My 1994 comic book, Roads of Doom, showed that you can fight the big dogs and win.
You can fight City Hall
17 June 2009
On a recent bright sunny day with nothing particularly pressing on my desk, I felt the call of the Wolli. Joadja packed a picnic lunch and we caught the train down to Tempe Station and took a walk through the Wolli Valley along the Two Valley Trail.
Fifteen years ago, at the height of the struggle to save the valley from the M5 East motorway, the valley’s defenders produced Roads of Doom, a nifty little comic book about my investigation of the RTA and the freeway lobby. It’s now regarded as a cult classic of conservation movement literature.
All of the issues that Sydney still confronts were fought out in Wolli: the struggle to save open space and heritage; the need for a public transport renaissance; the counterproductive effects of freeways.
So whatever happened to the Wolli Creek Valley? In the end, after Sydney’s longest-running environmental battle – a fight that lasted from the mid 1970s until 1996 – the freeway went through, but it went underground and the valley was saved. A by-product of the fight was the airport rail line, which came to public notice through the Wolli Creek Preservation Society. It was doggedly opposed by the RTA, but it sailed through the planning process as an alternative to the freeway which it delayed by a few years.
Today, as you stroll through the valley, the only evidence of the M5 East is the tunnel exhaust stack which the RTA have tried to disguise as a sort of art deco ziggurat – all sandstone cladding and stainless steel.
After their victory, the Wolli defenders collapsed in exhaustion. Not much happened for a couple of years, but then they got themselves together, recruited new blood, and began the job that they’d rather have been doing for all those years they spent fighting the freeway.
Nowadays the valley is a hive of green activity. From Wolli Bluff near Waterworth Park to Bexley Road, weeds and rubbish are being systematically removed and native species planted by teams of volunteers and professionals. At Turrella reserve (a short walk from Turrella station), volunteers have planted almost 7000 native plants along the creekbank to close a gap in the migration corridor for birds. At the weir near Henderson Street footbridge, a fishway has been constructed so that native fish can pass upstream to the fresh water to breed. Walking tracks are gradually being upgraded and signposted and the National Parks and Wildlife Service are rolling out plans for the landscaping of open spaces, transformation of ugly stormwater drains, and the creation of special wetlands to filter the nasties in stormwater before it flows into the creek, Cooks River and, ultimately, Botany Bay.
Over the last few years, bird species never before seen have turned up in the valley: tawny frogmouths and variegated wrens have moved in, a bar-shouldered dove and a powerful owl were recently photographed and a whip-bird has been heard calling. They even captured (and rehabilitated) an injured superb fruit-dove, and they’re not often seen south of the Queensland border! From time to time flocks of big yellow-tailed black cockatoos can be seen feeding in the banksias at Nannygoat Hill. A couple of years ago, grey-headed flying foxes established a temporary camp that grew to 7000 animals.
We had lunch at the beautiful Girrahween Park picnic area and Joadja pointed out some very spiffy nest boxes made from hollow tree limbs that the wildlife people had fixed high in the gum trees. They’re putting them up because even the big eucalypts in the Girrahween woodland are mostly too young to have developed the natural tree hollows that so many native birds need for breeding.
With this flurry of activity it isn’t surprising that the Wolli Creek Preservation Society has just been presented with the inaugural Regional Community Group Environment Award. They certainly have lots of things for people to do, ranging from bush restoration through bird watching and bat counting, to walks, talks and even canoe tours.
I think it was one of Dashiel Hammett’s characters that first said “You can’t fight City Hall”. Don’t believe it folks. It ain’t easy, but you can.
• For information, images and maps of the Wolli Creek Valley go to: www.wollicreek.org.au. You can even take a virtual walk.
• Download Roads of Doom, the celebrated comic book account of my investigation of the Roads and Traffic Authority and its Sydney freeway proposals as told to Les Robinson and Greg Zhukov. A complete facsimile of the 1994 print edition – 12 pages, A4 format, 1.9 Mb: www.brushtail.com.au/downloads.html