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Community battles to save historic Willsmere Billabong

Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc. media release, Friday 11 July 2008

Willsmere Billabong

Tomorrow, Saturday 12 July 2008, local residents and environmentalists will rally at Willsmere Billabong in Kew. This iconic Yarra riverside haven is threatened with annihilation if construction of a proposed “Westgate-style” bridge, boardwalk and commuter cycle path is allowed to proceed. Boroondara Councillor and former Mayor, Phillip Healey, has called an urgent Ward meeting on site to hear residents concerns about the Park and Billabong. (Recently a majority of Councillors gave this environmentally damaging project the go-ahead. Cr Healey, however, cast a dissenting vote.)

Tony Michael, Chairperson of Friends of Willsmere Park and Kew Billabong, explains:

“Willsmere Park has one of the last Billabongs remaining on the Yarra before the city. It is a reminder of what the rural environment was like when Europeans came to settle Victoria. Parks Victoria, whose charter is to save open space, simply sees it as a corridor through which they can build a monstrous steel and concrete bridge for commuter cyclists. It is expected that over 4,000 will daily speed right through the centre of the park, thus dividing it into two. The City of Boroondara's own Parks and Gardens department has recommended against this cycle path, saying that it is in the wrong location. There are 6 alternative routes other than through Willsmere Park and our aim is to see it relocated at one of the alternatives.”

Julianne Bell, Secretary of Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc. (a coalition of 80 environment, heritage and community organisations) comments:

Plan of bike path

“The massive infrastructure required for cycle path and bridge will destroy not only the park but the billabong - an amazing oasis where wildlife such as platypus and tortoises and a myriad of rare birds have survived - until now that is. A 400 year old pre settlement River Red Gum is threatened by this project. It is ironic that the ad. by Melbourne Water about littering waterways shows a picture of a platypus saying "I worry about the health of my family" and calling on the public to "help protect our rivers and creeks". What protection does a platypus receive from the State Government? Very little, it seems. We are also very concerned that the area is subject to inundation and has a history of flooding. People have been swept off pedestrian bridges during flash floods of the Merri Creek and drowned. Alterative crossings must be explored. The safety of Boroondara residents plus many other Melburnians should not be put at risk.”

Community members are looking forward to the opportunity to meet Cr Healey and other Councillors to discuss future action. The case is to be heard in V. C. A.T. The hearing will involve Parks Victoria and four Councils including Boroondara.

Tomorrow on Saturday Media representatives are invited to meet in Willsmere Park in front of the small carpark in Willow Grove at 12:45 pm. At 1 pm we will proceed across the Park to the Billabong. The Melways Map Reference is 45 F1.

Media Contacts: Julianne Bell, Secretary, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc. 98184114. Tony Michael, Chairperson, Friends of Willsmere Park and Kew Billabong Inc. 0419 587939. Councillor Phillip Healey 04373747773. For information see www.boroondaraalive.com.

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