The Beeliar Wetlands hold a special place in the hearts of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. Beeliar Nyungar means ‘river people’, and the area has long provided a variety of food, medicine, building materials and is as spiritually significant to Aboriginal people as King’s Park.
For thousands of years, groups from all different areas would come together at the Beeliar Wetlands. It was a meeting place. A place for the connection to land and the spirits of ancestors to manifest. A culturally and historically significant site.
The Creating Communities team had heard stories from Traditional Owners discussing their connection to this sacred land when we worked on the Rehabilitating Roe 8 project.
This is just one reason we were so excited to return to the area around the Cockburn Wetlands Precinct to work alongside the community and local stakeholders once again.
The City of Cockburn has had a close working relationship with The Wetlands Centre, Native ARC and the Bibra Lake Scouts (the Wetlands Precinct Working Group) for many years and these groups – together with UDLA – developed a Masterplan for the Wetlands Precinct in late 2017.
The City was keen to get out to the local community and find out more about how they use the area, how they would like to use it in the future, and how they would like to see the communal open space around the Precinct evolve.
Creating Communities worked closely with the City and Wetlands Precinct Working Group on this project. Both are committed to engaging with the community in meaningful ways to ensure the community have a say, and every chance to say it.
The engagement process included one-on-one stakeholder meetings to get detailed feedback on specific organisation’s aspirations for the future of the site. This meant getting in touch with groups who used the site already as well as those who didn’t.
We wanted to know what these groups loved about the area already, what they thought could be improved, what would make them use the site more, and what they wanted to see as the Wetlands Precinct developed into a community hub.
We also developed a community survey. This went out to over 2,000 community members and was promoted just about everywhere we could think of in the City of Cockburn; libraries, youth groups, schools, and many more places.
We then ran an engagement barbeque with members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Over some delicious food we caught up with some familiar faces and made new friends as we learnt about why the area is so important to Indigenous people and how we could best reflect that in the work we were doing in the area.
During these initial meetings, the Wetlands Precinct Group had been busy promoting and planning a community open day. We conducted a drop-in session at the open day so the local community could look over the concept plans, read about the background of the project, and talk to the project team.
Open days like this are important activities in an engagement process. Not all people feel comfortable standing up in front of others and voicing their concerns or asking a question. Sometimes, voices can be drowned by louder ones.
In an informal open day setting, everyone gets the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with a project team member and can share their thoughts, ideas, concerns or issues. The open day was a great success.
The Youth Workshop provided us and the rest of the project team with some invaluable feedback.
On one table we set up a large map of the Wetlands Precinct and gave the children clay, rocks, sticks, leaves, honkey nuts and a variety of other local flora and fauna. We asked kids to build what they would like to see at the Wetlands Precinct and by the end of the day they completely hid the map from sight beneath models of coffee shops, treetop walkways, nature trails and playgrounds.
We heard stories from community members about their childhood adventures in the area.
We heard from younger people about how they loved to visit and see the animals in the Native ARC Rescue Centre.
We heard that people want the area to stay as connected as it is to nature.
But most of all we got a sense of how much the community want the Wetlands Precinct to become a true community hub.
The City of Cockburn is continuing to work closely with the Wetlands Precinct to further this exciting plan for the future. If you want to find out more about the area visit the City of Cockburn website.
There is huge potential in the area to become a major drawcard for the entire south metropolitan region. It is already an environmental and educational hub for all ages, and there is no reason it can’t be a place for anyone to partake in an activity, take a class, or just hang out.
The area has always been a place for connection, and if there is one thing we learnt from engaging with the Cockburn community, it’s that keeping this connection alive is a top priority.