‘Like a dream’: Environment group cheers bulldozers in bid to improve city creek

Key points

  • Moonee Ponds Creek was concreted between 1940 and 1980 to control flooding and erosion.
  • After decades of campaigning, work has begun to remove tonnes of concrete panelling in a bid to regenerate the creek and restore its ecosystem.
  • The first stage of the $10 million project involves removing 50 metres of concrete, planting 43,000 native plants, creating rock weirs, installing seating, and building a bike and pedestrian path.

It’s not often bulldozers are used to improve natural habitats, but residents in Melbourne’s north say the arrival of heavy earth-moving equipment this week has been “like a dream”.

Workers spent the week breaking up and removing 50 metres of concrete panelling along the sides of the Moonee Ponds Creek in Strathmore, the first step in a decades-old bid to restore the waterway to its original state.

Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek members and councillors Ava Adams, Anna Lanigan, Samantha Byrne and Nina Franceschi.Credit:Justin McManus

Moonee Ponds Creek was concreted between 1940 and 1980 to control flooding and erosion.

This week’s work covered the most northerly concrete section in Oak Park and Strathmore, but Moonee Valley mayor Pierce Tyson said the long-term aspiration was to fix the entire creek.

The rehabilitation of the creek has been the subject of a long-running campaign by residents, who want to restore the waterway’s health, create greener space for community use, and improve biodiversity and habitat for native species.

It’s just one of many creek restoration projects underway in Melbourne, with similar schemes in Werribee, Lewis Park, Melton West, Boronia, Croydon and St Albans.

The Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek community group has been lobbying for the restoration of the creek since the 1980s.

Member Nina Franceschi, who lives next to the creek, said she had grown tired of people referring to the creek as a drain and could hardly believe the restoration work was finally happening.

“I honestly didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime.”

Tyson compared the creek to “the concrete canals of Los Angeles”, and said one community member had likened it to the “Berlin Wall of waterways”.

Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek with the first slab of concrete being removed. Credit:Facebook

The $10 million creek restoration is known as the Chain of Ponds project and is a joint partnership between the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek, Melbourne Water, Merri-bek City Council, Moonee Valley City Council, City West Water and the state government.

Melbourne Water managing director Nerina Di Lorenzo said the first stage of the project – which involves removing 50 metres of concrete, planting 43,000 native plants, creating rock weirs, installing seating, and building a bike and pedestrian path – was set to be completed next year.

Di Lorenzo said flood modelling had been undertaken and there was no increase in flood risk.

RMIT sustainability and urban design expert Professor Sarah Bekessy said the resurfacing of rivers had become popular globally as people realised the value of having nature embedded in cities.

Bulldozers arrive at Moonee Ponds Creek.Credit:Jason South

“Whilst we had these great engineering solutions for trying to eliminate water from cities, they ended up making rivers pretty undesirable places for people,” she said.

“There was a time in our history in Australia when engineers completely ruled the roost – they were trying to minimise flood risk to cities, but they probably did not have the awareness we do now about water-sensitive design.”

Bekessy said modelling could help understand how the concrete could be removed while still limiting flood risk and encouraging wildlife to return to the creek.

“Some things like the macroinvertebrates in the river will arrive quite quickly,” she said. “Things like the sacred kingfisher might arrive back to the site, and things like a platypus might take time. There is no reason why that can’t happen, it just requires careful management and a vision.”

It is hoped the restoration of the creek will lead to the return of the endangered growling grass frog.

Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek member Anna Lanigan said just upstream of the concrete there were sacred kingfishers, Australian reed warblers and endangered growling grass frogs.

“All that wildlife is there ready to come into the creek,” she said. “We hope in little pockets here and there, following the master plan that was created for the repair of this section of the creek, we will eventually end up with a chain of ponds, even if it takes four decades.”

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