Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Five starting points for looking after our creeks

A stronger voice for the creeks sounds like a good thing to me. Here are five other places to start.

Showcase what we do already. At Stanley Park, Greening of Riddell, Riddells Landcare, and now in Gisborne, regular working bees improve the health of creeks. We need cooperation from government programs. We need publicity that gets through to those who are be ready to join in. We have to get savvy about communication.

Walk the creeks of the Macedon. If more people walk our creeks, they’ll learn about them, fall in love with them and get noisy about them. Let’s tell people what’s there and make it easy for them to venture out.

Get the data: Citizen Science. Agencies have the historical record, but community recording at critical points along our creeks can highlight stresses, show progress and what action is needed, and educate our communities about how the creeks are faring.

Improve water quality up-stream. Western Water wants to expand capacity at Riddell’s treatment plant. What incentives could it offer to landholders, and where, to improve water quality up-stream? Can we afford to let people fly in the face of standards and requirements, reducing flows and compromising stream health downstream? How do we get compliance to what has already been judged essential to care for our waterways?

Make promises transparent. The community has longer memories than government. That comes down to a few people, admittedly, but these are people who know what was studied, recommended, promised. Let’s address the long game being played, and lift the heat on the promises.

Get more people in the front door. Environmental volunteering effort is falling as a percentage of overall volunteering effort. At the same time, there are people who want a stronger connection to nature, and who want to make a difference to the environment. 

Let’s create opportunities for more people to join in. Who is ready to contribute? How do we give them a way in? The committed few will stay the course, but let’s share the love and bring others in.

Voices of the creeks

If find yourself puzzling over your bit of dirt, and how to look after it, then you’re thinking creeks. Perhaps you've heard a creek mutter: ‘No, not more housing!’ In some places, it’s more intensive agriculture; in others, land bankers and their weedy acres. Horses everywhere, bless them. And on the horizon, reduced rainfall and higher rates of evaporation. 

Melbourne’s Healthy Waterways Strategy (HWS) has been signed off by the Minister for Water. Designed between those with a stake in each of Melbourne’s five catchments, with Melbourne Water the initiator, the HWS records the commitments to the future made between those who showed up for the planning process.

Note on Institutional arrangements #1: The HWS cunningly disguises these commitments to the future as Performance Objectives, and there’s plenty of promises here. Note on Institutional arrangements #2: MW is a big player because it has statutory responsibility for the waterways of Melbourne. It also charges for water supply. How should this revenue be distributed?

Co-designing the HWS trod a well-hewn an old path. In the 1960s and 70s, engineering-based organisations like Volvo worked out how to set up autonomous work teams—co-design is the same idea, that a design is better when those with a stake are part of the design. MW did a pretty good job with this, and so too did MRSC as it developed its Biodiversity Strategy. 

Riddell now has one strategy that faces us north into the Macedon, and one that places us at the top of the flow downstream to the city and the bay. Are these strategies opportunities or just empty promises on another boulevard of broken dreams? 

A few of us in local groups in Riddell, Gisborne and Macedon, with help from our local Landcare facilitator, want to decide where to focus our efforts for the next 5 years or so.

We’re pulling together information on creek condition, on land use zoning and on where action is being taken. The discussion (10 December) is in the first instance for the battle-hardened stalwarts of our environment groups, but later, perhaps we can set up a way to take our thinking out to our immediate communities, and explain how we got to our priorities. And if you're just curious, come along for the ride. We'll meet at 6.00, 10 December, 288 Gap Road, for spag bol, a salad and red wine, then talk.

We need more hands on deck; we need more voices speaking out. Environmental volunteering effort is falling as a percentage of overall volunteering effort, but at the same time, many people want a stronger connection to nature. Many want to make a difference to the state of the world. What we do now as communities matters. How can we open up connections here?

Understanding priorities is a starting point for speaking up for the creeks. See also Five more starting points for looking after our creeks.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Thursday, 11 October 2018

How South Gisborne Drain became Bungil Creek

We gather in light rain in a cleft of open ground between two creeks and a road, here in one of the growing edges of Gisborne. The rain is welcome. It gleams on the roofs of the new estates, trickles its way to downpipes and disappears, but the drains lead here to this confluence of creeks.

Amanda Gauci, Helen Radnedge and David Galloway at the renaming

We're celebrating the renaming of the South Gisborne Drain. It is now Bunjil Creek, a name chosen by the Wurundjeri Council. It’s on the Victorian Register of Geographic Names. Bunjil as in Bunjil the edge-tailed eagle, the ancestor, who circles high above Mount Gisborne, where this creek begins.

Search for Fersfield Road and Aitken Streets on Google Maps, and east of that junction you'll see a dotted blue line that disappears, then reappears a little north as 'South Gisborne Drain'. Then it disappears again. Where has it gone? It’s a creek, so it going downhill, north towards Jackson's Creek. When you drive from Riddell to Gisborne on the Kilmore Road, and come into Gisborne town past the bowling club, right onto Melbourne Road – there it is again Bunjil Creek, safely housed in a broad bluestone culvert that sends water under the road to Jacksons Creek. A forgotten creek, a hidden creek.

