Shadow places and greenwashing

There are numerous shadow places on the Bunurong Coast. One need look no further than the damage wrought by more than 150 years of coal mining. The district is littered with abandoned slag heaps covered in ragweed and thistles. Large sections of land have been deemed uninhabitable due to undermining. However, the other less obvious, but far more toxic, example is buried beneath the dunes on Powlett River floodplain.

The Victorian Desalination Plant mega facility[1] is an astonishing exercise in greenwashing. The site is located on the land of the Bunurong/Boonwurrung. Gushing signage lauds this cultural legacy and proclaims the amazing biodiversity of the site’s regenerated ecosystem. The site does offer a stunning refuge to walk, run or cycle. It teems with birdlife, animal trails and stunning views of the Kilcunda coastline. A six-turbine windfarm also generates renewable power in the adjacent property. But all of that is sleight of hand.

Desalination is a dirty business. The industrial mechanisms powering this mega facility are conveniently buried beneath the dunes. The environmental costs remain out of sight, out of mind. The enormously power-intensive desalination process remains reliant on brown coal power. Each time the plant draws an intake of seawater to desalinate, 17 tonnes of organic matter – fish life, seaweed, plankton and birds – has to be filtered out. It’s wildlife and plant life that’s slain then trucked across the state into landfill. What's more, a water-tight public-private contract means Victorian citizens pays for desalinated water irrespective of whether it’s used or not.

These so-called trifling consequences are written off as the unavoidable cost of maintaining modern life and lifestyle. But they are atrocious histories worthy of elaboration. 

[1] Upon its completion in 2012, the Victorian Desalination Plant. was the largest desalination facility in the Southern Hemisphere.