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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

Green space and public health – (3) The human mind and nature intertwined

Our relationship with nature is deeply intertwined with both the human conscious and subconscious minds. Recently there have been concerted attempts to empirically examine this relationship, especially in the disciplines of biology, ecology, psychology and psychiatry.

Research in 2016 showed that when people exercise they release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which acts as a reset switch. It is why people often feel at ease and things are clearer after exercising. The following image shows that after a 20-minute walk there is increased brain activity of a kind which is generally associated with happiness – an interesting verification of the synergy between mental and physical health.

 

This growing global awareness, actually a revival, as will be understood from Narrative (1) in this series, of the importance of green space and nature to cohesive healthy societies. This relationship is symbiotic, but both aspects of the relationship are under threat. In much of Asia the principles of the Healthy Parks Healthy People concept are inherent in many of the cultural and spiritual practices but as ‘western’ lifestyles intrude there is a danger that the influence will be lost.

Today’s rates of urbanisation have no precedent in history. By 2045, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in towns and cities, with most of that increase happening in Asia and Africa. As cities expand and new cities are born, the way that urban populations, planners and innovators interact with nature will directly shape global prospects for health, well-being and sustainable development. For the first time ever, more than half of the world’s population already live in cities and can be ‘divorced’ from much of nature – in consequence they are less likely to have contact with nature and hence to benefit from and to appreciate the value of open space and of biodiversity and the importance of its conservation.

The stress that humans perceive may be ubiquitous, but its remedies are not. Appreciation of time spent in nature for recreation and restoration has deep historical and cultural roots throughout the world. The eddies and swirls of seasonal winds, the fractal branching of trees, the low murmur of streams and the Fibonacci structure of flower petals all provide conscious and unconscious cues that settle the addled mind. The ordered complexity found in natural environments is key to the mental stimulation they offer and, indeed, their enduring allure.

Shinrin-yoku

In Japan, strands of historical silviculture and more recent scientific inquiry – along with traditions of painting, poetry, and landscape design – are visible in the modern practice of shinrin-yoku, ‘forest bathing’, whereby walking in natural landscapes is thought to improve health. Today, shinrin-yoku is practised at 52 Forest Therapy Bases, with as many as 100 ultimately envisioned across the archipelago.

In Western media, the practice of shinrin-yoku is either grouped with a suite of alternative and complementary medical practices deemed ‘natural’ (‘The Natural Way to Calm Down’) or inserted awkwardly into a lexicon of conventional health consultation (‘Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning’); but neither characterisation grasps its context accurately.

In the 20th century, Japan’s need for forest products was increasingly (and unsustainably) outsourced to its Asian neighbors and beyond. Efforts to invigorate interest in well-managed native stock led the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute to conduct research in the late 1970s and 1980s into aromatic compounds called phytoncides, essential oils that are emitted by unvarnished wood. These compounds are produced by live trees as defensive or signalling agents but are also present in resin, and have been associated with improvements to mood, immune function, and blood pressure. Mature aromatic sugi and hinoki forests are among those considered rich in bioactive compounds.

Accessible outdoors

Many of our own cherished childhood memories relate to nature. Building a ‘tree house’, climbing trees, splashing in muddy puddles, fishing with a stick, family picnics – the list is endless. Now societal fears mean children are more often kept indoors, ever-reducing gardens too have become more formal with less play space with the inevitable stifling of the creativity, imagination, stimulation and activity that previous generations enjoyed from natural environments, especially those immediately accessible to the home. Water restrictions in many cities have discouraged gardeners and technological games dominate leisure time.

Our technological age has encouraged sedentary lifestyles at both work and leisure – a particular concern with the younger generation increasingly spending more time indoors, never better expressed than in the title of Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, in which he quotes a fourth-grader as “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where the electrical outlets are”!

 

This situation is evolving at the very time that human populations, at least in the West, are increasingly suffering from non-communicable diseases like obesity, mental health problems, breakdowns in community cohesion, and of course the loneliness and boredom triggered by the COVID-19 epidemic. Interestingly, though many playgrounds were at first closed, local parks and open spaces became ‘newly discovered’ for people to unwind from their periods of required isolation and as a break from their ‘working from home’ routines.

 

 

It is entirely plausible that, if working from home becomes popular – even for just one day a week – people will spend some of the time that they used to spend in commuting by heading out to a local park, bike way or creekside, or joining locally grounded community groups. The message for urban planners and decision-makers is to ensure that new suburbs are designed to secure generous areas of open space, public parkland and public meeting places, with high-order connectivity to other parks and landscape features nearby.

 

 

Review Status: Pending

Green space and public health – (1) A short background

In the beginning …..

The impact of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s on both sides of the Atlantic led to increasing urbanisation and a population that began to work indoors, in ‘the dark satanic mills’ of factories, rather than in outdoor active agricultural occupations. It was realised that people needed places to re-create themselves, and so the evolution of parks (and the word ‘recreation’).

