Koonung Creek: Then and Now

This is a guest post by Bruna Costa.

In the days when Bulleen was being established as a new development in the east, the suburb was jokingly considered to be ‘out in the sticks’. A short stretch of the Koonung Creek Reserve from Doncaster Road to Thompsons Road divided Bulleen and North Balwyn. The creek itself was heavily polluted and grassland on either side of it was poorly managed, especially when compared to today’s standards. In places, the tall grass virtually hid the banks of the narrow stretches of the creek.

Image: Bruna Costa

Image: Bruna Costa

Most of Bulleen was predominantly rolling hills, and the new housing lots were a fair distance from the nearest tram terminus on Doncaster Road. Some of our family members had built their new house there, and as children, we loved visiting our cousins in their new suburb. But from Hawthorn, we had to catch two trams. Then our uncle would meet us at the tram stop and drive my family to his house. It became our favourite weekend destination; not for the newness of the houses, but for the way we bided our time there with our cousins.

Our adventure began when we raced down to the end of their street to play by the Koonung Creek and surrounding grassland. It wasn’t that my sisters and I never played in open spaces; our house in Hawthorn was backed by green fields speckled with daisies. We frequently used it as an extension to our already generous backyard. But our cousins’ open spaces had the creek which added an entirely new dimension to our adventures, along with a range of hazards. Despite the warnings from our parents, we trod through tall grasses that shielded the flow and depth of the creek. At the risk of crossing paths with snakes or twisting an ankle, we braved the unknown. Carefree and curious, we brushed aside blackberry thorns and scratched at itchy spots from stinging weeds and insects, and soldiered on through the scrub and grassland. Our play was never supervised by adults. We were simply told to be careful and watch out for snakes.

Image: Bruna Costa

Image: Bruna Costa

When my father bought an established property in North Balwyn, the green undulating hill of Yarraleen - a farming pocket of Bulleen and not far from our home - was graced with dairy cattle. Paddocks were used for horse agistments and horse owners offered trail rides down by the Yarra River on Sundays. The milkman on his horse-drawn cart came down from the Doncaster Hill dairy and delivered our milk very early every morning.

Yarraleen was a part of Bulleen, and like Bulleen and North Balwyn, it too was eventually sub-divided into quarter-acre blocks and snapped up in no time. The developments mushroomed to become the prestigious eastern suburbs of Melbourne. But unlike Hawthorn, where trams, trains and buses were our primary means of transport, the numerous families living in these new suburbs needed one or two cars in order to commute to work, take children to their schools, and visit shopping centres. Traffic on the local roads increased immeasurably.

With so much added traffic, and the stop-start driving and congestion on suburban roads adding to the pollution problem, the proposal to extend the freeway from Bulleen Road to Doncaster Road was inevitable. However, the 3km-long extension was met with considerable criticism. Protesters did not want noisy freeways and polluting traffic near their homes, nor did they want to see the eradication of their leafy open spaces. Nevertheless, the Eastern Freeway was completed in 1982.

Today, I’d like to thank the protesters. Because of their demonstrations, the Koonung Creek Reserve was enhanced with the addition of 12,000 trees and shrubs planted collectively by the two adjoining councils and the state government. A bike track was established and to this day, is enjoyed by walkers and bike riders alike. Electric barbecues and a playground made the area an ideal family location for sunny weekends.

In recent years, exercise apparatus have been strategically located along the bike track. Small groups engage in daily exercises under the gazebos or in open spaces, while others revel beneath the tall gums and observe the wildlife attracted to the bushy ambience. Dogs especially enjoy a frolic in the grass.

Image: Bruna Costa

Image: Bruna Costa

The diversity of birdlife and frogs has increased considerably since the time I visited there with my sisters and cousins years ago. An assemblage of lorikeets, cockatoos, galahs, corellas, blue wrens, swallows and eastern spinebills add variety to the more common birds seen fluttering through the trees and skimming the water’s surface.

Image: Bruna Costa

Image: Bruna Costa

Artificial filtration ponds collect excess storm water and attract waterbirds such as egrets, cormorants and herons that feed on yabbies and a variety of frogs.

Although we lost the heavily polluted creek which was driven underground along that 3km stretch of parkland, the Koonung Creek Reserve has definitely improved since the heady days of my youth. And because the local community voiced their opinion years ago, a precedent has been set for all freeway extensions. We see habitats returned to their original form or improved considerably after construction of major roadways, leaving natural open spaces that promote a healthy lifestyle enjoyed by many. Sadly, the constant noise of the traffic flow is one aspect we must come to terms with.

But for me, Koonung Creek Reserve was once an adventure playground, and it is refreshing to see that it is now an invigorating recreational haven.


Bruna Costa has worked in kindergartens for 26 years, and currently works with a 3-year-old group. She is a member of Write Track Writers' Group in Box Hill, and enjoys bird-spotting in bushland and her local area.