The History of the Bushland

 

Endowment land granted 1904

In 1904, 614 acres (258 hectares) of land, which included what is now known as Underwood Avenue Bushland, was vested to the trustees of the University of Western Australia Endowment by the government of the day. The trustees were required to pay five shillings and one peppercorn of yearly rent on 25th day of March in each year. Around that time the University trustees were endowed with 1400 hectares of land.

 

The Universities Legislation Amendment Bill 2000, assented to on 7/12/2000 by parliament, allowed Universities to sell land or to develop it and to use the funds for investment rather than as previously, having to reinvest in land or buildings.

 

Some of the lot (lot 4; 62.9ha) is cleared but the rest, around 34 hectares, is magnificent jarrah, tuart and banksia woodland, regionally significant (and thus nationally significant[1]) in its own right. It is Bush Forever site 119. In addition the bushland lies between Bold Park to the west and Shenton Bushland to the south and on to Kings Park. It is a very significant ecological linkage to maintain connectivity for birds, reptiles, amphibians, for plant genetic diversity and as a refuge in case of fire or other disaster. The whole bushland is used by Carnaby’s Cockatoo who drink at Perry Lakes and roost at the north-west of the bushland and the other corners of that busy intersection. This species is listed as endangered and faces extinction.

 

Since 2010, Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoos have roosted just to the west of the bushland and almost every morning fly into Underwood to eat Jarrah seeds. Red-tails are listed as ‘vulnerable’.

 

BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWOOD AVENUE BUSHLAND FROM 1963

 