When parks were first promoted in the nineteenth century, city officials had a strong belief in the potential health advantages that would result from open space. It was thought that parks would reduce disease, crime and social unrest as well as providing ‘green lungs’ for the city and areas for recreation.

In referring to London in 1829, famous landscape designer J.C. Loudon provided his Hints on Breathing Places for the Metropolis, and for Country Towns and Villages, on Fixed Principles, stating:

We hope that the legislature may not think it unworthy of their attention to take into consideration the subject of breathing places, on some systematic plan, calculated for the benefit of all ranks in all parts of the British metropolis. 

Already at that time, it was also believed that exposure to nature fostered psychological well-being, reduced the stresses associated with urban working and living, and promoted physical health. These assumptions were used as justification for providing parks in cities, and preserving wilderness areas outside of cities for public use in the UK, Europe and USA.

In both England and the USA the focus was on the ability of non-work activity to improve the health, education, social adjustment and life chances of poor people, children, the elderly, handicapped and others who had few resources to replace the outdoor physical activity of agriculture-based peasant life. A less charitable interpretation is that nature-based recreation would shape their mental outlook and improve their character, making them more malleable in their new roles as industrial workers. And so open space was dedicated to provide these opportunities. The human relationship with nature was being recognised as deeply intertwined with both the human conscious and subconscious mind.

Poets and writers captured this (common) sense, like Wordsworth in his 1802 “Daffodils” which concludes with:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought,

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

 

Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde’s 1897 quotation, inscribed on his memorial statue in Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland reads: “It seems to me we all look at nature too much and live with her too little.”

 

The various movements to establish parks centred on shaping urban development, preserving nature and creating opportunities for wholesome recreation, and on using recreation and exposure to nature to promote physical activity, character development, socialisation skills and education. In the UK the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages said in his annual report of 1845: “a Park in the East End of London would probably diminish the annual deaths by several thousands …. and add several years to the lives of the entire population”.

In the mid-1850s Frederick Olmsted championed the cause of city beautification in the USA, including a reference to Central Park in New York as “a healthy refuge from the over-crowded living sections in southern Manhattan”. A colleague referred to Olmsted as “An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks.”

 

In his 1865 The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree: A Preliminary Report Olmsted stated:

If we analyze the operations of scenes of beauty upon the mind, and consider the intimate relation of the mind upon the nervous system and the whole physical economy, the action and reaction which constantly occur between bodily and mental conditions, the reinvigoration which results from such scenes is readily comprehended. . . . The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.

The promoters and champions of the first public parks also saw them as a means to boost the local economy and civic pride by making towns and cities attractive places to work and live. These parks were conceived as special places where all sections of society could enter free of charge and mix freely.

The City of London’s commitment to open spaces dates back to the 1870s when, in response to the rapid disappearance of many public open areas to make way for the building of new suburban homes and other developments (sounds familiar?), it embarked on an ambitious project to safeguard some of what remained. Two Acts of Parliament passed in 1878 granted the City of London the right to acquire and protect both Epping Forest and land within 25 miles of the City for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. This far-sighted policy was the inspiration behind the later Green Belt movement, designed to protect the countryside around other British cities from urban sprawl.

Meanwhile the natural landscapes further afield were similarly being valued. American geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, while not the only person to have thought of creating a park in the Yellowstone region, was the park’s first and most enthusiastic advocate. He believed in “setting aside the area as a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”.

John Muir the respected Scottish-American naturalist, today referred to as the ‘Father of the National Parks’, said in 1898: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” 

 

 

Even in 1938 UK Professor G.M. Trevelyan wrote in the foreword to the Case for National Parks:

… it is no less essential for any national health scheme to preserve for the nation walking grounds and regions where young and old can enjoy the sight of unspoiled nature. And it is not a question of physical exercise only it is also a question of spiritual exercise and enjoyment. It is a question of spiritual values. Without sight of the beauty of nature the spiritual power of the British people will be atrophied!

Somewhere during the twentieth century, especially as the pace of lifestyle in industrialised Western society increased, that early rationale slowly became forgotten and, although parks have not entirely lost their connection with health, the modern emphasis has been mainly on their use as a venue for physical activity, particularly sport, or as tourism destinations. With increasing urbanisation the vital role that parks, green space and their associated biodiversity (especially in ‘convenient’ urban parks) play in offering health and well-being benefits and enhancing human appreciation becomes even more relevant, just as conserving this precious biodiversity becomes more important.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, especially in Asia, the concept of the value of contact with nature for medicinal, cultural and spiritual reasons has been far more ingrained than in Western society. Mystic natural places like mountains are revered for their spiritual powers. Traditional outdoor exercises have been practised for at least 2000 years. Walk through any park in Japan, China, Korea and Thailand and similar countries in the morning and you’ll see people right up to age 80s doing their daily workout of stretching and strengthening together with breathing exercises and acupressure and self-massage techniques of tai chi and yoga. It is in these countries where the benefits of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) emerged.

