Bellarine Peninsula born and bred

Member for Bellarine and Ocean Grove resident Alison Marchant. (supplied)

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Alison Marchant won the seat of Bellarine at November’s state election. Six months later Justin Flynn speaks to the Ocean Grove resident to find out more about the person rather than the politician.

By her own admission, Alison Marchant’s childhood was “pretty non adventurous”.

Growing up in Leopold (her parents are still in their original family home), she is Bellarine born and bred.

“I was a good girl, I didn’t get up to any mischief,” she says.

“I did well at school, loved school, going to school. It was a pretty non adventurous childhood.

“It was, what I feel like, a very normal upbringing. I wanted to do really well at school.

“I didn’t really want to travel the world or anything like that, I was a real homebody.

“I met my husband at high school. Bought a house in Leopold and started a family.

“It sounds boring, but it was a nice transition into adulthood.”

Attending Leopold Primary and Newcomb Secondary, teaching and community work were instilled into her at an early age, but never forced. Rather, her mother’s actions spoke louder than any words.

“You knew everyone, the school was the hub and the heart of the community,” she says.

“I was involved in Girl Guides and that’s what you did. You put your hand up, you helped out.

“My mum was a big role model for me in giving back to the community.

“She was a teacher, then was at Geelong Cemeteries Trust, but her passion is family history. She volunteers a lot at Bellarine Historical Centre.

“I just thought that (community work) was something everyone did. When I grew up that’s what I did.”

At an early age Alison wanted to be a teacher.

She completed a teaching degree at Deakin University and delved straight into the profession after graduating, working close to home at South Geelong.

But something wasn’t quite right.

“I didn’t feel prepared enough to do it,” she says.

“I felt underprepared. It was primary school, high school, study, teaching, but I didn’t have that world experience.

“It was a shock to me. It was this dream to be a teacher and then when I got there, I wasn’t sure if this is what I want to do.”

Alison went back to work at the Nutshack in Westfield Geelong, a job she had, and loved, a few years earlier.

“I loved retail,” she says.

“I love people. I really enjoy chatting to people. You get to know regulars.”

Eventually the break served its purpose and Alison went back to teaching at Whittington and then Chilwell primaries.

“I did a year at Whittington and it made me a better teacher and then went to Chilwell and they are both very different cohorts and demographics,” she says.

“But both have their pressures and different needs. I loved it and re-found my passion.”

Alison and husband Damien then decided to travel around Australia, a trip that would later change her as a person and her perspective on life.

The young couple travelled to Western Australia, up to the Top End and then back home via the east coast.

“It was one of those working holidays,” she says.

“We had a job at Rottnest Island cleaning, at a post office sorting mail in Broome. We’d stop for a couple of months and keep travelling.”

When they reached Yeppoon on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast, they decided to start a family and Alison fell pregnant quickly.

They came home to prepare for the baby and Alison found some work as an emergency teacher.

And then one day, totally unexpected, things changed.

“One morning I go into labour, way too early, I’m 23 weeks,” she says.

“I didn’t feel real right. Said to the hubby I’m not feeling great.

“The hospital said ‘we aren’t going to be able to stop this. You are going to have your baby’.

“I delivered a little girl (Georgia). She was not breathing, she was just too early to breathe and fight and we lost her.”

She then switched from being ‘before Alison’ to ‘after Alison’.

“The before Alison – rose coloured glasses, everything’s great, the world’s great, and then the world tells you otherwise and says ‘nah, other plans here’.

“The shock of it all – I just swept it under the carpet and said ‘it wasn’t meant to be, she wasn’t meant to be here. It is what it is’. I went back to work pretty quickly.”

But the pain slowly took over.

Alison connected with Hope Bereavement Care’s Empty Arms Support Group in Geelong, which provides grief support for parents affected by the death of a baby or child.

“Fantastic organisation,” she says.

“They reached out to me when it happened but I thought I didn’t need it.

“I realised the power of sharing a story. I used that support group for quite a while, then did a training exercise with Red Nose and SIDS and am now a trained parent supporter.

“People can ring me in the middle of the night. It was an insight into grief. I don’t think I realised the strength I had in myself.

“I learnt what grief was and what loss means. It took me a few years to work that out. It flicks a switch in you. You have to experience it before you understand it.”

The couple’s next attempt at having a baby didn’t go smoothly.

Noah was diagnosed at 20 weeks with a malformation of the lung.

“The thought of having another loss was pretty hard – we thought we were going to lose him,” Alison says.

“But he comes out screaming, a normal baby.”

At nine months, Noah, now 12, had half of his left lung removed.

Natalie, 10, is the fifth member of Alison and Damien’s family and wanting more space, they moved to Mount Moriac.

Three weeks later they received a flyer in the letterbox with information about a group coming to talk at the town hall about a gas licence and potential fracking of the area.

That began Alison’s foray into politics.

She soon became engulfed with protecting the area, and eventually the state, from fracking.

“I had time and got heavily involved,” Alison says.

“I became the Western Victoria leader of Lock the Gate and Friends of the Earth, who ran the campaign.

“We lobbied the government to put an end to fracking and that’s what leads me to politics.”

Alison then began a stint working for now deputy prime minister Richard Marles at his electoral office.

“I wanted to be more on the ground and be closer to the community,” she says.

“I got a great insight into how government works, seeing a politician up close. I got to see all that with Richard and loved it.”

Labor Party stalwart Lisa Neville then announced she was retiring from her 20-year reign as Member for Bellarine and would not contest the November 2022 state election.

“I thought ‘I want to have a go at this – I want to have a crack’,” Alison says

The Marchants then made another move, this time to Ocean Grove.

“We’ve been there nearly a year and we are absolutely loving it,” she says.

“I walk to the shops, walk to school, Noah jumps on his bike and goes to school. It’s a great community.

“We have wonderful neighbours – the kids go and play in the street.”

Alison wanted to live in the electorate if she was going to run as Member for Bellarine, something that Ms Neville was often criticised for not doing.

“It was really important for me to be on the Bellarine to do this job,” she says.

“Lisa was always quite open about not living in the electorate. But it was something that I wanted to do.”

An exhausting campaign resulted in a win for Labor and Alison was elected as Member for Bellarine for four years.

Six months into the role, she says she is “loving it”.

“The learning curve has been straight up,” she says.

“I just want to be out and about on the Bellarine as much as possible. The diary is chockers.

“There’s so much I want to do that I want to do it all tomorrow, but I’ve got four years and don’t want to waste a minute.”

When asked if she is somewhat of an ‘accidental politician’ Alison pauses, then says: “I wouldn’t say accidental, perhaps a delayed politician.”