Back to Top

Category: Open space and recreation areas

national, state and local parks; state forests; rivers and reservoirs; coastal waters and beaches; public parks and gardens; community gardens; botanic gardens; arboreta

Little Desert including the National Park

The Little Desert in western Victoria, lying south of the Western Highway that links Melbourne and Adelaide, was the subject of an intensive grassroots-led lobbying campaign in the late 1960s against a proposal to clear its native bushland for agriculture. A browse through newspaper archives of the period surprise one even now at the breadth and depth of the opposition to the government’s plans.


Kaniva Flower Show 1973 – flyer.

Various leaflets by the National Parks Service – birds, the Mallee-Fowl, tourist guides.

Review Status: Pending

River Red Gum Parks Management Plan

River Red Gums Management Plan (20MB)


The River Red Gum Parks Management Plan (RRGPMP) is a strategic guide for managing and protecting five national parks and more than 100 other parks and reserves that comprise the planning area in northern Victoria. This plan takes a multi-park approach within a geographic landscape covering over 215 000 ha of parks and reserves.

The RRGPMP is the largest landscape based management plan produced. It covers the Murray, Goulburn and Ovens river corridors. The River Red Gum has been voted the most popular tree in Australia, with its inland river environments presenting the classic Australian ecosystem. Many generations of Australians have camped on these rivers, and have enjoyed the shade under the red gums. A diverse ecosystem of animals depend on the gums as do many towns along the rivers.

This management plan involved a team of authors and took 10 years to complete. It is registered in both the National Library in Canberra as well as being noted by the United Nations. Of particular note is the extensive narrative and actions  in the MP regarding the RAMSAR wetlands that form a significant portion of the landscape.

Review Status:

MidCoast Open Space and Recreation Strategy 2023 – 2035

MidCoast Open Space and Recreation Strategy 2023 – 2035 Final (27.5MB)

The MidCoast Open Space and Recreation Strategy 2023 – 2035 is the most contemporary strategy of its type in Australia, having been adopted by Council in July 2023.

The Strategy is based on an Adaptive Management model, making it unique in Australia for its appreciation of MidCoast’s 4100ha of open space and the activities that the community does on that space as a complete system, needing to be managed for emergent challenges. The Strategy includes an Impact Assessment model that assists Council’s land managers in being able to identify impacts on their parks and reserves, and what measures to put in place to meet those challenges. Primary among those challenges is climate change and impacts from over-use and over-visitation.

The Strategy also includes a new set of parks guiding principles, that once again are focused on the “whole system” rather than just human activity.

Review Status:

Westgate Park, Melbourne

The following account of this modern park is adapted from a Victorian Government website:

Oscar Meyer, chair of the West Gate Bridge Authority, is credited with the inspiration for the establishment of Westgate Park. He wanted to create “a beautiful park straddling the Yarra River to complement his sculptural bridge”. He developed this vision soon after the completion of the bridge in the late 1970s. The federal Government funded the development of Westgate Park to mark Victoria’s sesquicentenary in 1984-85.

The area under the bridge had seen a variety of uses, including sand extraction, an aerodrome and car-racing. Much earlier, the area was part of the lower Yarra wetlands, with extensive saltmarsh, swamps, vegetation and bird life. During the construction of the bridge, the area was the base for building works and was the site of a large works depot. In 1979, the Age described the land seen from the newly opened bridge as “scrofulous scenery indeed … dead water, swamp, sick factories, dead wood, haze, gasping barges, wretched refineries, wheezing chimneys, dead grass, institutional putrefaction”.

Following the completion of the bridge, the future Westgate Park site was cleaned up and a former sand mine was converted to a salt water lake.

Consultants Loder & Bayly and landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie, won a competition with an ambitious design relying on a constructed landscape of hills and access tracks which framed and created views of the West Gate Bridge as the central sculptural feature, and with fresh and saltwater lakes as focal points. Planned features included an island visitors’ centre, as well as “the planting of Australian flora, improvement of bird habitat and the incorporation of a narrow-gauge railway, a sound shell and sculptures”.

The then Victorian Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands carried out the initial work in forming the park, creating mounds between two lakes using building waste, with help from participants in a government works program for the unemployed. A modest realisation of the original design, with several features deferred or removed, was opened and dedicated to the people of Victoria on 7 November 1985.

The following year, Westgate Park became the responsibility of the MMBW Parks Division, but was largely neglected over the following decade. During this period, sculptural work (Earth Series, 1990) by Lyn Moore was added to the park. In 1996 Melbourne Parks and Waterways announced an extension of the park to meet the river. The intention was to transform it from a ‘derelict wasteland’. A new design plan was developed but was not fully realised.

The Friends of Westgate Park was formed in 1999 and this volunteer group became pivotal to the management, development, and expansion of the site. The Friends undertook the installation of infrastructure and extensive planting, with the objective of gradually converting the vegetation to what was typical of pre-settlement Melbourne.

