In May and June I spent some time cycling along Merlynston creek on several trips, exploring some of it’s secrets. Merlynston Creek is about 11 kilometres long from it’s source in an industrial area in northern Campbellfield, just a little north of the Ford Broadmeadows plant, to it’s confluence with the Merri Creek just north of Coburg Lake.
Merlynston Creek intrigued me. The creek, in it’s passage through Fawkner Cemetery, could be considered Fawkner’s natural geographical western boundary.
I have often explored Merri Creek on the eastern boundary of Fawkner, and travelled it’s route from Craigieburn to it’s confluence with the Yarra River at Dights Falls.
Much less public attention has been shown to Merlynston Creek. It is as a major tributary of Merri Creek and deserves it’s own limelight.
So why did I undertake this journey?
I live in a highly suburban area in Melbourne’s north, but our creek systems still provide corridors for wildlife and natural beauty. Understanding the local geography and particularly water courses is important.
Water is life, and to understand watercourses gives you a profound connection to the natural landscape.
Yes, Merlynston Creek is now surrounded by urban sprawl and industrial development. But it also continues to provide natural habitat and ecological niches for indigenous plants and creatures, including endangered habitats and species.
According to the Moreland stormwater management plan Merlynston Creek length is 43 percent piped or an open concrete channel, 27 percent has major modifications, and only 30 percent of the stream is relatively unmodified.
As we have built the city of Melbourne, we have massively transformed the creek to be, at various stages: a drain, a flood retarding basin, a lake reserve, an underground culvert, and a cemetery feature to wash away our sorrows and memories of ancestors. And the creek still manages to survive with integrity.
The creek provides us urban dwellers a glimpse and chance to interact with the natural environment, enabling us to draw strength from our interactions. We need to also nurtue the creek and it’s riparian habitats, degraded though they are.
At it’s highest point Merlynston Creek is 148 metres above sea level, and descends to 78.6 metres where it meets Merri Creek.
The creek is the principal watercourse through the Northern Memorial and Fawkner Cemeteries, both run by the Greater Melbourne Cemeteries Trust. It has one tributary: Campbellfield Creek, which join Merlynston Creek as it flows through Fawkner Cemetery.
Unfortunately you can’t just follow the creek course directly, but need to make diversions around industrial areas, railtracks, and private properties. It took several trips to trace it’s route on it’s 11 kilometre journey to meet the Merri Creek.
National Boulevard Nature Reserve
The creek starts in National Boulevard Nature Reserve in Coolaroo-Campbellfield next to the unused single train line north of Upfield Station.
The Sayd restaurant (Video) has a feature window allowing diners to look out on the swampy wetland habitat. Unfortunately, as of June 2017, the company that runs the restaurant appears to be insolvent according to ASIC.
When I searched for more detail on this nature reserve, I found next to nothing. A couple of short references by Hume Council. The sign at the reserve contains more detail than anything I discovered online:
“This conservation area is home to a number of rare and threatened native plant species, such as the state threatened Basalt Tussock Grass (Poa labillardieri var. Volcanic Plains).
Such plants form an integral part of the natural vegetation communities which occur at the site, Plains Grassy Woodland and Swampy Grassy Woodland, both of which are classified as endangered in the Victorian Volcanic Plains bioregion. The area is being actively managed to protect and expand native vegetation areas, and reduce high threat weeds, such as Chilean Needle Grass and Sweet Briar.
Revegetation works have helped to rehabilitate damaged areas and has seen the planting of over 70 species of indigenous flora across the site, including the endangered Matted Flax-lilly (Dianella amoena). The site has also been subject to ecological burning and native plant salvage activities.”
The Reserve is bordered by National Boulevarde, industrial properties to the north and east, and the continuation of the Upfield railway line as unused single track on the west.
Reeds in a drain
From National Boulevarde I had to go back past the front of the Ford plant down to Barry Road passing the Upfield train station and turn up Maffra street in Coolaroo to next connect with the creek.
The creek follows the unused railway line south before turning west past DVR Engineering Pty Ltd, then crossing Maffra Street before going under Barry Road, Dallas.
The creek here between the railway line and Maffra street is dead straight and full of reeds. A manager at DVR Engineering came out and asked what I was up to.
Melbourne water employees don’t usually turn up on bicycle, it seems. I explained I was trying to trace and document the creek from it’s source to it’s confluence. I discovered the engineering factory, and others nearby, have flash flooding problems during torrential rain. He was hoping Melbourne Water would attend to clear all the reeds to allow better water flow and prevent flash flooding.
