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  • Writer's pictureSerena O'Meley

Reimagining Ruthven - the case for retention of public open space

[First published on Facebook 8 November 2018]

On 7 November 2018, five members of the Ruthven Park Community Reference Group made arguments to Darebin Council for why the whole of the park should be retained for public open space. Our passionate representations convinced councillors to preserve the site in its entirety for future generations. An improved motion was carried unanimously by the councillors who were in attendance: Crs Gaetano Greco, Susan Rennie, Trent McCarthy, Lina Messina, Julie Williams, Stephanie Amir and Mayor Kim Le Cerf.

As we should know, this is an opportunity, to restore a fundamental idea to this area, the “Merrilands Estate”, this area was envisioned as a garden city - as can be seen in the old maps of the area, that was systematically taken away from us since its inception, and continually attacked throughout the years, never having an opportunity to be able to come to its full fruition… but I was lucky and able to see a small glimpse of this vision in my youth. I used to use those open spaces and cherish them as a child. They are gone now. Today, this is still a much needed and precious idea that must not be hindered with selfish compromise. This is a relatively small but workable piece of land that has the potential to bring this idea back to the people of this area. A complementing open space for all ages, with the idea to be able to feel Today, this is still a much needed and precious idea that must not be hindered with selfish compromise. This is a relatively small but workable piece of land that has the potential to bring this idea back to the people of this area. A complementing open space for all ages, with the idea to be able to feel welcome, but most of all a place that sets no boundaries, except the boundaries that have been set within its surroundings, a place that goes from the hustle of today’s life to a world of welcomeness, a place of belonging, without judgment of why are you here, a place of recreation, a place to relax and reflect, a space to move in every direction without “no go zones” because you do not fit the criteria or the purpose, to be able to explore every piece without prejudice or condition, a place to feel solidarity of fellow companionship, a place to meet, blend, relate and share together. You may ask how can we achieve this idea? It is quite simple, you start will the most natural aspects; consideration for others and therefore respect for others and therefore respect for yourself. Please respect the wishes of the people.

Michael Brennan

I'm very proud of Ruthven and this special area; I call it our botanical gardens. I'm very emotional about this open 3.05ha of land as I have had a very close liaison with this site before 1966. It was given to us as a school and when it was no longer needed as a school, it would return as open parkland. I have now come to point out to you that is a basic need in the quality of life for elderly and the younger generation, as we have planned it so, to be at the centre where we can go for relaxation, sport, mediation, and shade, to walk the dog, or just enjoy the open clean air. Keep it for future generations for them to enjoy, nurture and maintain. We have treasured this site and we have fought for it, when others didn't respect that. Take this away from us and it will be like the housing commission area in Glenroy and Broadmeadows. Let it be said in the future that this council listened, discussed, they acted and gave us open space. They got it right. You got it right; this time. Do not make the mistakes of your forebears, who ruined our beautiful garden Merrilands estate; that allowed open areas to be sold off, built on, and lost forever. It was the mentality of the time that it is only a workman's area. Now we must not let this once again encroach on our valuable area that provides us with pride, satisfaction; that we together are planning for the future again. I beg you in all sincerity, I know what it means to have it there; I use it, I know it's benefits. I'm I'm so pleased you bought it back, and thank you for allowing this old fellow to share his feelings with you.

Serena O'Meley After the purchase of the former Ruthven Primary School site, Council deferred the already budgeted master planning process for a year for financial reasons. A further year been lost because the proposal for a children’s hub on the site was added to Darebin Strategic Plan without first consulting relevant stakeholders or undertaking a demographic analysis of whether there was a need for such a facility. Subsequent analysis has shown that there is no need for such a facility on the Eastern side of Edgars Creek, where the site is located and where there are already five early learning centres of various types, some of which are undersubscribed. The story is different in other parts of the La Trobe Ward which lack early learning access. Therefore, the community reference group (CRG) wholeheartedly supports the following statement in tonight’s agenda: “Community feedback has shown that a significant proportion of the community do not want a building at the site and Council’s technical investigations have also confirmed that there is not an immediate need for a Children’s hub in this area, nor is this the only site in this community that could provide for facilities at a future point in time when additional services are expected to be needed.” I want to emphasise that it is not just the CRG members who are opposed to buildings on the site -– but the broader community who attended the Family Fun Day. It has been offensive to the CRG to hear this parcel of land described by some as “free land” – it is not free – it has been hard won via a campaign that started prior to 2012. We don’t want to see up to 23% of the land fenced off for a large exclusive use facility. Also, there is a known public open space deficit in that area which Ruthven can fill. While tonight’s Council report largely reflects community aspirations, the proposed motion does nothing to afford permanent protection to the land. The children’s hub goal in the Strategic Plan needs to be set aside and the highest level of protection afforded to the whole of this site. The CRG needs certainty so that we can move on and plan a beautiful park that showcases Darebin’s environmental and social credentials, for the sake of future generations.

