Lush, rural pride of Portsea
The elegant coastal town is a magnet for those who can afford it, writes Annie Reid
THERE aren’t too many places like Portsea. Where the National Australia Bank’s Ahmed Fahour plays cricket on the beach with his kids, Lindsay Fox ducks into a shop for a strawberry ice- cream or Paul McCartney’s entourage lands their helicopter on the Portsea golf course to run an eye over the area.
The elegant, exclusive Victorian sister town to Sorrento is a magnet for well- heeled residents and holidaymakers, skirted by stunning beaches to the north and south, arching cypress trees, national parks and Port Nepean at its tip.
It’s been labelled Australia’s richest postcode, and anyone who catches the ferry from nearby Queenscliff knows why.
Ten years ago, property developer Sam Tarascio of Salta Properties bought a limestone house on the waterfront next to the Portsea Hotel.
I was lucky because it was just before everybody discovered Portsea. The same family had owned it for 80 years, and I bought it then and there at the auction,’’ he says.
Tarascio, who sold Westgate Logistics to Lindsay Fox’s Linfox for $ 180 million last year, and whose company has about $ 800 million worth of development on the go, later bought land that backed on to his block, which included a general store, a cafe on Point Nepean Road, plus a small house.
Renovating the shops, building two apartments above them, and replacing the houses with a large family home and gardens, he created a family compound’’ for his wife Christina and children David, Lisa and Sam Junior.
With a traditional limestone construction, the five- bedroom house nestles unobtrusively into the landscape, and a key feature is the whole of the front living area, which opens out to create a seamless indoor and outdoor space.
I just think Portsea is as good as anywhere else in the world,’’ Tarascio says.
It still retains its lush, rural feel, and its rare north- facing location means the beach, the salt and the water is pristine.’’
Portsea’s stretch of multi- milliondollar mansions hug the clifftops above Fisherman’s Beach, Shelley Beach and Point King, where established families built their immense holiday homes during the late 1800s, and the rich and famous followed suit.
Early resident George Coppin brought wealthy Melburnians to the area on day trips in his paddle steamer. The properties these days are more likely equipped with helipads or cablecar- esque lifts.
You won’t get much change out of $ 20 million for a small handful of the biggest and best properties here — some more than 1.2ha — while the rest of the cliff- top comprises about 150 properties ranging between $ 5 million and $ 12 million.
According to Liz Jensen, a director of Kay & Burton, property prices have soared since she joined the firm in 1993, with some families willing to wait up to 10 years to buy.
Its 90- minute proximity to Melbourne sees competing city suits and wealthy wannabees rubbing shoulders happily at the Portsea Hotel over summer: a far cry from the 1970s where Jensen says you could fire a cannon down the main street.
When we opened, we sold it for $ 1.5 million. Now it’s worth in excess of $ 12 million,’’ Jensen says of her first cliff- top sale.
According to Warwick Anderson, a director at RT Edgar, Portsea’s architectural style is just as interesting as its inhabitants.
Most of the old mansions in Sorrento and Portsea are built from limestone, because it could be easily quarried on site. It’s always fascinated me that all the main doors face the sea, as there was no road back then,’’ Anderson says.
There has been huge architectural diversity since the 70s, with specialist coastal architects such as prominent local Robbie Robertson working on individual projects.
Now, people have a higher standard of ambition when it comes to building and quality here, and they don’t want to replicate what they have in Melbourne,’’ Anderson says.
Portsea has an army of high- profile supporters who understand the importance of protecting this delicate enclave.
Kate Baillieu, a prominent campaigner and member of one of the longest- established families in Portsea, grew up here and believes all Austral- ians should enjoy the beaches.
Our forefathers had great foresight in realising the importance of preservation, and my position is that I never want to get to the point when beaches are owned by private individuals,’’ Baillieu says.
After six years, Baillieu is nearing the end of a successful battle for Point Nepean to be returned to the state Government, when the land will be retained as national parkland and remain undeveloped.
With help from Olivia NewtonJohn, Ron Walker, Joan Kirner, radio personality Tracy Bartram, and prominent barrister Tony Southall among others, local residents are committed to their current protest against the channel- deepening project.
As Baillieu and a group of friends sat out on the jetty one night recently, they ate freshly caught mussels cooked on the barbecue by their side, watching the sunset and drinking in the soft breeze.
There really aren’t too many places like Portsea — or many people that can afford them.
Australia’s richest postcode’:
Portsea golf club is just one of the attractions bringing the well- heeled to the area
Life’s a beach: Lindsay Fox enjoys Portsea’s natural setting