Welcome to “Narma Kullarck” Boardwalk & Bird Hide

Narma Kullarck Boardwalk at twilight

The first thing everyone experiences as they enter the floating boardwalk after the winter rain is that sensation of walking on water – feeling the gentle swell and sway of the wetlands lapping around the boardwalk. And they carry this feeling in their spirit as they connect with nature and feed their souls on its beauty.

The floating pontoons afford a surreal view – tucked away in a thicket and emerging with the bird hide on Bibra Lake. Together, the boardwalk and bird hide, are shaped like the long neck and oblong shell (respectively) of our endearing oblong turtle. And the aerial view shows off the turtle’s form spectacularly. As a symbol, this is apt. Oblong turtles are native inhabitants here.

The boardwalk and bird hide have been named – “Narma Kullarck” – an Aboriginal Nyoongar phrase that means “family place”. And it is truly that. A place for people from all walks of life and all corners of community to intermingle and connect.

A place of meditation and exploration, where you can delve into the thriving environment and ecosystem, as well as find your roots, develop and strengthen your bond with nature. A celebration of our culture of inclusivity and openness. And an ode to the rich and vibrant Aboriginal heritage, the people on whose land the structure stands.

A satelite view of Narma Kullarck Boardwalk
An aerial view of the boardwalk, showing it’s distinct “Oblong turtle”-inspired shape.

 

Staying True to Aboriginal Values

The North Lake “Coolbellup” and Bibra Lake “Walliabup” sites within the Beeliar Regional Park have longstanding cultural and historical ties to the Aboriginal people.

Evidence collected from these sites has included more than 2000 artefacts made of clay, glass, quartz and fossilised sedimentary rock called “chert”. Of these fossiliferous chert dates back to the last ice age, more than 6000 years ago, when it could have been found on land that has since become the seabed. This evidence suggests that the sites are at least 5000 years old! To put this in context, the sites are older than the great pyramids.

The Narma Kullarck Boardwalk and Bird Hide have been constructed on Aboriginal heritage land. In order to maintain the sanctity of the ancient connection, in the initial planning phases, support was sought from the Aboriginal Community and the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA).

The City of Cockburn initiated a consultation process that included inviting native title applicants and other senior members of the Aboriginal Community to share their views on the design, location and construction of the boardwalk and bird hide. Anthropological and archaeological reports were also commissioned in order to establish constraints.

 

Developing the Initial Plans

In 2008, the City of Cockburn engaged consultants to develop a plan for the development and management of recreational and conservation facilities at Bibra Lake. The council adopted the plan in early 2010. The plan was also subjected to full community consultation including consultation with the Wetlands Centre Cockburn, prior to adoption.

Very early on in the process, plans were altered to avoid sinking piles into the lakebed as this was considered unacceptable to Aboriginal beliefs and values. However, DIA gave permission to construct a floating boardwalk and a design for floating pontoon structures using prefabricated systems was approved.

A side view of the boardwalk's pontoons
A side view of the boardwalk pontoons showing passages enabling fauna movement

It was critical that the pontoons did not restrict fauna movement in any way. To meet this special requirement, a central access channel was designed to run underneath the entire length of the boardwalk. Numerous access points have also been incorporated for wildlife to move under the boards seamlessly.

The native paperbark wetland environment posed further challenges to the design, with poor site accessibility due to thick vegetation and its propensity for seasonal inundation. This meant that the contractors working on the project would need to be specialised with intimate knowledge of the wetland environment and an ability to work under varying conditions.

 

Project Specifics, Facts and Figures

Jarrah timber has been used for the decking. The timber decking is better (compared to GRP open grating) because it is more in keeping with the aesthetic surroundings of Bibra Lake. And the bird hide has been created out of recycled timber.

Image of kids dip netting for macroinvertebrates

The 70-metre-long floating boardwalk has been built as close to the ground as possible and is designed to lift with the water when the area floods. There aren’t any visually intrusive handrails, and at the same time, the boardwalk is wide and stable. At 2 metres wide it allows for easy access for wheelchairs and prams.

The bird hide includes viewing slots at both heights for children and adults on each of the three walls and there is ample bench seating everywhere – inside as well as outside.

There are wooden steps at a few places along the way that make working in the surrounding wetland possible for volunteers and staff during planting season. And there are metal steps at the bird hide that lead to the water’s edge for school children who come to visit the Centre during the school holidays and need to collect samples for their study.

The whole project cost a little under $650,000 to complete.

 

Opening Ceremony

The Narma Kullarck boardwalk and bird hide were officially opened on the 13th of October 2012, at a short mid-morning ceremony. The beautiful structure is a labour of love and hard work, staying true to every expectation.

