WEPA History by Gay Spies

48988278966_c6dabeda06_o-3 (3)Before I outline to members the activities WEPA has undertaken over the past year, I want to let you know that this will be my last President’s Report. I had hoped to find a successor long before this as many of you will know, but it is always difficult to find someone willing and with the time available to take on the roles of president and secretary and for some time I fulfilled both.

For the benefit of newer members and a reminiscence for those not-so-new, I would like to give an overview of the reason we were formed, and our main achievements since our foundation in 1981. Eric Wilksch was our founding President.

Foundation of WEPA

The impetus for our formation was the total lack of care and management of our bushland. At that time there was no action to deal with the weed infestation in all our reserves, trees were cut down for views on the pretext that they were a fire hazard, and officers tolerated the destruction of bushland in Explosives Reserve and Artarmon Reserve by some local children to make BMX bike tracks. The latter problem appears to be raising its head again.

In 1979 a serious fire in Explosives Reserve thought to have jumped from Garigal, meant the issue was uppermost in residents’ minds. Council proposals to carry out hazard reduction burns in Harold Reid Reserve met with both support and opposition, the latter because at that time fire was thought to be harmful to bushland, a view that was to change over time. So Fire And Bushland Management became the topic addressed by Dr Roger Goode for our first public meeting which was held in 1982. Over 90 people squeezed into Artarmon Library. We have never reached such stratospheric numbers since, however, numbers over the years, five times a year, have ranged between 20 and 50. Our guest speakers are always impressed, telling us that they often speak to much smaller audiences.

Campaign for Bushland Plan of Management
Our campaign for an Urban Bushland Plan of Management (POM) began with a packed seminar on urban bushland in the old Town Hall in Chatswood, at which a key speaker was Dr Laurie Johnson, then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Willoughby Council agreed to engage consultants Alan Fox and Dr Roger Goode, who produced the POM which was adopted in 1985 and is still in use today, though it has expanded and undergone revisions over the years.  Willoughby’s POM was only the second in NSW, as councils and residents became aware of the need to value and look after their bushland.

The POM also recommended that an advisory committee involving local residents should be set up.  This committee has since widened its scope to become the Natural Heritage and Bushland Advisory Committee and still functions today in spite of many attempts by Council to shut it down, along with other advisory committees such as the  Heritage Advisory Committee, dealing with the built environment.

WEPA urged council to adopt bush regeneration methods to manage the bushland. It eventually engaged the National Trust which supplied two teams which worked in Harold Reid Reserve and in Artarmon Reserve. This was short-lived due to a falling out between the Council and the Trust. The National Trust had begun conducting bush regeneration training in 1980, led by the renowned Joan Bradley, until bush regeneration training was introduced by TAFE.

The Sugarloaf Bush Regeneration Project
WEPA was not content to let things lie and following recommendations in the POM we applied for National Estate Grant funds to carry out bush regeneration in the Sugarloaf Creek Catchment in Castlecrag. The Sugarloaf Project was born. Several WEPA members became trained regenerators and our teams worked for two days a week in this very steep and challenging area from 1985 to 2012. We applied for and received several grants over the years, including a Bicentennial Grant, and finally Council funded the project. Workers were paid, but all administration and a considerable amount of on-site work was a voluntary contribution. The Sugarloaf Project uncovered a series of beautiful waterfalls in this untamed and weedy area and members conducted many walks and inspections over the years.

47153376432_e57fbe84e9_cGay and Harold Spies (right) with other members at Sugarloaf Creek.

Campaign for Flat Rock Gully
A major challenge for WEPA was the continued dumping in Flat Rock Gully, east of Flat Rock Drive, to which a blind eye had been turned for many years. Our efforts, assisted by local residents, and opposed by many on Council, finally resulted in the tipping being stopped. I would like to thank members Peter Murray and Roger Walker for their help in this campaign.

How to restore the gully became the next challenge. I would like to thank member and engineer John Alden for finally convincing Council that their plans for managing the tip slope would not work. Council eventually engaged consultants to come up with a plan for the gully. Just as well, because in-house ideas for dealing with the massive privet infestation were to bury it under yet more fill!

Council’s bushland management ‘new leaf’ arrived with the appointment of Alfred Bernhard as Bushland Manager. His guidance led to the reshaping of the tip site which is now unrecognisable from its former horror. The revegetation by staff and volunteers transformed the gully into the much-loved area it is today, providing recreation and education for the public, including school children, and valuable habitat for fauna. This is now at risk from the Beaches Link Tunnel project which, if it goes ahead, would use Flat Rock as the dive site for the tunnel construction.  More on this later in my Report. However, fighting for Flat Rock a second time was never part of the plan.

