STORY: MARGARET LINLEY PHOTOGRAPHY: JAKE HOGAN
While many of us know the simple beauty of Barwon Heads became the centrepiece of the 1990s drama series Seachange. But what viewers of the ABC drama may not know, was that it could have been any number of the tiny bayside villages that hug the gentle waters of Port Phillip Bay.
St Leonards is a case in point.
The town of 2500 is a little over 30 kilometres from Geelong if you go the rural route, turning into Murradoc Rd in Drysdale and staying on this road through farm and wine country and gently rolling hills until it brings you directly to the beachfront. The water is variously azure and lively with light, or gloomy and atmospheric. A wooden boathouse, the old timber jetty and fishing boats spread out in a vista are sure to have confused a film location scout having to choose just one of a number of lovely seaside towns.
You can also approach St Leonards by a beach road. Arrive from Queenscliff with the sea on your right, or from Portarlington, through Indented Head, with the sea on your left. Again, bring in the script writers, the camera gear and it could be lights, camera, action in any of these unpolished jewels.
If you are new to this side of the bay, you might be surprised to see the difference here. There is not the swank of Portsea or the grandeur of Sorrento’s main street. St Leonards is the kind of place that will have you think you’ve discovered it, all by yourself. Spread your wings a little further than this snapshot of main street, beach and jetty and you’ll find the town has indeed already been discovered. The word has got out that this is a great place to live and demand has seen a number of new housing estate open up.
It feels easy. As though you could move here and without too much trouble soon have someone to have coffee with, or a hit of a golf. There are a number of community organisations which welcome volunteers and provide easy access to like-minded people. St Leonards has golf, soccer, croquet, tennis, yacht and bowling clubs. There is bushwalking, yoga and Pilates groups, and plenty of informal interest groups and a neighbourhood house.
People come here and they are shocked that it is so beautiful and there are so many good places to eat at and see.
In the summer months, the local economy is buoyed as the population swells with holiday-goers drawn by the proximity to Melbourne and the family-friendly town, sandy beaches and gentle tidal bay swimming. There’s fishing off the pier with snapper and whiting good for eating.
It’s easy to walk around in St Leonards, with footpaths and tracks, and mainly flat terrain. Many residences are within easy walking distance of the beach.
The main street has the usual conveniences; a supermarket, pharmacy, coffee shops, post office and newsagency, as well as a smattering of lifestyle shopping (gifts, clothing). Wildings Pantry Essentials is a great little eatery stocking locally made produce. The hotel is on the corner, facing onto the water and has a large flat playing area. A walking and cycle path runs along the waterfront linking the town with other towns.
For a change of scenery head south to the St Edwards Point Nature Reserve and enjoy the bird life in this low-lying area. You will seriously feel as though you are a million miles from a city, not the 90-minutes that you are.
You’re within easy striking distance of any of the other towns on the Bellarine; and close to wineries, and farm gates selling local produce. If you tire of the gentle waters on this side of the bay, there is always the opportunity to catch the surf at Ocean Grove, 25 minutes by car.
It’s ten minutes by car to a ferry service, direct to Melbourne; there are bus services to Geelong, the nearest big city, where you can catch a train to Melbourne. Buses also provide links with other Bellarine towns.
The Traditional Custodians of the land on which St Leonards stands are the Wadawurrung people.
WATTLE ROAD 🖤 A close-knit community lives in this serene part of the bay.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 109 km
WHO LIVES HERE?
According to the 2016 Census:
♦ The median age of people in St Leonards was 56 years. Children aged 0 – 14 years made up 11.5% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 33.3%.
♦ Of the families in St Leonards, 24.9% were couple families with children, 59.6% were couple families without children and 14.4% were one parent families.
♦ 77.7% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth were England 4.3%, Greece 1.8%, New Zealand 1.6%, Italy 1.4% and Malta 1.2%.
♦ The most common occupations in St Leonards included professionals 16.2%, technicians and trades workers 15.6%, community and personal service workers 13.5%, clerical and administrative workers 13.5%, and managers 11.5%.
CLIMATE: Summer, average temperatures min 12.9ºC, max 20.9ºC. Winter, average temperatures min 12.9ºC, max 20.9ºC.
MAJOR EMPLOYERS: Retail and tourism.
SCHOOLS: A government primary school. The nearest secondary schools (one government, two independent) are in Drysdale.
HEALTH CARE: St Leonards Surgery and an after-hours home visiting doctor service.
NBN CONNECTION: Fibre To The Node (FTTN)
PROPERTY PRICES: The median sale price of houses is $550,000. The median sale price of units is $377,000.
SPORTS & RECREATION: Golf, soccer, croquet, tennis, sailing, fishing, bowling, bushwalking, swimming, yoga, darts, football, cricket, a Men’s Shed and neighbourhood house.
ARTS & CULTURE: Musical groups (ukulele and harp), a couple of small art galleries, Bellarine Friends of the Arts Society.
We were living in East St Kilda and had been there for about 25 years. when I took on a full-time rental as a holiday house here and shared it with a girlfriend. We had young kids and we started coming here for weekends and holidays. It was the perfect place to bring kids with the bay beach.
I would always advise people to rent before buying. To see if it is for you.
My husband Graeme got offered work here and I thought, `Why don’t I come too?’ I sold my business in Melbourne, thinking I would figure out what to do once I got here. I came here and never went home.
My original thought was to start a maintenance and cleaning business but then I got a job in Geelong in sales and marketing pretty much straight away.
We bought a property in the Lower Bluff. Graeme is ten minutes to work; he’s happy about that.
The more I saw of this region, the more passionate I became, and I decided to get involved in tourism. I am a wine and tour operator now. My business is called FranScene Bellarine. I’m like a concierge. People come here and they are shocked that it’s so beautiful and there are so many good places to eat at and see.
We’ve been here about 10 years now. I like to call this my end game.
The community was very welcoming. I joined the yacht club pretty much straight away and volunteered to help. I don’t sail and don’t have a boat, but it’s a great way to meet people. Many people move here by themselves and they volunteer in any of the community groups and get accepted.
My daughter, Lexi, was in grade three when we moved here to live. It was a big change from a city school with just a quadrangle, to an acreage with sheep and cows. She caught the bus to Drysdale and went to St Thomas Primary School. When it came time for secondary school, I asked her if she wanted to go to school back in Melbourne, but she wanted to stay here. She’s finished school now.
I get the ferry from Portarlington to see a show in Melbourne, or visit an art gallery. I go into Geelong from time to time.
Pictured: Fran Mitchell (right) with a friend on the deck at the St Leonards Yacht Club.
Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.
TO ST LEONARDS
FIND A PROPERTY
446 The Esplanade, St Leonards
4 3 2
36 Elegante Road, St Leonards
4 2 2
29 St Leonards Parade, St Leonards
4 2 2
5 Felix Street, St Leonards
5 2 2