Our beautiful Mornington Peninsula offers vibrant coastal villages, a breathtaking hinterland, award winning wineries and acclaimed restaurants, manicured gardens and mazes, geothermal springs and of course renowned golf courses. However with about 45 km of coastline and 26 beaches, it’s the Peninsula’s colourful beaches boxes that have become icons of the area.

These stretches of bay beaches are home to more than 1300 beach boxes, many of which have historic and cultural significance. The beach boxes are dotted the length of the Peninsula, from Fisherman’s Beach and Mills Beach in Mornington, Moondah Beach and Ranelagh Beach in Mt Eliza to Mt Martha, Safety Beach, Dromana, McCrae, Rosebud, Capel Sound, Tyrone, Blairgowrie and Pt King and Shelley Beach in Portsea.

The Peninsula's rainbow-coloured bathing boxes have become a symbol of summer and are a tourist attraction in their own right. They form a backdrop for lazy days at the beach. They add a cheerful dimension to the beach-scape and create a sense of community and social harmony. Each has its own style, paint colour and personality, which adds to the uniqueness of the stretches of beach that are home to these much loved entities.

The term ‘beach box’ means bathing box, boatshed or similar structure. Beach boxes have been built by members of the community for over a century, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes often reflecting the architectural style of the period in which they were constructed. Individually, each one is unique in its appearance and character; as a group they are a colourful cluster of historical icons. They are part of the Mornington Peninsula’s identity and Victoria’s cultural heritage. In fact the concentration of beach boxes and boat sheds on the Mornington Peninsula may well be the highest in Australia.

Do you know the reason why we have those iconic, brilliantly coloured bathing boxes on the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula? It seems the origin of our darling beach boxes began in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the male population decided in their wisdom that women needed somewhere to change into their neck-to-knee bathing suits whilst at the beach, to save any sense of public immorality. Their battle for respectability and decorum resulted in the erection of a number of beach boxes.

While technically no more than a shed, with no mains water or electricity, many of the historic bathing boxes have been passed down through generations and remain in high demand. In summer, families sit beach back and relax on the deck and enjoy the shade of their beach box, deckchairs and tables arranged comfortably with food and cold drinks at hand, tempted by the sea only metres from their door. Or they are out and about in the bay with their children, dragging kayaks and sea toys from the storage racks in their beach boxes. As well as being the ideal way to spend a beach get-together, owners are spared having to pack their eskys, beach gear and equipment on cars and trailers to return home at the end of the day.

The iconic bathing beach boxes across the Peninsula’s beaches are becoming a prized commodity. With no more grants available for building these structures, and with few coming on the market each year (seldom more than 20 at a time out of 1300), they are being snapped up by keen buyers in less than a week. Their value has skyrocketed. Tightly held, the families that own them often pass them down through the generations.

The Mornington Peninsula record is held by a beach box on the Shelley Beach foreshore, which sold (to Eddie McGuire reportedly) for $615,000 in November 2015 at auction (surpassing the median family house price in Frankston and Hastings). The bathing box market is very dynamic, with wealthy buyers looking for a lifestyle asset and everyday families who buy together battling it out. Many bathing boxes are sold quietly off-market. Some are passed down from generation to generation. And though the main reason for purchase isn’t to invest, it is a sound buy because of their scarcity.

However, as reported in the Mornington News this week by Keith Platt, it seems there are few boat sheds and beach boxes at Mt Martha’s North Beach that have been left unscathed by storms and experts say it could cost up to $4 million to prevent further erosion of the cliffs at this section of Mt Martha beach.

"If not fixed, the crumbling cliffs will remain a threat to the stability of Esplanade and the beach. Already closed to the public, the beach will remain inaccessible and dangerous,” states the article. “The report says managing cliff erosion by extending the length and height of an existing rock wall is “critical”, but will require removing some boat sheds to either be reinstalled later or their owners offered “an alternative location to south. Several of the boat sheds at Mt Martha beach north have been condemned by Mornington Peninsula Shire but have yet to be removed. Others are being repaired, although the shire has closed access to the beach. The presence of Aboriginal middens on the eroded cliff will also require a cultural heritage management plan before any work can be undertaken.”

Apparently the cost of the options for preventing the cliff from collapsing further vary between $600,000 to $4 million. Seeing that it took less than three years for the sea to wash away 12,500 cubic metres of sand deposited at Mt Martha beach north in 2010, it seems a more robust solution is required. A community meeting is planned for later this month and beach users will be surveyed “to gauge need for ongoing community access to the beach”.

While Mt Martha South Beach beach boxes are fetching in excess of $300,000, boat sheds at Mt Martha beach north have reportedly been put on the market for about $80,000 and these prices are set to plummet further.

Explains Sam Danckert, "Apparently when local council first allowed people to buy permits to build beach boxes back in the 1930s, the only limitation was the amount you spent on materials, so those who had more money and could afford more materials and build bigger beach boxes. The structures sit on Crown land, and local council allows you to occupy the site on the basis that you maintain the shed in good order and that you pay your annual rates. If an owner fails to comply with the conditions they may receive an order that the beach box may be removed."

"Supply is always quite limited," says Sam. "In Mt Martha the prices are directly linked to the coastal sequence around the bay. At North Beach the beach boxes are the cheapest because the coastal shift works clockwise around Port Phillip Bay. The sands naturally shift from North Beach down to South Beach and collect at Balcombe Point which results in a wider swimming beach. Prices at Craigie Beach start around $40,000, a beach box sold off market earlier this year for over $400,000 at the Paris end of South Beach. Demand certainly outweighs supply."

Images by Sam Danckert, and MPNG.

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