When Anna Darcey woke early Sunday morning, July 3, the smell of a kerosenelike substance from Stony Creek was so overwhelming that she took herself and her two young children to Western Hospital.
“My throat was burning. It was ghastly,” said Ms Darcey.
“We had to get out of the house. I didn’t know what was in the creek but I knew it was a disgusting cocktail.”
Ms Darcey and her daughters were discharged from casualty without treatment. They then spent much of the day at a relative’s home, well away from Stony Creek.
By a quirk of fate, Anna’s husband Don, a fireman, was working to clean up the spill. “The smell was huge and it was getting worse,” he recalled. “It was still in the house six hours later.”
Ms Darcey said the burning sensation in her throat and airways didn’t ease until late that evening. “For the following few days,” she noted, “the smell was obvious the moment we stepped outside the house.”
An EPA investigation found that the discharge came from a transport company in Brooklyn. While cleaning out its tankers, McColls had discharged a chemical into a stormwater drain that emptied into the creek, 100 metres upstream from the Darceys’ home. The spill then flowed one-and-a-half kilometres down to the Stony Creek Backwash, where the creek meets the Yarra.
Since January 2004, the EPA has received 47 reports from residents about water and/or odour pollution in Stony Creek. An EPA spokesman said this number of reports is “on par” with the number of reports the EPA receives about other Melbourne creeks, such as Darebin, Dandenong, Merri, and Mullum Mullum.
Stony Creek is part of the Maribyrnong catchment. It flows through urban and industrial suburbs such as Sunshine, Tottenham, West Footscray and Yarraville.
While it appears to be little more than a a fenced-off, concrete drain in some parts, it is an open creek along the popular Cruickshank Park and again at Westgate Bridge. A 2004 State Government report describes the creek as having ‘very high social value’, especially in terms of recreation, such as cycling and walking. However its habitat and water quality is rated ‘poor’ and its vegetation and flow is rated ‘very poor’.
The Darcey home in Yarraville is right beside the creek, as close to the concrete drain as any other house in the area. Their back fence is only a few metres from the narrow channel. Don Darcey has lived next to Stony Creek for 15 years. In 1990 the creek burst its concrete banks and swamped his driveway, sending a car adrift and flooding a bungalow in his backyard.
He has seen the creek in its various hues. “Sometimes we wonder what colour the creek will be this week: green, blue, red, white, bronze, orange. When it’s white it’s as if there’s all this Skinny Milk in the creek.” Anna Darcy says that on July 3 the creek was “brown, a thick, murky brown. I’ve lived here for seven years and the creek hasn’t been this bad before.” She and her husband question whether the authorities are doing enough for Stony Creek. “It may be a drain but it still should have clean water in it, not chemical cocktails,” she said. “And, whatever’s in the creek ends up in the sea,” added her husband.
Story by Vin Maskell, 2005