Darebin Parklands & Creek History

Sacred Beginnings

The Wurundjeri clan of the Woi Wurrung people have lived on and cared for this land for tens of thousands of years. Part of the East Kulin language area, which covers most of Central Victoria, this Country provided the Woi Wurrung people with shelter, medicine and food. Prior to colonisation, you would have seen rich grassland and woodlands plentiful with bush foods such as native tubers and grass seed. Kangaroos, emus, wallabies, possums and bandicoots provided sources of meat, bone for tools and fur and skin for clothing. The rocky pools along the creek would have been teeming with Short-Finned Eel, fish and Long-Necked Turtle as well as stems of Kumbungi and Water Ribbons providing stable food sources.

Today, many traditional and sacred sites have been lost but oral history and culture have survived as have many freshwater shell middens, petroglyphs, scar-trees, sacred trees, stone artefact scatters and burial sites along the Darebin and Merri Creeks and the Birrarung (Yarra River). Oral histories from descendants of the Wurundjeri depict stories of the area with a great diversity in fauna and prolific farming, hunting and gathering. Historical papers and diary entries from European settlers paint a similarly rich picture with Aboriginal inhabitants seasonally visiting swamps for eel fishing, grasslands for harvesting grass seed, tending to Murrnong patches or gathering with other tribes for ceremonial and trade occasions.

European Colonisation

In 1837, the area was investigated by Government surveyor, Robert Hoddle. He declared the land east of the Darebin Creek, Keelbundoora, and to the west, Jika Jika – both are based on unverified Woi-wurrung names. European colonisers started arriving around 1838 and used the land for dairy farming, grazing and market gardens. Mulberry, Olive, Almond and Quince trees planted around this time are still present in the park today.

With this settlement came the shattering of the ancient traditional culture of the land’s Aboriginal inhabitants. A historic treaty in 1835, set up by John Batman, describes ‘buying’ the land from the Wurundjeri for some food and a few blankets. Well known Wurundjeri Elder, William Barak, recounts this deal as a gross misunderstanding, with elders believing that the deal was to access their land only temporarily. Over a period of 30 years, disease, dislodgement from traditional land, conflicts over access to land and livestock, and alcohol use, dramatically reduced the Aboriginal population. By 1860, most of the surviving Woi-wurrung had been moved away to mission stations throughout Victoria.

Despite dislodgement from traditional land due to European settlement, Aboriginal connection to this land continues today. The Wurundjeri people maintain the rights to their remaining sacred places and are once again recognised as the custodians of the Birrarung (Yarra River). Local land managers rely on their services for cultural consultation, fire management, archaeological site understanding and ecological knowledge – working collaboratively to preserve the park for generations to come. The Spiritual Healing Trail at Darebin Parklands is a gift from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as a gesture of reconciliation. DCMC are proud to work with the Wurundjeri Council to protect Country and ensure that culture is strengthened and celebrated into the future.

Quarrying and the Alphington Tip

On the Alphington side of the creek, quarrying of basalt began in 1890 and continued until 1965. Once quarrying ceased the site became Alphington Tip, quickly filling the once deep hole with garbage from residents and local enterprises. While the tip was operational, the surrounding land was used for horse agistment and became weed infested and degraded.

In 1924, the Ivanhoe side of the creek was to be purchased as the site of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School but the depression and major flooding put a halt to that. The site known as Rockbeare Park was subsequently purchased by Heidelberg Shire and its natural rugged wilderness was used by locals, scout groups, leech collectors and picnickers. Eventually Rockbeare Park became neglected and overrun with weeds.

The tip closed in 1975 and neighbouring residents lobbied local, state and federal governments to acquire the land for a public park. After a visit from Victorian Premier, Sir Rupert Hamer, it was agreed that a dollar-for-dollar contribution from the State with Northcote Council would allow the purchase of the land for a public park. From that point on, significant restoration and revegetation works have been undertaken by volunteers and park rangers.

Reconciliation and Rejuvenation

Despite dislodgement from traditional land due to European settlement, Aboriginal connection to this land continues today. The Wurundjeri people maintain the rights to their remaining sacred places and are once again recognised as the custodians of the Birrarung (Yarra River). Local land managers rely on their services for cultural consultation, fire management, archaeological site understanding and ecological knowledge – working collaboratively to preserve the park for generations to come. The Spiritual Healing Trail at Darebin Parklands is a gift from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as a gesture of reconciliation.

Development of Darebin Creek Park

In 1973 a small group of citizens undertook first steps in a scheme to preserve and rehabilitate twenty-six hectares of land lying across the boundary between the Melbourne suburbs of Alphington and Ivanhoe, administered by local councils of the City of Northcote and the City of Heidelberg, respectively. The area concerned contained a small public park, a municipal tip, a stretch of industrially-zoned land and a flood plain.

Forming themselves into the Rockbeare Park Conservation Group, those involved embarked on a program of action to draw public attention to the project and to enlist the assistance that would become necessary at various steps in the overall plan for the parklands.

The scheme, which had the support of both councils and envisaged as an immediate objective the retrieval of the entire area to public ownership, and over following years the City of Northcote purchased the Alphington section lying within the boundaries, with assistance from State and Federal Government funds. Negotiations were continued for acquisition of the rest.

Concurrent with these considerations, a start was made on photographing and recording the area. Plans were formulated for weed eradication and for planting, which in turn required enlistment of volunteer labour and arrangement for its efficient direction if the work was to proceed without delay.

A major problem was the spread of noxious weeds which included blackberry, boxthorn, artichoke thistle and boneseed, among a list of more than twenty different varieties of noxious weeds recorded. Following on-site inspections by experts, experimental areas were established and an eradication program formulated. Prior to 1977, no funds were available and all work was done by hand with borrowed tools until Heidelberg Council supplied suitable equipment. The hand eradication program was achieved largely through the work of staff and boys of the Ivanhoe Grammar School. The school maintained a practice of providing groups of up to sixteen boys under the supervision of two teachers to work in the park each week, as a Community Service Project. It has been due to these efforts that boneseed has virtually disappeared from the area.

Today, due in large part to the efforts of the Darebin Parklands Association and the local community, the parklands are an established and much loved natural public space. They are visited by an estimated x people per day for passive recreation, dog walking, cycling and outdoor exercise. The Parklands are an urban biodiversity hotspot, supporting populations of x species of plants and x species of animals including Crimson Rosellas, Powerful Owls and native wildflowers including Matted Flax Lilly. Darebin Parklands provide a shining example of the potential for environmental and community regeneration and a template for the restoration of the whole of Darebin Creek.

For further information on the DPA and their activities, visit:

www.dpa.org.au

The above history excerpt was written in 1980 and has been reproduced, with permission of the author, Sue Course and the Darebin Parklands Association.