Founder, 19 year-old Naomie Sunner, a VCA photography student, discovered the Park in 1999 on her transformative trek along the length of the Yarra River. She thought this neglected, abandoned park – the closest she could get to the river mouth – was nonetheless beautiful and had such potential!
Her initial thought was to volunteer but there was no friends group so, with a little help from mentors, she established and incorporated the Friends of Westgate Park and set to work.
“The sheer size was daunting but this land had been so disturbed that nothing I could do would make it worse. There were some areas with remnant salt marsh but wasn’t the same as walking into a real remnant site. There were maybe 10 planted species, a few of them indigenous but lots of invasive like Juncus acutus.”
She took baby steps, roped in friends and some others but it was largely her own efforts. “We started planting indigenous species around the Park entrance, some of the salt marsh areas and the hill overlooking the lake. I knew very little about revegetation at the time but volunteered at SKINC (local indigenous nursery), read an awful lot and identified plants by drawing. I call myself nag-taught – taught by nagging other people for info.”
She organised events and planting days with ‘varying success’, took on school groups, learned to make grant applications and started working part time, running a work for the dole program. While her enthusiasm and energy were essential to the group, it wasn’t until a new member turned up sharing her enthusiasm and commitment, that the group really started to make progress in their goal of creating a rich, biodiverse park. Enter George Fotheringham, a retired landscape contractor with a passion for indigenous plants and birds and a natural landscape designer. He saw a call for volunteers and turned up, impressed that these young people happily worked all day in pouring rain. For 14 years, George has worked well more than full time, leading the on-ground effort, mentoring, teaching; the expert.
The next year Tony Flude joined the team, also full time; a skilled organiser who has built a stable of corporations keen for their staff to put in a day’s work; shifting mulch, planting, cutting out woody weeds, knowing it will be well organised and worthwhile. Service clubs, work programs add to the effort.
Rob Youl OAM, a Landcare movement pioneer, established the Friends’ strong partnership with Landcare. Neil Blake, OAM from Port Phillip EcoCentre gave guidance. Lecki Ord, architect/planner and former Lord Mayor of Melbourne leads the advocacy effort, assists with planning, nursery and on-ground work. The very diverse committee of management also includes Janet Bolitho, Malcolm & Ruth Cook, Lyn Allison, Jackie Kerr and Michael Cole.
Supporting corporations are too numerous to list but neighbour, Holden, has provided generous cash support over time and a very useful park vehicle. Much-valued partners, the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Co-op give technical assistance and produce over half the seedlings used. The Friends work closely with Parks Victoria, Westgate Park managers, and Port of Melbourne Corporation, taking care of vegetation on the Port’s river section.
(Extract from 30th anniversary of Westgate Park, Nov 2015)