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Stories from the south – reclaiming industrial land for urban habitat creation in Melbourne

By 10/01/2019June 4th, 2020No Comments

GSLN LLC Clare heads south over the New Years period, and discovers how an inspiring reclaimed industrial site is now creating much needed habitat in the heart of industrial Melbourne. 

Newport Lakes combines habitat creation with urban amenity, with re-purposed stones forming a bridge across the lake.

Newport and nearby Williamstown are in the heart of Western Melbourne. The traditional lands of the Boonwurrung and Yalukit Wilum people, this former industrial area on the Yarra River is now home to a diverse range of ages and cultures.

The region is undergoing urban renewal, as a younger working-professional generation renovates older working class cottages from the 1920s. Blue stone cottages and cobbled roads remain, a product of the local Newport quarry, whilst original Edwardian weatherboard bungalows and advertising signs for tobacco and household wares still pepper the main street. Relics from the local mining, railway and manufacturing industries, close to Melbourne dockyards can still be found in the modern-day industrial precinct and heritage railway yards.

The old bluestone mining site, now a freshwater lake for fish, turtles, frogs and waterbirds.

Mines supported construction and urban expansion, and the area was turned into an industrial tip once the bluestone dried up. This history of degradation and urban expansion, and utter annihilation of bushland and traditional lands of the Boonwurrung and Yalukit Wilum is paralleled here in Sydney, as ‘development’ swallowed up bush, swamp, wetland habitat and sacred sites.

Then in the 1980s, the community and council joined to transform this incredibly degraded landscape into a habitat-creating park. Refuse and mining equipment was removed, banks stabilized and the former mining pit filled with water. Re-plantings on the bank, restoration of remnant vegetation and a community group – Friends of Newport Lakes – created to help support this renewal process. Interpretive signage and trail mosaics acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, and the flora and fauna now returning to this urban oasis.

Heavy machinery and railway manufacturing sustained this industrial suburb on the banks of the Yarra River.

Now, the region is an inspiring urban refuge for both locals and wildlife alike. Fish, turtles and frogs have reclaimed the area, whilst a diverse range of predatory, waterbirds, finches and wrens flock to this urban haven. Even reptiles, micro-bats and marsupial mice have been recorded alongside threatened vegetation plantings in this structurally diverse landscape. Mosaic artwork trail makers, public seating and secluded benches add public amenity to this tranquil and peaceful space. Runners, bird watches and families regularly use the park, whilst the local Bushcare group have planted numerous trees, conducted extensive weed removal work and constructed bird hides alongside the larger lakes. An arboretum showcases local and national plants including our Cumberland Plain and Sydney native, the Kurrajong, whilst feeder lakes use bore water to compliment and cleanse storm water flows before water flows to the larger lake.

Bushland plantings and re-vegetation across the eastern side of the lakes reserve.

The park is not without challenges. Like our own Sydney Olympic Park, local domestic and feral cats and dogs still wander the reserve, and carp and mosquito fish are a persistent problem. Staged weeds removal is an ongoing challenge, as is the general public stumbling across wildlife including snakes and using the reserve in more high-impact ways such as fishing, swimming or creating new paths.

And yet this haven – bringing together community volunteering into an urban refuge – is one of the few, and one of the largest natural habitat spaces in Melbourne.

Newport Lakes Reserve is located 10kms south-west of Melbourne CBD, accessible on foot via Newport Station on the Werribee line. It is a highly recommended day trip when combined with the Jawbone Nature Conservation Reserve (migratory shorebird habitat) and Altona Coastal Park. You can find more about the Friends of Newport Lakes here, and the lakes over at Hobsons Bay Council here

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