Monday, 17 September 2018

Suburban riddles

The houses are going up along Gap Road, and I’m a worried man. I’m sad about the Turner block being cut up, but not with the presence of more housing itself. The outer northern layer of the town has had its long term density settled in the Structure Plan, and with no prospect of greater density, the owner decided to subdivide. It had to happen some time.

The earthworks for the new owners have swept all before, grinding terrain into easier shapes for the humans. The roos have fled north to quieter habitat. They are camped out in Barrm Birrm and come down in big mobs to the road verges at night for the grass. The creek flat below my house sees regular visits from an extended family. They have been displaced, but they are mobile and they will adapt. None of this worries me.

What worries me is the houses. Facing the street, not the sun. Without eaves, the body of the house built to its edges like a bulbous muffin. I don’t understand: why would you not build a house to invite in the warmth of the winter sun, and shade you from the wild summer heat? How long have we known this? How much longer will it take for the realisation that we live in a world of sun and seasons to seep into the drafting rooms of project home builders and into the aspirations of their clients? 

What worries me is the absence of regard for the natural world evident in building a residence in ignorance or bloody minded defiance of something as simple as the way the sun travels across the sky. That same lack of regard enables a man to back his truck into Barrm Birrm, just off Royal Parade, and dump a load of earth and gravel. That same defiance of an order other than self-interest is what enables another man, and yes I’ll put money on them being men, to drive his 4WD deep into the woodlands and empty the unwanted contents of his garage.

Combine this self-serving individualism with a town planning regime which aspires only to manage the excesses of developers, and we’re really in trouble. Architecture critic Owen Hatherley on Radio National’s Blueprint for Living thinks that what makes the European city different to the Anglo-Saxon ‘unplanned, car-centred, developer-led urban norm’ is a tradition of planning where what is desired and valued is built into the urban fabric, through deliberation with citizens. We colonials have been consulted and consulted on the future of Riddells and the Macedon Ranges, but precious little of the considered opinion of citizens has made it into our town plan or the new Statement of Planning Policy for Macedon Ranges (go to for an infuriating update). 

We think we’re separate, a species apart, while all around the season surges from cold to warmth and on into heat. A kilometre up the bitumen from the Turner block, Barrm Birrm is coming into its springtime shifts. The wattles are blooming and fading in succession, the delicate hardenbergia bursts purple underfoot. 

Soon will come the lilies, and then finally the grasses, their orange heads of seed on a single stalk sprung skywards from a fine shimmer of green.

I’m with Billy Bragg: “The only antidote to cynicism is activism.” Join me Saturday 22 September, 10-12, then again on 20 October at the same time, at the junction of Gap Road and Royal Parade, to clear weed trees in Barrm Birrm. If you’re handy with a 4WD pickup, a chainsaw, a pruning saw or mattock, bring them. You’ll improve your acacia identification skills as we hunt and destroy Cootamundra, Sallow and Ovens Valley Wattles. Along the way, we’ll be surrounded by Barrm Birrm’s springtime show of lilies and orchids, and a kangaroo or three.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,