Natural heritage walks
Natural Heritage Tour - Yarra River
The City of Yarra contains an abundance of natural treasures waiting to be discovered.
Alphington Park consists of a gently sloping river terrace, dropping off steeply to a low floodplain with wetlands.
The natural depressions on the floodplain form a wetland system that may fill with floodwater or runoff (surface water flow following rainfall) from higher ground. After urban development, the wetlands also receive stormwater (water draining from roads and house blocks through the drainage system).
Stormwater and runoff can be poor quality water, containing nutrients (eg. from fertilisers), sediment (soil) and pollutants (eg. oil from roads). As the water moves through the wetland, these substances are filtered or absorbed, improving the quality of the water before it enters the river. Wetland plants are especially important in this process.
View the wetland system from the path on the escarpment, noting the shapes, different plant groupings and different habitats. Plants and animals of many types can be found here. Shrubs and wildflowers grow on the dry escarpment, while River Red Gums and other moisture-loving plants grow in and around the wetlands. Insects, frogs and water birds all use the wetland areas, while reptiles, birds and mammals use the surrounding habitat.
Access from Parkview Road or View Street, Alphington. Mainly gravel trails. Steep descent to floodplain.
Coate Park and Rudder Grange
Coate Park and Rudder Grange contain areas of river terrace with steep escarpments above an area of low riverbank.
Note the modified remnant of Plains Grassy Woodland vegetation community (River Red Gums, Yellow Gums) above the escarpment in Coate Park; and the modified remnant of Riparian Woodland community along the river's edge (River Red Gums, Silver Wattle). Revegetation and weed control works are underway to restore this area and improve habitat for native wildlife.
Note the open stormwater drain between Coate Park and Rudder Grange. After rain, water from house roofs, roads, lawns, gardens and other areas flows through the stormwater system and is discharged directly into the river.
The pollutants and sediment in stormwater contributes to poor water quality in the Yarra River, and ultimately in Port Phillip Bay. It is therefore important to keep stormwater as clean as possible - avoid washing your car on the street; minimise your use of fertilisers and pesticides in the garden; rake up leaves and lawn clippings; and keep litter off the streets.
View the Aboriginal scar tree at the water's edge in Rudder Grange. Bark was removed from trees for many uses, including canoes, shields, and shelter. Although the tree is dead and decaying, it serves as a reminder of the original inhabitants, the Wurundjeri people.
Access from Coate Ave, Yarraford Ave or Alphington St, Alphington. Unsurfaced tracks lead through the parks. Wheelchair access from Coate Park to the riverbank is difficult.
Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Cooperative
VINC (Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Cooperative) grows and sells local native (indigenous) plants for the inner, northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.
Indigenous plants are those which occurred naturally before European settlement. The plants from VINC are used in revegetation projects in parks and reserves, and also in home gardens. Replacing the original vegetation is an important step towards restoring the environment, preserving local biodiversity and creating habitat for native wildlife. Indigenous plants can be a great addition to your home garden, with a wide variety of forms and colours available. Indigenous plants need less water, less fertiliser and will not create an environmental weed problem, unlike many introduced garden plants.
The path from the car park to the nursery winds through an area of revegetation. Note the remnant River Red Gums which have been underplanted with shrubs, grasses and small plants to recreate a natural basalt plains vegetation community.
Access from Yarra Bend Rd, Fairfield, just south of the Freeway overpass. A few car parks are available. Paths are gravel and quite narrow.
Main Yarra Trail
Seasonal park information is given on a sign beside the Main Yarra Trail just above the bridge. This includes animals to look for, and plants which will be in flower.
The Main Yarra Trail follows the edge of the river. The riverbanks are low and gently sloping on this side of the river, compared with the high, steep banks on the opposite side. The river follows a course along the edge of the basalt plain, cutting into the softer sedimentary rocks which can be seen across the river. Note the park sign along the trail entitled "How the river got its bends".
Note the remnant vegetation (River Red Gums, Yellow Gums, River Bottlebrush), which represents a Floodplain Riparian Woodland vegetation community. Also note the areas of revegetation with indigenous plants.
Join the trail at the southern end of Yarra Bend Rd, Fairfield. Trail is partly sealed, partly unsealed. The unsurfaced sections can be muddy after rain.
A two year program of path improvements began in November 2009. Click here to check for updates on the project and ongoing works.
The area around the confluence of the Yarra River and Merri Creek was used by the Wurundjeri people as a campsite and gathering place. A sign on the east bank of the Merri Creek just above the confluence explains some of the history. Try to imagine the area as it was before the drastic changes of European settlement - the different sights (dense vegetation, wildlife), sounds (bird calls, water flowing, wind) and smells (smoke from a cooking fire, nectar from wildflowers, eucalyptus).
