Going Home on the Ferry

The water is inky and reflecting the colours of the boats. The sun is gleaming in the western sky. A friendly ticket guy is waiting with a joke. The setting is almost too good to be true.

Leigh Hogan arrives 15 minutes early off the Collins St tram, sits for a pleasant wait and the ferry turns elegantly at the dock at 5.33.

Leigh will spend a leisurely 90 minutes on board with wifi, reading and movies.

During that time his partner will be organising tea for his five children but the pay-off is that she will have the backdrop of a nice seaside location. The Bellarine Express is Melbourne’s only commuter ferry with a scheduled pick-up and delivery service to carry workers to and from the city and it is providing a new twist to an old story.

The ferry heads towards the Bolte Bridge, not full, but with enough passengers and a fare structure that beats driving your car and parking it in town.

The intricacies of family life and the logistics of making a living preoccupy many young families seeking more space than Melbourne can provide and a sea change is one option.

Before moving to Drysdale near Portarlington, the Hogans lived in Berwick but Leigh sat in one-and-a-half hours’ of traffic on the way to work, paid to park his car then did a shift as a salesman for a software company, before driving home.

“We bought a weekend house,” Leigh said. “It turned into every week.” The ferry was a big part of their decision to move. The coastal lifestyle was better and the travel time equivalent.

Three hours’ down-time four days a week is a dream come true for any family person. For the price of $24 for a return ticket Leigh can wipe off the stresses of work and prepare for those of family life.

“It helps keep sanity. There’s time to unwind.”

On the journey he gets to see the shipping, the industrial areas, cruise ships on the bay itself. Even on rough days “it’s not as bad as all that. You get a couple of bumps”.

The Bellarine Express has been going for more than two years. Some 80-85 commuters use it between Docklands and Portarlington, a figure that is up on last year’s.

In the past, Melburnians have been slow to embrace ferries. Many services have been mooted, but they haven’t been economical or fast enough to attract commuters.

Now with the Bellarine Peninsula ferry service up and running, with a schedule that fits in with the working week, the possibilities of variations on the sea change theme have increased.

Since the popular TV series Sea Change was aired 20 years ago, the idea of city slickers rebooting their lives in small coastal communities has been part of the culture.

Back then Sigrid Thornton played a frustrated magistrate with two children who falls for a laid-back boatie, Diver Dan. The new permutations may not be quite as romantic but they do have appeal over other family options.

Channel 9 will be showing a sequel this year starring Thornton. It remains to be seen what the critics will make of the reboot.

By Rhonda Dredge