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    CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST: FRIENDS OF KOROROIT CREEK

    Date:

    By Elizabeth Minter

    Over decades, the Friends of Kororoit Creek (FOKC) have spent thousands of hours, mulching, digging and planting native grasses and wildflower seedlings, weeding to remove invasive species and, of course, constantly picking up rubbish. It’s often tough physical labour, occasionally requiring heavy machinery. 

    But the before and after pictures say it all. The area is simply unrecognisable. A once unloved, unkempt, overgrown industrial wasteland in the 1990s has been transformed into a haven of peace and beauty, an oasis of indigenous wildflowers, native grasses, shrubs and trees that attracts a variety of wildlife, including birds, lizards, frogs, turtles and insects.

    Gone are the weeds and the boring landscape. In their place grow such native grasses as kangaroo grass, silky blue grass and tussock grasses; and native wildflowers including blue devils, vanilla and chocolate lilies, tufted bluebells, basalt daisies and iconic billy buttons. In the past six years alone, FOKC has planted 71,000 plants. 

    Week in, week out, come rain or shine, Jessica Gerger, the Friends’ president, and a dedicated team of volunteers can be found down by the creek, weeding and planting, watering and mulching during their twice-weekly, two-hour working bees. 

    Among the transformations introduced under Jessica’s seven-year stewardship of FOKC are the Lizard Lounge, the Bug Rug, the Stepping Stones, B Street Wildflower Garden, Legenda’s Garden – named after the long-standing past president Linda Roberts – and Annie’s Garden. One of the older sites, it is named after volunteer Anne Beevers.

    The pandemic exposed what was obvious to so many in Melbourne’s west – the dearth of green open spaces, especially when compared to Melbourne’s leafy east.

     “If you look at drone footage of the creek, it is a disturbingly thin green corridor, a precious sliver of land,” says Jessica.

    The Bug Rug – Before and After

    The Kororoit Creek catchment area was a haven for residents bound by the lockdowns’ five-kilometre travel rule. The benefits of spending time in nature are well-documented. It reduces stress levels, builds confidence and concentration, improves social skills and problem solving in children.

    Playing in nature also promotes creativity and imagination, which is why the nature play area the Bug Rug has been a huge hit. It is designed so children can have a safe experience in the wild. There’s no slides or swings to prescribe activities. Instead, there’s rocks and logs to navigate, winding paths to wander, and sticks and pebbles to use creatively. 

    Local schools have become involved in creek work and some have adopted a patch to maintain, which also teaches children responsibility. “The children learn what happens if they forget to water a plant, or they pull a flower out by its roots,” explains Jessica. 

    Many children have never touched dirt before coming to the creek, let alone planted a tree. “They have such a good time they don’t want to leave and are excited to come back.” 

    Members of FOKC feel a huge responsibility because they are trying to recreate some of the vegetation that existed thousands of years ago. 

    It means planting correct species that have the right provenance, and because the work is out in the public eye it, needs to be looked after properly: “It sometimes keeps me awake at night!” says Jessica.

    There is always a lot to learn, she says. For example, many trees were planted over the years. Although they provide welcome shade in the summer months and much-needed habitat, the research is now showing that the creek shouldn’t be too shaded. The frogs, for example, need sunlight hitting the water.

    The area surrounding the creek was also an open grassy plain, with the occasional tree, which makes the Friends’ work a little more complex. “Grasses and wildflowers are easily smothered by weeds, so when they are planted they need constant care until they are established, and then regular maintenance.”  

    The connection with Aboriginal heritage and cultures is a key focus of FOKC. A recent project, the Walan-walan rock carving circle, was created by Aboriginal artist Fiona Clarke and her husband and artistic partner Ken McKean. Walan-walan means circle or round in Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung language and with its glow-in-the-dark carvings of animals of significance of the year-long cycle provides a meeting place of substance.

    While the projects centre around the Sunshine/Albion area, that’s because that’s where most of the volunteers live, so they are keen to recruit more Friends who live around Ardeer and Deer Park.

    Annie’s Garden – Before and After

    The Friends’ next project is to build a wetland area on the creek to help with flood mitigation, carbon capture, bio-diversity and water cleaning. The FOKC is lobbying stakeholders for funding.

    And if anyone needs an idea for a present, the ‘Down the Creek’ memory card game showcases the best of the area through the eyes of local artists and children.

    To keep on top of the extensive administrative work behind FOKC – applying for grants; keeping the website up to date; organising community events; liaising with schools and more – Jessica spends at a minimum 40 hours a week, well-supported by the FOKC team. 

    She says their work is also made possible through the support of sponsors and partners, including Melbourne Water, Brimbank City Council, Ford Motor Company Fund, Greater Western Water, Manheim/Cox Automotive, Landcare, Orica, Kororoit Creek Neighbourhood House, Fifteen Trees, Bunnings Sunshine, Jacquie Sheils and family, the Sunshine Business Association. 

    Visit Friends of Kororoit Creek (fokc.org.au); and search YouTube for ‘The Friends of Kororoit Creek – Another Wonderful Year (2022)’

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.

    CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST
    CHAMPIONS OF THE WESThttp://danielmulinomp.com

    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email daniel.mulino.mp@aph.gov.au

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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