 

Review Status: Pending

Sherbrooke Forest – National icon, urban forest and sanctuary – A case study in bush regeneration

Sherbrooke Forest is an area of 802 hectares and contains three vegetation types; Wet Forest, Damp Forest and Cool Temperate Rainforest. It is surrounded by residential properties, except for part of the eastern edge which borders on farmland.

It contains the stand of Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) nearest to the city of Melbourne, and is a popular tourist destination. One of its greatest attractions is the Superb Lyrebird which are easily heard and observed along the main walking tracks.

Sherbrooke Forest became part of the newly formed Dandenong Ranges National Park in 1987. It was formerly managed by the Forests Commission as a State forest – until 1983. Since 1996, Parks Victoria has managed Sherbrooke Forest as part of the National Park under the auspices of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. A volunteer group, the Friends of Sherbrooke Forest, was formed in 1980 and remains an active group more than forty years later.

Fire, pines and their aftermath

There has not been a major wildfire in the forest since February 1923, when seventy-two percent of the forest was burnt. A small area on the eastern side was burnt in the 1926 wildfire. There was also a fire on Coles Ridge in 1946, which resulted in establishment of a plantation of Monterey Pines (Pinus radiata) by local schools. There was no attempt to regenerate the Mountain Ash. Other areas planted with pines were the O’Donohue Memorial Plantation, the Melbourne High School Plantation and the Sherbrooke Plantation on Ridge Track which was clear-felled in 1977 and replanted with Mountain Ash that year.

The authorities did not act to remove English Ivy in the area of the Sherbrooke Plantation from 1977 and as a result of the disturbance, English Ivy was able to establish and completely overwhelm the lower storey native vegetation, as well as climbing to great heights up the Mountain Ash. The Mountain Ash were only about ten years old when the Friends started removing English Ivy there by hand. This also occurred in other areas where timber was removed from the forest from 1904 until 1927.

In 1985, the Schools Plantation on Coles Ridge Track was removed over three years. Before any felling commenced the English Ivy vines were cut from the trees and the ground ivy was treated with herbicide. This approach was continued when the two remaining pine plantations were removed over the next two years. The slash was burnt and the areas were hand sown with Mountain Ash seed collected from trees within the forest. Thousands of pine seedlings that germinated were hand weeded by the Friends group over the next few years. The photos linked here tell the story.

The same process was used when the two remaining pine plantations were clear-felled, although the Melbourne High School Plantation required supplementary planting due to its shaded location.

Weed control

The Friends group successfully hand-weeded English Ivy from the areas where the pines were removed in the 1970s, as well as an area on the eastern side of the forest where timber was removed from 1904 to 1927. The latter area also needed herbicide control as the soil was mainly clay, making hand-weeding almost impossible, as opposed to the rich mountain loam on the western side of the forest.

Both the areas of forest where English Ivy was the dominant ground cover were not used by lyrebirds, as the dense foliage made contact with the soil impossible. Once the ivy was removed the lyrebirds returned and display mounds were discovered almost immediately. The lyrebirds even used the piles of dead ivy as a source of invertebrates for food, as well as nest construction. The area of ‘dead’ forest was brought to life.

The Friends group commenced a systematic survey of the forest’s vegetation in 1984 to determine areas of environmental weeds within the forest. Unfortunately, the result of this survey revealed that the forest was in a deplorable state. The main weeds found were English Ivy (Hedera helix), Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum), English Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Red Cestrum (Cestrum elegans) and Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). All of these species were introduced to the Dandenongs via plant nurseries in the early 1900s. The first four species produce a berry-fruit which is eaten by birds. Sycamore Maple has a winged-seed that can be carried many miles into the forest. No weed control except for Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), Angled Onion (Allium triquetrum) and Red Cestrum (Cestrum elegans) had been carried out in the forest for at least forty years.

While environmental weeds such Sweet Pittosporum and English Holly were not recognised as a threat to the indigenous vegetation, the increasing abundance of English Ivy was taking over valuable lyrebird feeding areas. By the time the Friends started work this plant had covered many hectares of ground on both sides of the forest.

Over the next thirty years the Friends systematically poisoned these woody weeds using the drill and fill method. The herbicide used was full-strength glyphosate. Smaller plants of Red Cestrum were removed using a mattock, although some bushes were so large that they were poisoned. The group now carries out follow-up weeding throughout the forest.

Future prospects for weed control

A forest surrounded by residential properties in which environmental weeds are grown will forever have the problem of seeding by birds. Although the local council provides information with regard to these weeds, many residents resist removing them from their gardens.

From survey maps it is possible to see the correlation of weed invasion with proximity to residential gardens. See maps of Sycamore Maple and Cestrum; and of Sweet Pittosporum and English Holly. These weed distribution survey maps are from 1984 (when the survey commenced) to 2001 (when it finished). The group surveyed every second Sunday of every second month over this time. (It always prioritised weed control). Maps also show the abundance of English Ivy in areas disturbed by the planting of Monterey Pine and timber felling: see maps linked here.

