Friends of Westgate Park has transformed the area over the past 15 years, from a run-down neglected park to the biodiverse habitat it is today.
Westgate Park is on the eastern banks of the Yarra River, around and under Westgate Bridge and is in close proximity to the City of Melbourne. The 40 hectare park offers spectacular views to the mouth of the Yarra and the city skyline and opportunities to walk or cycle along the Yarra River or the Port Melbourne foreshore.
The group has achieved the transformation of the park in four key ways.
Transformed the Park from a weedy wasteland to a biodiverse gem. When they started the park consisted of several garden beds planted out with very few species of native plants (mainly from WA) and weedy ‘lawn’ areas (rarely mowed).
Today it features over 300 species of indigenous plants of the Sandbelt and other nearby regions set out in nine different plant communities from red gum woodland, heaths, grass lands to coast banksia woodlands. In addition to the lakes and dams created when the park was built, we have developed additional small wetlands. The way the group has set out the planting and the wetlands creates a feeling of being in the bush as you walk through the park.
Lobbying for additional land to be added to the park. They have successfully lobbied for an additional 8.7 hectares of unused land adjacent to the park to be incorporated. Unfortunately we also lost some land to the Webb Dock development making a net gain of 7.8 hectares. In an era when loss of public open space is often the norm, Friends of Westgate Park is particularly proud of this achievement.
Forming successful partnerships and capacity building. Their success has relied on significant partnerships formed with numerous organisations. These include: federal departments of environment and energy; employment and infrastructure and regional development; state departments and agencies such as DELWP; Port of Melbourne Corporation; Parks Victoria and the Fishermans Bend taskforce; the Cities of Melbourne & Port Phillip; Port Phillip EcoCentre; Landcare Australia; St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Cooperative; Conservation Volunteers Australia; Greening Australia and other Friends groups; Sacred Heart (Outlandish Program) and companies such as Holden, Telstra, ANZ, NAB, Victorian International Container Terminals and Melbourne International Roll on Roll off Auto Terminal.
They hosted a well-attended urban biodiversity forum in 2013 and partnered with the City of Melbourne and Museum Victoria for the Bioblitz in 2014 and 2016. The group conducts monthly bird surveys and WaterWatch.
Over the past six years, the Port of Melbourne has been developing Webb Dock, adjacent to the park. Friends of Westgate Park worked very closely with the Port to ensure good outcomes for the park through assisting them with their plant lists for planting within the Port (to complement Westgate Park’s vegetation), and supporting their plans for a landscape connection between the Yarra River and the Port Melbourne foreshore. Most importantly, FoWP negotiated the transfer of additional land along the Yarra River from the Port to the park.
The group also works closely with neighbouring businesses including Holden who provide us with a vehicle on permanent loan.
Friends of Westgate Park have proved that its own people are its best asset. The group relies very much on the volunteers who donate so much of their time and skills in making the park better. These skills range from performing on-ground work, organising work teams, liaising with other organisations and to providing support to those needing it. Community groups like this one attract a wide cross section of the community including people with special needs.
Their Work-for-the Dole program attracts a large number of participants (at times over 20 people) and is instrumental in delivering many projects and in carrying out maintenance. They have formed partnerships with government agencies (jobactive) who provide very positive feedback on the group’s ability to manage this diverse workforce. The friends group has also hosted the Green Army in its many forms over the years.
Successful completion of major projects. Friends of Westgate Park has conceived several major projects and also been responsible for their design, on-ground project management and securing the funding required. The implementation of these 20 major projects has led to the transformation of the park over the past 15 years.
Significant projects include: substantial revegetation works; development of frog habitat; construction of boundary fences, roads and tracks; pest management works and many projects to sustain site water supply.
How the Group Achieved These Outcomes
Friends of Westgate Park has achieved the transformation of the park due to a unique combination of four factors:
Westgate Park was an unrecognised opportunity. The area of the park was once part of the sandy, swampy delta of the Yarra River – a habitat rich in flora and fauna.
The place has been transformed many times since European settlement including being the construction site for the Westgate Bridge in the 1970s. After the Bridge opened, over thirty years ago, the park was created with lakes, a network of paths and undulating landforms. It was planted with a limited number of native species, none local, and largely neglected for some time.
A small group of enthusiastic people formed the Friends of Westgate Park 17 years ago. Their vision was to again transform it, this time to a highly biodiverse bushland setting using 300 locally indigenous ‘sandbelt’ plant species.
They developed a plan for the park using nine distinct plant communities known to have existed close to the CBD. This included grasslands, redgum woodlands, heath, and saltmarsh. The group began the massive task of weeding, mulching and planting. To complete that plan will take several more years. In 2016 a Master Plan was commissioned by Parks Victoria that endorsed the revegetation approach.
The formation of a Friends group consisting of dedicated individuals with excellent complementary skills has been instrumental in achieving the transformation of the park.
Friends of Westgate Park consists of people with skills, knowledge and experience in landscape design and implementation, indigenous plants, nursery, project and financial management and social media. They are strong and effective advocates for the park, and have been successful in having about 8 hectares of land added to the park over time, including land along the Yarra River bank.
They have fostered good working relations with government, the park managers (Parks Victoria) and the Port of Melbourne, and work closely with Landcare and a large number of corporations, enabling them to think strategically about what is required and how to achieve it. The Committee of Management includes people who have served in Federal Parliament, local government (in councils adjacent to the site) and business.
Ability to attract significant funds. The work carried out day by day is only possible with adequate funding. In the past ten years, the group has spent $1.17 million in the park on a wide range of projects. The friends group receives no ongoing government funding; income is derived from corporations and government grants (local, state and Commonwealth). The majority of corporate funds comes via Landcare Australia. They have been successful in this area because it has a good story to tell, creating biodiversity in an urban park and has consistently delivered on its projects.
Ability to harness a large voluntary work force. Volunteer hours of approximately 1,500 each month equate to employing 9-10 full time employees. These hours have been maintained consistently over a 10 year period.
This friends group accounts for about 10% of the total volunteer hours recorded by Parks Victoria. By properly organising this work force the group has successfully delivered many projects in addition to maintaining the park.
Volunteers come from our own membership (currently around 50), work-for-dole participants fulfilling their mutual obligations, corporate volunteers, welfare organisations looking for a worthwhile activity for those often marginalised in the community and school groups. Corporate volunteers have proved a real winner as companies support their staff contributing to community groups during working hours as well as providing funding.
Friends of Westgate Park is able to accommodate these volunteers by having full day activities each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the year and the third Sunday of the month (again all day). The group frequently conducts activities on other days should that be required. The group employs a part time and casual team leader to run these activities. The demographic profile of volunteers varies: the group’s own volunteers tend to be retirees, although some younger people volunteer on Sundays. Work-for-dole people and corporate volunteers can be any age.
The friends group has achieved these outcomes by taking on many of the park management responsibilities. It has been able to do this for many reasons outlined above. The major factors are the group’s competent and skilled people and financial security. To some extent, the second factor follows the first. Demonstrating a capacity to perform and deliver outcomes provides confidence to prospective donors. The group also places an appropriate emphasis on working safely in all the projects and activities undertaken in the park reflecting a sound safety record.
Friends of Westgate Park is an Incorporated Association registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.