional Vic) 29/12/2009 (Metro Melb)Sep 199713/4/2002
Cost$1.4 billion (current estimate)$100 million
initial building cost (Ref 9)
US$78 million
(Ref 8)
Transactions per day1 million
(Ref 9a)
11 million4 million
Current UsageTrain, Tram, BusAll public transport (train, tram, subway, bus, taxi, ferry), more than 1000 merchants, convenience stores, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, parking meters, carparks, photo booths, pay phones, service stations, vending machines, access control cards in buildings and school administrative functions.
Train, Light Rail, Bus, Taxi.

Used as supplementary ID & concession card and for micropayment in McDonald, some food courts, carparks, schools to mark student attendance and to pay for canteen food.

Other DevelopmentsFate to be decided next week, whether Myki is to be retained, modified or abandoned.Octopus Rewards launched on 6/11/2005.

Apart from the card, mobile phone covers, wrist watches, pocket watches, key chains and wristbands embedded with the Octopus chip are available, rechargeable and function exactly like the card.

Trial on mobiles with an embedded EZ-Link card in 2007.

Replaced by CEPAS EZ-Link card on 1/10/2009 that can be used for contactless e-purse applications.

NETS FlashPay CEPAS card was launched on 9/9/2009 to compete with EZ-Link card.

The Myki debacle is not without tell-tale signs. In fact, the seed of the problems to come was sown in the inception stage. According to a leaked Auditor-General's report in 2008, the Transport Ticketing Authority officers selected US company Keane to write key elements of the tender brief in 2005 (Ref 10, 11). This is the same company that later led the consortium Kamco to participate in the tender and win the contract to build the Myki system.

In an apparent conflict of interest, the then Chief Executive of the Transport Ticketing Authority, Vivian Miners was found to be an executive of one company in the Kamco consortium and hold shares in another (Ref 11a). The leaked audit report also said: "Keane had no corporate experience in developing, implementing and operating a ticketing system … Keane has barely demonstrated adequate capacity." In May 2008, the then Transport Minister Lynne Kosky said that "the one mistake the government did make was to actually accept the expert advice that we could put the new ticketing system in place much quicker than any other jurisdiction". By then, one of the experts blamed by Ms Kosky, Vivian Miners, the highest paid public servant in Victoria, had quit his $545,000-a-year position just hours before his scheduled appearance at a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the Myki tender (Ref 12, 13).

Apparently, Kamco has no qualms in extolling its achievements. Johanna Waldon, the Communications Advisor at Kamco, had added to an article in Wikipedia on 20 Jan 2011, the following : "The card readers, electronic gates and other equipment that are part of the myki ticketing system have demonstrated exceptional performance in high-volume transit and vandal-prone sites around the world.....The new smartcard puts Victoria among an elite group of states around the world that are transforming and future-proofing public transport." (Ref 14). What she has omitted is the reliability of the Myki software system and how Myki has performed in Melbourne, which is really what matters rather than what its individual hardware components have performed in other parts of the world. This table shows a large number of cities already using contactless smart cards for public transportation so it is far-fetched to say that Melbourne/Victoria is among an elite group. (Please note that this Wikipedia article has a complete makeover and resembles nothing like its previous version when I read it again on 23/02/2011).

In November 2009, the Transport Ticketing Authority explained why it could not opt for "off-the-shelf" smart card systems through this statement on its website: "while hardware components can be bought off the shelf - and Myki uses some - software must be designed to best meet our state's individual fare structure. This meant maintaining many existing Metcard and regional fare features, while introducing many new myki features - an excruciatingly complicated feat." (Ref 15) It is clear now that the then government had made a critical judgement error in choosing the inexperienced Keane rather than a company with a long proven track record in building successful smart card ticketing systems. Singapore's EZ-Link system is actually no less sophisticated than Myki. Whereas metropolitan Melbourne has only two fare zones (Zone 1 and 2), the train and bus fares in Singapore are computed based on the distance travelled. Buses will have to depend on reliable GPS technologies to accurately compute the fare between the boarding and alighting bus stops. The passenger volume is also far higher in Singapore than in Melbourne, which means that the reader needs to be very sensitive to ensure speedy passenger boarding and disembarkation. I can easily validate the EZ-Link card without taking it out of my wallet and the balance is clearly displayed unlike the Myki machine, in which I find difficulty reading the display from a short distance or at an angle. The Myki machine appears flimsy and less robust compared to the Singapore's one. Apart from public transport ticketing, EZ-Link cards are increasing used in more and more non-transit electronic money applications.

