Meet me down by the Creek
29th October 2023
By Jonas Nutter
Jonas Nutter, a graduate of architecture, writes and draws on his explorations in the fields of restorative architecture and deep ecology.
The Merri Creek is a rich ecological corridor that spans nearly 70 kilometres, weaving through some of the oldest corners of Melbourne from northern Wallan to join the Yarra River in Abbotsford. Despite its flourishing flora and fauna, the creek network hasn't always been in a state of natural abundance. Unfortunately, it is still at risk. The Merri Creek thunders beneath railway bridge, echoes through tunnel and sewer, pools through industrial remnants and finally slips, gushing, gurgling, gliding, into sight. The tale of this pooling estuary is one of resilience and renewal and is yet to conclude.
The earth plays host to an incomprehensible accumulation of dialects, ecosystems and cultural practices, existing as the backdrop to an insurmountable plethora of myth and memory. There lies, however, a discouraging disconnect in the descriptive value of this fraught and stolen land. True to the exhibition of the Australiana character, the scrub, bush and bark of our unique landscape has been captured throughout history by many a daubed canvas and lyrical holla. Even to this present instance in time, the common familiarity of the Australian landscape has been celebrated by the calls of Paterson's “Billabong” and “Coolabah tree”, through the visceral strokes of Tom Roberts and the melting scenes of Margaret Olley. This romantic taunt of poetic prose is no longer the scene we occupy.
Golden Sun moth, Synemon plana; Grevillea rosmarinifolia; Pied Currawong, Strepera graculina
The way in which we value land has historically been a conflicted gesture: riddled with economic bias and trite with segregated plot and parcel. The earliest of colonies, unceded and unreconciled, were conquered, settled, and sailed by virtue of geographical convenience and industrious expansion. Port towns were nurtured by the gifts brought by water, by the virtues delivered through estuary, creek and canal, while farm forts grew upon the abundance of land, crop and livestock. The landscape, in all its natural glory and ecological fluidity, is simultaneously the catalyst for life and the provocateur of geographical socio-cultural resistance. It grants an opportunity for the sanguine prosperity of inclusive existence but is yielded as a weapon for segregation and isolating territorialism. This is a confronting condition that is becoming increasingly apparent during the present cost of living crisis. To fight against this division, we must simply share. Is it objectively possible to formulate and digest any furtive resemblance of a 'common ground'? The nature of this question propagates the recursive influence of reflecting, or reflection. What and how do we practise within a 'common ground’? What is driven by organic response and essential action?
The same sagacious rigour that settled cities directed the formation of our sprawling suburbs and their essential utility, the town squares, high streets, strip malls and common spaces. The curation of the suburbs and consequential expanse of sprawling lots were dissected into grids of accessible virtue, each with considered adjacencies of residential zoning, commercial strips and industrial sectors. As the seams of bordering suburbs brush against one another, a delicate condition evolves. The condition of suburban incursion arises as two or more territories meet upon a geological plot of undesirable yield. The arterial roadways, shopping centres and forgotten strip malls create instances of suburban incursion, where the hierarchy of ownership is unclear. The instance in which a geographical interruption occurs within this delicate weave, akin to the Merri Creek, a fault line or border is drawn as a scar upon the taut suburban grid.
Merri Creek Bridge, High Street Northcote; View, Merri Parklands; Merri Creek Bridge, St Georges Road, Northcote
Merri Creek is one of these such incursions, an expansive territory that abridges boundaries from the north to its southern confluence with the Yarra. Its temporal nature and volatile mass once confirmed it as the undesirable backyard to the burbs on which it encroaches, dissected only by the hubris of utilitarian services. The Merri Creek was left as a confused common ground, abandoned as a utility fraught wasteland, pooling with the spills and spoils of industry, while its rich and unique ecological condition went unnoticed and undervalued.
Erupting from the ashes of life indoors, an unfortunate condition of the recent pandemic, is the resurgence and reawakened colloquial value of shared common areas, in particular outdoor space. No longer tethered to a time-defined radius or capacity cap, recreational parklands, waterways and bushlands are teaming with new life. Socio-cultural yearnings have turned full cycle and the metaphorical suburban high street has been re-oriented towards the forgotten rear borders of wild and mistreated landscape. Without sole ownership, occupant or investment, the Merri Creek has once again begun to flourish as a rich and diverse ecological corridor. It is now, more than ever, that the spaces we consider to be of common value must be preserved and cared for as a means of nurturing socio-environmental resilience. We must care for one another, we must care for country.
Creek High Street
Images: Jonas Nutter