One of the longest-running community conservation groups in the Banyule region, Darebin Parklands Association protects one of urban Melbourne’s most valued green spaces. Located on the border of Alphington and Ivanhoe, Darebin Parklands is a 33-hectare bushland reserve that is home to an impressive diversity of plants and animals.
What visitors to the Darebin Parklands see today is the result of 45 years of hard work and commitment by a group of people who had a vision for a healthy, bustling green space – a vision that, in the early days, must have seemed implausible given that one half of the area was a municipal tip, whilst the other was a neglected horse paddock. Now, though, the park is a haven for local humans, and other animals, to enjoy.
Newly appointed president of Darebin Parklands Association (DPA), Sofie, describes how ‘every Thursday morning from autumn through spring there’s a group of really dedicated volunteers…’ working on revegetation and weeding works in the parklands. The DPA also works in close partnership with the Darebin Creek Management Committee and the trusted Rangers who manage the park. Ranger Pete is one committed staff member who recently celebrated 33 years of work in the Darebin Parklands. Throw into the mix the various Park Care Days and other community activities throughout the year, and the strong enthusiasm and dedication this group and the Rangers display towards their local green space becomes obvious. Ranger Katy explains how ‘this park has seen a tip, a quarry, farming… so it’s vastly different to what it used to be.’
It is clear that the Darebin Parklands represent a significant piece of green real estate in an area of Melbourne that is becoming more and more developed every day. Ally, an enthusiastic DPA volunteer, comments that ‘I’ve had friends that live in other parts of Melbourne and they’re just stunned by the size of the parkland that you can have ten kilometres from the CBD.’
Sofie in particular is passionate about connecting with community. ‘One of the things that we’re really keen to do is to engage more effectively with people who are moving into the area who are living in high-density housing,’ she says. ‘I think the reshaping of the demographic and the reshaping of the housing in this area is really important.’
Sofie’s reasons for being involved with the DPA are undoubtedly shared by many others who both conserve and visit the parklands. ‘I think being in a natural place is really important for health and wellbeing,’ Sofie explains. ‘It’s one of the first reasons I started visiting the parklands… I just love living in a natural place. Not having to interact with cars and concrete and houses.’
Although the DPA is well-established, Sofie says that one of the main challenges for the group ‘is to be able to demonstrate our worth and our value to the community as an organisation.’ Whilst their worth is quite tangible – one only has to walk through the parklands to note the incredible growth of the recently planted areas and the health of the riverbanks – Sofie hopes that with more members, the DPA will be able to engage a more diverse group of people. Returning to the issue of development in the area, Sofie says that ‘the challenge is reaching new people moving into our area, and helping them to connect with and value the parklands and other local green spaces.’
Sofie believes that ‘generational change in Friends groups is really important’ – a sentiment echoed amongst other Banyule conservation groups. She sees a need to make the work relevant to younger adults. Whilst the DPA is definitely a welcoming place for young people and families, it can still be difficult to appeal to those who may not have the same level of patience for the hard work involved. Different people bring different perspectives, and Sofie believes that ̒…having younger people with a different view is the key.’
One young group member, Gabriel, raves about the fun had during the Junior Rangers Program offered by the DPA, which involves archery, abseiling, camping, fishing and a public bonfire once a year. ‘My favourite part is that there are tonnes of little kids and they’re all getting involved,’ says Gabriel. ‘And it’s good to know that the park will be supported.’ Gabriel’s mum, Melanie, agrees, explaining that ‘it’s a big thing for him… having this freedom, this space to be a kid.’
DPA committee member Alice is a newer contributor to the organisation’s work. While some who take part in the DPA’s activities work in the environment sector in their day jobs, Alice works in administration but sees her work with the DPA as a chance to give back to the community. ‘It’s really nice to be able to do something out of work, outdoors, and get to meet people from the community,’ she says.
The work that the DPA does is also incredibly diverse. From Park Care Days and the Junior Ranger Program to campaigning for the Darebin Yarra Trail and holding events with an artist in residence organised by the Darebin Creek Management Committee, there is no shortage of things to do if you’re a DPA member or simply someone visiting the parklands. For those new to the area or who haven’t attended the DPA’s events before, the environment is always welcoming – both because of the people and the park itself. ‘It’s like you’re out in the bush but you’re right in your home,’ Alice says. The passion and drive of those caring for this one-of-a-kind parkland will hopefully ensure that it remains a welcoming home for native species and human visitors well into the future.
Darebin Parklands Association meets regularly for Park Care Days and other community activities. They also hold a General Meeting and Information Night at the Parklands Environment Centre on the last Tuesday of March, May, August and November. Visit dpa.org.au for more information. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
This story was originally featured in the Banyule Community Conservationists magazine published by Remember The Wild and supported by Banyule City Council. You can view the magazine in full here.
Banner image courtesy of Chris McCormack.