To celebrate World Environment Day, Sophie Golding, Urban Ecology Coordinator with City of Sydney, facilitated a guided walk through Orphan School Creek, Forest Lodge on Sunday 4 June. Judy Christie led the walk which was attended by about 25 people including the Council Coordinator of Glebe’s local parks, Nick Criniti.
Judy sketched in the early history of the site and showed a photo of Orphan School Creek in 1926 when the Water Board was completing the piping of the creek (described in 1887 as ‘not much more than a sewer’). The work of the local community group, (Friends/Resident/Ratepayers of the Orphan School Creek Gully – FRROGs) formed in 1996 when the Camperdown Children’s Hospital closed, was outlined. FRROGs was a subcommittee of The Glebe Society during this time and the Glebe Society helped in identifying ‘The Gully’ as it was then locally known, as actually being Orphan School Creek (earlier known as Grose Farm Creek). This creek had originally been the home of the local Cadigal /Wanngal people for whom it would have been an important freshwater food source for fish and plants.
The walk commenced from above the revegetated areas and along Sterling Circuit (the former helipad of the Children’s Hospital) so participants could get an overview of the rapid growth of native trees, shrubs and vines. The first stage was planted about 2004 along the original creek line, which includes a Sydney Water easement as well as the western bank which was owned by the then developer, Sterling Pty Ltd.
Although the whole site, including the Wood St lands later acquired by the City of Sydney, had to be totally cleared to enable soil remediation, the concept was to restore a bushland habitat using native plants similar to the original Sandstone vegetation and Turpentine-Ironbark woodlands which would once have covered the area. This was the concept developed by FRROGs and supported by Leichhardt Council and the developers, who funded much of the work. The original ‘Gully’ though weedy and strewn with rubble, was great habitat for small birds such as Superb Fairy-wrens, frogs and reptiles. The headline of the local paper, the Village Voice in November 1998 which Judy quoted to the group: ‘Bush Gully saved – but bulldozers must demolish first’ captured the issue well.
The restoration plan, written by the Bush Regeneration section of the National Trust, included habitat elements like logs, rocks and other non-plant materials and emphasised the concept of a wildlife sanctuary and the importance of creating a ‘green corridor’.
Many of the participants on the walk were surprised that the site was a totally reconstructed bushland park and impressed at the success of the plantings along the zig zag path up the eastern side of the creek line. These final sections were not completed until the City of Sydney was able to buy the land and initiate a land-swap with Westmead Children’s Hospital in 2007. ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photos of the planting in 2009 helped paint a picture of the challenges involved. Nick Criniti discussed ongoing maintenance for which he has had responsibility since City of Sydney was handed over management of the whole site from the developer in 2013.
Judy then ended the walk by taking participants through sections near Wood St where the group she coordinates, Friends of Orphan School Creek Bushcare, hold regular working bees. The ‘Habitat Haven’ – a small patch the group planted out in 2016, demonstrated the success of their work and it was hoped that as time went on this patch might support more wildlife. Sophie Golding and Judy both spoke about recent research showing the benefits of diverse bushland and green spaces for human health – both physical and mental health. Diversity of plants, as opposed to simple park landscapes has been shown to reduce our stress and assist healing. After the walk Sophie provided a tasty morning tea for everyone.
Friends of Orphan Creek will be holding a working bee to plant more native shrubs on Sunday 30 July 10 am-12 noon. Contact Judy 0437 693 372 for details.