Lyrebirds

In 1983, lyrebird numbers were dramatically reduced when eleven birds were killed within a few months. Predation by foxes, wandering domestic dogs and cats were thought to be the cause. Although there was a general outcry by the public, it was not until 1988 that the local council and the then Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands set up a working group to give advice on ways to halt this decline.

Recommendations by the Advisory Committee included registration of cats, a dusk to dawn curfew for cats, and the limiting of two cats and two dogs per property. Altogether, five drafts were submitted to the Council over four years. In June 1991, the Animal Welfare Local Law was finally passed. Although controversial at the time, the law was accepted by most residents. Parks Victoria also instigated a program to poison foxes. Since then, the lyrebird population has stabilised and wallaby numbers in the forest have increased. The Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group monitors lyrebirds throughout the year, as well as holding three dawn surveys during June and July. Young lyrebird chicks are banded while in the nest, so the group can track where they move as adult birds.

The Friends of Sherbrooke Forest and management authorities

This group was formed under the Forests Commission of Victoria in 1980. Work parties were held once a month in areas suggested by the Ranger-in-charge. The group quickly developed a good working relationship with the staff. Once trust had developed on both sides, the group was given permission to work in areas that had been discovered during the Friends vegetation surveys. A ranger always put in an appearance at these work parties and worked alongside the group.

When the Forests Commission of Victoria was dissolved in 1983, the Forester-in Charge at Kallista remained in his position, retiring in 1985. The superseding agency was the Department of Conservation Forests and Lands. The Friends continued to have a good relationship with the new staff. One constant throughout the Friends volunteer work in the forest was the continued presence of the Head Ranger. This individual had started work with the Forests Commission when he was fifteen years old. His final position was Head Ranger of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, until he retired at fifty-five years of age. He now is a regular volunteer with the Friends.

Sambar Deer

In 1996, a member of the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group came face to face with a large Sambar Deer. This was the first actual sighting, though some Friends had wondered what was browsing the lower branches of English Holly in the eastern side of the forest. As their numbers increased, the damage they caused to the native vegetation became more evident. The impacts of deer include long term changes to vegetation and plant communities, such as:

(a)       Browsing of ground ferns along creek corridors causing:

  • compaction of soil on frequently used tracks
  • erosion along creek banks
  • silting and sedimentation in creeks.

(b)       Pruning of lower understorey shrubs such as the native Coprosma quadrifida almost to the ground by deer, resulting in an unnaturally open forest. This means that lyrebirds are more exposed to predators such as foxes and feral cats.

(c)       Trampling of indigenous vegetation resulting in poor regeneration of native species.

(d)       Fouling of water in creeks by deer faeces, possibly introducing viruses that deer are known to carry and creating bogs where they wallow.

(e)       Competing with wallabies and wombats for food.

(f)       Antler rubbing on Sassafras trees resulting in ring-barking and eventual death of the tree.

(g) Destruction of valuable species of vegetation. The Cool Temperate Rainforest Community within the forest is being threatened. Deer tend to follow creeks throughout the forest. Therefore, any damage to creek vegetation will inevitably see the disappearance of this plant community, already threatened in Victoria. Deer browse the fronds of tree-ferns within their reach continually, resulting in their demise.

In 2014, Parks Victoria commenced a deer control program, but used only volunteer shooters from the Sporting Shooters’ Association. After four years it was decided to cease this program as the number of deer being shot in the last year was zero. The Friends have maintained that for the program to be a success it would be necessary to contract professional deer shooters, and close the Park for a period of time until numbers had been reduced.

Conclusion

Although Sherbrooke Forest is a relatively ‘young’ forest as a result of the 1923 wildfire, the threats posed by environmental weeds escaping from residential gardens will be a continuing problem.

A severe storm on 9 June 2021 blew over many mature Mountain Ash and Blackwood trees (Acacia melanoxylon), thus opening up the forest to more light and threatening the Sassafras trees (Atherosperma moschatum) in the Sherbrooke Creek gully. Many of the mature eucalypts would have been home for both possum and owl species.

If deer numbers are not controlled the structure of the forest will inevitably be changed, resulting in the loss of both indigenous flora and fauna.

The State Government must increase funding to improve the natural values of the forest. At present, funding has not been available to replace bridges destroyed by falling trees. Staff numbers are kept to a minimum, resulting on poor compliance of the public, who regularly walk their dogs along the forest tracks. The recent storm will cost thousands to clean up regular walking tracks, let alone to restore the damaged areas.

Like so many volunteer groups, the Friends of Sherbrooke Forest are an ageing group with the majority of active members being in their late seventies. Who will watch over this beautiful forest once they are unable to volunteer?

Further reading

The Friends of Sherbrooke Forest. 2000 & 2008. Sherbrooke Forest – its flora and history.

 

Friends of Sherbrooke Forest, Department of Conservation, Forests & Lands. 1989. Weeds of forests, roadsides and gardens : a field guide in colour for students, naturalists and land managers. Belgrave, Victoria.

