Historic gem’s lost lustre

Dandenong Creek at Police Paddocks Reserve. 215643_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Police Paddocks Reserve’s a “forgotten gem” that’s hidden by neglect, vandalism and a lack of promotion, says Greater Dandenong councillor Matthew Kirwan.

The sprawling 499-hectare reserve shows few signs or markers of its important indigenous history from at least the 1830s, nor its biodiversity.

In the reserve, a plaque is two kilometres down an unmarked track, with no signs to tell visitors that it exists.

“There is no wayfinding other than telling me how to get to Churchill National Park and Lysterfield Lake Park,” Cr Kirwan said.

“You wouldn’t know if you came across it how much valuable aboriginal, first contact, natural and equine history was there.”

The site is significant to the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people due to their association with the Narre Narre Warren Reserve of the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate and the Native Police Corps.

Daungwurring and Bunwurrung people were also part of the first version of the corps established by Christian de Villiers in 1837.

Cr Kirwan regards the site was a nationally significant “gem” – that all of Victoria and Melbourne should know more about.

It has also been home to Queensland Aboriginal trackers – some who were assigned to find bushranger Ned Kelly.

Up until 1931, the Victoria Police Stud Depot bred, trained and spelled its horses, including the force’s famous grey bloodlines.

Today, that is all sadly overshadowed by graffiti, poor roads, rubbish dumping and abandoned amenities.

More than five years ago, the land’s manager Parks Victoria closed the toilet block and picnic ground due to frequent damage, graffiti and rubbish dumping.

Serial vandals targeted cultural heritage interpretative signs – and so the signs were removed.

Parks Victoria’s website offers no detail on the reserve’s history or ecology.

Cr Kirwan said the area was part of a wildlife corridor of significant biodiversity – an increasingly rare remnant of Melbourne’s swamp scrubland.

It is home to sugar gliders, powerful owls and at least four native fish species and 90 native plant species.

The habitat includes stands of swamp gum and swamp paperbark, as well as prickly currant bush and bidgee widgee.

The council will press the State Government and Parks Victoria for a new management plan to better enshrine the reserve’s value in Dandenong North.

Cr Kirwan said the plan needs to also consider Churchill National Park and Lysterfield Lake Park – the latter is the subject of a separate, recently revised management plan.

Cr Zaynoun Melhem, in support, said the site was one of the most significant in Greater Dandenong, Casey and Knox.

A Parks Victoria spokesperson said it was aware of recent, frequent vandalism and anti-social behaviour in parts of the site, including the toilet block and picnic ground.

“Parks Victoria is monitoring activity in the Dandenong Police Paddocks, with rangers regularly patrolling to discourage antisocial behaviour.”

There are plans for Parks Victoria’s website to provide more information on the reserve’s significance on its website.

Parks Victoria also pledged to remove any unsafe storm debris from recent weeks, such as felled trees blocking paths or leaning on one another.

To report rubbish dumping, call Parks Victoria on 13 1963.