How it started

Originally the idea of a local resident and Friends of the Earth member, Mr Ted Floyd, the concept of a wetland in Whites Creek had been in the planning stages for many years.

In Ted’s own words:

"The group Friends of the Earth began a campaign in 1994 to restore the natural water cycle in the catchments of inner-city creeks and rivers. The construction of a wetland alongside Whites Creek in Annandale is the most successful achievement of this campaign. A series of leaflets, "Water is life" were printed in 1996 describing how to help restore urban waterways by maintaining healthy soils. During the production of these leaflets, Friends began a long association with Whites Creek. Whites Creek was selected as a typical inner-city catchment to help illustrate the message in the leaflets.

While exploring Whites Creek during the preparation of the water leaflets, an abandoned, weed infested piece of land was found alongside the creek. The land was flat and the creek was an open concrete canal. It all looked ugly, the water smelled a little, no fish could survive and the whole area was barren. It was thought a little bit of inspiration, combined with copious amounts of hard work could produce a living freshwater wetland with frogs, fish, birds and plants. This project was started when the Landscape Architectural firm, Occulus, produced an Urban Stream Sketch of Whites Creek Valley and the project was publicly launched in November 1996. Information was gathered on wetlands and Friends produced the report "Upper Catchment Management-Whites Creek" (Oct. 1997). The University of Technology, Sydney carried out a feasibility study in 1998.

Before the wetlands could be built a lot of bureaucratic red tape had to be surmounted. In 1999, Leichhardt Council was preparing a Master Plan for Whites Creek Valley Park. Some bureaucrats thought the wetlands were a silly idea and heaps of work was needed to persuade the Council the wetlands should be part of the park. The Environment Protection Authority prepared a Stormwater Management Plan for Port Jackson South in May 1999. Immediately after Council approval was obtained the wetlands scheme was submitted just in time on the last day to this Plan. Sydney Water owns the land where the wetlands are built and they have always cooperated with Friends. The land was not needed by Sydney Water and they were happy to see it used to reduce water pollution. Senior staff in the Council agreed the wetlands were a good idea and applied for money from the Stormwater Trust. In July 2000 the Council received a grant for $244,500."

Ted Floyd
Friends of the Earth, Sydney

As the project progressed to the DA stage, it was clear that a small number of local residents had serious issues about the impacts of the wetland in terms of aesthetics, mosquitoes, and safety for children. This unexpected opposition appeared in the form of a petition, whereas the majority of residents were assumed to be in support of the project but were less vocal in their support. This controversy led to an important process of negotiation and consultation – the wetland design was modified in many significant ways to accommodate these valid concerns, and Council learnt that a more pro-active approach to communication would be necessary to keep the wider public informed of the project and prevent inaccuracies and rumours being created in the absence of relevant information.

A commitment to proactive communication about issues and the progress of the project became a key feature of the project from that point onwards once it was realised that a lack of information had influenced public opinion. A commitment to working with key stakeholders and also establishing project credibility through working with ‘experts’ was a result of this early learning phase.

Construction of the wetland at Whites Creek was completed in 2002. Since then, it has been a great success. The ecosystem is thriving, with a wide range of plants and animals living there.

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Page last updated: 25 Jul 2018