Posted by: Gregoryno6 | January 23, 2011

The Martha Cove Affair.

An affair in which, thankfully, I am only an interested observer.

My family has connections with Safety Beach going back to my childhood. My uncle Tim, more recently my host in Melbourne, bought an old weekender there about 40 years ago. If you wanted to drive somewhere back then you used the coast road. Any other road was either a dirt track or ended either side of the two creeks that wandered through to Port Philip Bay. If you were young and nimble and possibly a tad foolhardy, you could cross the creeks by walking along the water pipes. It did take some courage: the creeks had cut fairly deep channels, so a drop meant a fall of four or five metres. And, as the grown-ups often reminded us, an injection to kill any bacteria from the filthy water.

I spent an Easter alone at uncle’s seaside estate in 1983, and that was my last visit to the Mornington Peninsula for twenty years. My mother moved to a home not far from Tim’s place and has been there for ten years. Upon my return in 2003 I hardly recognised the place. Safety Beach, formerly a ghost town outside of Christmas holidays, had become a full-on residential zone. The council had even put bridges across the creeks. And everyone was talking about the ‘development’ at the north end of Safety Beach on Tassell’s Creek below Mount Martha. That development is known today as Martha Cove.

Speaking frankly, it’s a fucking disaster and as ugly as sin.

Here is the obligatory before shot. Nice enough as it is, but obviously it has potential. A marina, with dozens of lots for those seeking the semi-rural (ie best of city and country, ie bloody expensive) lifestyle. Park your car at the front of the block and your boat at the back. The developers certainly saw that potential. Whatever their plans were at the start however I find it hard to believe they envisaged the sterile end result. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Martha Cove seems to have discredited and undermined everyone who was connected to it. The developers’ record leaves something to be desired, certainly, and they lost millions. And I remember hearing on my last visit (early 07) about some of the tactics used by the local environmentals. Works came to a halt for some time when a rare species of frog was discovered living in the creek. Further investigation proved that the frogs had been transported there from their natural habitat many kilometres away.

All in all a tarnished history. Still, it was not impossible for the project to finally surmount its less than illustrious beginnings. I drove my mother to visit a friend in hospital on Christmas Day, and on our return it occurred to me to ask about the marina project. “Take the turn off here!” she exclaimed; there’s a back road through from the highway down to Marine Parade that skirts the development. “You won’t believe what they’ve done there. It’s practically been abandoned.” Mother is somewhat prone to exaggeration, but in this instance the truth she did speak.

I’ve shown you the Before pic; this is what the managers would like you to believe is the After shot.

Stunning, eh? Pity that represents only a small part of the whole. This photo, about three years old, is still an honest depiction of what I saw.

(Will you ever trust a real estate agent again?)

Another photo from the same source exposes the less than glamourous architecture that was designed to cover poor denuded Martha. I can’t find a photo to explain the grotesqueness of this, but Martha Cove sits at the foot of Mount Martha, which has retained its country ambience. The trees have been regrown since foresters went through early last century, and the houses have been designed to fit in.

The houses on Martha Cove… in all honesty, from a distance you’d think you were looking at rehabilitated industrial zones.

Obviously the global financial crisis struck at a bad time for Martha Cove. There is one section, close to the older part of Safety Beach, where twenty houses stand unfinished in a row. All concrete walls and steel window frames. Fenced off like a crime scene – which they are, in a sense. They’ll make it tough for the vendors, and the families occupying the completed houses further along are no doubt dealing with nocturnal adventurers and/or thieves.

Martha Cove is a makeover gone horribly wrong. The geographic equivalent of disastrous cosmetic surgery. I probably won’t be back in Melbourne until 2014; I will be paying another visit then. I’ve no idea what I will find, but something tells me that a further slide backward is more likely than a miraculous cure.

It’s ghastly and it’s fascinating. It’s like a car crash: you don’t want to look, but you just can’t help yourself.

PS: As the Wikipedia article notes, Safety Beach used to be known as Shark Bay.

I did see one bare block advertised in an estate agent’s window. At 230 m2 for $220K you can be sure that the sharks are still close by.

(Note added, 22 July 2011 – this is one of my most viewed blog posts, so I figure I got something either very right or disastrously wrong. Comments are always welcome.)

(Note added 08 April 2013 – this post has now had close to 400 views. I’ve been expecting a comment from the developers for a long time. Something along the lines of ‘Your information is out of date; here’s the current situation.’ Or maybe just a ‘Make this disappear or we’ll sue, you loudmouth snapperhead’. So far, nothing. People keep coming here to read about Martha Cove… I hope you learn something useful.)



