Stories and serenity: A community achievement


View from The Lookout. Photo: Vasundhara Suresh.

Once a neglected and full of rubbish, a vacant block overlooking Ashfield Flats is now a serene parkland with a special focus on local storytelling.

With the help of their local council, the people of Ashfield have turned the unkempt space into a community-connected observation point now called The Lookout. The makeover was a collaboration between community group AshfieldCAN and the Town of Bassendean, with MLA Dave Kelly offering encouragement and support.

The design was inspired by a love of history and sustainability and everything used in making the garden has been recycled or repurposed, including lumber logs from Sandy Beach Reserve’s former pier, leftover concrete being cast into steppingstones imprinted with local vegetation, and recycled mulch used to construct a walkway across the space.

Over 2500 plants, including native bush tucker plants, Xanthorrhoea and medicinal plants, were planted by the community and the Town of Bassendean will be responsible for their upkeep.

Located on the corner of Kenny Street and Hardy Road, the park is a place where residents and tourists can enjoy the beauty of the region while hearing stories linked to their surroundings via a story telling bench with inlaid QR codes that link to online sound files featuring the voices the area’s long term inhabitants. These range from local people telling two-minute stories about Ashfield’s history to the sounds of birds and other local animals.

Changing times, and priorities

Bassendean’s Deputy Mayor Kathryn Hamilton said: “The area was originally quite derelict, as people had dumped rubbish, however, it did have a beautiful aspect looking out over the Ashfield Flats.

“Now all the vegetation is relatively new, but I think in a couple of years time, when the plants are established, it’s going to be one of those beautiful spots where a lot of people walk in the evenings. It will be an ideal spot to stop during your walk and just take in the landscape and the wetlands.”

Newly re-elected Councillor and historian Jennie Carter has lived in the area since 1981 and was a founding member of the Bassendean Historical Society that aims to foster understanding of the history and heritage of the area. She was also one of the early members of the Bassendean Preservation Group that formed in 1985 to oppose a canal-style development for the Ashfield Flats area and set about revegetating and supporting the rehabilitation of local ecosystems. Looking back on the early days, she said: “We worked on a whole program of revegetation to look after the river. The river’s edge had been eroded and a lot of work went on to try and reclaim that because it was quite a rundown, and had been used as a sort of dumping ground and inappropriate species were invading it.”

She described the samphire, salt-tolerant succulent plants, that grew across the Flats and added: “Also, it was a wonderful place for the birds and it was a fish breeding ground. So, it was a valuable piece of land, ecologically and environmentally. But, it had not been properly looked after. It was partly-owned by the state government, partly-owned by private people and partly-owned by the Council, so it was a matter of getting all of those different entities on board.”

Asked about how she felt about the Council’s contribution to the transformation of the area overall, she said: “I think the Council’s done some tremendous work. I think particularly the riverside, the parks, the gardens, trying to preserve as well as bring back the tree canopy. Yeah, I think they’ve done a really, really, excellent job. I know there is always more things to do and there are always some things that people would prefer done than otherwise, but it’s been a forward-looking Council on that aspect.”

AshfieldCAN’s can-do approach

Lucy Bromell from AshfieldCAN was one of the key players in the initiative to change the vacant block to The Lookout. She said a lot of work went into the transformation and that care was taken to pay respect to the ancestors of the area.

One feature that expresses this and reflects the real purpose of The Lookout is a structure made of two pieces of Kimberley stone that says “Wanju”, which means welcome in the local Noongar language, and “nih wer kaartdjinin”, which means listen, learn and understand.

Ms Bromell said: “What the Bassendean Preservation Group had to do in the 1980s was to produce a plan for the use of the land. They designated this space as a lookout and it has never happened until now. But we were unaware of that whole story until about four weeks ago, even though we had been working on this project for five years.” She said most of that five years had been spent getting approvals, with the building phase taking closer to six months.

She explained how AshfieldCAN’s passion for sustainability had shaped the project, including asking for and being given the historic timbers from the decommissioned jetty at Sandy Beach, a little way upriver. These were used to make the main signage board for The Lookout. She said: “It’s a bit sad the jetty had to go, but if they were going to remove it, it’s good that we have been able to use it in this way.”

The team also asked the council if they could have the logs from trees that had been damaged by storms to incorporate into the park, to give it some structural features. In addition, as they built the benches, “every time we made a batch of concrete we’d have some leftover. So, we made all these stepping stones, and they’ve all got an imprint of a local plant.”

The Lookout was officially opened on September 17, 2021, at a ceremony inaugurated with a smoking ceremony by local Elder Vaughn McGuire. State parliamentarian for the area Dave Kelly and Town of Bassendean’s chief executive, Peta Mabbs, attended, along with members of AshfieldCAN and the broader community. Now it is, open to the public, with stories waiting to be heard and the peaceful river nearby.