Freshwater, Vivien. 2020. History of the Friends of Sherbrooke Forest 1980-2020. Friends of Sherbrooke Forest.

Review Status: Pending

Open Space Planning in SEQ – 1994-2021

More than 25 years after the creation of a regional open space network was recommended in the SEQ2001 Regional Plan, South East Queensland does not have a regional park system or any coordinated network of recreational open space worth the name. The narrative of what-might-have-been is a story of opportunities lost, at least three times over.

 

Purlingbrook Falls adjacent to the rainforest purchased under ROSS in 1994 – G. Edwards

Continue Reading

Review Status: Pending

History of parks and recreation in Australia

This narrative has been lightly edited from a draft written in 1994 by the late Frank Keenan, a co-Founder of the AIPR Trust Fund-Education. It has aged well.

Introduction

Initial development of the parks and gardens of Australia and the recreation movement was dominated by two major influences. Firstly the British heritage of the original settlers led to the desire that the new colonies would contain those elements of their home country which they most cherished. Prominent among these was their gardens, both private and public, which were the result of the interest in horticulture at all levels of government and the society generally. Thus Australia inherited the skills of the excellently-trained horticultural artisans and garden planners in the same manner as the other British colonies in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So the traditional English landscape including its associated plant species became an integral part of the towns and cities. The environment of the urban areas of Australia has been widely characterised by the contrast between the surrounding countryside and the parks, gardens and street trees of the towns and cities.

Secondly has been the development of recreation. Unlike horticulture, in which the government and community bodies set aside land for public parks and gardens, assisted in the development of these areas and helped finance the procurement of plants, the recreation groups were established by voluntary workers from within the community. In the early years the government assistance was limited to actions ensuring the survival of the colony. Then followed the development of the essential services for community life. Consequently, people themselves using the pioneering spirit common to the early settlers established their own leisure activities, using land, water and any other resources that were available.

 

Evolution of horticultural styles

With few exceptions the native flora is evergreen with a high percentage of eucalyptus and offering a landscape completely different from that introduced by the British colonists. The first towns of Sydney and Hobart were developed as penal settlements and since their administrators came from military and seafaring backgrounds, they had little knowledge of conservation and horticulture and it was not until the arrival of the first settlers that there was any substantial movement in establishing parks and gardens. Thus as the early surveyors developed the town plans, areas were set aside for public open space and the new settlers began building their new environment using the ingredients dear to their heart. Thus, today in our earliest-developed localities, the prevailing trees are deciduous types which, with the aid of irrigation and the absence of natural predators, have flourished. However by the beginning of the second half of the 20th century many changes to this pattern had evolved. Australians have now begun to understand and treasure their indigenous plants resulting in firstly, conservation measures being taken to ensure the protection of native flora and secondly, the use of these native plants as part of their horticultural planning in new developments. This philosophy is now being put into practice by the introduction of tertiary education in such fields as town planning and landscape architecture, together with Australia-wide training in associated crafts such as apprenticeship schemes.

 

Recreation

The development of people’s leisure time activities in the early years was entirely dependent on their own motivation. Those open spaces being provided by government were preserved for environmental and aesthetic purposes with recreation limited to such things as walking, socialising over refreshments in the tea house and listening to the local brass band. All forms of sporting activity were forbidden in such places. Thus as the colonists formed their sporting groups and similar leisure-time community organisations, they either used private land and buildings or lobbied the government, including local authorities, for permission to reserve Crown land for community purposes. It was not until the early twentieth century that financial assistance began to be made available to assist in the development of playing fields and associated buildings. Because these recreation grounds were developed by sporting administrators with little knowledge of landscape design, and without finance to seek outside assistance, these sporting areas contributed little to the community environment. It is only from about the late 1960s that planning controls have been exercised and sports fields have become elements of town plans, complete with landscaping standards and maintenance programs.

The work of organising these sporting groups was performed by members of the public in their own time and at their own expense. This pattern of volunteer organisation in all forms of sport involving every age group has now developed with possibly the leading example of volunteer community action in the western world. As the facilities became more sophisticated and sporting bodies more competitive, the spirit of the original pioneers became the driving force that propelled Australia into world prominence in sporting spheres. Again this movement has been greatly assisted by the accepted practice by which leading sportsmen and women, after standing down from active participation, returned to their clubs as coaches and administrators, thus providing a role model for the younger generation to follow and to ensure that national standards were maintained.

In those cultural fields associated with community leisure, the pattern of volunteers ‘participation was similar to those of sporting activities. However the heritage of the early British settlers ensured that their traditions were followed: a new land with more affluent residents becoming financial patrons of the arts. With this background, successful organisations were established in both the performing and the graphic arts. However as in other western societies, higher taxation on private families saw bodies struggling to exist and in 1968, the federal government established the Australian Council for the Arts. This meant that for the first time in the country, government accepted the responsibility of organising and heavily subsidising the arts movement. These actions also ensured that the artists themselves were given every opportunity of earning a reasonable salary including their employment as teachers and coaches.

