The Blackburn area, once considered one of Melbourne’s outer suburbs, now feels more like mid-suburbia as surrounding regions explode with new development and the suburb’s own house prices reach roughly double their decade-ago figures. Though the fringes of the city extend well to the east of Blackburn (morning peak trains are already full to sardine levels by the time they reach the station), it has managed to retain some of its original country feel, with eucalypt-lined streets and large areas of natural bushland that house many species of native bird.
Sometimes on winter mornings there’s a smoke-haze hanging over the suburb from overactive wood burners and at night the temperature drops a noticeable few degrees over the journey from the city. It’s a special kind of place, where you’re only ever a hop, skip and a jump away from major transport routes and freeways, but where you might still wake one morning to find a nest of Tawny Frogmouth chicks hatched in your backyard.
Walking the perimeter of Blackburn Lake, it’s easy to forget you’re still in the city. A network of dirt paths meanders through an expanse of bushland totalling 63 acres around the lake, enclosed by trees which reflect in the still water or drop leaves into the trickling stream that feeds it. Traffic streams down Blackburn Road only a kilometre from the edge of this reserve, but in the quiet and stillness of the it might as well be miles away.
Dotted around the lake are lookouts with charming names like Heron Point and Duck Point – which the animals sometimes like to mess with, the herons perched on the sign for Duck Point and the ducks swimming around Heron Point. Gang-gang Cockatoos, as well as the sulphur-crested and black varieties, are occasionally seen around, as well as just about every species of parrot found anywhere in Melbourne.
The many interlacing paths make the lake great for a short jog, a longer walk or simply sitting and gazing at the water. Next door to Blackburn Lake Sanctuary is a visitor centre which hosts an active Friends group and regular conservation and education activities. Just outside the treed area of the park is a huge playground and picnic area, and down the street are two ovals designated as an off-leash dog area – so animals of the two-legged and four-legged variety alike can get their jitters out. This wealth of amenities ensures the local community is well looked-after while also making the lake a worthwhile day trip from neighbouring areas.
Connecting with the Lake Sanctuary is Jeffery Street, a National Trust street of the kind that seems a Blackburn specialty: tall eucalypts, no footpaths and the straggly, bird-friendly native gardens seen all around the suburb, which honour and enhance its bushy feel. Blackburn Creek flows under this street and emerges on the other side of Blackburn Road, accompanied by another trail wandering through linear parkland that stretches much of the way to Box Hill. The area is so enclosed you can go a metre off the path and feel yourself in an enchanted wood, with no shortage of mushroom rings during the wetter months.
The creeklands were bought by Council in 1983 after locals formed a conservation group to protect the area and turn it into parkland. Today, members of that original group make up part of the volunteer committee that acts as a kind of intermediary between residents and Council, providing advice and assistance on matters of park management. Locals love this stretch for dog-walking and jogging as well as the several open spaces along the way for kicking a footy or throwing a ball for the dog.
One woman is seen in a small stretch of this park almost every morning. In her dark green raincoat, on hands and knees with a trolley by her side, she seems to spend a good proportion of her waking hours in pursuit of her mission to keep the creek banks tidy and free of invasive weeds.
She is joined in her efforts by the Friends of Blackburn Creeklands which does regular working bees weeding and planting along the creek, followed by a morning tea. Some of the more elderly members are a bit past getting down on all fours to help out but still enjoy coming along for a chat and a cup of tea. The Friends group also conducts regular bird surveys which allow avid birders, novices and children alike to spot and learn about the variety of native birdlife. The surveys also act as a sort of health check for the park, helping Council and Friends monitor the bird numbers and ensure populations remain stable.
Almost inevitably, behind each of our city’s beautiful reserves is a group of dedicated locals who are working like clockwork behind the scenes weeding, planting, clearing, maintaining and managing. It’s a humbling reminder that these habitats, where humans can coexist effortlessly with nature, don’t quite grow on trees. It’s also a small bit of motivation for each of us to help out where we can to preserve the beauty of the places we enjoy.
Banner image courtesy of Lachlan Walsh