On summer evenings, Mandy Stone walks 500 metres to the bottom of her street and tends to her small vegetable patch at Collingwood Children’s Farm on the banks of the Yarra River.
There, in a space of about 16 square metres, she grows silverbeet, tomatoes, pumpkin, beans, cucumber, carrot and cumquats. The gardening gives her a chance to “get away from things”. Those things include work as a school welfare officer and psychology teacher and her role as convenor of the Collingwood and Abbotsford Residents Association.
Mandy has been walking down to this place of reflection for ten years now, having waited 12 months for one of the popular vegetable patches to become vacant.
She often strolls south along the river, past the Abbotsford Convent to the Gipps street bridge or north past a large apartment development on her way to Dights Falls.
It is projects such as the Trennery Crescent Apartments and proposals to develop the convent that propelled Mandy into local campaigns concerned with over-development along the river.
“By removing the vegetation and imposing on the sense of seclusion, the apartments have destroyed the feeling of the area for many people,” she says, as a magpie deftly pulls a worm out of the ground.
“Why do people need to possess the riverbank and its views, to own it and deny it to others? We should be preserving something that is so extraordinary and so close to the city.”
“It’s like the coast. We destroy what we love. To do it deliberately knowing what we know [about
environmental impacts] is frustrating and irresponsible. We can do better.”
Speaking to The Melbourne Times in November 2004, Mandy said: “There’s a terrible contradiction of people flocking to riverside locations because of what they like about it, but in doing so they destroy the very thing they like.”
Mandy discovered during the campaign for the Abbotsford Convent that “there are hundred, thousands of people” who cherish the tranquility of the Yarra River, the chance to get away from things.
Her empathy for the environment partly stems from a childhood spent by the banks of the Snowy River and in the bush and beach of Cape Conran. She grew up in Orbost, with the Snowy River “at the bottom of the street where we lived”.
The family spent its holidays at Cape Conran, near Marlo, in a beach shack that was once a four room schoolhouse. “We’d spend all summer there, with about 12 other Orbost families staying in shacks too. We had water tanks and a generator. It was great fun, swimming, playing in the bush, collecting shells, making hideouts.”
Mandy says that the more people are removed from their natural environment the more “the curtains come down when it comes to responsibility”. She suggests that when you can heat and cool and light a home at the tip of a button it’s easy to lose touch with the environment. As she says this a horde of city children troop through the Collingwood Children’s Farm, on their way to learn about country life.
Mandy hopes that one day the Yarra River, including its banks, will be heritage-listed. “There is so much natural and cultural importance in and by the river, for indigenous and non-indigenous people. There is an Aboriginal cooking mound, a midden, just on the other side of the river, where it’s very steep. It was a great fishing spot.”
Heritage-listing of the Yarra would take “a concerted effort”, says Mandy, but it would be well worthwhile, “especially if it offered the river protection against over-development”.
To discover the geographic and social history of this part of the Yarra River visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm: http://www.farm.org.au/html/our_history.html
Story by Vin Maskell, 2005