  • 1963; zoned ‘urban’ under MRS
  • 1985; zoned ‘development zone’ in City of Nedlands TPS No 2
  • 1998; Site included in the draft Perth’s Bushplan on the basis it would be an Urban Negotiated Planning Solution
  • Outline Development Plan submitted for the whole of Lot 4 but not approved.
  • 1999; UWA application to develop 260 residential lots
  • DPI sponsored an Enquiry by Design workshop; 69 individuals and 27 organisations. ‘The Water Corporation is now prepared to operate within a 600m buffer zone and the UWA is accepting of this proposal. The Water Corporation will do $22 million work’.……’It is clear that the University wishes the buffer to be reduced in the future’. (This Enquiry by Design is in abeyance)
  • January 2000; Subdivision application submitted to the DEP by the WAPC. DEP provided early advice.
  • August 2000; Proposal referred to the EPA for consideration under part 4 of the EPAct, 1986, by a third party; the Friends of Underwood Avenue Bushland Inc.
  • EPA recognise Bush Forever and a Negotiated Planning Solution with the ‘aim to strike a balance between conservation and development.’ In the context of a NPS the EPA considered that a ‘reasonable outcome’ is ‘where the core (highest conservation value) area/s and threatened ecological communities are protected. Recognising the constraints applying to these sites, the objectives should be to protect as much bushland as possible’.
  • 2000; Proponent amended the plan; 8.5ha conservation area rectangle shape along Selby Street.
  • May 2001; DEP and EPA meeting prefer square shape for conservation area.
  • Jan-Feb 2001; 4-week public submission period with over 70 submissions and also petitions. EPA stated “The condition of the bushland is comparable to and in many cases better than other regionally significant areas on the Spearwood dunes”. The issues identified by the EPA were protection of regionally significant bushland and odour.
  • June 2001; UWA proposal lodged with a conservation area of 8.5hectares in the south-east corner
  • September 2001; EPA Bulletin 1034 released. Recommended refusal because the 8.5ha of conservation was considered inadequate to protect the core (highest conservation values) area/s of the Bushplan site. The EPA considered that ‘a larger area, but not substantially so’, should be set aside for conservation. The issues raised by the EPA were; impact on Jacksonia serecia, impact on Eucalypt decipiens, ecological linkage, tuart trees, size of the bushland conservation area. The Minister forwarded the proposal back to the EPA to more fully consider the area of native vegetation which should be conserved on site. Before the EPA could give its report, the UWA asked that the EPA suspend its assessment process while a second proposal was prepared. Consequently the original proposal was not then referred to the then DEH.
  • Jan 2002; Fire, which started in a dump bin on the adjacent property, the Para-quad Centre, burnt most of the bushland encompassing approximately 64.3ha.
  • August 2002; WAPC refused subdivision proposal due to environmental and planning issues. UWA appealed to the Town Planning Appeals Tribunal. Mediation occurred between UWA, Water Corporation, DPI and the EPA and a mediation agreement was signed by UWA, Water Corporation and the DPI but not by the EPA.
  • February 2003; Superlot subdivision of Lots 4 and 105 proposed a ‘revised 3 lot superlot division proposal. This proposal included a 12ha conservation area plus 0.7 POS. The conservation area was an L shape to the west and the south. UWA stated that it would not covenant the conservation area and would not support the area being reserved for Parks and Recreation. Also UWA would not accept that the area could in future be reserved at no cost to the Government should UWA decide that it no longer wanted to manage it.
  • May 2003; EPA Bulletin 1099 released which supported the proposal subject to conditions. EPA Appeal Report on Bulletin 1099 published. The EPA said that 2.6ha should be set aside while rehabilitation of the degraded area occurs. UWA would not covenant the land nor support the conservation area becoming P and R. There was no security that the conservation area would be managed for conservation in the longer term.
  • 14 June 2004; Minister for the Environment, Dr Judy Edwards, allowed appeals and refused subdivision as the proposal was environmentally unacceptable. The Minister ‘decided that the proposal should not proceed and shall not be implemented.’ (Lttr to chairman of the EPA Assessment No 1476 8 August 2005)
  • A ‘new’ proposal was put up, a modification of the 2001 proposal, with conservation areas in two parts, 8ha and 2ha plus 1.8ha POS.Under s 43 A of the EPAct 1986, the EPA may consent to the proponent changing the proposal without a revised proposal being reassessed by the EPA if the EPA considers the changes unlikely to significantly increase any impact on the environment. So the EPA assessed the new proposal against the earlier one (1034), deciding which was the ‘least worse’.
  • 29 October 2007; EPA Bulletin 1272 recommended approval with conditions. This was the last act of Barry Carbon as Acting Chairperson of the EPA. A great deal in the Bulletin was made of the conservation area being ‘consolidated’ even though it is two areas 0.8ha and 0,2ha with POS connecting the two areas. Government staff and the public were shocked by this recommendation.
  • 16 October 2009; Two years later, Minister Faragher dismissed ten of the twelve appeal grounds, allowing appeals relating to fire and to concerns for Carnaby’s Cockatoo.
  • 14 July 2010, The proposal to subdivide the landholding was approved by the Western Australian Minister for Environment, the Hon Donna Faragher MLC, under the Environmental Protection Act 1986(WA) on 14 July 2010 (Ministerial Statement 835). This approval was for 5 years, expiring 13th July 2015.
  • 8 Sept 2010. Following this environmental approval, the Western Australian Planning Commission granted conditional subdivision approval for the enhanced proposal on 8 September 2010.
  • 11 January 2014: Fire started caused by Western Power’s two power poles on the south side of the bushland. Fire spread from Selby St to Brockway Road over the whole lot and threatened buildings. Heli-tankers dumped water along Selby St and Underwood Avenue area of bushland, as well as near adjacent buildings. Through this action Banksia prionotes, which is killed by fire, was protected. Those bushland strips which did not burn were valuable as a sanctuary and for re-colonisation of the later regenerating bush. However terrible damage occurred. No management for weeds post fire occurred despite requests by FUAB. Weed invasion was intensive. (Written November 2015).
  • October 2014. West Australian Planning Commission/State Planning Commission recommended extension of planning approval subject to conditions. Although the City of Nedlands had not endorsed UWA’s outline development plan (ODP), WAPC concluded that ‘based on WASAT (WA State Administrative Tribunal) determination (2009 WASAT 121) it is not constrained from approving the subdivision application in the absence of an ODP. The current plan of subdivision reflects the extensive planning that has occurred over a number of years in accordance with ODP planning processes, and is consistent with state planning policies including Liveable Neighbourhoods and Directions 2031. It is therefore recommended that the application be approved subject to conditions’. (p44 SPC reports agenda)
  • 10 July 1016: The Minister for the Environment, the Hon Donna Faragher had approved the UWA proposal for housing in Underwood Avenue Bushland on 10 July 2010. The ‘Statement that a proposal may be implemented’ was published on 14 July 2010. In this statement advice is:

