Located along the well-trodden track that leads to where surfers regularly head down to the waves below, Point Leo’s ecopoetry trail encourages walkers to catch a glimpse of Western Port Bay’s shimmering blue waters behind each verse of the poem, seamlessly blending the artistic with the marine.
Written by Michelle Leber, ‘Talking to the Shoreline’ is a poetic sequence that acknowledges the cultural identity and natural environment of Point Leo. The four-part series – each verse engraved on a different sign – invites the reader to explore their own relationship with nature, their connection to the sea and its inhabitants, and the long human history associated with this area of Victoria, specifically that of the Boonwurrung people.
At Remember The Wild, we want to connect people with nature. The work of our predecessor organisation, Wild Melbourne (now one of our Wild Cities), revolved around our own online content – articles, videos, photography – whilst the work of Remember The Wild has since involved creating content for external groups, such as Parks Victoria, Eucalypt Australia and Australian Conservation Foundation, amongst others. Back in 2016, though, we decided to do something a little different.
Inspired by the work of Professor David Morley of Warwick University, Remember The Wild (at the time known as Wild Melbourne) pushed forward with a project that was largely outside of our brief: an ecopoetry installation at Point Leo, located on Western Port Bay on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
The signs are constructed from corten steel with the letters of each word laser-cut, creating a fusion between the evocative words of Michelle’s poem and the surrounding coastal vegetation – the greenery behind each sign can be subtly glimpsed through every letter. Readers are not just viewing the poem, then, but the natural world that inspired it.
While the aim of the ecopoetry installation is to encourage people to connect with nature, the actual implementation of such a project was something we had never attempted before. Remember The Wild has some experience in creating educational signage, but has never produced anything in the realm of more artistic installations.
From the outset, it was easy to see why poet Michelle Leber was the perfect fit for the project. Living locally in the seaside town of Somers with a career as an established Melbourne poet, Michelle is known for her primarily non-fiction poetry that ‘exists in the space between stylistic execution and historical inquiry.’ The team at Remember The Wild believes that Michelle has achieved something of this in ‘Talking to the Shoreline’: a poem which seeks to align part of Western Port Bay’s natural history with the human stories of Point Leo. We hope that the poem, too, will gradually become a part of this area’s unique history.
Additionally, Michelle is currently working on her next poetry collection examining women born in the 19th century who collected specimens for the Australian botanist, Ferdinand Mueller. Of the 225 female collectors currently identified in a biographical register, many attained a high degree of merit analysing and illustrating the wealth of Australian flora, yet many have not received adequate recognition. Michelle’s mission is to study these women’s letters, field trips and specimens, to bring dignity to these women’s lives, to showcase the flora they passionately collected and recorded. It is no doubt evident that the natural world plays a significant role in Michelle’s work.
Finally, after two years of hard work by Michelle, Tony Walkington (Point Leo’s head ranger), and the Point Leo Foreshore Park and Reserve Committee of Management who commissioned this project, the Point Leo ecopoetry trail has come to fruition. We would like to extend a special thank you as well to poet Anne Elvey, who put us in touch with Michelle and whose enthusiasm for the project in its early stages encouraged us to move ahead.
It is a difficult thing, though, to simply describe this poem of the shoreline – like Australia’s beaches, bays and oceans, it is something that must be experienced firsthand to be truly appreciated. So if you ever find yourself on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, make sure you visit Point Leo; stroll serenely through this beachside reserve and take in the poignant words cut into the red-rusted metal that forms this unique experience in nature.