Point Cook Sequence 2: Horizons (Williamstown to Altona)

An episodic walk , between Williamstown and Point Cook.

Beyond the gulls, and the scattered dinghies and fishing boats, beyond the top-heavy container ships suspended motionless between sea and sky, is the distant line where blue meets blue. It was the horizon that drew me out here, and now it draws me on.

The volcanic boulders below the seawall are scattered in arcs and whorls in the liquid silk of the water. Pitted and porous, absorbing the strong afternoon light, they create an illusion of dark velvety softness, as if they might crumble into dust at my touch.

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At the Jawbone Reserve, the colours are vivid: low fleshy plants of salt-tinged pink, polished green mangrove leaves, orange lichen, and blue, always blue, in the still pools, the striations of the sea, the sky.  I breathe in the briny, sulphuric tang of marshwater pools. At the lookout I turn back to look at the land. Across the saltmarsh is a tidy line of expensive-looking houses, fake Victorian side by side with neo-Georgian pillars and plate glass cubes and beyond, the hellish ranks of refinery towers, complex lattices of struts and pipes writhing and shimmering in the heat haze. A flame dancing at the top of one of the towers looks artificial against the bright sky like one of those fake flames made of silk.

The expensive-looking houses look out on a tasteful landscape of lakes and islands edged with gravel beaches and native grasses. The birds have made themselves at home here – swamp hens, black swans, cormorants, terns, teal, coots mingle noisily together, while the watchful egret lurks apart.

The houses stop abruptly along with the landscaping, giving way to untidy marshland bisected by a drainage ditch. I’m at a busy road, lines of pylons stretching away on the other side through scrubby paddocks where horses graze. Edgelands. I walk past playing fields, boat-houses, a house with a crazily leaning caravan offering bait for sale, and then I reach the refinery. I follow a long chain link fence, orderly dykes of gravel protecting the numbered white storage tanks.  Something clinks rhythmically, mournfully in the breeze, metal on metal. The steady roaring of the flame that burns from one of the towers. There is no one around.

Beyond the refinery, beyond yards fenced off with barbed wire, stacked with used tyres and pipes and oil drums, I cross the Kororoit Creek where pelicans swim. I turn off a broken road, onto a vast flat expanse of salt marsh, sun-bleached grasses studded with purple flowers. The breeze, freed of obstacles, is strong and steady. This used to be a racecourse. The legendary New Zealand horse Phar Lap raced here once. Now, a single palm tree and the graffitied ruins of a concrete stand are all that remain.

At Altona, I follow the crowds along the pier and back, eat fish and chips, watch the kitesurfers, the graceful dance of chutes rising and falling in the wind. I should be heading home, but I keep walking along the Esplanade, where the footpath is punctuated by the long evening shadows of the Norfolk Pines. I’m looking out over the mudflats and the white-capped sea. I have fixated on a new horizon. Out where the coast curves round, a headland in the distance, a small spit of land studded with trees. But it’s too far away for today and so at the end of the Esplanade I turn reluctantly back.

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