3 Time Limit of Authorisation

  1. 3-1  The authorisation to implement the proposal provided for in this statement shall lapse and be void within five years after the date of this statement if the proposal to which this statement relates is not substantially commenced.
  2. 3-2  The proponent shall provide the CEO with written evidence which demonstrates that the proposal has substantially commenced on or before the expiration of five years from the date of this statement’.

The University of Western Australia cannot substantially start the development as they have failed to get the proposal approved by the federal Department of the Environment.

Letter received from the then Chairman of the EPA 19 October 2015, stated that “The proponent (The University of WA) has requested the Minister for Environment to change the implementation conditions relating to the time limit of authorisation.

 

FUAB wrote to the Office of the EPA contending that the 13 changes they listed and described in the letter, are of such significance that extension of the state government approval – condition 3-1 of Ministerial statement 873 – by varying the condition, should not occur.

Follow up FUAB letter early October brought reply from the outgoing Chairman of the EPA Paul Vogel, 19 October 2015. He stated that the UWA proposal continues to have effect but an amendment to the condition is required. The UWA has sought of the Minister, a change to the implementation conditions relating to the time limit of authorisation. It is not stated in the letter but the UWA want an extension to 2018 to bring the state approval into line with the WAPC approval. The Minister has requested the EPA inquire into the implementation conditions and provide its report to the Minister in due course.

 

Nine months later the state government is sitting on this and a report on the 13 changes has not been presented to the EPA or to the Minister for Environment. An officer of the Office of the EPA stated; ‘Anyway the Green Growth Plan is coming in.’

 

  • December 2015; Draft Green Growth Plan for 3.5 million released. This plan has Underwood Bushland as not protected as it is zoned urban.

 

  • 18 January 2016; Petition signed by 3,076 people with comments and beautifully presented with photographs presented to V-C Paul Johnson with Pro V-C Kent Anderson present. The V-C expressed his thanks, said he would show it to other UWA people and said that it is the Senate which runs the University.

 

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Importance for Noongar people

Underwood Avenue bushland was one of the last places of refuge of Noongar people in the western suburbs in the settlement of Perth. The Macintyre Dobson Report on an Ethnographic, Ethnohistorical, Archaeological and Indigenous Environmental Survey of the Underwood Avenue Bushland Project Area, Shenton Park, prepared for the UWA by Consulting Anthropologists Macintyre Dobson and Associates Pty Ltd and Consulting Archaeologist Thomas O’Reilly, June 2002 is fascinating work. This report details recollections by Noongar people on how they and their ancestors used Underwood Avenue Bushland as a home and as a refuge right up until the 1950s.

The Report states; “The Aboriginal consultants requested that the entire University-owned Bushland Project Area be preserved as a living site of significance to contemporary Aboriginal people as it forms an important part of their ‘ancestral run’ and cultural landscape.” (p46) and

“If this landscape is to be considered as “remnant cultural landscape” involving Aboriginal spirituality and religious beliefs, then it must necessarily be subject to protection under Section 5 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 this area may be regarded as a site of spiritual and cultural significance to Nyungar people”

There are four ‘newly recorded potential ethnographic sites of Aboriginal Significance within the Underwood Avenue bushland Project Area. These are two camp-sites, the interlocking jarrah trees and the whole site ‘to be protected as a living site of significance to contemporary Aboriginal people’. These sites were either not accepted onto the register or were removed from the register.

 

Local government- City of Nedlands:

 

  • December 2009; The City of Nedlands voted that the bushland should not be developed. The City’s position was that the bushland remain as bushland.

 

  • 16 March 2010;

Vice-Chancellor UWA, Alan Robson and senior UWA personnel met councillors and council staff privately and presented a package on the UWA proposal.

