By Asa Wahlquist, 1 October 2020

The year six students at Forest Lodge have a tradition of leaving a gift for the students who follow them. The plan this year is for a mural featuring Johnstons Creek, but it is being thwarted by City of Sydney’s demand for $735 to lodge a Development Application.

Forest Lodge principal Stephen Reed said the students wanted to do something on regeneration and sustainability.  It is an ongoing theme, with a previous year instituting Waste-free Wednesdays. Mr Reed said the students were interested in regeneration in the wake of the summer bushfires, and the renaturalisation of Johnstons Creek caught their attention.

Forest Lodge school students at work on the Painted River project
Forest Lodge school students at work on the Painted River project (photo: Asa Wahlquist)

Sydney Water is naturalising the Creek, replacing the concrete banks with sandstone set at different levels along the sides to create varied habitats, establishing a wetland, expanding the salt marsh and increasing the number and diversity of native plants along the sides.

The students’ project is called The Painted River.

Work began during Science Week, when the 36 students gathered by the Creek to study a display of water life put together by water ecologist Ian Wright and to paint what they saw under the guidance of artist Leo Robba. Dr Wright set up a table of samples collected from an undisturbed creek in Pittwater. The display included the stonefly, which he said is ‘supersensitive to changes in water quality.’ While he admits we will never know what Johnstons Creek was like before settlement, he thinks ‘some of these things could be brought back through naturalisation.’ Each of the students also completed a painted canvas.

Mr Reed said the project integrates art and science. ‘We are seeing the creativity coming out. As soon as they put a brush on their canvas it is just flowing, opening these pathways.’

Dr Robba’s students at Western Sydney University will turn the paintings into an artwork that will become the mural.   The mural will then be painted on the side of the toilet blocks between Jubilee Oval and the creek.  The hope is it will encourage passers-by to reflect on the Creek, on the natural environment and its role in their lives.

But the project has hit a brick wall ‒ the $735 needed to lodge a DA to paint the mural on the toilet wall. A Forest Lodge parent, Frier Bentley, is the project coordinator. She said the City of Sydney councillors all voted to support the project. But the CoS bureaucracy has been unbudging: the fee cannot be waived and Ms Bentley is now applying for community grants and looking at fund raising to pay the DA fee. She said the P&C is not in a position to help, with COVID preventing their usual fund raising.

Ms Bentley suggests the CoS ‘should be having a look at their community grants project. (Waiving the DA fee) is cheap money, it is foregone revenue rather than cash outgoing.’ Most of the participants, including Dr Wright and Dr Robba, have volunteered their services, but the person who will actually paint the mural will also need to be paid.

With fourth term, the last for the year 6 students at Forest Lodge, soon to commence, it will be a race to raise the funds and complete the mural before the end of the school year.

Naturalisation of Johnstons Creek
Naturalisation of Johnstons Creek in August (photo: V. Simpson-Young)