What really perplex me is why the contract was written in such a way that was heavily leaned towards the interest of the successful bidder. I thought that the customer (the State Government) would have the upper hands in dictating the terms to its best benefits. Shouldn't the tenderer adhere to the payment it has agreed so that any blown-out costs should be borne by the bidder rather than by the Government? Doesn't the contract include penalty for delays, unsatisfactory product, failure to meet performance targets and an exit option if things go wrong? It is unfathomable why the State Government should have landed itself in a situation in which it faces hefty, drawn-out legal suits if it chooses to walk away from this project (Ref 16). A protection clause should have been included in the contract to take care of such an "unlikely" scenario.

I really hope that the current and future governments will not repeat the same mistake when negotiating contracts for large-scale government projects. The terms should be in our best interests and should take into account all possible situations. Ultimately, it is the taxpayers who will foot the bill and suffer the most if something goes awry.

22/02/2011 Update: Vix ERG had once again offered to extend the Metcard system with a smartcard capability that can run side by side with Metcard for 3-4 years. Vix Technology chief executive Steve Gallagher said that the equipment can be rolled out to regional Victoria within weeks and to the greater Melbourne metropolitan area within 6 months, with the smartcard function available within 12-18 months. He estimated up to $100 million can be saved by discontinuing Myki but this cost does take into account any legal action from Kamco (Ref 17).

21/06/2011 Update: Premier Ted Baillieu announced that Myki would be kept and modified, with improvements to its capacity and capability (Ref 17a).

Response to a Reader's Comment on 28 Feb 2011 that my discussion is one-sided against Myki

I have provided hyperlinked reference(s) against each statement in the post so that readers can click to check the source of the information or to read further details, including ERG's T-Card failure in Sydney which is often mentioned in newspapers reports such as the recent article on ERG's offer to extend smartcard capability to the existing Metcard. Please note that I have never suggested anywhere in the post that ERG is better or should have been chosen. I would have no knowledge or insights of the professional skills of the respective companies. The post merely states what had been widely reported in the media, that is, ERG had offered to do a smartcard version for the State Government. Since you have mentioned about ERG, I will add the following stuff I read about ERG which may or may not further interest readers:
  • According to its Wikipedia entry, ERG did have a lot of international experience. But even experienced companies, such as Toyota and Boeing, do run into problems.
  • ERG withdrew from an initial bid for Melbourne's smartcard system to join the Kamco consortium instead.
  • Vivian Miner's partner and former wife both worked for ERG and Headstrong, which was part of the Kamco consortium (Ref 18).
  • As recent as 2010, EZ-Link of Singapore had collaborated with Vix ERG on the Next Generation CEPAS Fare Validator (Ref 19).
What I feel is that getting a well-known company is not sufficient in itself to guarantee the success of a project. The managerial role of the Government is equally important.

On the "cost" comment, "initial building cost" was clearly written against the $100 million so that the readers are aware of it. I had also clearly written AU$494 million contract awarded to Kamco on 12/7/2005 and US$78 million awarded to ERG-Motorola alliance on 5/4/99. These are the only figures that I can find from the internet and newspapers reports. By the same yardstick, median house price will not be meaningful as it does not take into account factors such as land size, building condition, workmanship, age and size, proximity to public transport, amenities, etc. But people still love to see the price tags so I am providing the figures but with a qualification and linked references so that readers will not be misled.

The systems in Singapore and Hong Kong are considered highly-successful systems, despite issues that viewers can further read from the hyperlinked Wikipedia articles on EZ_Link and Octopus. When I select these two systems for comparing against Myki, I hope that readers can also open their mindsets that confining the use of the contactless smartcard system to public transport ticketing is not exploiting its maximum potential. Extending its usage to e-purse applications opens a whole new range of possibilities and opportunities that will serve to enhance its value, cost-effectiveness and consumer benefits. I firmly believe this is the direction that our government should pursue and not just contend with a smartcard with only transit functions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fishing Hotspots in Port Phillip Bay

Note: Thanks to a reader's feedback, errors in the map GPS coordinates (longitude being a duplicate of latitude value) are now rectified.

Port Phillip Bay is a superb fishing destination, offering a great variety of fish species. The annual snapper migration into Port Phillip Bay, known among local fishing enthusiasts as the Crimson Tide, places the Bay on the map as the best snapper fishery in Australia.

Covering 1,950 km2 in area with 264 km of coastline, Port Phillip Bay is the largest, almost enclosed "inland sea" in the Southern Hemisphere. Hence, there is plenty of room for everybody to catch and there is always a location where the wind is blowing offshore. The map below shows the fishing hotspots in Port Phillip Bay. Click a placemark to view the GPS coordinates and fish found in a particular location.

