• Serena O'Meley

Former Ruthven Primary School - Diary 2016-2021

Updated: Nov 21

This diary is composed of links to newspaper articles, questions to Darebin Council and my Facebook posts about the former Ruthven Primary School site. To ensure that the new reserve continues to be protected and enhanced will require ongoing vigilance by the community.

22 November 2021 - Extract from 2020/2021 Darebin Council Report

"Big Action 6: Create a new park, playground, oval and children’s hub on the site

of the old Ruthven Primary School in Reservoir

Based on community feedback, Council decided to develop this site as a nature-based park and not to proceed with a children’s hub. A master plan to create a nature-based and biodiverse park at the former Ruthven Primary School was adopted by Council on 29 June 2020. Concept plans for a new playspace and nature play area were shared with the community in February 2021 and endorsed by Council on the 24th May 2021. Consultation on the playspace was delayed because of the 2020 lockdowns and this also delayed construction. Construction is set for the second half of 2021, and the playspace is scheduled to open by late 2021. A draft planting plan has been created to guide rewilding at Ruthven Park and, in conjunction with Darebin Nature Trust and the former Ruthven Community Reference Group, a planting list has been established for this park."

14 November 2021 - Facebook Post

Friends of Ruthven Park met with members of the Darebin Council Bush Team early on Friday morning.

These are some of the taller trees on the site and they are a magnet for birds flying between the creeks. We had to stand under them because of a heavy mist; the noise of the birds in the flowering gums was overwhelming. The most important thing to note is that the Bush Team now have carriage of the park after a recent restructure and they share our vision for the park which will be the first of its kind in Darebin.

Further to my last post about neglect of the park, things are looking up:

1. The Bush Team will be initiating immediate work to give the park a facelift including dealing with broken pathways, dumped rubbish and other planting and maintenance. They are talking about bringing in a big crew of people to deal with weed issues as part of an intensive working bee.

However, they are unlikely to plant the shrubs and flowers at this point because they don't have sufficient resources for upkeep. A lot will need to be invested to get the weeds under control (e.g. highly invasive Chilean needle grass). In the interim we have asked them to start planting more trees because they are easier to maintain, take the longest to grow and will be the most impactful on the site. They are also going to fix the avenue of trees which have been inappropriately planted in a line by contractors, contrary to the Master Plan.

2. They expect the ephemeral wetland to be brought forward in next year's budget; partly as a measure for pollution control into Edgars Creek and on to Edwardes Park Lake, and also because it will be a significant feature on the site and it makes sense to establish it now rather than later. This is something that our group and DNT have been calling for since it was adopted in the Master Plan, rather than waiting for 20 years.

There's been a lot of confusing things said by various people over the past few years about using the wetlands for flood remediation but there's no consensus on whether this is possible. The Bush Team didn't mention flooding issues so it's something I'm still trying to find out more about.

3. Friends of Ruthven Park will be properly consulted in relation to the new playground as per a Council Resolution from 24 May 2021. They're setting up a meeting between us and the contractors who will be responsible for the playground. Interestingly, this element of the park is also no longer in the hands of City Futures which is an important improvement given the difficulties we've had with that department.

4. We'll also be invited to a consultation with all local "Friends" groups to establish parameters for how we work together.

5. Naming of the park in Woiwurrung is still stalled and not something they have much influence over. We pointed out that the recently opened bridge over the Merri Creek was named very quickly by comparison which fuels the perception of the 'North-South' divide in resource allocation in Darebin. (Congrats to the Merri Creek Bridge Group for their success, of course.)

Our group has full confidence in the Bush Team, providing they are properly resourced by Darebin Council to do the work. They have an established track record for getting things done, and done well. For example, they have made some incredible progress with rewilding work in the north of Darebin using indigenous plants and logs. It's worth walking or cycling along Darebin Creek from Dunne Avenue, Reservoir, through Clements Reserve and towards Thomastown to see what they've achieved.

#RuthvenPark #Darebin

Photo taken Saturday afternoon 13/11/21.

31 October 2021 - Facebook Post

So this is what #DarebinCouncil thinks of residents in North West Reservoir.

The nature reserve on former #Ruthven Primary School with trees half dead and falling over, planting areas infested with weeds, no plantings of flowers and native grasses as promised (now getting too late in the season to plant).

They have had time to slap in a new *avenue* of semi mature trees despite promising us that tube stock would be used from now on and that plantings would look *natural* and wouldn't be in straight lines.

They still haven't renamed the park in Woiwurrung which is a problem if emergency services are called to the park because there are too many places in Reservoir bearing Ruthven's name.

In relation to the play equipment: "Request for quotation has been completed. Delays in the supply of materials will result in construction works beginning in early 2022." Members of the former CRG have not been consulted about the selection of the equipment (as directed by elected councillors).

If they can't rewild a suburban park why would anyone trust them to rewild the Northcote Golf Course?

