The community spirit of the Mussel Festival

Now in it’s 14th year, the Portarlington Mussel Festival has fast become the biggest event in the summer festival calendar.

What started as a small arts festival has blossomed into a great day out for whole family with amazing local and national music acts, over 200 stallholders offering over 30 types of cuisine, and over 10 tonnes of mussels sold on the day. But it’s core value has remained the same: a local festival run by the community for the community.

“To date we’ve donated over $200,000 back to the Northern Bellarine community. Beneficiaries include the football and netball club, the cricket club, CFA, Coastguard, the tennis club and Girl Guides. And last year we had over 250 volunteers stepping up to help out, many from these groups,” said festival president Richard Underwood.

Richard put his hand up to run the festival eleven years ago after it’s founders Port Arts Network decided they couldn’t keep it going. His reason was simple: if you want to make a difference you’ve got to get involved.

He volunteers countless hours throughout the year to the organisation of the festival meaning it’s almost become a full time job! Albeit without the pay check. But he credits a team of dedicated committee members that make it a real team effort.

“At the end of the day we’re all volunteers, and it’s a great achievement to see it all come together for a small group of dedicated volunteers.”

Richard Underwood
“If anyone hasn’t been before, I’d encourage them to come down and see what we’re all about. We’ve got a lovely family atmosphere, and it’s got a great community feel about it.” -Richard Underwood, festival president.

While the community benefits from the fundraising, visitors get the chance to discover one of Victoria’s most beautiful coastal towns and get fresh, delicious mussels straight from the producers. The Portarlington mussel industry has been growing since 1982 is estimated to supply around 60% of Australia’s mussels.

“A lot of people don’t realise how beautiful Portarlington is, and I see it as an opportunity to showcase what Portarlington has to offer,” said Richard.

That mission has been so successful that he even knows of some new residents who were inspired to make the sea change from Melbourne to Portarlington after visiting the festival and falling in love with the town!

It’s not hard to see why. Next time you’re at the festival, take a moment to look out past the green parkland into the bay. The historic pier in the foreground and the city skyline in the distance make for a pretty impressive backdrop. On top of that, the greater Bellarine Peninsula now has over 30 wineries, olive, cheese, cider and whiskey producers, beautiful restaurants such as Jack Rabbit and Terindah Estate, walking paths around the bay, historic Queenscliff and a new direct ferry to the Docklands.

This year the festival will take place on Saturday 11th January so why not head down and make a weekend of it. With a full line up of entertainment, the cooking demonstrations, a packed lineup of kids entertainment and the incredible Queen Tribute Band headlining, it’s one not to miss.

“We reckon for $5 it’s pretty good value for a full days entertainment over five stages. And kids get in for free,” said Richard.

If you see Richard at the festival, make sure you say G’day! Just don’t offer him a taste of your mussels- ironically he doesn’t actually like them!

Portarlington Mussell Festival committee members Donna Stankovski, Gary Thompson, Sheryl Follett, Richard Underwood, Brian Knights and Sandra Jocic. Picture: Mike Dugdale Credit: Geelong Advertiser