A life’s mission

THE Wetlands Centre Cockburn celebrated its 40th anniversary last week with a big shindig which included handing out six life memberships, and launching a podcast series and two new booklets.

The centre emerged from one of Perth’s earliest environmental protests when Cockburn and Melville councils teamed up in 1984 to extend Farrington Road through the Beeliar Wetlands using a federal grant.

Spurred on by the blockades which had saved the Franklin River in Tasmania two years earlier, about 100 residents, academics and students threw themselves in front of the councils’ bulldozers.

The clashes dominated headlines in normally staid Perth and prompted former premier Brian Burke to call for calm.

• Auntie Marie Taylor and former journo Gina Pickering share a laugh and a story about the 40 years of The Wetland Centre Cockburn, which was celebrated with a big shindig and nine new life members. Photos by Steve Grant

The protestors lost that battle, but from it key people such as Murdoch University physics professor Philip Jennings and environmental scientist John Bailey formed the Wetlands Conservation Society.

They helped spearhead a push which resulted in the creation of the Beeliar Regional Park, and the dream of a wetlands education centre was born.

Prof Jennings was one of those receiving a life membership last week, centre chair Treena Burgess saying he had gone on to become one of WA’s most noted authorities on conservation.

“Phil Jennings has been involved in the centre since its conception; probably everything that has happened here has had his hands and influence over it, and I think everyone here is very, very thankful that he took this on as a lifetime’s mission,” Prof Burgess said.

Dr Burgess is also director of the Harry Butler Institute at Murdoch University and announced a researcher on its turtle tracking project would be working from The Wetlands Centre at an aquarium recently constructed to study Bibra Lake’s long-necked turtles.

• The Wetlands Centre’s new lifers with chair Treena Burgess

Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett was a mere councillor at the time and he and wife Pat received life memberships for their contribution. Mr Howlett connected the conservationists with council staff who threw their support behind the project, while he also rustled up grant funding for landscaping, facilities and staff wages. Ms Howlett was amongst the first to sign up when the centre set up a friends group.

Also receiving life memberships were Felicity Bairstow, Rex Sallur and the centre’s long-term wetlands officer Denise Crosbie, who Prof Burgess said had helped grow the centre into a thriving education hub.

“As one of the few paid employees for many years, Denise shouldered numerous responsibilities, including education, landcare coordination, volunteer supervision, bookkeeping, organising annual wetland conferences, grant applications, contract management and strategic planning,” Prof Burgess said.

Former journalist turned cultural heritage consultant Gina Pickering teamed up with former Channel 7 and 9 reporter Russell Bishop to produce 10 podcasts for The Wetlands Centre based on 26 interviews.

Available on the centre’s website, Ms Pickering said they highlighted the extraordinary diversity of the wetlands, which attract migratory birds from as far away as Siberia.

• Prof Phil Jennings

“They have given voice to Noongar leadership, which is extraordinarily important,” Ms Pickering said, with podcasts featuring elders Noel Nannup and Auntie Marie Taylor, who was at the birthday gig as the centre’s resident elder.

“They’ve given voice to children, to tiny little children, they’ve given voice to big professors, they’ve given voice to the frogs that we’re hearing today, to the maar – the wind – and the seasons and everything that is around us,” Ms Pickering said.

Prof Jennings was behind the two booklets launched, one purely about 16 bush walks in the Beeliar Regional Park and the other designed to highlight its biodiversity.

“The idea of it was to acquaint people with the biodiversity and the Noongar heritage of the area,” Prof Jennings said.

Speaking of the second booklet, he said, “If you walk these nine walks and see the other three birdwatching sites… you’ll get to appreciate just how amazing this area is and why it needs to be protected.”


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