 

  • 27 April 2010;

The proposal to consider the UWA proposal for Underwood Avenue Bushland as written on the agenda was changed at the meeting, the motion was put without opportunity for discussion and passed. Councillor Hodsdon had flown 16,000km from holidaying in China to be present for the meeting and he then returned to China.

 

Additional pieces of interest.

  • 26 June 1998;

Letter from Ian Everett, of Chappell and Lambert, UWA’s consultants, about advice given by officers of the DPI to UWA consultant Warren Tucker about how to proceed with UWA’s development proposal.

 

“Kieran Beardmore and Ray Stokes advised not to lodge any documentation formally until after mid July (when Bush Plan would be endorsed by Cabinet). Kieran Beardmore reiterated that at present under the Bushplan draft two separate classifications are being used for significant areas. Certain areas have been specified for ‘Reservation’ which means no development and future purchase. Other areas (ie those zoned ‘urban’) are being notated as areas where ‘negotiated compromises” should be undertaken. Shenton Park [Underwood Avenue Bushland] falls into the latter category. Kieran reiterated that “Primarily the lodgement of any Structure Plan or formal proposal at this stage would be referred to the DEP and on the basis of the unreleased Bushplan. It is 99% certain that they would require a formal assessment of the site with the aim of protecting all the bushland. This could result in a Burns Beach type outcome where no development was permitted. [letter from Everett Lambert obtained under FOI]

 

  • 30 October 2009;

E-mail sent from a DEC officer (undisclosed and recipient and cc recipient also undisclosed) with Subject ‘Lot 4 Underwood Ave’. Obtained under FOI 16 February 2011.

 

“ NAME, based on the data available to me (which has lots of caveats) the Banksia woodland a [sic] this site could be able to support somewhere between

 

For 25ha area – between 2,227 (ie one cockatoo for 6 cockatoos for 365 days of the year) or 100 cockatoos for 22.27 days of the year) and 4,900 cockatoo days of feeding.

 

The biggest issue with these estimates is that they are derived from soil types different to that occurring at Underwood Ave.

 

Regardless, of the caveats, the site provides a significant food source in a strategic location.’ (FUAB emphasis)

 

The Friends of Underwood Avenue Bushland were informed anonymously that this advice had been suppressed by government. Even if not suppressed, the advice was not acted upon.

 

NEW VICE CHANCELLOR PROFESSOR PAUL JOHNSON.

Appointed beginning 2012 to replace Alan Robson who retired. Friends wrote a letter to Prof Johnson asking to meet and to show him around the bushland. He replied that he did not need to meet at this time and that he was familiar with the bushland. And that the proposal will proceed.

 

In another letter to the Friends, he said “the University is pursuing its proposal ‘to develop a residential estate.’ Professor Johnson sees this as ‘an appropriate compromise between retaining bushland, protecting the feeding habitat of Carnaby’s Cockatoos; providing for homes in an area where all services are available (including transport and education); enabling sustainable development of the city to the support the increasing population, and allowing the University to meet the needs of local national and international communities.” (13 September 2012.)

 

Further to a letter from the Friends about the lack of management, foxes eating Rainbow Bee- eater young, no bushland management ie (fallen trees left over the tracks no firebreaks maintenance, spread of weeds, Prof Johnson replied that the proposal will go ahead.

 

Professor Johnson refuses to meet with the Friends ‘at this stage,’ he refuses to let the Friends give a presentation to UWA Senate members, and he refuses to authorise any management of the bushland such as tackling the problems of foxes, weeds and feral bees. The bushland is degrading with the spread of weeds. The foxes eat the Rainbow Bee-eater young.

 

Gordon Wyre, Director Nature Protection, had rung the University about lack of management Mr Wyre rang the FUAB to say the University is intent on development and stated that they will look at the feral proof fence. 4 April 2013. Nothing happened.

Letter, 31 May 2013, sent from the Friends to UWA Chancellor, requesting that the Friends do a presentation to the UWA senate. This rejected by Professor Johnson.