I will first begin the journey from Altona where I live. Altona and the western seaboard are popular areas for recreational fishing. There are good spots less than 500 metres from the Altona Boat Ramp, which is possibly the finest large boating facility in Victoria. The following table shows the fish variety available around Altona.

Water off Altona Boat RampWhiting, Pinkies, Snapper, Flathead
Mouth of Lower Kororoit CreekWhiting, Flathead
Water off Williamstown Footy Ground
  • Reef
  • Navigational Markers

Pinkies (seasonal), Leatherjacket
Snapper (seasonal), Gummy (during dusk)
Water 30-50 metres west of Millers RdTop spot for Pinkies (seasonal)
The StickWhiting, Pinkies, Flathead, Snapper
Red marker between the Stick & Altona PierBig leatherjackets
Water between Altona Pier & Point CookOne of the best flathead fishing in the bay,
about 15-20 fish per hour
Gutters at mouth of Skeleton CreekMassive flathead of over 3 kg in summer
Water between Dumb Joe & P2 buoyGood snapper area
P2 buoyOne of the best snapper fishing in the bay
Werribee South
Bream, whiting, snapper
Kirk Point
Snappers (in shallow water)

Not surprisingly, the author of the above information says that one will not be disappointed as fishing around Altona is very rarely a fishless exercise. Now, let us move clockwise from Altona along the shores of Port Phillip Bay.

Hobsons Bay
  • This bay at the top of Port Phillip, between Williamstown and Port Melbourne, produces beam, mullet, whiting, flathead, leatherjacket, snapper and occasionally mulloway.
  • The Hotties or Warmies is a channel, 20 m wide by 200 m long, where hot water is pumped by Newport Power Station into the bay. When warm water flows, bream, tailor and mulloway are regularly caught by anglers using both hard-bodied and soft plastic lures.

  • Hotspot for big breams.
  • Anglers often encounter resident mulloways.
  • Soft plastics is the preferred method of fishing though bait still works well.

From Elwood to Sandringham
  • Anglers can catch large amounts of snappers from November to Christmas, particularly just before sunrise and sunset.
  • Garfish are also common especially when the snappers are running.
  • A boat is not required as shore-based fishing regularly produces good catches of salmons, whitings and snappers.

Southeast Seaboard
  • Large mussel beds are located off Aspendale, Edithvale and Chelsea and are home to snappers of all sizes in the warmer months.
  • Waters off Seaford and Frankston produce large amount of snappers from November to April while whitings and squids inhabit the shallower waters.

Mornington Peninsula
  • Waters between Frankston and Mt Martha are notable as the bay's best snapper grounds.
  • Mornington and Mt Martha are popular with anglers. Mornington Pier and many rocky platforms provide land-based anglers with consistent catches of squids, whitings, snappers, salmons, flatheads and barracoutas. Whitings, squids, flatheads and pikes are caught all year round while snappers, sharks, garfish and salmons are abundant in the warmer months.
  • Squids and whitings are abundant both inside and outside the Mussel Farm above the extensive grass beds and reef off Safety Beach.
  • Deep water off the Cape is home to flatheads, snappers and sharks.
  • Grass beds and reefs of Sorrento and Blairgowrie are famous for their whitings & squids.
  • Snappers and sharks can be caught in the shipping channel, particularly around the Shark Hole just north of Sorrento.
  • Sorrento Pier provides land-based anglers with productive catches of squids, whitings and leatherjackets.
  • Point Nepean is an excellent fishing location for squids, whitings, snappers, sharks, kingfish and flatheads.

Southern End and Entrance of Port Phillip Bay
  • Peak season is during the warmer months of November to April when there are abundant snappers, squids, whitings and yellowtails.
  • At Nepean Bay, anglers regularly target yellowtail king fish 600m out on an outgoing tide.
  • Land-based anglers do well at Nepean Bay and at the piers of Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale.
  • Seven-gill sharks are the most commonly caught sharks.

Bellarine Peninsula

  • Prime locations for King George Whiting are between St Leonard & Prince George Banks, particularly at Grassy Point and Governor Reefs.
  • The channels off St Leonard are home to both snappers and flatheads. However, if the snappers are around, the flatheads will disappear and vice-versa.
  • Snappers can be caught by land-based anglers at St Leonard Pier after a strong northerly wind.
  • Whitings, flatheads and leatherjackets are regularly caught by land-based anglers at Portarlington Pier during summer.
  • Point Richards off Portarlington is a hotspot for whitings especially during the warmer months.
  • Good snapper fishing can be found 3 km north of Port Richards channel, particularly between Beacon No. 3 and 5. This area is easily accessed from Port Arlington Boat Ramp.
  • Clifton Springs has a boat ramp that gives good access to Curlewis Bank where whitings abound.

