From sleepy holiday town to thriving lifestyle destination, Ocean Grove’s coastal charm remains intact. JUSTIN FLYNN finds out why ’Grovers’ just can’t stay away.
Ocean Grove has long been a favourite destination for those seeking respite from Melbourne’s daily grind.
The town has changed over the years from a sleepy hamlet to a thriving coastal town that has become the epicentre of the Bellarine Peninsula.
New estates have radiated out from what is now Old Ocean Grove and development has taken hold, but the town still retains an unhurried and somewhat relaxed vibe for most of the year.
Summer sees the town’s population swell three-fold from its usual 14,000.
We speak with a ‘long termer’ who has lived in ‘the Grove’ since 1949, a seachanger who made the move a decade ago and a young family who migrated from Melbourne less than a year ago.
THE LONG TERMER
I greet Bill Kelly at a local cafe on a cold early-August morning. He’s wearing a blue fleece and is halfway through a still-steaming mug of coffee.
At 69, he looks fit and healthy and still surfs most days.
A former deputy police commissioner who spent 37 years in the Victorian police force, Bill came to Ocean Grove with his family as a two-year-old in 1949.
Childhood was kind to Bill and his mates. Life was simple.
“We’d get at the top of the hill in our billycarts and go straight down the hill, across The Parade, across The Terrace, and never got killed but should have been,” he laughs.
“Later on we started surfing and there was never any crime here. Everybody left their houses open and their old bombs of cars open. We even left our boards down at the beach for a week. We’d put them in the sand dunes and walk home.”
Childhood was full of billycarts, canoes, surfboards, footy and spud picking at the potato farms that are now the Kingston and Oakdene estates.
Bill says Ocean Grove has changed – obviously – some of it for the better and some worse.
“It’s sort of the same but it’s different,” he says.
“Old Grove is still the core of Ocean Grove and everything else has grown around it.
“It’s a shame to see progress in a way but it’s inevitable. I think the people who grizzle about it the most are the ones that just can’t accept it. You just have to accept it. You look at the main street and all the cafes and everything else, and it’s a great place.
“People don’t appreciate what they’ve actually got.”
However, Bill laments that most new backyards lack enough space for children to play.
“I saw a guy the other day putting tiles on a roof and the houses are that close together that he was standing on the roof of the house next door handing the tiles to his mate,” he says.
“You walk out the back door and your nose is up against the back fence.”
When Bill was a child no one worried about him going out without adult supervision.
“We’d go out playing and mum would say ,‘See you at tea time’,” he recalls.
“If you weren’t home for tea, the cop from Barwon Heads would come over and give you a kick in the arse and then you’d get another one from the old man.”
The Stubs family moved to Ocean Grove just in time for Christmas last year.
Hen, Rich and their three children Maddie, 12, Sam, 10, and Harry, 6, packed up and made the seachange from Murrumbeena in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs.
“I have had a holiday house in Barwon Heads since I was born, so I’ve always loved the area,” Hen says.
“My mum has since moved to Point Lonsdale and my sister and her family live in Barwon Heads. We also have a few close friends that have lived here for a long time.
“We were sick of the traffic and the hustle and bustle in Melbourne. My husband grew up in the Dandenongs and has always had space around him.”
The family quickly settled in, enrolling the children at Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School.
“My sister’s children went there. We absolutely love it – it’s a fabulous school and such a beautiful community,” Hen says.
Maddie now plays netball for the Grubbers, Sam pulls on the boots for Surfside Soccer Club, and Harry loves getting involved in Auskick for the Cobras.
“We take walks along the beach, go surfing and enjoy the great cafes and restaurants,” Hen says.
“We love the laid back lifestyle and the community feel. The beaches are so beautiful and it’s just so relaxing.
The old saying that you have to be in Ocean Grove for at least more than 20 years to be considered a local hasn’t rung true for the Stubs.
“They have been so welcoming and friendly,” Hen says.
“Everyone’s settled in from day one – it’s the best place ever.”
Peter Garrett grew up in Essendon and met wife Eileen in Ireland.
They moved their family of five children to Benalla in northeast Victoria and lived a rural life, operating a cleaning business for 20 years.
Peter had always wanted to learn to surf and when the kids grew up and moved to the big smoke, the family bought surfing lessons for his 60th birthday.
“I spent most Sundays driving to Ocean Grove, leaving at 5am,” he says.
“Some days I’d drive the four hours and if it was no good I’d just drive back home.”
Peter and Eileen bought a holiday house in Ocean Grove in 2006 but moved in permanently two years later.
Peter, in his 70s, surfs almost every day. Any day he doesn’t enter the water he will still be at the beach several times a day, just watching.
“It’s a real community down at the beach among the surfers; a mix of the old surfers who have been here forever but a lot of newcomers that discovered it later in life,” he says.
Peter loves chatting to everyone who walks past as he watches the waves roll in.
The beach is the hub of the town, he says.
“There’s always people around walking their dogs, backpackers pulling up in their vans, someone interesting to talk to,” he says.
“People complain about getting a car park and how crowded it gets in the water in peak summer but I doesn’t mind as I’m usually back home by 8am.”
Three of his five children now live locally.
Peter has travelled a lot, interstate and abroad.
He thinks the beach at Ocean Grove is the best he’s seen.
He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“The only thing I’d change here is I’d make the winters a bit shorter,” Peter laughs.
“But if you think it’s cold surfing in Ocean Grove, try surfing in Ireland.”