Terry Mason I would like to offer honour, respect and esteem to those of the Kulin Peoples that are the custodians of the land we are meeting on and in particular, to the Elders. Concerted effort was expended by the community to keep a Portion of the Former Lakeside School site bordering Merri Creek and the former Ruthven Primary School site in community use. There was wide consultation conducted as to the importance of these sites and their potential use.


The overwhelming response was to emphasise the importance of the natural environment at the Lakeside site. There was little contention that the land there held notable remnant vegetation and would be a significant part of the future of the Merri Creek natural environment including the habitat required for the endangered Blue Banded Bee among other. This site may be subject to industrial seepage and air quality issues due to location but was still considered of importance. It is also of little consideration to developers.


The Ruthven Primary School site was also of significance as a natural corridor between the Darebin and Merri Creeks for birds, insects and other wildlife with Edgars Creek as the nearby midpoint. This site might be considered relatively pristine compared to the other industrial area. The community felt there was also a high priority need to cater for the non-sports field social aspects of the community and supply a natural and social need for younger children and a more passive and reflective area for the older demographic as a shortage exists. It would appear that the threat at the Ruthven site comes from it being lucrative to developers/development. The council nearly missed the opportunity to do the ‘proper thing’ initially. It was able to acquire the land at significant discount from the State Government on the condition it was for community Open Space and the council has the moral, social and environmental imperative on it to ensure that this Open Space usage is the ongoing priority.

David Sealey

A greener, bolder, more connected city. Darebin’s official vision is beautiful in simplicity and inspiring in reach. “A greener, bolder more connected Reservoir West” is the aspiration of our community. My Experience 3 years ago my family bought into the area, next to the Merrilands Kindergarten. Not long after moving in I came home from walking the dogs, excited by discovering an amazing blank canvas of space with incredible potential. This was the Ruthven Primary site and I soon learned local residents were working desperately to save it from the hands of developers as open space for all. The people and the Vision The people of Reservoir West have always been connected to their environment and to their space with pioneers who left the close density of the inner city in search of these things. When you walk the streets you see so many people engaged closely with nature in their carefully tended gardens, proudly productive veggie beds and fruitful home orchards. But it’s the highest level of dreaming and planning that we need to look to. The original visionary Merrilands estate, was part of a bold new direction in town planning to move away from grid-based suburbs to garden suburbs. It was a vision of people and buildings and meeting places integrated into their environment. It was radical and it was bold. It was green and it was bold and it was the largest of its type in Melbourne. But this bold vision was never fully realised, the Great Depression and war dissolved the edges and the short sighted sale of most community space by council and state governments finished it off. The Council being better, being bigger, being new Tonight, we are calling on the Council to be the heirs of the Merrilands vision; to be better, to be bigger, to be bolder and greener than our councils and governments of the past. This is a chance to complete the vision, so we call on you tonight to preserve and embrace the entirety of the Ruthven site in perpetuity as a precious and rare opportunity for a greener and bolder way of looking at space. We ask you to understand that the open space of Ruthven IS the community hub. We ask you to see it as a Place where people connect as much or more than in any building. And we especially ask you to work with it, care for it, resource and staff it at least as much we do any of our community buildings. We’ve laid out a blueprint we hope matches the bold, green, connected vision of Darebin. It delivers in many different ways on Darebin’s Vision, Mission and Goals and we’re committed to working with you to deliver on your commitments in the Council Plan. We just need you to commit to us. Thank you for the chance to speak tonight, may your deliberations bring Council and residents closer together.

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