Corio Bay

  • This is home to whitings, snappers & flatheads.
  • Trevallies, flatheads, barracoutas & slimly mackerels are regularly caught by land-based anglers at Cunningham Pier.
  • Big flatheads, spotted lings, snappers & gummy sharks are regularly caught at Geelong Grammar School Lagoon.
  • Avalon is a regular hotspot for whitings, best fished between the channel markers inside the old channel.

Types of Fish

The most popular fish in Port Phillip include snapper, flathead, whiting, bream, gummy shark, squid and garfish.


Snappers are caught in Port Phillip Bay all
year round. Yet the majority of the larger fish are caught between October and April. Beginning from early Spring each year, tens of thousands of snappers make their way into Port Phillip Bay through the Rip. The movement starts with a drip that becomes a trickle, then a flood like a crimson tide. This mass migration is a spectacular event, filled with mystery and speculation. Their wintering sites are still unknown but come Spring, vast schools of snappers will follow their primordial instincts on invisible marine trails back to Port Phillip Bay.

It is speculated that the snappers navigate by chemical signatures present in minute quantities in the ocean currents. It was originally believed that snappers return to Port Phillip Bay in Spring to breed. However, there is insufficient evidence from egg and larvae surveys that significant bay spawning has occurred and this remains another mystery of these enigmatic fish.

In the early stages of the migration, the snappers follow a predictable path. Catches will be reported from Queenscliff, Mt Martha and Mornington. Within days, the snapper will be running along the eastern seaboard. By next month, they will be schooling off Carrum, Seaford, St Kilda, Williamstown, Altona and Corio Bay. The peak period in terms of consistency and numbers is October to mid-December.

Snappers feed in deeper water of 15-20m during the day and in shallower water of 8-15m at night. After a strong wind has stirred up the seabed and made the water murky, land-based anglers can do well, particularly at piers and rock walls of places such as Point Lonsdale, St Leonards and Mornington. Snappers are a schooling fish so once located, large catches can be common. Best baits for snapper are squids, silver whitings, cuttlefish, octopus, pilchards, barracoutas and salmons. Corio Bay is a good location for catching snappers in winter.

While large snappers are normally caught in deep waters, smaller juvenile fish known locally as Pinkies are often caught over the same shallow broken grounds that whitings haunt. Pinkies are ferocious feeders and move about in large schools. While Pinkies are caught throughout the year, the peak time to chase them is from December to April.

King George Whiting

  • One of Australia's best tasting fish, with a delicate flavour and firm white flesh.
  • Found throughout the bay. Best spots tend to be over grass beds, patchy reef or any area of broken ground. Rarely found in water deeper than 10m.
  • Rarely exceed 800g; 1 kg fish
    King George Whiting
    Photo by Pvmoutside
    possible from Dec-Apr.
  • Suitable for both land-based and boat angling. Possible to catch 20 fish in an hour from a school of whiting.
  • Use light spinning rod and reel, line lighter than 4 kg, No. 4 long shank hooks and a running sinker rig.
  • Best baits are mussels, squids, pippies and sand worms.


  • Migrate into the bay each year around October to spawn.
  • Caught throughout the bay over most grass beds and reefs.
  • Ideal locations are flat reef with good weed cover in 3-4m of water. Best catching areas at Queenscliff, Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean.
  • 3 kg and above in the southern end of the bay, 200-400 g in other parts of the bay.
  • Most popularly caught by use of prawn or Yo-Zuri squid jigs which are cast and retrieved in a slow jerking and sinking manner. Bait jigs are very effective on larger squids.
  • Apart from being a delicacy, squids are also one of the best baits, used in catching snappers, whitings, flatheads, gummy sharks and other fish.

Australian Salmon

Aussie Salmon
Photo by flyreels
  • Move freely around the bay in schools, which are easily identified from birds diving for baits herded by the salmons.
  • Tend to stay close to shore and prefer a bottom with patchy reef.
  • Range from 200 g to over 4 kg. The smaller salmon is also known locally as Bay Trout.


  • Found throughout the bay during the warmer months, over the same sort of seabeds as whitings or out deep in the channels frequented by snappers.
  • A good burley of tuna oil, bread,
    Photo by Krüger
    fish scraps and pellets can attract large schools to the boat.
  • Use a float, a No. 12 or 13 hook baited with silver fish, maggots, pipies or fish pieces.
  • Make fantastic bait for snappers.