Sad and disgusted.

1 July 2021

Due to an internal restructure in Darebin Council all open space matters will now be managed by the very competent Parks & Open Space Team. This should give the community some confidence that the planting side of the project will be done properly. The playground design will still be managed by City Design.

24 May 2021

Darebin Council has confirmed that the Wurrundjeri Woi Wurrung Corporation, Darebin Nature Trust and Friends of Ruthven Park will be further consulted about the detailed design of the park. Officers also claim to be progressing the renaming of the Park in the Woiwurrung language. See my Darebin Public Question Time & Submissions Diary for further details: https://www.darebinvotes.com/post/darebin-public-question-time-diary

26 March 2021

Does anyone know how we could fact check these two wildly different costing for an ephemeral wetland at Ruthven Park?

A member of DNT has estimated that the design and establishment of a small ephemeral wetland would cost $65,000.

This is what council officers say it would cost and why:

"The Water Management Team had reviewed the requirements for wetland, as was highlighted at our meeting a few weeks ago area surrounding the site is liable to flooding, so it would be strongly recommended to include flood mitigation as one of the wetland’s benefits. It would also be of great benefit to harvest the water and use for irrigation of the site.

A project of this nature would require a feasibility study, geotechnical report, soil contamination classification, flood mapping, MUSIC modelling and design work which is outlined in the adopted master plan. Therefore, the estimate still is $50k design & $500k construction.

Investing anything less than this amount would compromise desired outcomes for water management and biodiversity of the site. I know this is different what had been estimated by the group and I can arrange to catch with up David to discuss his views and estimate, as well as noting a recent email from David to meet and discuss a number of topics and concerns with the Masterplan including this one."

5 March 2021

Win at Ruthven Park - indigenous plants to be used, scooter track scrapped

Yesterday a group of us met at Ruthven Park with the Acting Manager City Design and other council officers. The purpose was to address the issues we have with the divergence from the Master Plan in relation to planting.

There were representatives from the former Community Reference Group (CRG) and from Darebin Nature Trust (DNT). We impressed upon those present that our key vision for the site is one where it showcases Darebin's local plants - a bushland version of a botanical garden.

I pointed out that this was the second time council officers had tried to force interstate plants onto the site - diverging both from its own tree planting policies in general and the Ruthven Master Plan in particular. It's immensely stressful to keep having to have the same fight. We need to get to the bottom of why this keeps going wrong. I suspect a difference of philosophy between landscape designers versus bush regenerators.

While we were talking we were drowned out at times by the noise of rainbow lorikeets that feed and play in the existing taller trees. It implicitly made the point that this park/reserve is part of a wildlife corridor between Strathallan and Darebin Creeks to the East and Edgar's Creek to the West.

The key outcomes from the meeting are:

  • No exotic herbs, interstate trees, or cultivars will be planted at the site.

  • The indigenous planting guide provided by Chris Clarke from DNT (Vegetation Working Group) will be the starting point for planting around the play space and BBQ area.

  • Any changes to the guide, and for the broader site, will be consulted on between Chris and an officer from Darebin's Bush Team. She enthusiastically embraced the suggestions in the guide and described his group's work as a 'pleasure to read'.

  • All future planting will use tube stock rather than partly matured trees.

  • The shabby asphalt next to Wilson's Boulevard will not be marked up for a second-rate scooter track - the area will be retained for the ephemeral wetland.

Both the former CRG and DNT are calling for the ephemeral wetland to be brought forward in the plan. I have provided the Acting Manager with information about some pending state government environmental grants that we want council to apply for before the closing date on 1 April. DNT estimates that design and implementation will come to around $65,000. We do not understand the resistance to getting it underway.

There had been a study of remnant grasses which we had expected to be revived. However, these grasses were poisoned and mulched over in the initial roll out of plants. They said that the remnants were not viable because of weed invasion - a different message than we were originally given. The Acting Manager put it down to another example of poor communication.

DNT took the opportunity to point out that they regularly raise issues in writing following their meetings and that they do not get a response to their concerns and feedback from council officers. DNT is an incredible asset to council and they deserve better.

I'm still waiting for a written response to the rest of my questions to council about the mistakes that have been made and have also asked that the partial response I received on the night of the last meeting be corrected as it has an error. Again I note that the plant list that council worked from for the initial roll out of trees was only intended for the windy north west corner of the site, and it is disappointing that in a moment of rush and expediency it was used over half the site.

What both groups emphatically asked for was a forward budget plan for the site so that the Master Plan isn't rolled out in such a piecemeal manner. This was refused because of some unintelligible (to us) way in which the budget process works in council. We're looking into this further.

Officers claim there is no money for shade for the playground despite public demand. They will rely upon fast growing trees instead. They say that a built shade structure will be at the BBQ area but we don't expect this to happen in the short term.

