I AM PORT FAIRY - Shannon Collyer
Shannon Collyer grew up in Warrnambool and spent a lot of time fishing and exploring the waterways of Port Fairy. He lives in Koroit and loves its sense of freedom, space and the expansive peace of the night sky.
Shannon draws on his personal Aboriginal story and his passion for flora, fauna and history as he guides visitors through Tower Hill. He is the CEO of Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative, an enterprise that provides work, training and skills opportunities for indigenous people in areas of tourism, horticulture, textiles and environment. Shannon leads a small team of dedicated staff who support job seekers based at Tower Hill State Game Reserve. Together they welcome more than 250,000 visitors to the volcanic crater each year, sharing its incredible story of regeneration and training new tour guides to celebrate and educate others about this local natural wonder.
Sense of Space
As a kid, Shannon Collyer spent afternoons with uncles and cousins along the water’s edge in Port Fairy. He remembers fishing along the river, sharing it with the boats, seals, birds and stingrays.
“Even though the inlet is man-made, the waterways and passages around the island have such a natural sense to them. They’re open and clear, the water is clean and flowing. It feels free there,” he says.
“You’ve got mutton bird island on the south east tip of Port Fairy which is connected to the south strip of coast with wild, rocky shoreline. It’s so great that you can wander along there, and look straight out to the south, and it’s not blocked by houses or buildings.”
Discover your own path in Port Fairy, on or off the water. Surf, snorkel, dive, swim, wander, kayak, SUP, charter a boat or take a personalized tour.
Shannon Collyer knows better than most that there’s much more than Norfolk pines growing in and around Port Fairy. When it comes to flora, nothing beats Tower Hill; an impressive, giant volcanic explosion crater a short drive from town.
In the early years of European settlement, this bowl of life was cleared and used for farming and quarrying. It was barren and bare until 1961 when a massive re-vegetation program began. Based on Austrian-born artist Eugene Von Gerard’s 1855 painting of the landscape, the replanting scheme was the first of its kind in the world and involved botanists studying the painting to identify indigenous plants. By 1981, around 25,000 trees and plants had been planted with the help of volunteers, including grass and ferns on the island; tea trees, wattles, sheoaks, banksias and eucalypts on the cones and reeds and tussocks in the marshes.
Within these layers of native and introduced flora, Shannon’s got a special interest in the potential medicinal or culinary properties of the hundreds of species growing and around the crater. He believes the value of these plants is untapped and would love to see more distinctive plants grown commercially in Australia for their unique potential.
“Wattle seed is 22% protein and grows naturally and prolifically here. Niger, Israel and China all have wattle seed industries, but we don’t produce it in Australia.”
“Kakadu plums, or gubinge, are of Australian provenance but they’re not commercially grown here either. They have over 50 times the concentration of vitamin C found in oranges, yet it’s the American cosmetics industry taking control of that market.”
“It’s so interesting to learn about the exceptional qualities of some of our native plants.”
Book in for a guided walking tour with staff from the Worn Gundidj visitor information centre. The centre welcomes more than 250,000 people every year and is an enterprise dedicated to training and up-skilling local Aboriginal job seekers. http://www.towerhill.org.au/
Shannon describes his first house in Koroit; a rundown cottage, circa 1830, on an acre in the main street.
“It was falling down,” he says. “Yellow walls and overgrown garden. It was beautiful – so much character. The whole street’s full of character.”
“Port Fairy and Koroit have preserved this heritage. They’ve kept their soul.”
The stoic use of bluestone and sandstone built cute country cottages, mighty church towers or functional farming properties designed to withstand the weather and the work. Shannon believes by looking after these buildings and streetscapes we sustain links between the past and the future.
“Being in these old places, that’s special. You get an understanding about what the settlers and whalers and farmers would have been doing here,” he says.
“But you make your own home there and have new experiences and so they continue for a different time and for different people. They live on.”
Take a walk or bike ride to step back in time in Port Fairy.