 

Parks management

In the latter part of the twentieth century, the management of parks and recreation systems has undergone considerable changes. Traditionally the administration of urban public open spaces has been vested in local government. The greater proportion of this land is publicly owned, classified as Crown land with the ultimate control of its use resting with the appropriate state government minister. The local council is commonly nominated as the trustee to manage the land; however in specific cases independent trusts who bypass the council but are still responsible to the minister have been established.

Until recently councils were comparatively small structures with the Town Clerk or the Chief Executive Officer being the General Manager and the City Engineer being responsible for the outdoor activities. This work covered the parks, gardens and open spaces and to assist him the council employed a superintendent of parks and gardens, who performed the role of the city gardener under the British concept of that period. It was only in the state capital cities that the parks departments were operated as autonomous bodies with the chief officer answerable to the council.

Today [~1994] these routines are in the process of change. In several states, including those of the eastern seaboard in which the greater proportion of the population resides, local government is being reorganised. The smaller councils in New South Wales have been amalgamated into much larger bodies and in Victoria a similar exercise is taking place. These moves will have obvious effects on parks and gardens management and staffing arrangements.

Two other changes in the higher echelon of council employment are also having an influence in this field. Firstly is the emergence of the town planner as a major force in the development of new areas and reconstruction of the older cities. This person is now taking over the planning of the open spaces and employing landscape architects, formerly working with the parks and gardens sections. Likewise has been the emergence of the municipal recreation officer. This particular move has seen a change in the city gardener philosophy with a parks and gardens responsibility being limited to maintenance. Today the Australian tradition of reliance of volunteers in organising its leisure activities is now being boosted by the employment of professionally trained staff.

Another change affecting local government is the move to privatise the staff in the construction and maintenance of parks and gardens. Currently [1994] council officers are undergoing educational training to ensure that new policy can be effectively implemented.

Other forms of open space used for specific purposes including zoological gardens, foreshores and cemeteries are not usually operated by councils. As these community facilities were developed in the pioneering days when local government was in its infancy, state governments accepted the responsibility and commonly established independent trusts consisting of leading members of the community, together with those having the necessary professional and technical skills. Such bodies were directly responsible to the minister and many are still in existence today.

There is also a limited number of privately-owned parks, notably golf courses, racing tracks and sports stadiums, usually managed by private recreation clubs. In the main, these bodies have purchased their own land, although in a number of instances Crown land has been made available under controlled conditions.

Finally, in the latter part of the twentieth century, there has been a marked increase in tourist resorts ranging from those centred around the sea and sunshine, to specific theme parks and those built around recreation features with the emphasis on golf courses, many of which are of international championship standard. There is little doubt that these type of recreation facilities will increase as the tourist industry in Australia increases in order to meet the demands of the nearby Asian countries, Japan in particular.

 

Role of the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation (now Parks and Leisure Australia)

The original moves to co-ordinate the horticultural industry in Australia date from the early days of colonisation. It was then that the first horticultural societies were formed, but it was not until 1926 that the managers of public open spaces met to establish their own group. This new body originally named the Victorian Tree Planters Association, was to set up in that State, its foundation members being a mix of politicians, nurseryman and curators of parks, gardens and street plantations. The Association became the Victorian Institute of Parks Administration in 1955. In 1962 it expanded nationally as the Australian Institute of Park Administration, and in 1965, it was reconstituted to become the Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation. In 1977 it was granted the royal charter to become the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation (RAIPR).

During the latter part of the nineteenth century the planning concept of the ‘garden city’ was introduced to Australia after successful ventures in the United Kingdom. A suburb of Melbourne developed according to garden city principles between 1926 and 1948 still carries that name. Town planners adapted to this movement by specifying the quarter-acre allotment for each individual home and the average Australian used most of this land to develop the house garden. Thus the urban areas of residential use virtually became one large garden in which houses were erected, and the effect has been very satisfactory, particularly amongst the more prosperous and house-proud residents. Thus it was not surprising that in 1975 the State Government promoted Victoria as the Garden State and appointed a Garden State Committee as an advisory body to ensure the development of this character. The most tangible evidence of this action was the words on all motor vehicles registration plates, Victoria Garden State.

In all of these initiatives the Institute has been involved. In its early years, it led by example in organising tree planting schemes bordering major highways, and arboreta in which to conduct tree trials. Further, its annual conferences have had a major influence in the interaction between politicians and park managers.

The Institute was the first group in the nation to recognise the public recreation movement, in 1965, at least six years before all levels of government introduced ministries and departments of recreation and leisure activities. It modified its constitution and changed its name. As such it ensured compatibility between the old and its new disciples operating in the same field, and was well equipped to be represented in those advisory bodies established by both the federal Government and the state authorities.