The Foreshore Building Line Campaign
The Foreshore Building Line (FBL) was a hotly contested issue in the early 1990s when a small number of residents sought to develop their properties in ways which would have severely damaged the bush, as well as a local and regional amenity. WEPA conducted a major campaign to maintain the location of the line and to strengthen it where possible. The FBL represents the limit beyond which development toward the foreshore is not permitted and as such plays an important role in protecting bushland. There are FBLs in other parts of Sydney but in the Willoughby Local Government Area, it is particularly important in protecting the long green fingers of bushland in the Upper Middle Harbour suburbs of Castle Cove, Middle Cove, Castlecrag and Northbridge, and to a lesser extent along the Lane Cove River. WEPA worked closely with the Castlecrag Progress Association and the Castlecrag Conservation Society and we were ultimately successful when council adopted the recommendations of the consultants it had engaged.

Over the years WEPA has made many submissions on a range of topics including developments affecting bushland, revisions of the Tree Protection Order, the 10/50 regulations allowing tree removal following bushfire, which resulted in severe tree loss in Willoughby, longwall mining under the Sydney water catchment, forest logging, environmental law and more. We have also attended delegations to MPs and Ministers.

The WEPA newsletter, sent out generally five times a year over three decades, kept members informed about conservation issues at local, state and federal level, as well as about forthcoming events. This was an all-consuming job which I was delighted to hand over to Meredith Foley, who introduced an online version in magnificent colour.

We have also led many walks in local reserves, as well as an annual foray to the Blue Mountains. As Council’s bushland section became more established, they gradually took over some of our former activities, such as local walks, which we no longer do. Willoughby has been very fortunate to have an enthusiastic and dedicated team to manage our bushland, led by the stable management of Alfred Bernhard who has now been with Council for over 20 years. Other councils have not been so lucky to have such continuity, with changes of staff complicating their approach to bushland, and in some cases ending up with very poor management.

Native plant awareness.
To encourage awareness of local native plants, for many years we operated native plant stalls at the Willoughby Spring Fair, as it morphed from Willoughby Park to Chatswood CBD, and also at Artarmon Fair and Castlecrag Fair. Artarmon Fair no longer functions, but we have had successful stalls at Castlecrag’s biennial fair for several years. Many thanks to Sheila Sippel with whom I have shared the vicarious pleasure of plant selection activities for our stalls, as well as to all our members who have helped on the day. Sheila also tends the plants and has them in peak condition prior to their journey to the stall. Native plant nurseries are no longer as numerous as previously and it becomes harder to source plants. WEPA has had no success in trying to persuade Council to establish its own nursery, as some other councils have done, notably Hornsby and Randwick.

team_on_stallHarold, Gay, Virginia Butchatsky, Sandra Heath and Sheila Sippel on the native plant stand

Involvement with other organisations
Throughout its existence, WEPA has been involved with the major conservation organisations, including the Total Environment Centre, the National Parks Association, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the latter functioning as an umbrella group for smaller nature conservation organisations such as ours. We seek advice and often source guest speakers from among their ranks. We also provide support for campaigns and assist with ongoing donations.

In 1983 WEPA became a member of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) and I served on its executive for several years, during which I established the NCC Urban Bushland Subcommittee. This group worked with the then Department of Planning and Environment to establish SEPP 19 – a State Planning Policy to protect urban bushland on public land. SEPP 19 was launched in 1986 in Harold Reid Reserve, by then Premier Bob Carr. Unfortunately, the funds necessary to carry out the badly needed education component were never forthcoming. John Connor, who went on to lead the Australian Conservation Foundation, provided much needed legal assistance and parliamentary liaison in the preparation of the policy. The departmental planner responsible for developing the policy was Meredith Ryan, who was exemplary in seeking community advice, something hard to imagine today. Later in retirement, she joined WEPA’s bush regeneration team.

ncc GROUP 2018Meredith Foley and Gay Spies (front row, 6th and 5th from right of picture) at NCC Annual Conference. 2018

Finally, I want to pay tribute to my late husband, Harold who was a committee member from the beginning. We worked as a team and he played a vital role doing many unsung tasks for WEPA, including late-night computer assistance to me when I was stuck tearing my hair out doing a WEPA newsletter

I am delighted to endorse John Moratelli as our next president. I hope you will support my nomination for Vice President in this year’s AGM.

 Gay Spies OAM
President, WEPA 1987-2020



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