Looking Back; extracts from the diary of Adelaide Grant:
In the 2010 Victorian elections, Adelaide had helped a mate of hers who stood as an independent for the State electorate of Middle Park, which included the areas that later became flooded. She had written and designed a flyer that made issue of the fact that nothing was being done about climate change and the potential flooding of the area. But the candidate wouldn't use her flyer, it would make him look too green, he said, and might put off the Liberal voters he was wooing as an independent. Adelaide wrote later that this was the defining moment that made her decide to get directly involved in politics, that she didn't want to be at arm's length from power, giving advice but impotent to ensure that the right decisions were made, and she was subsequently elected onto the Council at the 2016 poll.
In November 2019 Adelaide wrote about the flooding that occurred in St Kilda and some of the other bayside suburbs after the elections:
Although there have always been localized storm surges, it wasn't until earlier this year that the first serious floods caused by rising sea levels happened along the bayside. Parts of Elwood had been flooded waist deep in February 2011 but this was the first serious flooding of such a large area. By accident I was driving past this area when it was happening and it was pretty scary I can tell you, I couldn't see and feared that my little car was going to be blown right off the road. Amplified by rising sea levels, storm surges and king tides, water was driven over Beaconsfield Parade, a six lane arterial highway into the adjoining Middle Park and Albert Park residential areas. These areas were originally part of a low lying swamp until Albert Park Lake was created in the middle 1800's, so water flowed inland over this low lying area as far as Canterbury Road and the light rail embankment. The same thing happened in Elwood, water surged over Marine Parade and flooded the areas around the Elwood Canal. In most places the water was less than a metre deep and didn't enter all the houses, but it affected a large number of houses and flats for over three weeks making access impossible and ended up cracking some of the footpath and street pavements.
There was an outcry of course,'they'should do something, but thirty years of ignoring the call to limit carbon pollution had led to irreversible warming of the planet and all that could be done now was try and keep out the rising water. And it wasn't just the desirable residential areas near St Kilda that were affected, innumerable other coastal places, including grandfather's place at Rosebud, were threatened by early warning calls like this. Officers of Port Phillip Council had written a report in 2007 that contained aerial photographs showing precisely the areas that would be inundated one day by projected rises in sea level and storm surges (their predictions were surprisingly accurate) but their warnings had simply been 'received' by council and nothing had been done.
After the 2019 flood there had been plenty of council concern about the flooded areas but no action. Adelaide helped to persuade the council in January 2025 to adopt a partial answer to one aspect of the problem. Middle Park and Elwood were flooded again in 2024, more water this time and it lasted longer. As a consequence of the 2009 and 2014 floods the underpass under the bridge next to the Aquatic Centre had been walled off to contain future floods on the bay side of the light rail embankment and as a consequence the 112 tram now terminates at the Aquatic Centre. There were recriminations that nothing had been done since the earlier inundations. Over nine thousand people had been affected by the earlier floods and the heavy traffic that normally uses Beaconsfield Parade along the bayside had to be diverted to St Kilda Road causing considerable congestion.
After the first flood the council took the normal two reflex actions of all governments when something outside their understanding happens; they belatedly commissioned yet another study and set up a special committee to deal with the matter. After the first flood there had been intermittent talk of building a sea wall or a polder like those used in Holland to keep out the sea, but the initial estimates showed that it was way beyond the resources of the local Port Phillip Council, and the State government duck-shoved the problem saying it was a national problem that needed Commonwealth funding. Like the Murray-Darling problem, there was endless talk and meetings, but it soon became clear that it wasn't practical or affordable to build polders around our entire urban coastline. In any case there wasn't enough room unless parts of the Bay were reclaimed, and even for small areas the cost would be prohibitive. Insurance companies soon inserted clauses in the fine print that their policies didn't cover 'damage attributable to climate change,' property values plummeted and some canny residents had already relocated as it finally started to sink in that this problem that wasn't going to go away. The water was on average less than a metre deep in most parts of Middle Park and Elwood, but it lasted much longer, made the area uninhabitable for six months and it soon became clear there was no long-term future for the flood prone areas. It was clearly going to happen regularly, could well become permanent and it wasn't possible for people to go on living there.