Letter 26 September 2013 sent to each UWA Senate member requesting that UWA change course from the ‘residential estate’ journey to protect the bushland. No Senate member replied. Reply 14 October 2013, from Rowan Maclean, Director, Campus Development,:

“….The Senate supports the University’s proposal as being an appropriate compromise between retaining bushland, protecting the feeding habitat of black cockatoos, providing for homes in an area where all services are available (including transport and education) enabling sustainable development of the city to support the increasing population; and allowing the University to meet the needs of local, national and international communities.”

 

2015: After a FUAB forum and an approach from the FUAB to Pro Vice-Cancellor Kent Anderson, Pro V-C agreed to meet the Friends bi-monthly ‘to listen and to learn’. Various experts have attended these meetings. However the V-C reiterates at each meeting that ‘nothing has changed’. (ie the proposal is still alive.) Also he does not think that now is the time to investigate other options which would enable the bushland to be protected.

 

Referral to the Federal Government under the EPBC Act;

  • April 2004 referral; Determined to be a controlled action due to potential impacts on Carnaby’s cockatoo under s 18 and 18 A of the EPBC Act.

 

  • March 2007 referral; Determined to be a controlled action due to ‘the potential impacts on listed threatened species and communities (s 18 and 18A)’ 16 December 2007; DEWHA Draft Recommendation Report (EPBC 2007/3386); “That approval not be given for the proposal by the University of Western Australia to develop the eastern portion of Lot 4 Underwood Avenue, Shenton Park, WA for residential purposes under the EPBC Act 1999.”

This draft decision was to go to the federal Minister for the Environment, the Hon Peter Garrett, but the University withdrew the referral the day after it was published on the DEWHA website.

  • 2010 The then UWA Vice-Chancellor, Alan Robson and the Chancellor, Michael Chaney, met the Federal minister, Tony Burke, around November 2010. The University has yet to refer the proposal for the third time.

 

Waste Water Treatment Plant. The WWTP is situated to the south-west of the bushland in Lemnos Street, and the odour buffer covers some of Underwood Avenue Bushland, which precludes housing being built there. The UWA has stated however that they wish housing on this land. In any event the bushland in the odour buffer is to be developed at a later date.

 

In 1999 UWA took legal action against the Water Corporation in the Supreme Court, (Civ 2432 of 1999; UWA v Water Corporation) seeking damages, because the Water Corporation had not taken sufficient action to address the odour problems and the value of its land had been compromised. (Hansard debate – Alannah MacTiernan)

 

Counterclaim Water Corporation v UWA (Civ 2432 of 1999): Supreme Court re ownership of the land that comprises the easement across the land.

 

Both public institutions (Water Corporation and UWA) spent much money in the Supreme Court action. Eventually an agreement was signed by both parties.

 

UWA bought the Water Corporation easement across the bushland. (Lot 105)

 

In 2000, Water Corp committed to upgrade odour control to national practice, so that no existing residents would be impacted by noticeable odour.

 

June 2001 a buffer zone for the WWTP was proposed based on results of odour modelling, experience at other similar plants, risks resulting from planned and unplanned maintenance and the chlorine buffer zone.

 

In 2003 The odour control upgrade was initiated and completed in March 2004. This involved covering preliminary treatment tanks, primary treatment tanks, secondary treatment tanks and solids handling facilities. Total cost was $38 million.

 

2002-2006 Odour sampling, field monitoring and odour modelling programme was conducted.

 

2007 a revised buffer zone was recommended by Consulting Engineers permitting 22 hectares of bush to be developed. (See “Aug 2007 Recommended Buffer Zone after Odour Upgrade’ Consulting Environmental Engineers).

 

It was recommended that after a further decade of experience with the revised buffer zone, it would be appropriate to re-assess the odour emissions, dispersion of odours and the necessary extent of the buffer zone”.

 

Jan 2007. The Water Corporation, WAPC and UWA agreed to a definition of the Odour Line. UWA and the Water Corporation entered into a Co-operative Odour Improvement Agreement.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Bronwen Keighery; botanist; pers comm.