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.
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.’
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 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 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.