It's very clear that if the community vision for the park/reserve is going to be realised that it will need to be constantly championed for years to come.

28 February 2021

The picture on the left is degraded asphalt which a council officer would like to mark up into a temporary scooter track for the new Ruthven Park playground (see last picture from consultation documents). The picture on the right is the undulating concrete circuit, under the shade of tall gum trees at Norris Bank Reserve which inspired it. They are chalk and cheese - it's laughable.

THIS is just another example of how the narrative about the North-South divide is able to be fed. Always doing things on the cheap up our end of town. Can anyone imagine this being proposed in Fairfield even as a temporary measure? Yes, this is a class issue.

My long experience as a community activist tells me that once the 'temporary' track is installed it will be very difficult to replace. This proposal was never in the Master Plan and (properly designed) is more suited to a large regional park not a reflective bushland space.

Note also that council spent around $80,000 last year removing concrete and asphalt on the site.

This is also the exact location of the proposed ephemeral wetland, which has been pushed off for decades into the future allegedly because of 'cost'. Yet the wetland is something that can be discretely funded through a state government grant - providing we don't keep running up against roadblocks. It is something which has the full backing of the Darebin Nature Trust and the original Ruthven Community Reference Group. DNT estimates it could cost around $65,000 to design and install.

25 February 2021

A rough word cloud drawn from the Brain Stormer feedback on the Ruthven Park playground. Key issues: shade, seating and water play.

21 February 2021

I've written up three questions for tomorrow's Darebin council meeting regarding Ruthven Park.

  1. on failure to consult the community reference group (as directed by council) *before* commencing planting,

  2. on failure to answer questions and provide minutes from the belated consultation meeting last year as promised.

  3. on the inappropriate inclusion of interstate species in the draft planting palette, contrary to the Ruthven Master Plan (“Blueprint for Biodiversity: A biodiverse, indigenous landscape will be showcased, enriching Reservoir West’s urban ecosystem”) and the Natural Heritage Strategy (2015-2025) (“Continue to use indigenous species of local provenance in all landscaping along waterways or habitat corridors”.)

We already won the argument on use of species of local provenance in the Master Plan. Why do we have to keep on fighting for it over and over?

20 February 2021

What do I say in response to a council officer who wants to plant interstate species as part of the landscaping around the new Ruthven Park playgrounds because they are "hardier" and will "withstand being trampled by children"?

The community vision for the park is to showcase species of local provenance. Apparently, this hasn't sunk in and yet again a case will need to be made. I'm exhausted by the endless fight and need help from those of you who know stuff about indigenous plants and what would be safe for kids.

15 February 2021

This is what happens when you bring in contractors and don't prepare the area properly - weed invasion and dead trees. Tell me again why tube stock wasn't used when we pleaded for it?

Wow. They didn't even bother to tell the community members of the former Ruthven CRG (reforming as Friends of Ruthven Park) before commencing public consultation.

This is on top of them failing to consult us despite being directed to do so by a resolution of council regarding the first lot of tree planting. Naturally they buggered it up - it looks more like a plantation than a natural bushland. They don't even have a guide to what species they have planted in each location.

Tell me again why anyone should waste time engaging when the officers just do whatever they please?

9 February 2021

"Council has been working with the community to design a new playspace in the heart of the new park at the former Ruthven Primary School site, in Tracey Street and Glasgow Avenue, Reservoir."

Actually, this is a lie. The latest concept plan had NO community input before it was released.

1 September 2020

After almost two hours of meeting we still couldn't get Council officers to commit to developing a detailed planting plan for the Ruthven site. Why is this important? At a bare minimum you need to know exactly what type of tree you've planted where so that you know what will survive underneath it. You need to know the relative heights of the trees to understand if/how they will provide windbreaks...and so on. In addition, if there is going to be an ephemeral wetland why would you wait 20 years to establish it? How can we have a long term plan if everything is done in a piecemeal fashion? Lots of solidarity from Darebin Nature Trust on all of these points and more. Overall the process is still exhausting.

3 August 2020

Darebin Coucil has managed to turn something that should be positive into yet another fight.

It really is galling when 1) council officers in city planning fail to consult with the community reference group and/or Darebin Nature Trust before commissioning major planting on the site; 2) use a planting list that was a discussion draft intended only for a windy corner of the site, not the whole park; 3) fail to plant according to any explicit planting plan; 4) despite repeated representations, fail to use tube stock but instead used outrageously expensive mature trees; 5) have no detailed plan and costings for how planting and other works on the site will progress over the next five - ten years.

The planting list has been partially rescued at the last minute but it's not good enough. The project should be placed in the hands of Darebin's parks people before the whole vision of the park is ruined by expediency. (PS. Photos taken yesterday).

29 June 2020

The Masterplan for Ruthven Park was adopted at tonight's Darebin Council meeting (29/6/20).