Carl Bennett has been a Park Ranger at Brimbank Park since 1976 and has lived in Melbourne all his life. “Growing up in Essendon, the Maribyrnong was always part of the scenery, part of the environment,” he says.
“As a boy, in the 1950s, I’d ride down to Arundel Bridge in Keilor with friends and go swimming.” He can barely remember a time where he hasn’t been around the river and puts his devotion and interest for it down to his love for nature. Looking back over the past 29 years of working at Brimbank he has many fond memories. When asked if he has a favourite spot along the river he is quick to respond with, “Yes, the whole lot.”
Archaeological studies at Keilor have found that the Brimbank Park area is among the oldest known human-inhabited sites in Australia, with Aboriginal occupation extending back over 40,000 years. Its traditional owners are the Wurundjeri people.
Brimbank Park sits approximately 55 metres below the surrounding western plains. It was first settled by Europeans in the 1830s. The name is thought to have originated from the farmers moving their sheep and cattle ‘around the brim of the bank’ of the Maribyrnong River. Fifteen kilometres north-west of the city, the large metropolitan park was opened to the public in 1976.
This part of the Maribyrnong is home to a wide variety of native flora and fauna. The fauna include swamp wallabies, blue tongued lizards and echidnas, as well as brush-tail and ring-tail possums residing in the large, river red gums. The prolific bird life includes parrots, herons, galahs, blue wrens, yellow-tailed thornbills, rosellas, flame robins and the peregrine falcon.
As Visitor Services Ranger, Carl makes it clear there is plenty to see and do, such as walking, cycling canoeing, fishing and orienteering.
There are also playgrounds, picnic and barbeque areas and a cafe. “If you really are keen you can walk, or ride, the river trail from Keilor to the city, which is 25 kilometres.”
The park is also home to the Kulin Wetlands and Horseshoe Bend Children’s Farm.
Carl vividly remembers accidents along the river. For example, about 15 years ago a young teenage boy dived into the river only to have his leg penetrated by a sharp branch underneath the water. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived in time to save the boy’s leg. “The river can be very dangerous; there are trees in the water and very deep holes.” He says the three biggest problems facing the river today are the lack of rain, the threat from weeds and “the ongoing control of rabbits and other feral animals like cats and dogs.”
“Victoria’s drought has everyone concerned. The lack of rain has meant that the river volume is well below average. For the past five years the river has been unable to flush itself clean. And unfortunately the weeds seem to love the drought; they are flourishing and are taking over as the grass cover lessens.
“The river here is important to everybody, from the market gardeners upstream to the thousands of people who visit the park.”
Brimbank Park is open seven days a week. Entrance is from Keilor Park Drive: Melways Map 15 B10
Story by Laura Mullins