When I was a kid in North Box Hill, before the suburbs finally settled in, we played in creeks like this. We dammed them and built bridges and got covered in mud and burrowed our way inside groves of gorse and broom to secret hideaways. One big adventure was this: to walk underground through a big concrete culvert, a thin flow of brown water between your legs as you rocked side to side, and come out 20 or 50 metres later at the edge of a road or creek, blinking in the sunlight.

Creeks and open drains gave way to bitumen and underground drains. That's brought safety to the suburbs, and less mud, but we lost our creeks. They are still there, underground, but not the creek as a living thing. All that rushing, muddy, sweaty creekness disappears, the creek swollen in winter, dangerous, and in summer, a thin stream and the sound of crickets. We lose the danger and forbidden edges. It’s been no contest of course. Drains deliver efficiency in managing water, and also a fair quantum of land. New land that can be sold. New land that is appropriated by the quick and opportunistic.

So to recapture a creek in the middle of urban expansion anywhere in metropolitan Melbourne is a major achievement. After the renaming ceremony, Melbourne Water and Council staff headed into the rest of their working day and a few community people repaired to a local cafe to dry off and rest a little longer in the moment. Of course, it's not 'a moment'. The renaming has been two and a half years of patient work, pulling to light what was hidden in plans and Council minutes and agency files. Time spent not taking things for granted, asking difficult questions.

Some of the Gisborne gang: Jackson O'Neill, Helen Radnedge and Amanda Gauci

It's always bemused me that Landcare is promoted through photos of hillsides covered with those plastic plant guards, when the hard work is the hours at night spent reading plans closely, untangling who is responsible, writing letters and funding applications, insisting that what was promised in the plan or strategy is delivered, here, right here, in the middle of this messy contest between private and public interests. Caring for where you live means wrestling with cumbersome bureaucracies and entrenched perceptions and values within local communities.

So here’s cheers to the good folk at Gisborne! You’ve got us thinking about our own drain here in Riddells Creek!

The Riddell Main Drain, outside the Bakery
The Main Drain heading to Station St and eventually Riddells Creek

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Sunbury Rings

We’re standing beside one of the Sunbury Rings with Uncle Dave Wandin, part of the Narrap Team that manages  properties owned by the Wurundjeri Council. When I first heard about these ceremonial grounds on the outskirts of Sunbury, I imagined in my mind’s eye a broad raised mound on the creek flats, hidden away somewhere, an ancient gathering place for hundreds. The reality is different: the rings are small, inscribed into the hillside above Jacksons Creek, the weathered shape of bank cut into on one side of the slope and the earth moved to the other side to make up a circle of level ground four metres or so across.

In fact, nothing is as I imagined it. The Rings are not hidden away, but in plain view, on the side of the valley across from the railway line as it descends into Sunbury. I must have looked out towards the Rings many times on the train to Melbourne. And these are not broad mounds where hundreds gathered, warriors rattling their spears, but something more intimate, a place where the men and women convened separately to make preparations, each out of sight of the other, then met in the third ring for a marriage ceremony, this site more complex, a circle contained in a wider circle, but still nothing grand, a place to sit in groups in the firelight, with singing and dancing in the centre of the circle, a living room if you like.

The Rings are high on the hillside because the valley was once not so deeply incised when they were first made and used sometime in the last 30,000 years. The creek would have been nearby. They were a place for family groups to meet, families that followed the seasons and the food, at a time when perhaps 20,000 Wurundjeri were living in all that country where the water flows to the bay. Not so many people in such a large area; now we have five million and more as development pushes out along creeks and hillsides just like these in Sunbury.

The original shape has weathered down, but the intent remains

And Uncle Dave isn’t quite as I imagined him. He’s wearing an orange AustralBricks jumper. He doesn’t hammer us with a sermon, but talks matter-of-factly of the life of the Wurundjeri then, as he and other elders have pieced it together from the historical record and family stories and from a feeling for how to live in this kind of country. The past and the present are a continuity for him. He is Wurundjeri, and a contemporary man, acceding to the wishes of his elders not to redig the Rings to their original shape, as he would like, but to leave them weathered, protected by fences, to leave them in peace now that a little of what had been has been recovered and granted some respect. Many elders are tired after the long fight, they too want a bit of peace, he tells us.

Uncle Dave Wandin
We walk along the hillside between the Rings and Uncle Dave shows us where he demonstrated traditional burning last year to the Hume Shire and other fire people, burning separate patches of grasses, each lit with one match he says, reading the wind and temperature conditions and the lie of the land to know exactly where each burn would finish. ‘We teach our kids to swim so they are safe and happy around water – why not teach them to use fire, so they are just as comfortable and safe with fire?’

I hear a mind and imagination at work here, learning how to heal Country, building links with mainstream fire and environment people, fighting the constraints imposed by regulation and planning, even when people with money and influence have different plans. 

We’ve been slow in the Landcare movement to make allies here, out of our fear for our property and fear of the other-ness of Aboriginal people. Yet hidden in plain sight, they are people like you and me, getting on with learning how to care for Country, whatever the obstacles.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare