By Atholie Harden
Community Rights upheld at Newport Lakes
Newport Lakes is a beautiful and cherished piece of bushland right in the middle of Melbourne’s urban sprawl. The local inhabitants of Newport and surrounds use the lakes extensively for exercise, dog walking, birdwatching and just to rest in a calming environment. This was especially true during the pandemic lockdowns. Our Westside Wilderness Society Group meetings are often brightened with stories of personal experiences in nature, at the park.
How did Newport Lakes come to exist in the middle of such an industrial area? Was it reserved for the public in early planning? No, far from it! This is a story of community desire, will and endurance.
Surprisingly, Newport Lakes was the site of a stone quarry in the 1860s. When the quarry was ‘worked out’ in 1968, the land became a refuse tip. However, it was earmarked by the City of Williamstown to eventually become a public open space. This finally began in the 1980s when the dangerous quarry cliffs were fenced and some landscaping began.
The first Friends Group formed to stop the City of Williamstown from returning the northern lake to a refuse tip. The enthusiastic Friends group and sympathetic counsellors held public meetings and were ultimately able to make a compromise with the council to return only the northern lake to a refuse tip, but to save the rest of the area for a bushland park. Planning and community consultation began in earnest. The community had used their community right to have a say in local planning and land use.
In 1997 the current Friends of Newport Lakes was formed and has become a ‘tour de force’ in urban environmental rehabilitation. However, there was no right way to turn a big hole in the ground into a thriving environment for flora and fauna. The more recent choices in trees and shrubs to plant are more suited to the clay soils and the brackish water, provided from an underground bore, is being improved through council works, by the introduction of naturally filtered stormwater.
The Friends of Newport Lakes identify worthwhile projects to improve the site such as maintaining the park, providing educative possibilities to the community, preserving local history, including first nation’s people’s history, surveying and monitoring wildlife and fauna within the park and, of course, organising fundraisers.
These days, the Hobson’s Bay City Council and the Friends of Newport Lakes work together to improve and maintain this urban oasis in what was an industrial desert. The local community is personally involved in their work by joining in conservation efforts, citizen science, art works surveying wildlife and providing a plethora of new ideas.
I walked through the park recently to enjoy a little time on the seat bequeathed to the park by my friend, Di Wise. The bird sounds and sightings and the smell of eucalypts after rain, lifted my spirits and I felt very grateful to the community, past and present for this special place in nature.
A community in conversation serves to provide better outcomes for nature and humans alike.