Fourth Hill. Part 6

and still the river flows ever onward
washing away the forests tears
and it’s struggle to make us love it
so it can love us in return

From its source in the Yarra Ranges, the Yarra River flows for 242 kilometres, snaking its way to Melbourne where it empties into Hobsons Bay at Port Phillip. At Warrandyte, thirty-five kilometres from the city, the river is fed by local creeks such as Andersons Creek and meanders through steeply undulating hills and under the Warrandyte bridge as it makes its way through the Warrandyte Gorge.

Early settlers experienced a number of massive floods in 1844, 1849, and one in 1863 that wiped out the bridge. Water would inundate the township’s main street and halt sluicing activity, forcing the miners to wait for waters to recede to resume their work.

The new bridge, contracted in 1875, was submerged by floods again in 1934. The Argus newspaper reported that a house, a haystack, a dead horse attached to a buggy, and a shed swept over the bridge in the turbulent flow. The flood prevented anyone without a boat from crossing the river until the waters subsided. It was not until the Upper Yarra Dam was built between 1947 and 1957 to create a water supply and reduce the rivers flow that massive floods like this ceased.

Warrandyte sits within Melbourne’s green wedge where the confluence of nature and society exist at the urban fringe.

Warrandyte State Park was established in 1975. The park is the result of conservation and recreational groups banding together in opposition to a proposal to develop Black Flat crown land into a country club with golf course, bowling green and swimming pool on the banks of the river.

The 680 hectares that make up the state park form an important habitat corridor that protects about 485 flora species, 202 fauna species and historical cultural values, the signs of which can be seen in scars that remain on the landscape. Over the years additional tracts of land have been added to the parks to safeguard them from development, including Scotchman’s Hill, the parcel of land over my back fence that was converted to state park in 1997.

Outer urban bushland is a contested space that radiates both beauty and fear as only an Australian bush landscape can. Issues of sustainability, and the tensions that exist between environmental, economic and social demands have competed for power, influence and control for almost two hundred years.

Some residents create safe places for wildlife and proudly display Land for Wildlife signs on their gates, whilst others strip their properties of trees out of fear of bushfires or because they wish to build large dwellings. Local councils and State Parks try to balance the desire to preserve environmental values of the area with the demands of residents to protect them in the hottest months.

Only about 30% of Victoria’s indigenous vegetation remains. Warrandyte holds an important part of the state’s remnant vegetation and is part of the green wedge that makes up the city’s lungs. Still, the State Government intermittently turns it’s eyes toward us to consider opportunities for development and roads. For now Warrandyte’s bushland is protected by the limitations on development and the ever-present vigilance of strong local action groups with a mandate to preserve the natural values and heritage of the area.

At only a stone’s throw from the city, the strength and health of the land reflects the strength and health of Melbourne itself. Despite being protected from human structural development, the signs of decline are evident in the forests. The introduction of weeds by careless gardeners, the loss of fragile fauna and flora species from introduced pests such as deer and domestic cats are evident, and the effects of a changing climate on biodiversity creep into the landscape. The changes occurs at such a slow pace that you might not notice if you weren’t paying close attention.

Unless we embrace a greater respect for the environment as a source for our livelihood, health and sustenance, and understand that we belong to it more than it belongs to us, we will rob future generations of places that can nourish and sustain them. That would be a great tragedy.

The spirit of Bunjil lives in the trees, the rocks, the streams, and the wildlife that hold reminders of our histories and the power of nature to recover from our failings. I am confident that nature will prevail in the long run. We need to decide whether it will be with or without us.

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