Hopes for a change in fortune blowing in the wind at Port Albert

Hopes for a change in fortune blowing in the wind at Port Albert

December 28, 2020

Michael Hobson remembers when there was not enough space to tie up all the boats at the wharf in Port Albert.

The coastal village had a strong local fishing industry until about the 1990s, Mr Hobson says, when fishing rights became concentrated in the hands of fewer companies.

Port Albert restaurant owner and fisherman Michael Hobson can feel the wind of change blowing through the small fishing village. Credit:Eddie Jim

"When I first came here as a little kid it was a hive of activity and that was based on the fishing industry," he says.

These days there is plenty of room for the handful of remaining commercial fishers at the wharf.

Mr Hobson, who owns a seafood restaurant in Port Albert, says the quiet village took a hit from the decline of the local fishing industry and another from the global financial crisis in 2008.

Although he was born in Lakes Entrance, his father's family has lived in Port Albert since 1846 and he moved there as a child.

Established in 1841 near Wilsons Promontory, Port Albert is one of the oldest ports in the state and was crucial to Victoria's economic development.

It was a major supply port for goods in the region until a railway line was built from Melbourne to Sale in 1878.

Later it regained some of its economic mojo as a fishing industry hub until that slipped away.

However, there are fresh hopes that plans for Australia's first offshore wind farm in Bass Strait will bring another economic boost.

Port Albert will be one of the closest points on land to the Star of the South wind farm. Credit:Eddie Jim

Port Albert, which has a population of about 300, will be one of the closest points on land to the $10 billion project if it proceeds.

The Star of the South wind farm promises to supply power for up 1.8 million homes and its backers expect it to create 8000 direct and indirect jobs in Victoria over its 30-year lifetime, including 740 ongoing roles a year.

Port Albert has a palpable sense of history having retained buildings dating back to the 1850s. It is now attracting more young families, drawn to the close community, sweeping inlet views and the South Gippsland coastal lifestyle.

Houses are beginning to sell quickly and prices are rising and although opinions differ about whether the proposed wind farm is driving this increase, Mr Hobson believes it is playing some part.

"I remember houses sitting on the market for years. Last week a house went on the market and sold in a day," he says. "People are speculating that the wind farm is going to happen."

Mr Hobson says enthusiasm in the community for the project is tempered with concern.

"I think they're quite optimistic about it. There's certainly an undercurrent of people who are concerned and that's centered around what impact it will have on the natural environment."

Star of the South is currently conducting marine and wildlife surveys to determine what impact the project may have on the environment. Although the turbines will reach up to 245 metres tall, they will not be visible from land.

The Star of the South wind farm would look similar to the Veja Mate offshore wind farm in Germany.

Ray White Real Estate principal Ian Seed, who owns property himself in Port Albert, expects the Star of the South project will increase house prices but says there has been no change yet.

He agrees prices are rising, but attributes that to the pandemic encouraging city dwellers to make a sea change.

But he argues workers employed to build the wind farm will need to live locally.

"I can see it pushing up prices and definitely rental accommodation at the moment is very low."

Port Albert’s water silo. Credit:Eddie Jim

But Elders Real Estate agent Greg Tuckett doubts Star of the South will influence Port Albert's property market. He believes low interest rates are playing a much bigger role.

"You'll find there's been growth in all these coastal places because of the abundance of cheap money," he says.

Port Albert artist and gallery owner Warren Curry hopes the project will create local jobs and attract people who want to share in the community spirit, but he insists the town's heritage must always be protected.

"I hope that we don’t lose the wonderful ambience we have with the old buildings and retain the nucleus of what Port Albert was," he says.

Port Albert gallery owner and artist Warren Curry. Credit:Eddie Jim

Apart from anything else, Mr Curry says it's time to embrace more sources of renewable energy.

"I think it's great for the area," he says. "We've got to start looking for alternative energy. We can't keep closing power stations and having nothing to take their place."

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