The drainage issue will only worsen. While I was at the Reserve I could see site development work being undertaken at 77-93 National Boulevard. That means more hard surfaces for rain to collect and run off.
Over the road from DVR Engineering the creek can only be described as a concrete drain as it runs south.
Concrete concourse from Maffra street
I retraced my steps down Maffra street to the Barry Road bridge over Merlynston Creek. There are sporting ovals on the east side of the creek and I met a flock of Ibis on the oval, evidently here due to a local bakery leaving out breadcrumbs for the birds.
The residents of a house on Barry Road bordering the creek have made terraced gardens with trees and veggies beside Merlynston Creek.
Army Flood Mitigation Basin
From Maffra street it is a concrete drain until about 130 metres after the Benalla street bridge. Here the watercourse widens as it makes it’s way through the Army flood mitigation basin. This is the first of three flood mitigation basins established on the Merlynston Creek.
Army basin is so named because it is near Maygar Army barracks. The other basins include Jack Roper Reserve and Box Forest Flood mitigation basin.
The flood mitigation basin is fenced off, so I continue down Dallas Drive to the end. The end of Dallas Drive and a vacant piece of land is used for illegally dumping household rubbish and furniture. There is a track across this land before I meet up with a shared use bike path at Seabrook Reserve.
But first I venture out on the levy to take in the view of the Army Basin mitigation dam/levy and the parkland south of this levy.
The outlet for Merlynston Creek is just a little way along the bike path which meanders past a school before a small red bridge over the creek just before Camp Road. Up on the eastern side is Will Will Rook Pioneer Cemetery.
The traffic is pretty busy along Camp Road and there is no pedestrian lights or pedestrian crossing to allow an easy crossing, although a median street refuge has been put in to make it a little easier for pedestrians.
Jack Roper Reserve
South of Camp Road, Merlynston Creek flows through Jack Roper Reserve where it forms a lake north of the M80 ring road.
This is a popular reserve, especially on weekends, with a lot of family gatherings using the picnic tables and playground facilities.
The path skirts the lake to the west and then goes under the M80 ring road.
A smaller lake and a levy, part of the flood mitigation, is on the southern side of the ring road. A wooded area on the hillside is a wildlife sanctuary, proclaims a sign. The Western Ring Road path follows the levy around to the east.
But my path remains with Merlynston Creek and I leave the path at Morley Street, and take the first left, down John Street, to find where the creek re-emerges.
The creek is straight as it parallels John street with grassy well mown verges, with mature eucalypts.
Here be angels….and plastic flowers
At May Street the creek enters the Northern Memorial Cemetery and I am forced to do a detour south to Evell street and the entrance to the Cemetery. The Cemeteries Trust has tried to restore some natural integrity to the creek as it meanders through the cemetery. Trees and bushes flank it’s banks as it passes row upon row of grave and headstones.
Here be angels, or at least statues of angels.
But also the ubiquitous plastic flowers and other plastic items left by mourners which find there way into the creek and along the banks. The plastic doesn’t degrade and only breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces. Some of it probably makes it’s way down the Merlynston, into the Merri, into the Yarra and into Port Philip and out into the wide ocean. Some of it may be consumed by the fish we eat, or end up in the guts of seagulls, dolphins and seals.
It can’t be easy trying to keep plastic out of the creek as it passes through the cemetery. First step must be to educate mourners that their plastic roses are strangling the planet for the living.
The creek meanders onwards. A dam has been created within the cemetery, to the north and next to where the creek plunges through a metal grate and fence via a number of steps and into the Box Forest flood mitigation area. Like up at Army Basin, this area is fenced off from access. Between the dam and the flood basin is a woodland area with a sign saying “Wildlife Refuge”.
As the creek tumbles over the steps into the flood basin, it enters a concrete culvert, straight as an arrow, in the direction of Box Forest Road.
As I can’t follow the creek through the basin I retreat a little way into the Northern Memorial Cemetery to the function centre and cafe, to enjoy a coffee as part of a devonshire tea.
Fawkner Cemetery and Campbellfield Creek
The Creek goes under Box Forest Road and briefly does a turn to the east in Martin Reserve before entering Fawkner cemetery. I found out this footy oval is the home ground for the Hadfield Hawks. Netball courts are also here.