 

Review Status: Pending

Glen Rock Master Plan

When staff of the Land Planning Branch of the Department of Lands, managers of the Regional Open Space System from its commencement in 1994, recommended that the Glen Rock property in the Gatton hinterland be purchased for public purposes, the intended purpose was as a demonstration cattle property. Given its proximity to the metropolis, the range of vegetation types from Creek Flats to mountaintops and the sensitivity of the land to soil erosion, it was considered that it would make an excellent facility to showcase landcare principles and practice. This was consistent with development as a regional park. Continue Reading

Review Status: Pending

Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre: Wilderness pedagogy

Karawatha means the ‘place of pine trees’ in Yugambeh, the local Aboriginal language. This precious area traverses Brisbane City Council and Logan City Council, eighteen kilometres south of the Brisbane city centre. This is an important National Estate area: historically for Indigenous peoples; ecologically for endemic and IUCN red-listed species; technically for early settlers with mining and water storage; socially for family recreation and tourist sightseeing; environmentally as a nature refuge with diverse ecosystems and also as a wetlands habitat for Brisbane ‘living lungs’ carbon sequestration; and economically as a community investment for future generations to learn about wilderness.

Karawatha was an integral part of the Flinders-Greenbank-Karawatha (FGK) green belt for South-east Queensland stretching from historic Redlands through Brisbane, Logan, Beaudesert and Ipswich municipalities to Flinders Peak. Over thirty years, the community was instrumental in the donation, bequest and buy-back of 1000 hectares of land from diverse stakeholders in order to keep the Karawatha Forest corridor intact. High-value biologically-diverse habitats include many of those twenty-five identified ecosystems registered for South-east Queensland (NRM, 2006). The wetlands of the Logan Shire contrast sharply against the dry landscapes and rocky pinnacle overlooking five surrounding townships. For an intricate map, click here (soon – not yet active).

This narrative focuses on the evolution, design, development and management of the Discovery Centre, respecting original Council by-laws, but subsequently evolving into much more: a purpose-built facility for community and environmental education focused on the interaction of children with the natural realm. This was a major step forward for innovative experiential learning. The Karawatha Forest Protection Society was pivotal to the process.

 

Understanding community attitudes

The multicultural population in the local towns shared their perspective of the Australian bush as a ‘dangerous place’ with spiders in every tree, snakes everywhere, ‘drop bears’, nasty amoeba in every waterhole, biting insects, sunburn leading to skin cancer and predatory raptors swooping their children from the sky. Several members of the Karawatha Forest Protection Society (KFPS) conducted multicultural sessions for appreciation of the bush, firstly in local libraries and then in the forest itself. On KFPS community picnic days, wildlife rangers and television personalities allowed fearful families to understand more, as children embraced lizards and felt furry animals, while parents and grandparents were petrified. In some cases, those Asian families had lived generations in concrete jungles with no exposure to the natural benefits of wilderness. To see attitudes change from fear to a healthy appreciation was significant and reassuring. This strongly influenced the principles for designing the ‘Eco-centre’ project.

The KFPS surveyed 107 users of the forest at the Acacia Road entrance, the local school principal and the church elders who were riparian land owners. Responses were collated on a matrix of desirable design features by staged development timeframes of two years, five years, ten years, 30 years and 100 years. The intent was a design for sustainable public place-making.

The design brief

Every fortnight for many months, representatives met with KFPS and Council departments to refine desirable outcomes, operating expectations, environmental impacts, community involvement and funding. The staff became enthusiastic project leaders. The design brief was for future generations:

  • interacting with the natural systems within the forest;
  • conquering ‘nature deficit disorder’;
  • demonstrating nature play and exercise programs for all ages and abilities;
  • understanding ancient Indigenous stewardship and spirituality of the place;
  • incorporating scientific studies with new technology for day and night eco-auditing for many international stakeholders interested in rare and endemic species;
  • providing dedicated space for onsite education and training and community meetings;
  • undertaking cultural awareness sessions with some historical recognition;
  • incorporating low-environmental-impact free facilities (drinking water, toilets, buildings, family picnic areas, playgrounds, educational walks, GPS-assisted wayfinding with language translations, signage, and broader community spaces);
  • integrating with the natural environment with minimal disruptive footprint; and
  • facilitating safe use of the forest (minimising night crimes and unauthorised fires, mitigating fire risk to new townhouse development adjacent to the school and managing traffic safely).

7-senses approach to play

This also capitalised on the project where attention-deficit children would undertake a supervised six-week-programme with nature immersion (Tooth & Renshaw, 2017), which continuously resulted high success rates for permanent improvement in children’s behaviour. This further exemplified the values of the Last Child in the Woods (Louv, 2005) with the movement to address nature-deficit-disorder emerging from people having no connection to natural landscapes, as globally urbanisation affected half the world’s population. Teachers, PhD students, Queensland Environmental Educators’ school champions, outdoor education practitioners and parents were keen to see the latest thinking put into practice.

