Venturing up Coulstocks creek, a tributary of Kurrum Yallock (Plenty River).
While having a look around Coulstocks Mill a couple of weeks ago I noticed how clean the water flowing down the adjoining creek appeared to be. I was conscious that there had been a lot of development in the area and was surprised to see clear water flowing. The records I’d read described it as Coulstocks creek but current maps indicate a name change to University Hill Creek. I remember the creek as an extremely steep gully that trails back and into the private property of the Janefield Compound. I recall seeing a small dam years ago while visiting a friend who lived in the staff residence but hadn’t been back to that part of Janefield since.
Janefield was one of those old school institutions set up in the early 20th century. The buildings, like Mont Park, probably hold a lot of ghosts, institutions that housed so many vulnerable people often have many secrets? As with Mont Park several buildings may have been demolished but those remaining have been repurposed and don’t look too shabby now.
I hadn’t explored the Janefield estate since the institution had closed. The area now known as University Hill, has been subdivided to provide medium/high density living for Students attending RMIT and Latrobe University. I had heard about the ponds and felt compelled to take a look.
Rather than begin at the Site of the Mill I began upstream at the Janefield Wetlands. Suburban roads that remain in my memory as horse paddocks brought me to the abominable BMW showroom opposite the first set of ponds. Following the small network of drains and man made overflow ponds I found my way to the natural water course. Unsurprisingly the water was dirty and full of plastic refuse. It had the familiar smell that often accompanies urban drains, a mixture of stagnant water and putrid black mud.
Each pond had a spillway that allowed water and debris to fall into a catchment drain then flow on to the next pond. Is was disappointing to see there were no nets set across the inlet points to catch plastics and other material that had washed through the drainage system. It appeared the only thing preventing hard waste from travelling downstream was the reed beds, which were obviously clogged with plastic bottles and fragments of trash.
When I came to the next tributary I followed it to the left and found an artificial river bottom had been created with quite large rocks, good planning. By developing the area and increasing hard surfaces such as roads and roofs water velocity would definitely be increased, erosion mitigation would have been a priority of developers for insurance reasons as much as environmental protection.
I soon came out at a well designed pathway and entry to a larger pond system. It was quite impressive and well designed for slowing the flow of storm water into the creek system, however I found not enough effort had been put into preventing contaminants from entering the ponds, the edges had quite a dense accumulation of debris.
Walking around the ‘wetland’ I was impressed to see water fowl and reed beds. Though it was not perfect, it was very pleasing to see that some effort had been made to create (save) habitat for wildlife and to allow open space for people to enjoy. I sat for a while and contemplated the alternatives… This was quite dense urban living, but it had been designed in a way that centres around the natural environment. There is opportunity for people to leave their cells and wander about in nature. I compared this to the large acreage that many people seek. Is this worse than individuals taking up large sections of land, locking others out and pushing urban sprawl so much further into the natural environment?
Inevitably, as with most parkland and natural spaces close to suburbia, I found all the telltale signs of people who use and abuse their environment with no regard for aesthetics, or the wellbeing of the the environment or other people. Littered under trees at multiple sites I found empty bottles, used condom packets and scattered dirty toilet paper. I guess it goes with the territory.
At the lower end of the ponds there was some fairly industrial looking infrastructure which I imagined would have something to do with storm water and pollution mitigation.
As I continued downstream smaller drains emptied into the creek at various levels. I recall there had been a bluestone filtration system built into this creek years ago, it appeared to have been demolished now, but there remained a thick bed of cumbungi reeds which would definitely work to reduce contaminants flowing downstream.
I re-entered the Plenty Gorge Parkland and all developer related infrastructure disappeared. I followed the creek line, as it had come to be after various waves of Non Indigenous occupation. My understanding of this site is that it has been under management of a variety of owners or management over the past 180 years… After Coulstocks came farmers, Henry Miller and John Brodie Brock. Sometime later the land had been used by RAAF and Janefield… Though I don’t know the full history, it is pretty obvious, the land was cleared, vary little native vegetation has survived, weeds have settled into the gully and some rather old junk can be found. These deep gullies often became the resting place for a lot of household or farm junk. Fortunately Coulstocks Creek doesn’t have a great deal of trash in it.
It was quite difficult to follow the creek the whole, I eventually changed my mind, preferring not to get wet feet. It is definitely possible to walk it but the edges are very steep and the clay can be crumbly and slippery. Not wishing to cause any unnecessary erosion or to get too muddy, I decided to climb up out of the narrow chasm I found myself in… It was trickier than I imagined.
To my knowledge and as far back as I can remember, this gully had been full with blackberry bushes and sharp shrubs, until the 2020 fires it is unlikely anyone ventured along the creek during the previous 30 years.
The City of Whittlesea Stormwater Management Plan 2012-2017 describes the Plenty River catchment as being of very high biodiversity value, but identifies several high risk factors. Those factors are obviously human impact and will require financial and legal commitment in order to protect these habitats. Primarily large scale development is an immediate threat to the area. Industrial waste is particularly toxic, the source can be difficult to locate and polluters are difficult to manage.
I have mixed feelings about the prospects of improving water quality in this creek and the Plenty River. Increasing population and industry in the area are a real threat, however, during lockdown many people are venturing outside in their own neighborhoods. People are getting up close and personal with their environment and may begin to engage more fully with the land. They may see how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful place and begin to take an interest in reducing human impact on the space. While I was there I noticed a council truck removing tree waste.
This park is a significant part of the waterway and will contribute to the health of the River downstream. I imagine if there were a local landcare group it would be able to get a lot done to protect the creek. Pollution could be greatly reduced if community and council cooperated to clean up the existing waste and set about installing nets across drains to catch debris. Already there is tree planting on the upper slopes of the gully.
Arial photos and satellite images allow us to see the changes in landscapes over decades. I often imagine the land becoming devoid of trees but in fact there are places that have much more vegetation than existed 50 years ago. It all comes down to the interest and will of the people. It may be foolish to hope… but I do believe it is possible, and as they say ” Where there is life…”, regardless of the naivety of the, dreamer, “…There is hope!”
City of Whittlesea Stormwater Management Plan 2012-2017 https://www.whittlesea.vic.gov.au/media/1239/stormwater-management-plan-2012-17.pdf
Suburban Parks Program – Plenty River Trail COMMUNITY CONSULTATION PACKAGE: https://s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/hdp.au.prod.app.vic-engage.files/6616/2320/4960/Kurrum_Yallock_-_Plenty_River_Community_Consultation_Package_small.pdf
First People’s Assembly of Victoria website: https://www.firstpeoplesvic.org/