green spaces

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.


Wonder Beneath the Westgate

Amidst the industrial hustle and bustle of cargo ships as they’re loaded and unloaded in port, with the roar of the Westgate Bridge above you, it’s easy to assume the absence of nature in Port Melbourne. But in the shadow of the towering bridge lies a reserve that is in stark contrast to the chaos of the traffic overhead.

A bushland park nestled amongst inner city suburbs, Westgate Park behaves as a natural refuge for wildlife and humans alike. As you venture into the park, the vegetation muffles the noises of the nearby port, and replaces them with the sounds of rustling leaves. Consisting of only locally indigenous species, the vegetation around the park provides food and shelter for a wide range of fauna including mammals, reptiles, birds and even frogs.

Pale vanilla lily ( Anthropodium milleflorum ).  Image: Lyn Allison

Pale vanilla lily (Anthropodium milleflorum). Image: Lyn Allison

Lyn Allison, a committee member of Friends of Westgate Park, explains that it is no easy feat maintaining the park’s magnificent biodiversity: ‘Our volunteers weed, mulch, propagate, plant and prune vegetation. We hand-water plants when [they are] first put in the ground and some others in extremely dry periods... All garden beds are regularly mulched until there is sufficient natural leaf litter to cover [the] soil.’

Considering the time and effort these dedicated volunteers invest in the park, it’s no wonder that several rare and vulnerable botanical species exist here. Lyn explains that the Friends of Westgate Park have made a considerable effort to maintain the more sensitive, rare and threatened species in the park: ‘Some aquatic and semi-aquatic species are currently thriving and regenerating: salt lawrencia (Lawrencia spicata) and leafy twig-rush (Cladium procerum) are classified as rare, [and] woolly waterlily (Philydrum lanuginosum) is vulnerable in Victoria. Waterwart (Elatine gratioloides) appeared in the park this year and is locally rare.’

Sticky hop bush ( Dodonaea viscosa ).  Image: Lyn Allison

Sticky hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa). Image: Lyn Allison

Leafy twig-rush ( Cladium procerum ).  Image: Lyn Allison

Leafy twig-rush (Cladium procerum). Image: Lyn Allison

Unsurprisingly, the diverse range of floral species in Westgate Park supports a large number of fauna species: ‘More than 150 bird species have been observed in the Park over the last decade, an average of 50 observed [during] monthly surveys and around 80 species of invertebrates recorded as well as snakes, frogs, blue-tongued lizards, skinks, water rats, possums, and the long-necked turtle breeds each year in the park.’

In late winter and early spring, fungi can be found emerging through the park's leaf litter. ‘Fungi are crucial for breaking down plant and other material into useful nutrients,’ Lyn explains, ‘and most Australian native plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungus. To date, more than 60 species of fungi have been observed and identified in the park.’

Westgate Park is the perfect place for a quiet stroll or to discover some of our rarest indigenous plants.  Image: Lyn Allison

Westgate Park is the perfect place for a quiet stroll or to discover some of our rarest indigenous plants. Image: Lyn Allison

Westgate Park is a diamond in the rough, a haven amongst shipping containers and cranes. The beauty and diversity within the park in its industrial context is astonishing and gives visitors a glimpse into a time when the mouth of the Yarra was a more peaceful place.

Find out more about the wonderful landcare work that Friends of Westgate Park do by visiting their website.

Emma Walsh

Emma Walsh is a science graduate who enjoys sharing her love of nature with others. In the past, she has worked as a wildlife presenter, and enjoys teaching children about our native wildlife and its conservation. Her other interests include gardening and bushwalking.

Banner image courtesy of Lyn Allison of Friends of Westgate Park