  1. Any excuse to say you live on the water….hell, come to brisbane, you can live IN the water!

    • Ha! Far from being among the area’s elite, I assure you.
      Mum’s place is probably a kit home and doors either close or don’t close depending on the time of year. And uncle’s rural retreat hasn’t been fit for habitation for some time. He’d probably pay Anna Bligh to send some of that water south and wash the old shack into the bay.

  2. I drove past the area on my road trip last year, had no idea I’d actually driven under a canal! As for the price of the land, that’s pretty much standard for here too, although what you can build on 230m2 would be pretty cramped. Give me a little old shack on the beach any day 🙂

    • I still think in terms of the quarter acre block, so I did a conversion to see what 230m2 equated to. It was more like a twentieth of an acre.
      Come to Martha Cove, and live like a sardine. You’ll think you’ve never left the suburbs!

  3. It’s a bit like toilet rolls, when I first started buying them, you’d get 500 sheets of 2ply paper on a roll. These days we must shit less, because a standard roll has 160 sheets and a *DOUBLE LENGTH* is 380 sheets.

    Likewise housing blocks used to be a quarter acre (around 800 – 900m2.) When Scott and I bought this block the council had allowed the developer to drop the standard size down to around 600m2. Then 5 years ago they dropped that to 450m2. 230m2 is miniscule, and would be smaller than some of the apartments built in the 90’s up here!……it’s like the bigger we get, the smaller our needs…and that’s what the authorities will keep telling us as land becomes more and more scarce….

    Not sure of the reasoning re the toilet paper….I’m guessing they’re just trying to make people think they’re getting cheap paper.

    • Interesting analogy…

      • Having lived near Safety Beach for 6 years, I can confirm the description and can not dispute the facts – Martha Cove is exactly what has been described in these posts, however I would like to share a slightly different perspective.

        I can see and hear exactly what everyone is experiencing, leaving my analytical mind perplexed with notions, thoughts and ideas of how it all went wrong at Martha Cove. Now, here lies the distinct difference: I view the exact same geography as “heaven on earth”.

        If I can elaborate a little, the difference in perspective may be understood. During the early days of construction (or destruction), I went for a curious but leisurely stroll along the newly erected boardwalk. I could continue with many adjectives painting a perfect spring day picture, but what was even more apparent was the synchronicity of the moment. You know those rare occasions when you can sense what someone is going to say before they even say it? Every stranger, smiles and says hello and every second in time is full of life as you exist purely in the moment of now.

        To top off the harmony between myself and my environment, as I gazed into the man made estuarine system, through my polarized sun glass lenses I witnessed schools of whiting, calamari and bream frolicking through the weed beds and other structures. As a marine lover , the snapshot of life under the water, possibly surpassed the beauty I was experiencing on land.

        I am not delusional, but confess to being a tad on the mad side. I do understand and agree with the arguments against the development and mismanagement of Martha Cove . I also know that my experiences are fleeting, while the disastrous cove remains stagnant. However, I choose to treasure the experience and attempt to nurture this perspective in the hope that every human being, despite the actual state of our earth, could experience a moment (even a few seconds) in their lives, where everything in the world is perfect.

        • Dean,
          I have had a few of those mystical moments myself and I know how powerful they can be. And they can occur in unexpected places, even on construction sites!
          I envy you that underwater scene you witnessed, and the ‘rightness’ of that moment. And I would like to think that Martha Cove, while it is stark and rather cold at the present, will begin to soften as nature reasserts itself.

  4. Suggest you go there now. Development has re-started on the Mt Martha side of the main marina, which is virtually full of boats. Almost 300 lots have been purchased by the developer Three Pillars (read Stockdale and Leggo) and all are being built on between now and 2015. 85 have been released and 80+ are sold. It’s hard to get one – the prices are VERY keen, and that has got things moving very suddenly. There is nowhere else you can get a 28-square home with air-con/heating/granite-stainless steel kitchen/outdoor elevated balcony/four or five bedrooms AND a roof garden for $530k – nowhere, and especially not 200m from the beach .This pricing has got the place moving. Go down there on a sunny day, like I did today and yesterday, and you won’t get a seat or a parking space at the cafe. The new Peninsula Link freeway is on the doorstep. There’s no better buying. in Melbourne. I’m not a developer or agent. I’m just a buyer. I laughed at Martha Cove back in 2006. I refused to pay $900k for the cheapest waterfront lot, or $500k for a dry lot. Friends of mine paid $1.3 million plus for non-waterfront houses. They have lost out – for the time being. I have stopped ;laughing at Martha Cove. Instead, I have bought two investment houses there for $1.1 million – about a third of what they were going for 5/6 years ago. The retail precinct there will not be that far off. Safeway is rumored as an anchor tenant. – just a rumor. I believe the current developer Three Pillars, which has revived the project will price the retail space as keenly as the houses. This project is going to take off – after its shocking start. I am not laughing at it any more.

