During the mid 1990s Portland was in something of an economic slump, with the closure of the abattoirs and the softwoods factory. People were leaving the town, some shops were empty and real estate prices were cheap. Certain of the shire councilors were convinced that if McDonald's were to set up in town we would all be saved, (a ludicrous proposition). It seemed to me at the time, (and has since been proven partially correct), that tourism was what would save us.
With this in mind I was thinking about the various "big" tourist attractions around Australia: the big pineapple, the big banana, the big earthworm, the big lobster etc and I thought: "What is Portland's unique animal?" Back came the answer: "The Australasian Gannet". Portland's Point Danger boasts the only mainland colony of this bird, where the overflow from the off-shore Lawrence Rocks began nesting around this time.
So I conceived the following humorous and highly fictional tale. I believe it would make an excellent children's picture book, and attempted to get this to happen but without success so far. I am still interested in this project, so if anyone wants to make it happen let me know.
In Portland town at the edge of the sea, there lived a man as rich as could be,
And he resolved at length to try, the passing tourist trade to ply,
And to build, near where he dwelled, the largest gannet in the world.
And so they built a statue high, of fibreglass towering in the sky,
And the watchers gaped who stood around, at the construction scene upon the ground,
A network of fibres coated and gelled, the biggest gannet in the world.
Its stood full twenty stories high, its proud beak blotted out the sky,
And people came from miles about, to stand transfixed like stupefied trout,
And gaze up at the wings yet furled, of the biggest gannet in the world.
The gannet struck a fearsome pose, and raised itself upon its toes.
It gnashed its teeth and preened it's nose, it raised its beak, and then arose,
On massive wings without a care, and took itself into the air.
"I'll be an astronaut," it said, "in outer space I'll make my bed"
"And escape the noise and motor cars, and rest in peace amongst the stars."
And so straight up the gannet flew, and dwindled far into the blue.
The people sighed and shed a tear, the mood of the company was drear,
One councillor was right on track, he said, "We want our gannet back!"
But though they waited night and day, no giant gannet returned to stay.
Meanwhile, far above the roads and rubble, the giant gannet was having trouble,
For all he flapped with great desire, yet he could not rise any higher.
At last he saw, in his despair, he couldn't fly without the air.
And so he relaxed his might, and glided down throughout the night,
Marvelling in the great surround, at the light display upon on the ground.
And wondering where he could find, another bird of similar mind.
The sun was high before he scanned, the limestone cliffs of old Portland,
And whilst yet high above the ocean, he sought a place to cease his motion,
And soon he deemed it in his power, to alight upon the water tower.
Now all of those who stood below, and saw the gannet swooping low,
Feared for the safety of the town, and cried, "the gannet's coming down!"
And so it was, on black tipped wing, with yellow head, a wondrous thing.
The bird alighted on the tower, and there it stood for half an hour,
While underneath the jubilant throng, capered and sang a merry song.
But while the memorial tower was shaking, the gannet's heart was slowly breaking.
And from each lambent eye so clear, there issued forth a doleful tear.
"Where are my friends", the avian cried aloud, "I seek companions clean and proud",
"I can't be happy living here, with no one pecking at my ear".
"I'll solve your problems", a gentleman cried, who stood politely to one side,
"Fly south and east and follow the coast, you'll find what you desire most".
"But don't forget, wherever you flee, our favourite gannet you'll always be".
The bird flew off, above the town, and followed the coast as he looked down,
He spied the port and the ships of course, the Pivot works, and the green golf course,
And cars and trucks driving helter skelter, as he passed the aluminium smelter.
He overtook the park's lone ranger, as he glided down towards Point Danger,
Where the thousand gannets roosting there, took themselves into the air,
And welcomed him and made a fuss, saying, "Come on down, you're just like us".
Alighting on the shingle strand, the gannet looked so tall and grand,
That the birds cried out, "Oh wondrous thing, why don't you stay and be our king".
Once more the giant gannet cried, but now from joy, deep felt inside.
"This is the dearest thing that I've been wishing, and now I say, let's all go fishing".
From then on the flock he lived amid, soaring and diving and catching squid,
And watching the rookery from down on the strand, not far from the town of old Portland.
So if one day you leave the docks, and sail down to Lawrence Rocks,
A giant statue you will see, clean and proud and tall and free,
Surrounded by birds with its wings yet furled, the happiest gannet in the world.
Warren Mars - December 1997