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A large and appreciative audience of local residents enjoyed the Community Forum on the Griffin Reserves at the Community Centre on Thursday 6 March. Deputy Mayor Adrian Cox, the master of ceremonies for the evening, kept things moving along while demonstrating a detailed knowledge of the Griffin Reserve system and its significance.

Professor James Weirick of the University of NSW Landscape Architecture Program set the context for discussion with a stimulating address on the critical role of the reserve system in the Griffin’s internationally recognised landscape design for Castlecrag. He traced the factors that had influenced Walter and Marion Griffin, including their formative years in unique landscapes around Chicago, the ‘garden suburb’ movement of the early 20th century, the natural environment of the Castlecrag Peninsula and the philosophical values that underpinned their work. The conundrum was that while the Griffins were keen students of the natural Sydney sandstone landscape, scientific understanding of its ecology was poorly developed at this time. It soon became evident that the impact of residential development was having a negative impact on the flora and fauna they hoped to conserve in the reserves. While some of the walking tracks continued to receive regular use, others and the reserves they served were neglected and became overgrown.

James Weirick highlighted the efforts of members of the Castlecrag community to restore and manage the Griffin reserves over the years. Their amazing efforts brought the Haven Amphitheatre back to its former glory in 1976, while others actively explored the walking tracks and alerted the wider community to the state of the reserves in the early 1990s. In response to the requirements of the Local Government Act 1995, Willoughby City Council appointed Meredith Walker and Michael Lehany in 1996 to prepare a draft plan of management for the Griffin reserves and walkways in Castlecrag. This was approved by Council in late 1997 and a Griffin Reserves Advisory Committee was established by Council to assist with its implementation.

Elizabeth Lander prepared a statement on behalf of the Griffin Reserves Advisory Committee. Its functions are to review the Plan of Management, advise on aspects on aspects of the use, control and management of the reserves, and to share information about the reserves with the wider community. Eight local residents were appointed to the Committee, together with councillors of the then Middle Harbour Ward and appropriate Council staff. The inaugural meeting was on 14 May 1998, and since then the Committee has made numerous inspections of the reserves, walkways and islands, and met on a regular basis to review specific plans of management and monitor their implementation.

Following a break for refreshments, James Smallhorn (Council’s Open Space Officer) and Karl McKillop (Council’s Bush Fire Officer) gave detailed presentations on the rehabilitation of the Griffin reserves, walkways and road islands over the past 10 years, and Council’s strategy and achievements in ecological burns and hazard reduction. Plans of management for each of the reserves prepared by Council officers in consultation with the Advisory Committee were on display and James provided updates on how these were being implemented. Karl presented case studies of ecological burns in Linden Way, Oriel and Casement Reserves that provided the audience with a good understanding of how today’s scientific knowledge of the ecology of Sydney sandstone landforms is applied to regenerating indigenous plant species through the use of fire. He also highlighted the positive impact that resident volunteers (with training through Council’s bushcare program) are having, by assisting the regeneration of native species. Bushcare assisted reserves are faring much better than those without resident volunteers.

The evening concluded with rigorous discussion of key issue by the audience, which continued over refreshments well beyond the formal closure of the meeting. Alfred Bernhard, Council’s Bushland Manager, noted that the additional actions requested by local residents would be dependent on the proposed expansion of the e-restore program through an increased levy on ratepayers.