By Teresa Cannon
Many Ferntree Gully locals will know the Quarry Reserve, with its lake and spectacular rockface backdrop. Some go there to take in the serenity, others to meet friends, fish, or walk their dogs. And for some years now, people have come to the Anzac Day Dawn Service. But it wasn’t always like this. It’s become what it is today due to the dedicated efforts of locals.
From the 1880s, the area was a quarry, mainly providing crushed rock for roads. By 1982, annual extraction had increased from 30,000 tons in the 1950s to 700,000 tons.
For decades, local residents complained about the quarry. During daily blasting, their houses shook, windows rattled and babies woke up screaming. Dust covered surrounding homes. Residents also worried about the dangers. After one blast a huge rock knocked down a large tree branch in a nearby backyard. Rock was transported in double trucks that passed a kindergarten, two schools and a residential aged care home. Rocks and stones spilled onto roads breaking some car windscreens. There was also the constant noise of the rock crusher. The quarry responded to some concerns; lining the crusher reduced the noise, alarms alerted residents to upcoming blasting and tarpaulins were installed on trucks. But residents reported that rocks continued to tumble from trucks and tarpaulins were often missing.
In 1989 neighbours, Cathy and Bill McCallum and Anne Eckstein, formally established the FTG Residents’ Action Group (RAG). Along with about 150 local residents they aimed to see the quarry finally closed. People brought their various skills. Many just wanted to help. All were determined.
RAG held meetings, developed strategies, organised petitions and protest marches, and attended Council meetings. Armed with cameras and notebooks, they recorded details of explosions and trucks without tarpaulins. Regular letters and media releases outlined their concerns. Their efforts alerted Derryn Hinch’s current affairs program, which ran a story on the community’s protest. RAG’s campaign was tenacious and relentless.
RAG approached Councillor Frank Johnson, a long time Councillor and two-time Mayor. He was persuaded by evidence RAG provided that the quarry should close. Frank secured the reverse of a Knox Council decision to support another licence extension. The residents were jubilant!
Minister for Industry and Economic Planning, David White, was responsible for approving the quarry’s licence extension. RAG presented a detailed submission to his Extractive Industries Board and a petition of over 1000 signatures to him. In 1991, he approved only two more years of quarrying.
The quarry then appealed the Minister’s decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), claiming to have already addressed resident concerns and that closure would lead to unemployment for workers. RAG said residents had suffered long enough and that the quarry could redeploy workers to their other sites.
The AAT Appeal was heard in 1992. RAG was about to face an even bigger hurdle. RAG first had to successfully argue to be allowed to even take part along with Knox City Council and the Shire of Sherbrooke. ‘The quarry had a QC and a team of solicitors. We had nothing like that,’ says Anne. As the Appeal dragged on and legal costs escalated, the quarry suggested the parties negotiate to see if an acceptable agreement could be reached. Anne Eckstein represented the RAG.
The AAT case was ultimately settled by agreement. The quarry could continue to excavate for two more years and then had to rehabilitate the site. The community got a commitment that the site would be allocated to housing and community park with the giant hole to become a lake. Some amenities for the park and safety features for the lake and the escarpment were also negotiated. The park would then be given to Knox City Council for community use. Council later negotiated further concessions and received grants from local MPs to improve the park.
Anne remembers the time as, ‘… hard sustained work over a long period of time by people who all had other full-time jobs. We succeeded because we never gave up; we paid attention to the details, analysed documents and kept thorough records. We never let the quarry get away with a false or misleading claim without challenging them and we effectively used and organised the skills and resources of our community.’
Many people now delight in the beauty of Quarry Reserve, but few know the story of how a small group of residents fought so hard to make it happen.
Teresa Cannon and FTG News are grateful to former members of the FTG Residents’ Action Group for their assistance with this article which is a compressed version of the accounts written by FTG RAG. FTG News is interested in receiving further stories about the struggle for the park for possible publication in the newspaper or on the website.