Ocean Grove is one of a kind

Paul Gleeson (Ivan Kemp) 345165_02

The Voice takes a look at our best Friday Features published in 2023.

Guest columnist Paul Gleeson moved to Ocean Grove 25 years ago and every day he is thankful for it. Read on to see why Paul thinks this place is so special.

Ocean Grove is a rare family find.

I’m not trying to take anything away from its closest neighbours, such as the sea change of Barwon Heads or the acreage of Wallington. Both are fine if you have the cash. However, after living here for the last 25 years, ‘OG’ has provided me with an exorbitant amount of good times. Way back,

American Methodists predicted the same.

In the 1880s, the Methodists, having already successfully set up a camp in New Jersey and calling it Ocean Grove, wanted to take the Lord abroad.

They found a ‘charming seaside resort,’ on the eastern side of the Barwon River mouth along the Bellarine Peninsula. Here, they secured 222 hectares at £5 to £20 per lot, with a steadfast proviso and a ban on, “the Manufacture or Sale of Malted Spirituous…” or in local lingo, ‘no brew with your burger’. This went on for, surprisingly, 140 years.

Traders tried to gain a liquor licence, but they lost the Supreme Court battles. Finally, the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal intervened in 2014, and it was quashed.

I knew nothing of this when, in the winter of 1998, we decided to move here. To be honest, Ocean Grove was an easy pick with an affordable beach lifestyle. Even back then, $91,000 seemed like I’d missed something…this is for the land and the house, right?

My friends and family weren’t sold though because this entailed leaving behind my childhood roots, the leafy Geelong suburb of Highton, and a long haul to work that would now be over 30 minutes. But off we went, buying and renovating a three-bedroom house. Within five months, the renovations were over, and it was summertime.

Ocean Grove beach has the perfect waves for learning how to surf. When the winds are northerly it’s a squeal fest. There’s freedom in failing and falling off the waves.

Don’t worry, there’s no judgement here, as the surfers that are all about ‘the performance’ are around the corner at the Titanic 13th Beach.

Before, or preferably after the beach, the main street is a must. Recently, I overheard a young couple saying it had ‘vibes’. On the main street, you’ll walk past wetsuits, suits, beanies, bell-bottom jeans, and of course dripping boardies. All shopping needs are catered for, with eateries and coffee shops galore. See for yourself as you meander down one way and back up the other, or cruise through in your car.

Just don’t enter the traffic from Orton Street (I saw a guy in a Chevy do this, that day his antics morphed locals into seagulls, and they jumped out as if in a musical, flapping in front of his rig).

As mentioned I have so many of my own Ocean Grove beach memories, here’s one of them.

My son, who was eight at the time, went out on his G Board with me as his surfing sherpa in mid-January. I guided him out past the younger families, he’d paddle half a stroke, I would push, and then we’d repeat the process. With my arms about to collapse and my ears full of water, we waited.

Lying on his board facing the beach car park, he trusted my choice. I saw what I thought was a single clean wave.

Wrong. Out of sight, there was another wave right behind it. I angled him towards the beach and pushed with all my might. Somehow, we had drifted between the flags.

Now, in front of him was like an open day at a day-care centre. The two waves peaked and catapulted him down on his face. He was gone. He somehow stood up, and it was beachgoer pandemonium. People were diving out of the way, mums and dads were scooping up their children, forcing a path to open up like Moses and the Red Sea.

My surfer son stayed on, and not only did he stay on, but then, realising the attention, he began an impromptu performance. This completely caught me off guard because normally he would be quietly absorbing and observing life from afar but not now.

He performed a full rendition of Gangnam style (in case you’re not familiar, it was by Psy in 2012), and before you ask, yes, he included those ridiculous hand movements.

Thanks to some committed locals, there’s a space in Ocean Grove that remains untouched as if the white man never came—the Nature Reserve. In 1962, long-time residents raised enough money to purchase a 143-hectare piece of land that was considered to be the last significant bushland in the area, and on my Sunday mornings when I’m there, I say my prayers to them.

It is a habitat for seven threatened species. It is the home of the rare Bellarine yellow gum, the only

eucalyptus species known to flower in winter. It also has the largest patch of non-coastal indigenous vegetation left on the Bellarine, but it’s the swamp wallabies that steal the show.

Ultimately my hometown provides the environment to just be. The salt air beach on one side, Barwon River sunsets on the other.

Could you imagine what that would have meant to European families settling here after the war? Personally, I want to leave this planet the way I try to end any surf at Ocean Grove, with ‘the coffin ride.’

I lay back on my board, hands in the prayer position, and let the Ocean Grove beach do the rest.