History of Greening of Riddell

In the early 1980’s a group of Riddells Creek residents formed a working group to lobby for the under grounding of the power lines in Station Street. Under grounding the power lines would allow space for the majestic elms to grow as the mature trees had just been cut back to stumps. They obtained a grant and were successful in convincing the authorities that this initiative would beautify the main street. Their submission to the SEC was won on the basis of preserving an historic walkway to Smiths’ Nursery. Up until the 1920’s day trippers with their picnic baskets would arrive by train, walk down Station Street, down the old Sunbury Road, through Smiths’ Reserve/Lake Park, through the Green Patch and along the creek path to Smiths’ Nursery. The lake was dug out for the railway line and to get water for the trains. The walking path not only linked the station to Smiths’ Nursery but beyond to Falbarrow House which became the first electrified house in Victoria. Having returned from the United States, Sir John Monash set up a generator powered by the old water race that fed the bluestone mill. Sir John Monash later became the driving force behind the electrification of the whole state of Victoria and distinguished himself in the first world war.. Riddell was a railway town servicing the orchard growing Sandy Creek area and the timber industry. The first settlement, including the Anglican Church was south of the railway line. The church which served the railway workers and the stonemasons who created the major engineering feats on the Bendigo Railway Line, was moved near to Smiths’ Nursery and then to its current site next to Wybejong in 1926.

Riddells Creek Station was marked with special trees to show its status as the first southern resort in the Macedon Ranges where people would come to relax in the cool of the hills. Baron Von Mueller, the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens would visit the country residence of Governor Latrobe at Mt Macedon and on his way stop at his friends at Smiths’ Nursery. Riddell was a hill station established by Englishmen many of whom had come via India. The Parks Victoria managed reserve – T Hill, was set aside as a place to grow tea.

The undergrounding achievement in 1983 encouraged the impetus to look after the Stone Reserve which eventually became Wybejong Park. The group had looked at photographs of the Riddells Creek Railway Station from the late 1890’s and wished to restore it to its former beautiful ambience which included flowering shrubs and palm trees. The group also initiated the planting of street trees around Riddells Creek. Robert Van Loon was on the Romsey Shire Council and John Ball was the editor of the Telegraph and together with Reina Van Loon, Ross Horman, Larry and Dawn, Terry Carey, Ruth Bestell, Loris Strehling and others they focused on what they could do to beautify the town and promote conservation in Riddells Creek. There was a preference for few meetings, consensus decision making and hands on work days. Another greening issue that the early committee was involved in was objection to the building of a dam across Riddells Creek upstream.

Tom Healy was a forerunner to Greening of Riddell. He was one of those marvellous country people who volunteered his time mowing and caring for various sites around Riddells Creek. An oak tree surrounded by a fence in Lake Park Reserve, is a memorial to Tom Healy. His wife, Dorothy Healy told John Ball that the Golden Oak, growing near the cork oak, is a tree of special significance. The Celts and their shamans, the Druids considered every oak tree to be endowed with sacred powers.

Marjorie Markham (nee Faulkner) who lived in the house just south of Wybejong (where the bluestone chimney ruin remains in the corner of Poultons’ paddock) said that when she was a child, the Golden Oak was healthy and magnificent. She remembered that people gathered branches for bouquets and decorations at funerals. They called this area of the park near the stepping stones, “the green patch”. She also said that the creek never stopped running and there were many platypus.

Wybejong Park in Riddells Creek was formerly called Stone Reserve, a place where basalt was extracted to build road and railway bridges. For decades this long, narrow strip of crown land (about 3 hectares) along the creek and central to the township was burnt off, leaving a blackened landscape visible from the road. Stone Reserve was originally set aside to supply stone for bridgeworks and maintenance on the railway line through the town to Castlemaine and Bendigo. Some evidence of early quarrying is still evident, eg the straight basalt quarry wall and the rough steps cut into the steep escarpment, supported at the base by loose rock-work. The north/western end of the reserve is marked by the removal of about 80 metres X 15 metres of basaltic rock ,perhaps removed by horse and dray over the northern road entrance into the park, which is paved with crushed rock and brick.

In 1991 the concept of developing the reserve into a park with indigenous species of plants was conceived. The then Assistant Director of the Geelong Region of the Department of Conservation was invited by John Ball, to inspect the site with a view to converting this wasteland into a stream side reserve of local native trees.

The two walked the site and then followed the creek as far as the renowned site of Smith’s old nursery. They discussed the establishment of a walking track along the creek linking up with paths around Mount Macedon. The assistant director was greatly impressed with the possibilities. “What’s stopping you,” he said. “You’ve got all the approval you need from my end.” Shortly after, the site was officially inspected and a working plan for the commencement of removal and eradication of noxious weeds was developed.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Greening of Riddell has always acknowledged the traditional owners of the land. Local oral history has it that evidence of the first point of contact between two cultures can be seen on a hill further up Riddells Creek, – a bluestone cottage with an outbuilding set among stone fenced fields, with slits set into the bluestone walls through which aborigines were shot at.