What to do ? There was a suggestion that the Feds might buy back properties in permanently flood prone areas, it depends on the buy-back prices of course, but it only needs a few minutes on the back of an envelope to realize there just isn't enough money in Australia. The idea of permanent levees or polders to hold back the water isn't really feasible either, where do you stop? Some people thought that Melbourne's shipping (which was declining) should be directed to a container dock at Westernport, and a barrage built between Queenscliff and Point Nepean at the entrance into Port Phillip Bay to control sea level rises and prevent flooding of bayside suburbs. It was even suggested that the power of the tides might be able to be used generate power at the same time. But this idea never took off, that even if it was feasible it would be astronomically expensive. We should consider ourselves lucky that when the sea level rises by a predicted metre, Southbank and the CBD look as though they will be just out of the water but there will be problems with some of those tall apartments in Docklands; some wit suggested it's name could be changed to Duckland!
There appears to be no affordable way to stop the water, and I couldn't think of any way of compensating the poor people with inundated properties in Middle Park and Elwood. And I wondered what to do about the half flooded houses; just abandon them the way George Bush did in parts of New Orleans? After much agonizing, the council decided all the houses should be resumed so the council could make decisions for the future of the whole area and so the owners would get some small financial recompense for the loss of their property. The Lands Department tried to set new Unimproved Capital Values on all the house lots, but there were no legal precedents for determining the value of unusable lots under water. Some owners complained that the compensation wasn't enough, but the council had no obligation to resume or to pay anything so I resorted to quoting Ben Franklin, 'If you want to know the value of something, try and sell it!' The simple fact was that no one wanted to buy their properties, they had no commercial value and the owners are fortunate that the council took such a considerate view.
I talked to my architect sister Victoria about it, and she pointed out that although most of the houses are well over a hundred years old, there is an enormous amount of embedded energy in their materials. Take bricks and roofing tiles for example. The clay had to be dug out of the ground with a machine, the tiles and bricks had to be formed in a power press, they were fired in a kiln and then transported to site in a truck. If these materials could be recycled there would be great energy savings by obviating the energy needed to replace them with new materials. Recycling would also provide some jobs and would make us more sustainable at the same time. Victoria thought that given the age of the houses and the partial flooding more than once, a lot of the materials like the floorboards would be too damaged and the kitchen equipment would probably be considered too old and unfashionable. She was doubtful that much more than the bricks, timber structural members (like wall studs and roof rafters) and roof tiles would be reusable, but these alone represented considerable savings in energy and enough to make recycling worth-while. Because of their age the bricks had been laid using lime mortar, so cleaning them wasn't too difficult with a scutts hammer.
The council set up a recycling depot near the flooded part of Middle Park and sold the reclaimed materials for new buildings under construction, and some of the council officers made redundant were recycled into new jobs at the same time. The materials had a ready sale as the savings in embedded energy were taken into account in the energy assessment of the new building and this made the energy target easier to achieve. In addition the recycled materials were not only cheaper but the timbers in particular were very well seasoned, and the bricks were sought after as they have a softer appearance than most modern bricks. It was a big task and took several years before the whole area was cleared, as they had to stop each time (almost every year) that the area was flooded until the water had dried up again. Selling the materials not only covered the payments to the owners, but also the costs of demolition, cleaning, sales and storage, as well as the lake and landscaping.
Victoria proposed that the inevitable should be embraced and a landscape architect employed to design a permanent catchment lake landscaped around the edges to accommodate and contain what by now had become regular floods. A designer was chosen and her suggestion that a small church in Middle Park should be left like a big sculpture, reflected in the water as a poignant reminder to future generations of what had happened, was adopted.