Who knew that so much could be revealed about a short section of the Merri Creek in Fawkner and Reservoir?
On a fine Sunday morning in September, Michael Longmore, Ecological Restoration Manager, Merri Creek Management Committee, and Anne Frost, Friends of Merri Creek Committee member and Convenor of the Wednesday Volunteers, led a journey of discovery along the Merri Trail.
We started at the Lorne Street parklands in Fawkner, crossed over to the Reservoir side of the Creek and ended up at the Leonard Street grasslands back in Fawkner.
We began by recognising that the Merri Creek and surrounding lands have been cared for by the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung people of the Kulin Nation for thousands of years. Sadly, industrialization following colonisation led over time to the ongoing degradation and pollution of the creek. Then, there was the threat of a freeway.
All was not lost. We learned about the proud history of community activism, with Friends of Merri Creek (FoMC) and the Merri Creek Management Committee (MCMC) being key players, that has transformed the creek from an industrial drain back into a much-loved haven for people and wildlife.
In fact, the reason for all the open land remaining along the Creek valley in Fawkner was the freeway reservation which extended down to Clifton Hill. Opposition to the freeway was one of the earliest community campaigns.
One of several victories we heard about was how land off McBryde Street was saved by a campaign to keep the vacant VicRoads land purchased for the freeway as public open space. VicRoads wanted to sell 1.7 hectares of open land beside Merri Creek in Fawkner. They did a land swap deal with Moreland Council in 2015. This would have allowed townhouse development, with only a narrow open space corridor on the Creek frontage. There was strong opposition from the Fawkner Residents Association, FoMC, MCMC and the wider community. A concept plan on how the site could be developed as parkland was prepared as part of the campaign. Eventually, the former Moreland Council bought the land from VicRoads in 2018. Following community consultation in 2022-23, Merri-bek Council released the Fawkner Merri Parklands Plan.
Michael explained MCMC’s role in creek corridor restoration, education and advocacy through its unique model of collaboration between local government and the community. He uncovered the fascinating story of the trial and error involved in selecting, propagating and improving the genetics of indigenous plants used to restore bushland. There was more: the development of seed production sites, the discovery of the endangered matted flax lily along the Merri; and how precious remnant grassland habitats have been identified and protected.
Opportunities for community involvement in caring for the Merri were highlighted as the group inspected sites where the Merri Creek Wednesday Volunteers have worked. The Merri Creek Wednesday Volunteers initiative is based on a partnership between FoMC and MCMC. The MCMC Ecological Restoration Team chooses the worksites and provides valuable education and instruction at each event.
We stopped at the Hare Street Revegetation Beds, where earlier this year, Wednesday Volunteers undertook pruning and flood remediation activities. This part of the Merri Creek corridor contains many mature indigenous shrub and ground storey plantings extending down along the banks. Revegetated areas like Hare Street help reduce the impacts of urbanisation on the creek. After heavy rain events and flooding in October 2022, the area has been overrun by wandering trad, a highly invasive weed in urban creeks and waterways.
With several newly installed seats along our route, we were also able to appreciate the outcome of the Merri Seats project. FoMC joined forces with other community groups to submit this successful proposal under the Merri-bek Council’s 2022/23 Community Budget Idea Program. $87,500 was allocated for 25 seats.
One participant reflected: “My biggest learning was about the river bottlebrush that are bendy and adapted to high flows. I studied Wimmera bottlebrush in the rivers of the Grampians that are the opposite: they are tall and brittle.” Others noted the sheer luck of grassland habitat being protected by a single council-employed mower-operator, who recognised a patch of kangaroo grass and adapted his mowing schedule to protect it.
Thanks to Michael and Anne for their insights and to all the participants, who brought their keen interest in the Merri and their own stories to share. With so many opportunities to highlight the work of FoMC and MCMC, we couldn’t include everything! There are many more stories to tell. Let us know if you’d be interested in attending similar tours in the future.
Images: Claire Weekley