Dreaming of having a real environment minister

ACT Government not so environmental

In February, 2012, the then-ACT Labor Environment and Sustainable Development Minister, Simon Corbell, officially opened the Dickson Wetlands (completed in 2011). This marvellous water feature changed the neighbourhood.

The reality was that it was not primarily a new community park or wetland, rather it was a serious bit of water engineering with some landscape, biodiversity and design features attached. It has been a success on both counts and those involved with this initiative deserve to be congratulated.

As stated in their pamphlets, the then-government undertook this major project to provide water quality improvements, assist with flood detention, increase aquatic and terrestrial habitat in urban areas and supply stormwater to irrigate the nearby playing fields. It was a treat!

Similar wetlands were installed in Lyneham along with other works connected to the Sullivan Creek Catchment. Along the Dickson part of the water course, there is no creek as many decades ago this was replaced with the over-engineered concrete passageway – known locally as the Dickson Drain.

The area now occupied by the wetlands was a former oval with a disused cricket pitch in the middle. It was not being used for anything – being mostly weeds. To create the wetlands there were major diggings and mountains of earth moved around. It was a huge infrastructure job.

The parklands around these wetlands are reasonably popular. Locally, people who walk or go for a jog from home often head there, do a circle or two before heading back into the suburb or make a turn along the cycle/pedestrian path beside the Dickson Drain.

In warmer times people sit, picnic or let the kids loose to play. As a recreational area it could do with more seating, more trees, shrubbery and other well-designed stuff to encourage people to gather or to simply sit to quietly contemplate their future and their past.

There are other curiosities. There were toilets nearby in the adjacent grassed area to the south-east but they disappeared soon after the wetlands were opened. Who knows why. One arm of government giveth – another taketh away!

The other oddity was a bench perched on a mound in the south west corner. Strangely it faced the wrong way – so if you sat on it you looked off to the suburb not towards the water. It was recently turned around. Communication breakdown between contractor and the original designer?

These wetlands should be celebrated more with some upgrades to the amenities. The initial work was undertaken by a previous style of ACT Labor government, one that did nice things and had a real environment minister in Simon Corbell. The perception was that he cared for the environment and was keen to do something real about climate change – and community facilities.

Sitting on one of the seats recently I wondered were the area still the mass of weeds it once was, would there be anyone within the current ACT Greenslabor with the intellectual capacity to see the potential for this community space?

I suspect it would have been regarded by the likes of Ministers Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti as a land bank to be sold for development. It would be about making money to top up their other underfunded and failing programs.

Community grounds and facilities are not a priority for this Greenslabor cohort given they are always too busy doing something else (photo-ops) while pretending to be progressive.

We can only dream of having a real environment/planning minister again one day. As for such a major initiative coming from these neoliberal Greenslabor politicians – we dream on!

Meanwhile, if you are not familiar with them, do check out the Dickson (and Lyneham) wetlands. Take the time to not do much and enjoy the wildlife that has made these places their home. There are loads of ducks that will provide entertainment and distract from the serious world issues and other stuff you probably should be doing.


This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters



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