A group of enthusiastic Banyule residents met last month to contribute ideas and information that will chronicle one of Banyule’s most valuable environmental assets – the Banyule Flats Virtual Tour, which is designed to increase interest and awareness about this much-loved part of the city.
When proposed plans for the $6 billion North East Link freeway project were made public in 2008, the residents of Banyule realised with alarm that the unique features of the area’s parklands were under threat. Local residents joined forces to form Friends of Banyule and together with Warringal Conservation Society, Protectors of Public Lands and other groups, have been actively campaigning against the proposed freeway ever since by looking for ways to increase public awareness of the area and ways to preserve this significant area of natural open space.
The idea for the Virtual Tour was the brainchild of Friends of Banyule and the project has received a Grant from Banyule City Council. The Virtual Tour will be hosted on Friends of Banyule’s website and will take visitors back in time with stories of aboriginal life and the beginnings of European settlement. It will also pay tribute to the artists who came to Heidelberg and who captured so many local scenes giving birth to Australian Impressionism (internationally known as The Heidelberg School).
The Virtual Tour will showcase the amazing diversity of flora and fauna of the Banyule Flats Wetlands, Warringal Parklands and Bolin Bolin Billabong along with the many activities that Melburnians enjoy throughout these beautiful parklands. The tour will also illustrate how residents and visitors are inspired by this urban oasis artistically, emotionally and spiritually.
For the many thousands of people who use the parklands for cycling, sports activities, picnics, wedding and family gatherings there is no doubting the richness of this unique asset in the heart of the city. Banyule Flats and Warringal Swamplands are lowland riverine flood plains that are among the most threatened landscapes in Victoria. Banyule Swamp is the most intact and biologically significant shallow freshwater marsh in the Lower Yarra. Both are key wetland areas in maintaining the viability of populations of water birds and wetland ecosystems in the Lower Yarra. They contain a number of rare, vulnerable and threatened fauna, 23 species of water birds, 125 species of native birds, 11 species of native mammals and four bat species (NEROC, 1997).
Ecologically the parklands are a success story. With deliberate re-vegetation of native plants starting over forty years ago, we regularly see native fauna such as wombats, koala, platypus and kangaroos. Groups of school children often visit the parklands to learn more about caring for their environment and the many creatures who share these spaces with us. To those who truly appreciate our open spaces, a Freeway through these parklands would be unthinkable.
The Virtual Tour project will become significant to Melburnians and help them understand that the this 80ha area is an extremely valuable environmental asset as well as being important for people’s mental and physical health. It needs to be protected. A recent article in The Age quoted VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper saying that “communities with access to green open space had a better quality of life, improved physical and mental health, and lower mortality rates. He said such space was particularly important for young children.” (The Age, 2010) It’s not just a matter of protecting green open space but enhancing what we’ve got so that it attracts people and is better used, whether that be with lighting, paths or play equipment,” Mr Harper said.
Friends of Banyule want to involve the community, to share their stories, how they use the parklands and to provide an educational aspect for children visiting the area. We also want to make the area accessible to people with disabilities who may not be able to physically access the parklands. The Banyule Flats Virtual Tour will provide a digital environment for them to experience this unique area. We envisage to continue to add to the information we will initially provide on our website, through evolving the Virtual Tour and enabling local people and visitors to contact us with information and their personal stories about one of last remaining ‘green wedge’ areas in Melbourne’s North East.
The Banyule Flats Virtual tour will be released later this year.
NEROC Report, 1997