Back to Box Forest Road and the north west entrance to Fawkner cemetery.
You can follow a dirt track or path along the eastern side of the creek, or take a shortcut and cycle down seventh avenue, the avenue of mausoleums. It is really quite spectacular.
Merlynston Creek crosses Seventh Avenue and shortly after meets the small tributary called Campbellfield Creek. This Creek has it’s source in Northcorp Boulevard Reserve and The Meadows (Greyhound racing track), just north of Camp Road, before flowing under the M80 ring road and into a flood mitigation basin and wetlands just north of Sage Street.
It is a concrete drain as it parallels Sage Street, before going under Box Forest Road and becoming a more natural landscaped creek environment as it passes through the cemetery to meet Merlynston Creek.
There are several small architecturally styled bridges that cross the creek in Fawkner Cemetery near the crematorium. Take a moment to admire the simple design on these bridges.
The creek continues southwards past the crematorium before vanishing underground into a culvert near the corner of South street and Sussex street, north of Boundary Road in the cemetery.
It’s passage underground is marked by a linnear park through Merlynston, as it turns around to the east. I joined the route at Renown street where the culvert likely goes under the railway line.
The State Emergency Service lists Merlynston Creek in North Coburg as a major 1-in-100 year flood risk from Boundary Road to Renown street.
This area of Coburg North has a history of flooding. The State Emergency Services says flooding ocurred in 1891, 1916, 1934, 1954, 1974, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1989, 2003, and 2011.
According to the SES in a pamphlet on Flood Information for Coburg North (PDF) published in 2015, the 2003 flood measured 2.61 metres on the Merlynston Creek gauge at Fawkner and caused flooding of up to 1.4 metres on Sussex Street with people needing to be evacuated from cars on Sussex Street.
Climate change is causing more torrential rainfall events to occurr, that increase the risk of flooding events. Increased urbanisation and consolidation of development means more hard surfaces for rain to rapidly run off filling such watercourses as Merlynston Creek and causing flash flooding.
The SES articulated that:
“increased urbanisation means that water can’t be absorbed by the soil and tends to run off towards lower lying areas. During high intensity rainfall (for example, more than 20 millimetres per hour, often during thunderstorms) the volume of water can overwhelm stormwater drains leading to flash flooding. As Merlynston Creek is a very small creek the areas around it can also be affected by flash flooding. Although the water will drain away relatively quickly, areas that could be affected include:
- Sussex Street, from South Street, across Boundary Road, to
- Kent Street (and to the east to Adler Grove)
- The east end of Kent Street
- Pallett Street where it crosses Bakers Road
- Allenby Street
- The cycle path on Renown Street (opposite to Elliot Street).
You can trace the path through the vacant lot east next to the Mulqueen Funeral Parlour. You can see where the water once flowed under Sydney Road, but it is now mainly a dry watercourse with the water flowing in a culvert somewhere below.
Some Mercy for the Merlynston
The creek comes back into the light next to Mercy college, probably near the end of Hedley street. No access as far as I could see here.
My next point of call was Convent crescent at the back of Mercy college where you are able to look west along the creek next to Mercy College and also east towards Merri creek. It is a bit of a canyon, not readily accessible to the public.
The last stage of the journey is to Carr street and turning left and travelling a little way north along the Merri Creek Path. A wooden bridge crosses Merlynston creek just before it’s confluence with the Merri Creek. You can walk a little way up Merlynston creek, far enough to see the Convent Road crossing.
Merlynston creek flows north when it hits the Merri creek, but it is a very pretty spot, and not too far north of Coburg Lake.
I fear many people cross this wooden bridge without ever knowing it is Merlynston Creek, unaware of the 11 kilometre journey the creek has traced to this spot, to join waters with the Merri.
So enjoy these 100 photos and my 11 kilometre journey along Merlynston creek.
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Thank you for your thorough documentation! Very interesting.
Thanks for this I crossed the little bridge on the merri creek path yesterday and noticed the signs about water pollution. The merri does seem to change colour after merging with what I now know is the Merlynston Creek (and Merlynston does look very cloudy in comparison). Was thinking about doing this exact same journey!
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it starts here at 94 mafra st coolaroo i get heaps of native animals drinking from the water ibis etc we are a recycling company. so we get them all. i manged to inform them to keep the spill way other wise it will flood so they did. it goes in to the storm drain and joins up at the end of the street but its open. for now.