From Protest to Planting

Greening the path of Roe 8

By Lynn MacLaren
Friday, September 15, 2017

Many tales are told of the destruction of precious places but this story is different. This springtime story is one of renewal and rehabilitation. It is the tender beginning of life returning in the 5km stretch of land cleared for Roe Highway stage 8 through the Beeliar wetlands, a precious place whose destruction incited one of the most significant environmental protests in recent Western Australian history.

In the dying days of the Barnett Government 40ha of our local banksia and tuart woodlands, heathlands and wetlands in the Beeliar Regional Park were brutally replaced by a stark moonscape of soil and mud; piles of mulch are all that remain of treasured bushland. Deep truck tracks have compressed land which was never before exposed to foot falls. This was a desperate act of environmental vandalism.

The rehabilitation task, to restore life-sustaining ecosystems where shy quenda, industrious Rainbow bee-eaters and rare skinks thrive, will yield invaluable lessons to benefit other urban sites.

In the wake of the March 2017 state election, when WA Labor crashed into government in a landslide historic victory, the silence was deafening where only days before thousands stood along chain-link fences from east of the Kwinana Freeway to west of Stock Road and chanted, screamed, sang and cursed as the heavy machinery of bushland destruction cut angrily though banksia and tuart woodlands.

I was one of the unexpected casualties of the state election, after waging highly public campaigns for the wetlands and the right to protest, losing my place as a Member of the Legislative Council.

Imagine my delight four months into my “rewirement” to see the first green shoots of spring in this barren landscape, and the photographs of vivid purple, coral, and yellow blooms of surviving wildflowers.

I wasn’t alone in longing to sink my hands into the mud, mulch, plant, weed, and nurture the painful wound back into life! But our enthusiasm to right the wrong we had witnessed day after day was curbed by the risk of asbestos illegally dumped and now exposed, and the absence of a recovery plan.

Nature did not heed the call for restraint and patience.

Plants are springing up, including weeds, along the length of the cleared areas.

There is a reason we fought so hard to save this area. Seven ecosystems were present before the dozers rolled in. So the rehabilitation task is not going to be easy. Six months later those plans have only just begun.

A “Mammothian” scale landscape is worthy of an equally complex management framework. At its heart is the Rehabilitating Roe 8 Working Group, chaired by a newly elected MP and populated with representatives from the Cockburn Community Wildlife Corridor Association, the Cockburn Wetlands Centre, Aboriginal communities, relevant departments and ministers. They are informed by the Perth Urban Restoration Scientific Advisory Committee co-ordinated by the WA Biodiversity Science Institute.

The Roe 8 Working Group will develop a 10-year plan to rehabilitate Roe 8 (estimated to take 20-30 years to restore).

The challenge is not only to rehabilitate, but also to reinvent. To help envision a future for this corridor, next month, the Millennium Kids will converge on the Cockburn Wetlands Centre as part of the MK21 Unconference – One Thousand Actions for the Planet. One hundred young people from all over the Asia Pacific will meet scientists, photographers and artists who will help them to design the future.

While the ecosystems and recreational use of the Roe 8 scar are under repair, it is more difficult to imagine how to heal the damage to Aboriginal culture and heritage. Until recently the Beeliar wetlands were one of the last sacred Noongar sites relatively untouched by urbanisation.

Lynn MacLaren represented the Greens as a Members of the Western Australian Legislative Council from 2009 to 2017.