    Just thought I would update you.

    • After nearly three years and 600+ views, finally, an actual investor at Martha Cove speaks out!
      Thanks for the update, Kevin. I will definitely be taking a tour around the zone when I’m back in Melbourne. Not too surprised at the radical price adjustments, considering the various financial storms that have beset the economy since this project began. Congratulations on your purchase!

  5. Thanks for replying. Much appreciated. I’m not saying Martha Cove is beautiful. It still has a somewhat scarred appearance. But for sure it no longer has the air of dereliction that blighted it for the past four years or so, Two years ago, I was going down there to see friends and I would have to say little progress had been made. But in the past year this has changed so markedly that even I can see it. I think the Peninsula Link is a key factor, I feel that at the end of the day the Martha Cove is project is going to work out a lot better than many people feared. I too was a doubter – but not now, based on the huge price adjustment.and resultant building activity. A very important element is the retail precinct. I have been told due diligence is being carried out by interested parties. A decent retail complex would service not only Martha Cove and Safety Beach but also Mount Martha. Remember, there is no Safeway or Coles-style supermarket between Mornington and Rosebud. I think many locals would welcome one – and Martha Cove with its ample space is the obvious spot, slap bang in the middle. Congratulations to the Martha Cove receivers for not selling individual blocks willy nilly – the result would have been disastrous for everyone. Yup, they are terraced houses at Martha Cove and not 1/4 acre lots – but that is what many baby boomer and Gen X folks want. I have an acre in Mt Eliza. I’m nearing 66. Soon I won’t be able to look after it. I would just like to lock up and travel sometimes, which I cannot because my house is nestled in bush and wind and storms cause havoc. At Martha Cove, I will be able to do that – and live virtually on the beach in a substantial retirement new house, with a bay glimpse and a roof garden as a bonus. No, I cannot see Martha Cove failing in the long run. It may still take 10/15 years – but it will come on, There’s too much infrastructure and too many opportunities there for it not to.

    Kevin C

  6. I very much agree with Kevin.

    I have lived in QLD for 9 years where areas like Martha Cove are everywhere….nowhere in VIC though!
    We had the weekend coffee around the area and we loved the ‘feeling’ of the area + the fabulous borad walk + the potential of the area…to be drinking your coffee, sunshine everywhere, people roaming aroud and the boats…gently gliding in ‘n out of the huge marina…what a nice feeling….you can buy many many nice properties around MEL Phillip Bay area – nothing like this! It is unique, walking – but glamurous, distance to the beach and the surrounding nature with the hills on both sides…one of its kind….

    People are just coming and snapping the well priced (not even started) new properties :)…I did witness that phenomenon over the weekend….

    Anyway, perhaps I am bit biased with my QLD lived experience, having my origins in the Mediteraneo region and looking for sunny, relaxed but alive atmosphere here in VIC; nevertheless Martha Cove seems to be able toi deliver the atmosphere and the feel…and not to say that ‘the actual’ atmosphere is not even brought to the closest light of its reality with nothing being started with the retail precinct….

    I think the potential is significant, it is ultra-unique place for VIC and the prices are very ‘humane’ and ‘down to earth’! The Peninsula link just made the MEL CONNECTION – amazingly easy!

    Please enjoy and hope for the best over the next 10 years.


    • Thanks for the comment, Andre. I was back in the area over Dec-Jan and I too thought that Martha Cove had moved forward since 2011. And again I’m surprised that this post continues to pull views. Eight hundred and still rising! Ah well, you can never know what’s going to grab the public’s interest…

  7. Bet your biting your tongue now snapperhead. I recommend you take a drive through magnificent Martha Cove now. It may have taken time to semi-establish itself however it is now a buzzing place of activity all year round and no doubt serves much more enjoyment than a smelly old creek. Do yourself a favor and unlock yourself from the sheltered life you live and get with the times! Over the next 5 years Martha Cove will come to life even more so with the new shopping/restaraunt precinct etc and many more homes + apartments to be constructed.


    • With a sales pitch like that, I bet you have a block already picked out for me…
      I did write a follow up piece after my last visit in 2014. And I agree, the picture has improved a lot. Thanks for leaving a comment – you’ve no idea how lonely it’s been, waiting all these years for someone to throw the S-word at me.

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