Yellowtail Kingfish

  • Can reach over 25 kg.
    Yellowtail Kingfish
    Photo by Nholtzha
  • Found in the Rip and along the Lonsdale wall.
  • Many locals fish for them by slowly trawling with strong handlines with squid baits.
  • Best baits are konaheads, rubber squids and minnow styles.
  • Occasionally mix into the salmon school so are sometimes encountered when fishing for salmons.


  • The gummy is the most regularly
    Gummy Shark
    caught edible shark. Seven-gill and whaler sharks are the most common larger sharks.
  • Most common during the warmer months as they follow the migrations of snappers into the bay and are generally caught with snappers.
  • Best baits are oily, bloody fish flesh like tuna, trevally, salmon and pilchards.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

What are people saying about Julia Gillard?

Politicians in Australia and probably in other parts of the world as well place great emphasis on popular opinions. I will not be surprised if these politicians have experts dedicated to the analysis and prediction of voters' moods and intentions. Thanks to the popularizaton of online social networking, there are now free online tools in which common folks like you and I can employ to sense the current political sentiments.

For example, we are able to see what netizens are currently talking about Julia Gillard.

Anyone engaging in online social networking needs to be aware that what he/she is saying can be picked up by unintended audience.

The following tool, developed by Microsoft, shows the associations between tweeted words. For example, it can be used to show which other words are currently being used in greater frequency with "Julia Gillard". As we can see, Julia Gillard is associated with Anna Bligh during the disasters caused by Queensland floods and Cyclone Tracy.

All these applications are part of the development of Contextual Discovery or “Search with searching", employing personal and social data and preferences, with the aim of alerting and recommending users to services, venues, events and happenings, particularly in a local context. Google and other IT companies are attempting to “push information to people” based on their locations and what they are doing.

Politicians, celebrities and organizations are making extensive use of Twitter for publicity, marketing, media exposure and dissemination of information. The tweets of Julia Gillard are shown below.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Today is the first day of the Chinese or Lunar New Year, which is celebrated not only by the Chinese but also by Koreans, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Tibetans, Mongolians as well as the Japanese before 1873. It is a public holiday in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam and Christmas Island (Australia). Australia Post, Canada Post and the US Postal Service also issue Chinese New Year's themed stamps. Click here to read the legend of the Jade Rabbit from the Australia Post.

In the Chinese Zodiac, each year is associated with an animal in a 12-year cycle. The 12 animals are in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The new year is that of the Rabbit while that has just passed belongs to the Tiger. It is interesting to know that the Rabbit is substituted by the Cat in Vietnam, the Pig by the Elephant in northern Thailand and by the Boar in Japan and the Ox by the Water Buffalo in Vietnam.

Video by just4alaffXD

Chinese New Year is associated with a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would come on the first
Photo by Leonard G
day of New Year to devour livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. The villagers believed that by putting food in front of their doors, Nian would not attack people after eating the food. The villagers then discovered that Nian was afraid of red colour, after it was scared away by a little child wearing red. From then on, everyone would hang red lanterns and spring scrolls on windows and doors before the New Year. People also used firecrackers to frighten away Nian. Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk and became his mount.

Story of the Nian by bibabu819 narrated in Mandarin, with English subtitles

The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, although it takes place during winter in China. It lasts for 15 days, with the Lantern Festival being the last day.

Before the New Year, it is the tradition for every family to thoroughly clean the house to sweep away the bad luck of the preceding year to make way for good incoming luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that the newly-arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Windows and doors will be decorated with red paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of "happiness", "wealth", and "longevity".
Photo by Peter Morgan
Purchasing new clothing, shoes and receiving a haircut also symbolize a fresh start. Taoist and Buddhist families will "send gods", such as burning a paper effigy of Zao Jun, the Kitchen God and offering him sweet foods such as candy. This is to "bribe" the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions, in reporting good deeds of the family to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.

On New Year's Eve, family members gather for a sumptuous reunion dinner in or near the home of the most senior member of the family. In some places, the menu includes a fish dish that is not supposed to be eaten completely so that there may be surpluses every year as fish sounds like surplus in Mandarin. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings which symbolize wealth because their shape is like a Chinese tael. In southern China, it is customary to make a new year cake called Niangao as gifts to relatives and friends. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner, some families go to local temples to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year. Nowadays, many households hold parties and even a countdown to the new year. In mainland China, many families will banter while watching the CCTV New Year's Gala in the hours before midnight.

