Friends of Merri Creek

History of Creek Activism

The engineering vision

In 1976, the Merri valley was neglected and abandoned. Government engineering agencies planned to concrete line the creek, build a new overhead power line and construct a freeway from Craigieburn to Clifton Hill. It was to become a concrete eyesore modeled on the Tullamarine Freeway along the Moonee Ponds Creek.

The community vision

In 1976, community groups and the 8 Municipal Councils that adjoined the Merri Creek (including Whittlesea Council) adopted the following aims and objectives (summarised) when they founded the Merri Creek Coordinating Committee (MCCC):

  • Preserve the natural asset of the Merri and Edgars Creek catchment for community benefit
  • Regenerate indigenous vegetation and restore the landscape
  • Provide for passive and active recreation
  • Establish habitats for native fauna
  • Encourage public interest and participation
  • Implement environmentally appropriate flood control measures
  • Have the Merri corridor registered on the National Estate

These objectives with a few minor amendments were also adopted by the MCMC in 1989 and have been reinforced and expanded in the Merri Creek Concept Plan (early 1990s) and subsequent Planning documents.

Critical Points From Vision

1. The catchment is the focus
The MCCC and the MCMC were focussed on the entire catchment of the Merri Creek. These bodies were not called the Lower Merri Creek … or the Mid Merri Creek … In 1989, attempts were made to narrow the focus of the MCMC to just the metropolitan area, but this was soundly beaten.

2. Vegetation is central to the vision
The objectives to restore the Merri Creek valley and to revegetate the area have never been challenged. As the community began this task it became clear that little was known in the professional/technical sector about this issue (ie Council Horticultural Departments and Engineering Departments). As a consequence the MCCC wrote and published, in 1980, one of the first Local Guides to Planting native vegetation in Victoria. In 1984, this guide was used as a model on how to go about writing a local planting guide at a workshop on Restoring Local Vegetation (organised by the Roadsides Conservation Committee) at La Trobe University. In the 1980 Planting Guide to the Merri Creek, grasslands and native grasses were specifically discussed.

3. Heritage value was acknowledged in 1976
The community knew that the Merri Creek valley contained very important items of heritage for the Victorian community. Aboriginal heritage, natural heritage and cultural heritage. The various committees have since proceeded to obtain professional advice and to document these matters. In 1985, the MCCC successfully lobbied to have the first archaeological investigation conducted.

4. Partnership with government
The MCCC and the MCMC have been structured and operate in a partnership between the community and government. During the period of MCCC any deputation to State and Commonwealth Government usually consisted of representatives of community groups, Local Government Councilors and Local Government Officers. Funds for large activities were managed for the MCCC by a Local Government. For example, in a deputation to the 150th Anniversary Committee for Victoria a community representative accompanied a City Engineer in presenting the submission. Subsequently the funds were managed for the MCCC by another Municipality. In another deputation to the then Victorian Minister for Planning, Hon E. Walker, to seek Bicentennial Funds for the Merri Creek restoration, a community representative was accompanied by a Councilor and the City Planner from a different Council.

It is important to understand that these activities and the substantial investment in our activities by the Victorian and Commonwealth Government have meant a much larger ownership of our vision. The Vision has been shared by more than a "small group of activists in some inner city ghetto" as portrayed by some. Our Vision has been shared by Ministers and officials in Spring St and in Canberra and they have invested in this vision.

Two Important Activities in the Valley

1. Merri Pathway and access to recreation

Recreation provision has been a priority to the MCCC and MCMC. It has been known by the Victorian Government since the 1960s, that the Northern Region of Melbourne has a very low provision of open space per head of population. In fact the areas of Fitzroy, west Northcote, Brunswick and Coburg formed one of the worst areas of Melbourne. However nothing was being done to overcome this situation by people in Government. We acted.

The concept to design, build and improve the Merri Pathway was developed at MCCC Sub-committee meetings held in the homes of MCCC delegates in the northern suburbs during the early 1980s. The proposal was formally put on paper by consultants following funding from the Department of Youth Sport and Recreation in the 1982 Year of the Disabled.

The vision was to provide a path for all in the community including disabled, parents with prams, aged, bikes etc. This meant no steps and several Council engineers had to be "pulled into line" when they wanted to put steps in more difficult places. Thank goodness for that, as how would roller bladers manage, a sport not thought of in 1982?

Aspects of the Pathway were impeded by land ownership issues and these had to be overcome. The pathway provided a link to the areas of recreation and now-a-days using the pathway is a form of recreation. The path provides access to flowing water, quiet places far away from the noise and pollution of busy streets, to wild life and the wonderful relaxed forms of Australian vegetation, and vistas of surrounding areas.

The Vision has always been to extend the path network to Craigieburn. A freeway would destroy a major benefit of such a recreation Vision. Noise, smells and pollution are not desirable.

2. Litter control in the Merri Creek catchment

By 1985 the problem of litter pollution of the Merri Creek was very apparent. Some members of the MCCC described the litter in the waterway as the "Merri Creek Christmas tree". This litter pollution happened quite quickly. Plastic bags were replacing paper bags in the super markets. Aluminium cans and plastic bottles had replaced glass bottles and steel cans. National "fast food" outlets were replacing local food shops.

Following concern from community members of the MCCC, during 1985 the MCCC became the first organisation in Australia to propose a study of litter in a suburban Creek. We worked closely with the EPA and the City of Coburg and later Melbourne Water joined the work. Since that time, Melbourne Water have been strong promoters of reducing litter. We can justly claim to have been instrumental in altering public policy in this area and in stimulating litter clean ups Australia wide.

One activity that I am very proud to have been associated with was the employment of staff at the MCMC using Federal Government Job Skills Funds. One project focussed on litter reduction and included staff from language other than English backgrounds (Italian and Arabic). Their tasks included working with shop-keepers in Sydney Road and Preston Market in reducing waste going down the drainage system into the Creek. Community languages were printed onto shopping bags and given to shoppers at collaborating businesses. Shop-keepers were trained into recycling and facilitated to recycle literally mountains of packaging material. Staff have since been employed in local councils to continue this type of work.

The MCMC worked with councils to implement the first experiments and later fitted new models of litter traps to collect rubbish before it polluted the creek. Litter control work has involved many people in the catchment, small businesses, newer communities, schools and teachers. Litter control is a catchment wide activity. There is no-way anyone will convince me that building a freeway adjacent to the Merri Creek will help the creek. A freeway will in fact be a massive form of pollution both in terms of litter and chemical pollutants.

 

Compiled By Bruce McGregor, a life member of FoMC



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