Through the efforts of the Friends, extra land was acquired from 2003-2016. Parks Victoria is now responsible for Westgate Park. The Friends group continues to improve the park and acts as an advocate for its development. A large number of bird species now inhabit the park, including cormorants, black swans and pelicans. The area is again becoming a wetland haven.

Dr Geoff Edwards, Secretary of PaRC, writes:

Early in my time as an officer of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey, about 1975, a senior land administration officer took me on an inspection of part of the wasteland now known as Westgate Park. Noticing foul-smelling smoke rising out of the ground, I stepped closer to investigate, but beat a hasty retreat as the soles of my shoes became very, very hot. I was informed that the site was used as a sand quarry for building materials for early Melbourne. Later it was backfilled with garbage. At some time the rotting mass caught fire. The fire brigade regularly turned out to grass fires.

Although the Department had recently established a new Division of Crown Land Management to upgrade the standard of management of Crown lands and reserves, the remediation and development of Westgate was too ambitious for the nascent group with its shoestring budget to take on. The task required a body with the capacity of Melbourne Parks and Waterways.


Review Status: Pending

Regional Open Space System team 1994-95



This is the group within the Department of Lands charged with establishing and administering the Regional Open Space System. This photo was taken by a departmental photographer in 1995 prior to the appointment in the middle of the year of Steve MacDonald as Manager.


From left to right:

Geoff Edwards, Director, Land Planning

Bob Skitch

Jan Seto (deceased)

Mark Laurie

Tony Prineas

John Madden.


Review Status: Pending

Werribee Park and Point Cook Visitor Leaflets

PaRC does not usually save ephemera, such as visitor leaflets, but we have come across a batch of material from the pre-digitisation era and have decided to post them here as part of the historical record. However, readers are urged not to rely upon the information here without checking against modern material.

Point Cook leaflet

A compilation of visitor materials including trail guides and teachers’ materials (compressed to reduce download time at the expense of resolution). Readers who can demonstrate a need to have the original scanned file at 41.8 MB should contact PaRC). (to come)

Review Status: Pending

Parkland surrendered at time of subdivision

In the late 1990s, the planning profession in Australia became enthusiastic about performance-based planning, by which applicants for development were supposed to justify their projects in terms of satisfaction of idealised principles, as distinct from the prescriptive planning by which applicants hitherto were required to satisfy detailed or at least specified standards. Whether by design or as an unintended consequence, this shift has been beneficial to the property industry as it placed local government officers and public servants on the defensive in attempting to condition developments so that ample public space is brought into public ownership to cater for the needs of new residents.

Practice between local governments and between states has long been disparate. In Victoria, the legislation specified a minimum charge and some local governments used the provision to extract large tracts of open space. For example, the  Shire of Sherbrooke negotiated sometimes as much as 90% open space contribution, in steep or fire-prone localities of the Dandenong Ranges (such as became the Selby Bushland Reserve). By contrast, in Queensland prior to 1997, legislation specified a maximum statutory charge, reflecting the state’s pro-development ethos.

In developing localities, it’s vital that sufficiently large corridors of land are reserved for public purposes and it’s particularly important that floodplains, wetlands and ridgelines be reserved from incompatible development and (in the case of watercourses) to allow space for soft engineering works to manage stormwater.

The Land Planning Branch of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources sought to draft some guidelines for planning officers in local governments and departmental staff in dealing with development applications. The intention was to provide an authoritative benchmark to fortify officers in negotiations with developers and even perhaps in court. Jeremy Addison, a qualified planner and an officer of the Department, produced a draft working paper that was not considered finalised and was not published by the Department. It is replete with references to the statutory planning and land tenure legislation in operation in Queensland in the late 1990s-early 2000s, after the passage of the (now superseded) Integrated Planning Act 1997. It is included here because there are few known similar guidelines in public circulation and so the paper has contemporary value beyond historical interest. Its shortcomings should not be attributed to Mr Addison.


The “Parkland Surrender” paper addresses how much land should be offered up for public purposes in new subdivisions like this site of a proposed estate at Caboolture West, South East Queensland.


Surrender by developers is not the only method and perhaps not the most effective method of securing public open space. Melbourne’s metropolitan parks system, including Petty’s demonstration orchard at Templestowe, was funded by a general “metropolitan improvement” rate.


Some notes

In Queensland, performance-based planning was introduced in the Integrated Planning Act 1997, modelled on the Resource Management Act of New Zealand, although without any provisions for allocating (privatising) state land or mineral assets.