The first day of the New Year is a time for visiting relatives. Married people give red envelopes called Hongbao containing cash to junior members of the family. Companies may also give Hongbao to employees for good luck and wealth. Companies and families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Fireworks and firecrackers which were traditionally very popular are now banned in most places due to concerns over fire hazards.

For Buddhists, this day is the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva, a future Buddha of the world in Buddhist eschatology. They will abstain from eating meat with the belief that this will bring them longevity. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year's Day so all food is prepared the day before.

On the second day, married daughters visit their parents, a tradition carried from the past when married daughters may not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently. On this day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors and all gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

It is believed that the third day is not a good day to socialize or visit your relatives and friends. In northern China, people eat dumplings on the morning of the 5th day, which is also the birthday of Cai Shen, the God of Wealth. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally reopen on the next day (the 6th day), accompanied by firecrackers.

The 7th day is known as Renri or Man's Birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is a custom for the Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as
Photo by Nathaniel
Malaysia and Singapore, to get together to toss and eat a colourful raw fish salad, called Yusheng, as a symbol for continued wealth and prosperity.

The 9th day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven. This day is especially important to Hokkiens who will give thanksgiving prayers and offerings to the Jade Emperor. Offerings include sugarcane which had protected the Hokkiens from certain extermination generations ago. Many Buddhists will avoid meat on this day which is also the birthday of Sakra, ruler of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven in Buddhist cosmology.

The 15th day, also known as Yuan Xiao, Shang Yuan or Lantern Festival, marks the end of the Spring Festival. Rice dumplings called Tangyuan, which are sweet glutinous rice balls brewed in a soup, are eaten on this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. Families celebrate this day by walking the streets with lighted lanterns.

For many Chinese in Melbourne, today is a usual working day. I have too been working for the past Chinese New Years in Melbourne. For this particular year, I have decided to take a leave. However, as I could find any organized celebration in Melbourne, I ended up staying at home, doing gardening and clearing rubbish instead, something the superstitious would abstain from. For those who are interested, you can visit the Chinese New Year Celebration at Chinatown, Little Bourke Street this coming Sunday 6th February from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is also a series of activities at Crown Casino from 4-6th February.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Islands in Port Phillip Bay

I am always fascinated by geographical features and maps. Whenever I am at Altona Beach gazing at Port Phillip Bay, I always wonder what secrets does Port Phillip Bay hold, what are beneath its surface and what are beyond its horizons. I originally planned to write an article on the "Treasures of Port Phillip Bay" but soon realized that there is too much material to be covered by a single post. Instead, I will breakdown the content into two or more posts, starting with this post about the islands in Port Phillip Bay.

Despite its shallow depth and large size, Port Phillip Bay has surprisingly few islands. Most islands are located in Swan Bay at the eastern end of the Bellarine Peninsula. These include Swan Island, Sand Island, Duck Island, Rabbit Island, Stingaree Island, Tip Island and Mangrove Island.

Map of Swan Bay
Map by Nick Carson. Click photo to enlarge.

Swan Island

Swan Island is a 1.4 km2 sand barrier island, accessible from Queenscliff by a causeway through the small saltmarsh-covered Rabbit Island. Its western end is home to the Queenscliff Golf Club while a Defence Department's training facility is located in the central and eastern parts. Swan Island has a long history of military use, being part of the fortifications built to protect the entrance to Port Phillip Bay from a feared Russian invasion during the Crimean war in the 1870s. It was used as a depot for naval mines during World War I and was linked to Queenscliff Railway Station by a tramway for transporting military goods from 1886 to 1958.

The extensive areas of saltmarsh on Swan Island serve as one of the few regular wintering sites for the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.

Sand Island

Sand Island was formed by cutting a channel between Port Phillip and Swan Bay when making the entrance to Queenscliff Harbour. The continuous pumping of sand from this channel to keep it navigable has resulted in sand drift in a north-easterly direction, eventually joining Sand Island to Swan Island and creating two lagoons, which are much used by Black Swans and other waterbirds. Sand Island is home to the Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club.

Mud Islands

Located 7 km north of Portsea and 9 km east of Queenscliff is a unique group of 3 low-lying, atoll-like islands (4 m high, 86 ha in total area, 60 ha in land area) called the Mud Islands which enclose a shallow tidal lagoon connected to the sea by 3 narrow channels. Despite the name, these islands, including their outer beaches, are composed primarily of shelly sand.