The ‘Nature Play’ playgrounds were not a favourite for public risk assessors at the time. However there were global innovations with successful case studies to support inclusion. Furthermore, providing for physically and intellectually impaired children, and for the ageing and disabled people generally, became a priority. This emerged as Queensland Parliament signed the United Nations Declaration for Rights of the Disabled Persons applying to all designs for public spaces. This resulted in achievement of the 7-senses approach to play (Volbert). Senses include sight, smell, touch, sound, taste and two extra for children on the autism spectrum – vestibular (for gravity, balance and movement) and proprioception (for deep-sense coordination and muscle interaction). So, the plan embraced indoor and outdoor learning techniques.

The outcome

The Discovery Centre (aka Eco-centre) comprises a low-maintenance building planned for a century asset-life, designed to integrate into the forest and community space in the recreational parklands. The building itself houses drink fountains, an artist-in-resident space, training room with community meeting space, sanitation, maintenance shed, ranger’s office with tourism reception area and most importantly the multi-purpose space for community engagement and interactive learning for school children.

Upon entry, many languages welcome the visitor and then hologram frogs on waterlilies with babbling water bring the space to life. A video scans the space. The interactive parts deserve further explanation.

By air: A drone acts as a wedge-tail eagle complete with wing flapping and windy sound effects as we lie on a padded bench to assume the role of the raptor surveying all that lies below on the 1000 hectares, across the Compton Road overpass (designed to prevent animal deaths on the busy freight road), the glider ladders straddling the transport canyon, the hidden underpass where reptiles slither in the drain while amphibians hop and clamber across ledge ‘furniture’, the reservoir, the waterhole, the quarry scars, the rocky lookout, the buzzing wetland swamps with diverse foliage and birdlife, the old cemetery and surrounding townships. But most striking is the raw bush, sometimes dry, rocky and harsh, sometimes wet and abundant.

By day and night: For a day in the life of the forest, a room with padded seats quickly introduces us to the local species with the sounds, sights and movements complete with cicada heralding the heat before a lightning storm and peaceful dawning glory. The fast-motion immersion makes senses react.

By curiosity: Small boxes beckon children to feel things inside to identify as they learn in this safe environment. Play School-style windows and panels open to the stories of native bees, furry animals, pine cones and fires, flowers and 25 types of frogs.

By play: a seated school and play area is available for parents and teachers, where walls are lined with maps and illustrations and museum style cabinets house live animals for children to find and touch. This is a supervised zone.

For adults there are many more things to see and do in Karawatha (peripatetic andragogy) but this story is limited to designing for children’s nature-based education. Outdoor programs are covered comprehensively elsewhere on the Karawatha website.

 

Logos of Karawatha Forest Protection Society

 

Vincent Watego, graphic artist, nature-lover and photographer, created this painting of the Green-thighed Frog, Litoria brevipalmata.

IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red listed species.

Marilyn Murphy’s line-drawing was the winning entry in an art competition held in ~1990. KFPS have proudly used this logo since incorporation.  The logo depicts the gumnuts & leaves of Eucalyptus planchoniana, a.k.a. Planchon’s Stringybark, Needlebark Stringybark or Bastard Tallowwood: Koala feed trees for food and perhaps shelter (sleep trees).

 

This story honours the three women – Bernice Volz, Trish McHugh, and Polly Cutcliffe – who cared enough to establish the Karawatha Forest Protection Society, 31 years ago, to include stewardship of Karawatha Forest, Illaweena Wetlands and the Kuraby Nature Refuge and bushlands (Roberts, 2021).

 

References

Brisbane City Council. Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre. Video https://youtu.be/FG207_pP2QA

Louv, R. 2005. The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books.

Maynard, S., James, D. & Davidson, A. 2010. ‘The Development of an Ecosystem Services Framework for South East Queensland‘. Environmental Management 45, 881-895.

NRM. 2006. Natural Resource Management of South East Queensland – Mapping Ecosystems Services.

Roberts, Beryl. 2021. Unpublished works on the History of Karawatha,

Tooth, R. & Renshaw, P. 2017. ‘Pedagogy as advocacy in and for place’. Chapter 10 in Diverse Pedagogies of Place. Routledge.

Volbert, T. The 7 Senses Foundation and colleagues.

Review Status: Pending

Mt Neurum – Mt Archer, SEQ

Mt Neurum

After the launch of the Regional Open Space System (ROSS) in South East Queensland in mid-1994, the ROSS office based in the Department of Lands had some $4 million per annum (budgeted for five years) to spend on land purchase. A private allotment covering much of Mount Neurum, a prominent outcrop at the end of the D’Aguilar Range overlooking Woodford, came on the market. Staff assessed it as being of high value for regional open space, because of its prominence in the landscape and because a subdivision design for some 20 allotments high on the rise, each necessitating a long steep driveway, was in existence.

The property was purchased by the State and eventually Caboolture Shire Council took management.

Mt Archer

A privately-owned, dog-friendly recreation park was established on private freehold land near to Mt Neurum, abutting Neurum Creek. More details on this innovative facility to come.

Review Status: Pending