In 1997 Greening of Riddell obtained permission from the Victorian Place Names Committee to rename the area Wybejong, the name of a corroborree ground situated two kilometres upstream. John Ball sought permission from the Wurundjeri. Two aboriginal people came to the first planting to redevelop tribal links with the area and other volunteers from the Organ Pipes, Woodlands and local people braved cold weather on the first planting. The first trees were established in very weedy conditions and water was wheel barrowed from one end of Wybejong to the other.

Volunteer labour, and funding grants from the Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment enabled development of the park to proceed. Other early plantings were carried out with help from local school children and volunteers from the neighbouring Church of England, and more recent developments have benefited from the labour of the Green Corps and the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Delineation of the Park was one of the early issues and Mark O’Sullivan from Parks Victoria has assisted in this process.

Wybejong is adjacent to the W C Smith Reserve – Lake Park which was established in the 1880’s with specimens from Smith’s Nursery and has large exotic trees and ducks on the lake. It is now a popular picnic spot. Bordering Wybejong is an historic Cork oak (Quercus suber) said to be planted by Baron Von Mueller. One kilometre upstream is the site of Smith’s Nursery, which supplied plants via the new railway line to the growing horticultural industry, gardeners and to other colonies for some years in the late 1800’s. It was the source of most street and park trees in Melbourne and other developing towns throughout the young colony of Victoria. In 1911? a big flood washed much of the nursery away, leaving a forest of large exotic trees and some extraordinary specimen trees. Greening of Riddell’s long term aim is to build a walking path from Lake Park, through Wybejong to Smith’s Nursery. In earlier research, John Ball visited the Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne seeking information on the old cork tree. Baron von Mueller’s bibliographer, Doris Sinkora, was ecstatic to learn of the presence of the tree reputedly planted by The Baron. She said it had been thought that the Baron frequented the area because of his friendship with Governor Latrobe, who had a summer retreat at Mount Macedon. She described the cork oak as the Baron’s “signature tree” as he planted one in key locations that he visited. He also planted Bunya Pines and Californian Redwood trees in his travels.

John Ball and Robert Van Loon produced a report in 1998 calling for the incorporation of the small piece of Crown Land behind the church into Wybejong Park, and also for the development of a walking track from Riddell Railway Station to Mount Macedon Railway Station through a network of tracks. This report was submitted to council and later adopted.

Greening of Riddell has established Wybejong as a park of local natives to complement Smith Reserve (Lake Park) which is a park of exotics. Its links with the Royal Victorian Acclimatisation and Zoological Society, of which Baron Von Mueller was a prominent member, are well known. In the 1940-50’s the Acclimatisation Society was responsible for encouraging local people to plant willow trees across Victoria to hold the banks of streams which had their original vegetation removed. John Hawker from Heritage Victoria has also walked the Park with John Ball and named the rare and exotic species and lately has conducted a review of Smith’s Nursery which will soon be heritage listed.

Greening of Riddell has concerned itself with many other local greening issues since the year 2000, including –

  • Some members trained to monitor water quality and macro-invertebrate identification with Waterwatch and have encouraged a program by Waterwatch at the Riddells Creek Primary School. Monitoring is conducted on a regular basis.
  • Some of its members lobbied for the trees to be retained in a redevelopment of the railway station car park.
  • Members identified indigenous plants at risk in the proposed Turner subdivision.
  • Members objected to the proposed commercial development for a new supermarket complex and redrew the plans for a more sustainable outcome. The supermarket has not been built in 2020.
  • Encouraged the recreation zoning of land along the creek in the Soma subdivision which added 61 metres of creek frontage to the Park.
  • In 2007 it held Energy Efficiency Evenings to discuss energy conservation and climate change.
  • In 2007 a weeds booklet was produced called Growing Sustainable Gardens in Riddells Creek, Clarkefield and District with the two local Landcare groups.
  • Along with representatives of Riddells Creek Landcare and Clarkefield and District Farm Landcare in 2008 it set up Riddells Creek Sustainability organised a community bulk purchase scheme to put about 80 1kW solar electricity panels on domestic roofs in the district. A website was created to inform the community about sustainability matters riddellscreeksustainability.org.au
  • A monthly stall is staffed by the 3 environment groups of Riddells Creek at the Farmers Market

Compiled by Lyn Hovey from discussions with members, past residents and a report by Di Jenkins.

Riddells Creek 1888 by Ernest Decimus Stokes

Riddells Creek 1888 by Ernest Decimus Stokes
(The Flour Mill is in the centre of the painting and the residence of Smiths Nursery is also depicted)