Previous legislation had specified that land taken at subdivision was to be surrendered to the Crown and then (usually) reserved for public purposes with the local government being invited to serve as trustee. Local governments objected to this safety net provision which provided a brake against disposal of the parkland, because (they argued) it was easier to rationalise their park holdings and sell isolated pockets if held as freehold. Yes, small pockets of land are inherently more expensive to maintain than a comparable acreage added to a large district park, but they are serving a different clientele.

It has been argued that land surrendered at subdivision is a tax upon the future residents, so only land of benefit to them should be taken; in other words government has no right to levy developers on behalf of users in a regional or or remote catchment. However, subdivision is a privilege, not a right, and a district- or regional-scale surrender is appropriate, so long as the levy is for a public interest purpose and is permitted by the legislation. (The precise wording of the legislation is critical).

Invitation to planners and landscape designers

Critical feedback is invited from any person with survey or planning expertise and who would like to collaborate with PaRC in building the working paper Parkland Surrender at Time of Subdivision into a modern guideline applicable across Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. Please contact PaRC would also like to know of other comparable current or historical guidelines that can be re-published here.


Review Status: Pending

Land-owning cooperatives

Personal involvement in the outdoors, and in particular, in bush regeneration, can be expressed via a wide spectrum of opportunities in all states of Australia, from couch surfing, online activities, motor touring and bushwalking to joining a Friends group… and even to owning a slice of a bushland property along with other like-minded people.

In various states a number of properties have been purchased by cooperatives: to protect them from development, to regenerate them, or simply to allow the members to enjoy the outdoor experience together.

The earliest cooperatives in Victoria were the Round the Bend Conservation Cooperative on the Yarra River in Kangaroo Ground (1971), a residential conservation community with an objective of building environmentally friendly houses; the Montrose Environment Group Co-op’s 9 acres at Wartook, northern Grampians (1971); the Moora Moora Co-operative Community at Mt Toolebewong (1974), another residential community; one in the north-western Grampians; and Urimbirra Cooperative Society Ltd in the northern Little Desert (1973).

Land held by a “cooperative” can be held under a number of different legal forms: for example, a group title/strata title/community title (the states have different regimes); a company limited by guarantee; or a cooperative under state law (such as the Co-operatives National Law (Victoria) Act 2013) which in recent years has conformed to the Australian Uniform Co-operative Laws Agreement.


The Urimbirra story is illustrative

The Urimbirra Co-operative Society was formed in 1973 to acquire and protect remnant bushland in the Little Desert region of the Wimmera district of Victoria. It followed the conservation battle of the late 1960s against State Government and AMP plans to alienate and subdivide most of the Crown land in this area for farming. At the time of purchase, privately owned bushland properties in good condition were still being sold for farming purposes. Professional people from outside the area were incentivised to buy the land through tax concessions on clearing costs. ln this area, the climate and soil type ensured that, once it was used for farming purposes, the land was likely to revert to a weedy scrub after the first drought year. There are several examples of properties close to Urimbirra which have been devastated in this way.
The Blackburn & District Tree Preservation Society, which had a substantial involvement in the fight to save the Little Desert from subdivision for farming, decided to form a co-operative to buy 400 hectares of remnant bush for conservation. Shares were sold at $25 per share. In 1995, the Cooperative acquired a further 600 hectares of adjoining land. Today, Urimbirra has over 150 active shareholders and owns 1,040 hectares of land under Trust for Nature conservation covenants.
The Urimbirra blocks are located on the northern boundary of the Little Desert National Park between Nhill and Kaniva. The blocks sit on a mix of sandy soils of low natural fertility (named Lowan Sands) and shallow clay with some sandstone. The low natural fertility of the soils supports a diverse range of Mallee shrublands, woodlands and heathlands as well as Yellow Gum, Black Box and Desert Stringybark woodlands that sustain rich biodiversity. Thanks to Alex English, Secretary, for this account.


Review Status: Pending

Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Shunting yards adjoining Roma St railway terminus, on the fringe of Brisbane’s CBD, were shunted out of this prime location and a political decision was taken to develop the vacant public land as a public park. Submissions were invited and reviewed by a steering committee convened by the Department of Public Works. This leaflet outlines the strategic intention and the submission process.

The Department of Natural Resources submitted an innovative proposal for a learning centre, called “Living Waters”. A copy of this report has surfaced from the cellars where government reports go after they have served their purpose at the time and will be attached. The submission did not find favour and the committee opted for a more traditional city park. The park subsequently won design awards.

Review Status: Pending

Moolap Wetlands Park – Cheetham Saltworks

This page is under construction and is not to be quoted or cited.

A well-argued case for a major new public park in the locality of Moolap, City of Greater Geelong, has been published by the Geelong Environment Council. The case is presented in:

an explanatory leaflet and fact sheet;

a submission, Moolap Salt Fields: A Wetland Of International Significance;

a biodiversity survey, Vegetation, Biodiversity and Social Values of the Former Cheetham Saltworks, Moolap .


Review Status: Pending