The Aboriginal people lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving within their territory according to the seasons. Plants and animals were used for all manner of purposes, including shelter and transport (bark huts and canoes); weapons (spears, boomerang); tools for cutting and sewing; clothing; food; and medicine. Due to the Aboriginal people's dependence on the provision of the bush, it was important that the natural resources were used in a sustainable way, and managed for the future. Areas of bush were burnt to promote fresh growth.
Note the "Koori Garden", on the east bank of the Merri Creek, which was planted by local Wurundjeri people. The garden contains plants which were used in traditional Aboriginal life.
The course of the Yarra River just above the confluence was altered when the Eastern Freeway was built in the 1970's.
Access to the site is from the Main Yarra Trail, partly sealed, partly unsealed. Car parking is available at the Dights Falls car park off Trenerry Cres, Abbotsford.
Merri Creek footbridge
Looking down on the Merri Creek from the footbridge, the form of the creek is visible - a smooth-flowing section, or "run"; then a shallow, rocky section, or "riffle"; then another run.
Runs and riffles are two of the main in-stream aquatic habitats. The riffle areas perform important functions - disrupting the water surface increases the amount of oxygen in the water, which is essential for aquatic life; and the nooks and crannies among the rocks provide habitat for many small aquatic animals, such as fish, snails and insects (eg. dragonfly larvae). By contrast, the run sections are deeper and contain habitat such as logs and leaf litter, which are used by aquatic animals different to those living in the riffles. Plants which grow in and on the edges of the creek also provide habitat for many animals.
Compare the Merri Creek to what you have just seen of the Yarra River. The water in the Merri Creek is generally less muddy than the water in the Yarra River. This is a result of flowing through different soil types. The basalt soils in the Merri Creek catchment are quite stable and do not erode easily. By contrast, the sedimentary soils in the Yarra catchment are very easily eroded, which creates a muddy river. Another contrast between the two waterways is the very rocky nature of the Merri Creek, compared to the relatively rock-free Yarra (with the exception of Dights Falls). The Aboriginal name for the Merri Creek and its surrounding area was originally Merri Merri, meaning "very rocky".
Access to the footbridge is from sealed trails on both sides of the creek. Car parking is available on Roseneath St or Field St, Clifton Hill.
Merri Creek lookout
View the steep-sided Merri Creek valley from this lookout on the high western escarpment. Since lava flows filled the Merri Creek valley about 2 million years ago, the creek has slowly cut a new channel through the hard rock. This deep, narrow valley is the result of that very slow process. The basalt cliffs are almost vertical in some areas, displaying the distinctive columnar form of weathered basalt. Over time, the weathering process creates large boulders such as those exposed on top of the escarpment. The valley floor is a relatively narrow floodplain compared with the wide floodplains of the Yarra River.
Access to the lookout is from the western Merri Creek trail or Yarra Bend Rd, Fairfield. Some car parking is available and trails are sealed.
The Rotunda Wetland is a recreated wetland environment with several ponds designed for stormwater treatment. Note the many different indigenous plants which have been planted to provide wildlife habitat and contribute to the filtration of stormwater.
Look across the creek to the site of a former basalt (bluestone) quarry. Bluestone was quarried from many areas and used in roads and buildings throughout Melbourne.
Access the wetland from the sealed eastern Merri Creek trail. Car parking is available on The Esplanade near Spensley St, Clifton Hill.
Dights Falls were created by a natural bar of basalt boulders. The river here is relatively narrow, constricted between the basalt and a steep sedimentary spur. Look across the river and note the tilted layers of sedimentary rock.
The existing concrete weir was built on top of the rock bar in the 1840's, and water was channelled away to provide power to Dights flour mill. View the remains of the water channels and turbine house. The weir created a barrier to fish movement, especially impacting on migratory native fish which move between the sea and the upper Yarra. In recent years, work has been carried out to create "fish ladders", assisting fish to move past the weir.
Below the falls, the river is affected by tides, bringing salty water up from Port Phillip Bay. Above the falls the water remains fresh. When the river was in its natural state, the water was fresh further downstream, with early records indicating that the river water was of high quality near Johnston St in Collingwood. Construction of dams, removal of water for irrigation, and flood prevention works have all affected the natural river flows, thus allowing salt water to extend further upstream.
Access to the falls is from the car park on Trenerry Cres, Abbotsford. Sealed trails lead down to the falls area and connect with the Main Yarra Trail.
Collingwood Children's Farm
Collingwood Children's Farm is an inner-suburban farm on the banks of the Yarra. The area has been used as a farm almost continuously since European settlement - originally providing food for up to 1000 people at the Convent of the Good Shepherd.