Mud Islands are the surface expression of the "Great Sand" - extensive sand banks in the southern section of Port Phillip Bay near the Heads. Birds play a key role in the physical evolution of the islands. Phosphates leached from guano deposits (bird droppings) combine with the shelly sand below to form hard calcium phosphate, which is resistant to marine erosion. It is these rare phosphate rock outcrops that anchor the islands and keep them in place. The guano itself was mined in the 1860s and 70s, amidst much controversy at the time as to the possible effects on the islands.

Movement of sand by winds and tidal currents is gradually changing the size and configuration of the islands over the years, with stability provided mainly by the phosphate rock anchor points and partly by a saltmarsh of Austral Sea-blite and Beaded and Shrubby Glasswort. The inlets have been particularly dynamic, having opened, closed or shifted many times.

View Larger Map
Courtesy of Doug Miller & Friends of Mud Islands

The islands were first sighted by Europeans in 1802 and originally named Swan Isles due to the large number of swans in the surrounding waters. They were renamed to Mud Islands by Lieutenant T.M. Symonds and H.R. Henry of the HMS Rattlesnake in 1836.

Mud Islands have long been of scientific and conservation interest. They were proclaimed a permanent reserve for the management of wildlife in 1961. They are listed on the Register of the National Estate. Mud Islands and Swan Bay were included in the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site, designated in 1982 as a wetland of international importance. Mud Islands, together with Swan Bay, Point Lonsdale, Point Nepean, Pope's Eye and Portsea Hole, were gazetted as the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park in 2002.

Mud Islands are a bird haven, with 87 recorded species, of which 15 have been recorded nesting. The entire area above high water mark is used for nesting, with some species forming extensive colonies. Silver Gulls were recorded nesting in 1838 but they later abandoned the islands as a breeding site, probably due to human occupation of the islands by fishing families and guano miners in the second half of the 19th century. They returned to breed in 1959 and their population subsequently exploded when they were evicted from their traditional breeding site at Port Melbourne due to industrial development. Mud Islands now support the largest breeding colony of Silver Gulls in the world, with an estimated 40-50 thousand pairs breeding by 1986.

From 1990 onwards, Straw-necked and Australian White Ibis nested on Mud Islands in large numbers. These birds use the brittle Coast Saltbrush to build their nests, creating bare areas that are rapidly colonized by the competing Coast Hollyhock, which is superbly adapted to life in bird colonies.. It thrives on guano and is one of 18 known plant species that are largely or entirely restricted to bird colonies. Unlike Coast Saltbrush, its tough fibrous stems and branches make it indestructible by even the largest nesting birds and it can tolerate birds tunnelling in its root system. Thanks to the ibis, the hollyhock population has risen to over 5000 plants, making it the largest known population of this rare species in the world.
Other birds nesting on Mud Islands include 5500 White-faced Storm-Petrel, nearly a 1000 Crested Terns (one of the largest colonies in Victoria and the only one in Port Phillip Bay), Caspian Terns and Common Terns. The central lagoon is visited by thousands of intercontinental waders in summer.

Artificial Islands and Structures

Due to its shallow depth, a few artificial islands and forts had been built in the Bay. These include South Channel Fort, Pope's Eye, Chinaman's Hat and South Channel Pile Light.

South Channel Fort
South Channel Fort is a 0.7 hectare artificial island in the
South Channel Fort
Photo by Alex Cohen
southern part of the bay, 6 km northeast of Sorrento. It is 122 m long, 76 m wide and 6.4 m above sea-level. It was built on a shoal, close to the main shipping channel of the bay, with 14,000 tonnes of bluestone boulders, concrete and sand.

It was constructed in the 1880s to illuminate the channel at night and electronically explode mines under attacking ships coming through the Heads. A system of underground tunnels and antiquated gun emplacements, including disappearing guns, still remains. The first Australian shots of both World War I and II were fired from the South Channel Fort.

South Channel Fort is listed on the Register of the National Estate both for its historic significance and its conservation importance as a breeding site for the White-faced Storm-petrel. Other species visiting the island include Little Penguins, Black-faced Cormorants and Australian Fur Seals. Since 1995 it has been managed as part of the Mornington Peninsula National Park. Public access is permitted during daylight hours and it is a popular diving site.

Pope's Eye

Pope's Eye or the Annulus is the uncompleted foundation for an island fort intended to defend the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It is named after a naval

Pope Eye
Photo by Melburnian
midshipman and located 3 km east of Queenscliff and 5 km north of Portsea.

Construction began in the 1880s by dumping bluestone boulders on a 12 metres deep submerged sandbank until a horse-shoe shaped artificial reef was formed just above high-water level. The fort was left uncompleted because improvements in naval gunnery enabled the entrance to Port Phillip and the associated shipping channel to be protected by guns at the nearby Swan Island Fort, Fort Queenscliff and Fort Nepean, making Pope’s Eye redundant for military purposes. The reef now now hosts a navigation beacon.

