St Kilda’s Big Helpers

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St Kilda’s Big Helpers

The benefit to society given by the thousands of people who volunteer their skills, energy and goodwill to help making the lives of other people easier, our suburbs more pleasant places to live in and our natural environment cleaner and healthier is enormous. St Kilda would certainly be a poorer place without them. 

Starting this month, writer Kelly Boehme begins a series of articles about a number of such people working as volunteers in the City of Port Phillip, starting with a profile on one of the gurus of the environmental movement in Melbourne, Neil Blake – guiding force behind St Kilda’s EcoCentre and someone who has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect one of the city’s most precious natural environments: Port Phillip Bay.


Neil Blake: Eco is not a dirty word 

By Kelly Boehme

There are no ifs or ‘butts’ about it, Neil Blake likes to keep his beaches clean.

As OAM & Director of the Port Phillip EcoCentre and current Baykeeper, he has been instrumental in the fight against environmental pollution in Port Phillip Bay, especially in the area around the City of Port Phillip, for over 27 years.

He has also been a major force in the spread of information about sound environmental practices through the establishment of The EcoCentre, near the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, a building that is a great example of how to minimize the reliance on natural resources through good architectural design.

The morning of the interview with Neil was a cold one, but the temperature inside the EcoCentre was noticibly warmer, mainly due, Neil explains, to the effect of sunlight coming into the building. Part of the changes to the retrofitted 1960’s house that the centre is in, involved opening up the north-facing front to let in as much sunlight as possible, thereby using less electricity, heating and lighting.

This is just one simple and practical example on display at the Centre of how we can all give our houses a seven star energy rating, just like the Centre does, which will help us to cut costs on energy bills and contribute to the care of the environment.

The EcoCentre was launched in 1999 with the support of the City of Port Phillip. It is,  however, an independent, not-for-profit, community-managed environment group. Visitors have an abundance of resources, activities and programs at their disposal to inspire and promote the care of the environment.

It is heavily involved in educational campaigns – not only in schools, but in the wider community, too. It also gives information on a number of environmental community groups and how they do their thing in caring for the bay, which is probably Neil Blake’s overriding interest.

Neil has been interested in caring for the environment in the area since he became a park ranger for the City of Port Phillip in 1985. One could say that he is the grandfather of the environmental movement here in Port Phillip. He is the founder, not only of the EcoCentre, but of a number of groups such as Earthcare and BayKeeper.

He also provides support and assistance to numerous groups in the area that promote responsible management of natural resources, such as the popular Port Phillip Urban Fresh Food Network.

He has also been involved in the anti-channel deepening environmental campaign and the Westgate Park restoration project.

Neil became the Port Phillip BayKeeper in 2009. In this role, he was able to help form the Clean Beaches Coalition with a number of other environmental groups – a coalicion that resulted in the very successful Cigarette Butt Safari campaign of 2011, where students and local volunteers collected over 25,000 cigarette butts and their whereabouts documented so that location ‘hotspots’ could be identified.

The results will be made available to the local community, including traders, in an effort to educate people on how to care for the environment and to find practical ways to fighting pollution in the Bay.

For his efforts, Neil has received the Dame Phyllis Frost 2012 Clean Beaches Award last July –  something for which he is grateful but humble. He readily acknowledges that his goals can only be achieved with help from others, and that changing attitudes to environmental abuse and mismanagement is a collective responsibility.

“The path towards sustainability is about behavior,” he says. “If you have a 7 star rating house and a 1 star behavior not much is going to change.”

Neil concludes that the bay is an icon, and we should use it as a way of seeing how we affect the natural environment and what we can do to minimize our impact on it.


“There is practical stuff everyone can do to protect it,” he says. And that means not just those who live close to the bay. “What goes on in the burbs” he claims, “affects the bay.”


It may well be that both Neil Blake and the EcoCentre are also icons, and that the messages they impart are worth protecting.


The EcoCentre is located at the corner of Herbert & Blessington Streets, on the edge of the St Kilda Botanical Gardens.  For more information, contact them on (03) 9534 0670, check them out on the web at, or go along, enjoy a chat and a cuppa with the friendly and knowledgeable staff and volunteer your time.




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