Traditional European farming practices were used in Australia without making allowances for the differences in soil, climate, vegetation, and other natural systems. We have now learnt that what works in Europe doesn't necessarily work in Australia! The environmental impacts of traditional European farming practices are many and varied. They include weeds, soil erosion, salinity, loss of wildlife habitat, changes to surface water and groundwater flows, reduced water quality, and extinctions of native plants and animals.
The Farm is a place for city people to learn about farm issues, and to see in action many of the ways in which environmental problems can be addressed. The Farm is the site of an urban Landcare group. This reflects the Farm's commitment to sustainable farming practices - that is, using farming practices which have less impact on the environment, so that our natural resources (soil, water, air, plants and animals) are preserved for the future.
Examples of sustainable farming practices include:
planting local native trees - to provide shelter for cattle, habitat for native wildlife, prevent salinity and erosion, and protect water quality;
relying on natural pest and weed control methods instead of using chemicals;
planting a wide variety of vegetable, fruit and other plants to encourage a variety of insects and animals to use the area. Planting huge numbers of a single type of plant reduces diversity and increases pest problems;
fencing off waterways to keep cattle out - preventing stream bank erosion and protecting water quality;
recycling nutrients - using animal manure as fertiliser on gardens and paddocks, and putting fruit and vegetable scraps into compost then using the compost to enrich the soil.
View the farm from the sealed Main Yarra Trail at the end of St Heliers St, Abbotsford. Some car parking is available on St Heliers St.
The Corroboree Tree is a huge, ancient, dead River Red Gum which has been preserved due to its significance to the local Aboriginal people. The tree served as a marker of clan territories, and also a place for various gatherings and celebrations (corroborees). This tree is one of Melbourne's few remaining links with pre-European history.
Look at the other trees in the park. These are mostly River Red Gums, which are the most widespread eucalypt in south-eastern Australia. The Aboriginal people used sheets of bark from these trees to make canoes, shelters and shields, and the gum has medicinal properties. River Red Gums can live for hundreds of years, making them a prominent feature of the landscape. Like many eucalypts, River Red Gums form large hollows which provide important nesting sites for native wildlife such as birds and possums.
The tree is located on the eastern side of Burnley Oval, accessible from Yarra Blvd or Park Gve, Richmond. Some on-street car parking is available. No sealed trails.
Fifty metres below ground, the Burnley Tunnel provides a transport link between freeways east and west of the city. The vent stacks in this building remove exhaust fumes from the tunnel and disperse them into the atmosphere.
The high number of cars and trucks using the tunnel creates air quality management issues. The vent stacks are a way of managing the exhaust fumes, aiming to avert severe air quality problems at ground level. Air quality around the vent stacks is monitored to ensure that environmental standards for air quality are maintained.
Air quality is an environmental issue throughout all of metropolitan Melbourne. Vehicles create the majority of air pollution, emitting carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, lead and fine particles. These all create potential health problems for people living in urban areas. Help to reduce the air pollution problem by using alternative methods of transport - walk, ride a bike, or use public transport. Carpooling is also an effective way of reducing the number of cars on our roads.
The vent stack is located at the corner of Coppin St and Barkly Ave, Richmond, with some on-street car parking available. Paths are sealed.
McConchie Reserve and Burnley Harbour
McConchie Reserve and Burnley Harbour mark the southernmost extent of the basalt flow which covers the majority of the City of Yarra. Basalt was quarried here until the 1920's. View the sheer rock of the quarry walls from above, in McConchie Reserve.
The river's original course meandered around the promontory which is now Herring Island. In the 1930's a new river channel was cut as part of flood prevention works. The new channel cut through the quarry and flooded it, creating the "harbour", and isolating the island. Construction of the South-eastern Freeway in the 1960's involved further modification of the river channel. Look at the old and new river channels from the Main Yarra Trail below the freeway. The flooded quarry has become a tidal wetland area, providing some habitat for native wildlife.
The post-settlement history of this area involves a high degree of human interference. Plans for the future involve working to repair some of the environmental damage caused by quarrying, changing the river channel, and major construction work. The development of Burnley Harbour Urban Park will make the site more accessible to the public, allowing people to see more closely the unique environment which has resulted from past human activity. With better management and revegetation using local native plants, the area is likely to become valuable habitat for native birds and animals.
McConchie Reserve is accessed from Mary St, Richmond, by gravel trails. Some car parking is available on Mary St. The quarry site is currently inaccessible. The sealed Main Yarra Trail runs between the freeway and the river, and Herring Island is easily seen from the trail. Access to the island is by boat (for more information phone Parks Victoria on 131 963).
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