The inside of Pope's Eye provides a safe anchorage to small boats in 2-3 metres of water while the kelp-covered rocks slope away to a depth of 12 metres on the outside. Protected from strong currents , it is popular with snorkellers and scuba-divers, providing almost all weather, all current diving.

The site has been protected as part of the Harold Holt Marine Reserve since 1979, which was expanded in 2002 and called the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park. The reef provides a habitat to an underwater forest of marine algae, such as Giant and Leathery Kelp, which in turn sustains a rich fauna of fish and marine invertebrates, including sponges and soft corals.

Pope’s Eye is an important breeding site for Australasian Gannets, which breed on platforms constructed for them as well as on the rocks of the reef, which are also used for roosting by Black-faced Cormorants and for foraging by Ruddy Turnstones. The site is often visited by Australian Fur Seals and Bottlenose Dolphins.

Chinaman’s Hat

Chinaman’s Hat or the Caisson is an octagonal structure on a rectangular base in the South Channel 3 km from Pope's Eye. It was built in 1942 during World War II
Photo by Davido32
to defend the bay. It detected intruding enemy ships trying to enter Port Phillip Heads at night and take Melbourne by surprise, when these passing ships intercepted a photoelectric beam projected from the structure.

The military equipment has since been demolished and today, Chinaman’s Hat is just an outcrop and home to a group of Australian Fur Seals which lounged on its rocky surface in the warmer months. It is also a popular destination among scuba divers.

To have a closer look at the seals, click the photo above. Click the enlarged popout to return to this page.

South Channel Pile Light
The South Channel Pile Light is a single-storey octagonal lighthouse, about 9 metres across and standing on timber piles in the water. It was built between 1872 and 1874, originally served to guide ships through the narrow South Channel and was occupied by lighthouse keepers until bottled acetylene gas was introduced in 1925.

Photo by Paulp67

The lighthouse had a living room with a fireplace and chimney, a bedroom with 4 bunks and an inspector's office, which was also used as a store room. Two water tanks stored rainwater collected from the roof and a central spiral staircase led to the lantern, which housed the light. Between 1905 and 1913, the lighthouse keeper painted murals of sailing ships on the interior walls of the house. These were removed in 1979 and are now on display in the Polly Woodside Melbourne Maritime Museum.

The light was finally switched off in 1985, having operated as a navigational beacon for 111 years. An era of neglect and vandalism ensued, until the structure was restored by Parks Victoria in 1998, in accordance with Heritage Victoria guidelines and relocated 3 km off the coast of Rye Beach.

Public access to the Pile Light is by boat and is limited to viewing the outside structure.

Residential Island

All the artificial islands in Port Phillip Bay were built for either defence or navigational purposes. However, lands could be reclaimed from the sea for other purposes such as for residential development.

In 2004, Eco Island Task Force, a consortium led by Sorrento resident Kerry Murphy, proposed using 30 million cubic metres of silt produced from the dredging of Port Phillip Bay and Yarra River to build an island or a series of islands in Port Phillip Bay purely for residential development. This is putting the silt to positive use rather than dumping it back to some other sites in the bay.

Under this vision, the island will be one-third the size of Melbourne's CBD, with a range of homes catering to different budgets, ranging from entry-level to those with multi-million-dollar price tags. It will be car-free, environmentally friendly and self-sustainable with its own power, water and sewerage. A wildlife sanctuary was a possibility on a neighbouring island.

Different locations for the island were suggested. Coastal engineer Gerry Byrne advocated building the island closer to the shore as it will be cheaper to build in shallower water. He felt that the best site was off Point Ormond at the end of the St Kilda Marina. Another possible site was off Altona Beach. Under this suggestion, a cluster of small islands closer to the city could be built with bridges to the mainland.

Kerry Murphy suggested locating the island on an existing "spoil" site, created from previous dredgings, in the middle of the bay between Beaumaris, Port Melbourne and Werribee. The bay was often exposed to sudden southerly wind changes that resulted in three-metres waves and creating an island in the centre of the bay would provide a safe harbour for boats in the bay.
Apart from residential purpose, these islands could become a tourist attraction with worldwide appeal, as seen from man-made Palm Islands and World Islands off the coast of Dubai.
Apparently, this concept has yet to become a reality but it remains an interesting and tantalizing idea for land-scarce Melbourne. Click here to read the original article from The Age.