By Ray Peace
Blind Creek, Ferntree Gully’s waterway, is under stress. Springing from the heights of the Dandenong Ranges western flanks, and ultimately draining, via Dandenong Creek into Port Phillip Bay, the creek has faced many changes and threats since European settlement. But the latest threat is greater than any previously: climate change.
Blind Creek is one of several waterways in what’s now the City of Knox. The Indigenous inhabitants of the district knew it intimately in a way modern residents could not envisage. The arboreal forest of the Blind Creek catchment provided all the firewood, and food sources, they needed: kangaroos, wallabies, other native species of smaller animals. From Blind Creek came not only fresh water and fish, but also native eels, for which in many areas the Indigenous people constructed elaborate eel traps.
All that changed with European settlement. Blind Creek was reportedly so named as it was so over-arched with vegetation that it could not be seen from high vantage points, such as One Tree Hill. The creek actually has two streams arising from the upper slopes of Chandlers Hill and Mount Miller, which converge to a single watercourse just east of Dorset Road.
The forest of the Blind Creek catchment was considered of lower commercial value than the taller forest higher on the ranges. With the sub-division of the district into Crown Allotments in 1860, the forest was cut down piecemeal, either for firewood or charcoal, by local residents, as several early settler accounts confirm. The land was converted into pasture for sheep and cattle, and all run-off went directly into Blind Creek.
As one local resident recalled, by the 1950s, ‘… a widespread programme of local drainage … alone did not solve the [drainage] problem. Most homes had a septic tank to handle human wastes, and owing to the nature of local soils, the liquid effluent could not be absorbed, so it was added to the rain water and sullage, making the drainage system ineffectual, and waterways like Blind Creek an open sewer’.
Increasing environmental awareness in the late 1960s and 1970s led to changes for the better, but slowly. Almost the entire course of Blind Creek was barrel-drained, out of sight underground, in the 1960s. What is now Koolunga Reserve was then the local rubbish tip.
In 1980-82, led by two prominent local figures, Councillor Peter Maley, and local MLA, Steve Crabb, Blind Creek in Ferntree Gully became host to one of the first sections of dedicated shared use recreational paths anywhere in Victoria. Construction of the Blind Creek trail was accompanied by extensive rehabilitation and reafforestation. The Friends of Koolunga Reserve began restoration of this reserve in 1994, followed by formation of the Friends of Blind Creek Billabong in 2001.
Despite this, issues concerning the balance between preservation of the natural environment and suburban development were ongoing. Construction of the large retaining basin at Lewis Road in 1970 permanently altered this section of the watercourse, though maps related to the construction showed that parts of the basin had been little disturbed for one hundred years. In the 1980s, despite objections from members of Knox City Council, construction of residential dwellings was allowed directly over the channel.
Human-induced climate change is causing overall world atmospheric temperatures to rise drastically. But the primary consequence is not simply hotter weather, but more extreme weather, both hot and cold. Larger and heavier storms are creating, along Blind Creek, flooding events the watercourse has difficulty in coping with. Despite some recent improvements, such as the return of Blind Creek to an open watercourse within Koolunga Reserve in the 1990s, and between Rankin Road and Lewis Road in 2018-2020, flooding is only likely to become more serious and more frequent.
The future therefore holds a dilemma, not only for Blind Creek, but also for the City of Knox and the world at large: will we be able to reach some kind of balance between the environment and our misuse of it, or will the flash floods of December 2017 and January 2022 be harbingers of environmental chaos and disaster? Only time will tell.