Picture collage of Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk
Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk

As a family place, it reflects the hopes and dreams of Aboriginal Elder and Chairperson of the City of Cockburn’s Aboriginal Reference Group, Revd. Sealin Garlett. Traditionally, the site has served as a place for Aboriginal families to meet, gather and exchange knowledge. And it was his hope that the new boardwalk and bird hide would continue to serve the community in similar ways.

Together with Revd. Sealin Garlett, the City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett cut the ribbon. In our case (and appropriately so), it was a braid of red, yellow and black threads woven with gum leaves in place of the ribbon.

 

Narma Kullarck Today

Volunteers after a planting event
In high spirits: Volunteers form a “pot snake” after a huge revegetating event around the boardwalk

The boardwalk and bird hide are incredibly popular with the public who come here to appreciate nature, contemplate and rejuvenate.  The vegetation is thriving. And it isn’t hard to spot some wildlife – turtles, frogs, birds and bandicoots, casually enjoying Narma Kullarck too.

 

Link to Boardwalk Inaugural Picture Gallery: Courtesy, City of Cockburn.

References

Cockburn.wa.gov.au. (2012). Summary of Minutes of Ordinary Council Meeting Held On Thursday, 9 February 2012 At 7:00 pm. [online] Available at: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/getattachment/4b883dd7-e570-44f2-990d-59660740a2ea/ecm_4205509_v1_minutes-ordinary-council-meeting-09-february-2012-pdf [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

NARMA KULLARCK (FAMILY PLACE) BIBRA LAKE RESERVE BOARDWALK & BIRD HIDE Project in Bibra Lake, WA – Cordell Connect. (2019). Cordellconnect.com.au. Retrieved 13 June 2019, from https://www.cordellconnect.com.au/public/project/ProjectDetails.aspx?uid=1295319

Shaw, M. (2013). The Urban Bush Telegraph. [online] Bushlandperth.org.au. Available at: https://www.bushlandperth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/UBTMay2013.pdf [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

Wahlquist, C. (2015). Indigenous site ‘older than pyramids’ in Perth freeway’s path taken off heritage register. the Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/23/indigenous-site-older-than-pyramids-in-perth-freeways-path-taken-off-heritage-register

Saving Bibra Lake

An aerial view of Bibra Lake on a sunny day

Cradled in the swales of the ancient dunes of the Swan Coastal Plain, and spanning over 384 hectares are the Beeliar Wetlands! They are bustling with stunning biodiversity, that include some of the most unique and fragile lifeforms on earth. Here, the calm, placid Bibra Lake stands as a timeless testament to our heritage and cultural values.

Historically, North Lake – Coolbellup and Bibra Lake – Walliabup, have served as important locations for the Aboriginal Nyoongar people. They are associated with the mythology of the ‘Waugal‘– the rainbow serpent, and Dreamtime tales of the ‘Spirit Children’.  Numerous Aboriginal campsites have been documented adjacent to the lakes. The Beeliar mob had semi-permanent camps on the land, caring for the boodja (country), precisely where the controversial Roe 8 tollway was proposed.

While we closely evaded that disaster, there are still a number of factors that continue to impact our precious wetlands. Over 90% of Perth’s once ample and abundant wetlands have been lost to agricultural pursuits, urbanisation, and development & infill. Bibra Lake and the surrounds are a reminder of what we’ve lost and what we stand to lose unless we take strong action. Together.

 

Changing wetlands in a changing climate

Our wetlands are dynamic in nature and they transform with changing seasons. Water levels in the wetlands, such as Bibra Lake, rise and fall with rainfall and the seasonal movement of groundwater. Bibra Lake experiences this seasonal flooding and drying, and oftentimes, this leads to alterations in the depth and area of the body of the lake. The transient wetlands are designed to cope, redistributing their animal and plant life in accordance with these changes.

However, with a decrease in rainfall and an increase in human activity surrounding our wetlands, the natural variations are becoming exaggerated. Causing alarming fluctuations in the wetland zonation. Introducing irreversible expansions and contractions of the wetland area.

 

Comparisson of flooded zones of Bibra Lake from 1995 to 2005
Figures depicting altered wetland zonation for Bibra Lake

Looking back, we remember the water levels of Bibra Lake during the 1980’s and 1990’s to be much higher than they are now. Many of us believe that those water levels were “proper”. However, the higher water levels of Bibra Lake at the time were actually an aberration caused by the removal of vegetative cover for the development of surrounding suburbs.

On the other hand, we also see prolonged drying of the wetlands in some years. The reduced rainfall has impacted the recharging of groundwater. And since the groundwater is also our source of drinking water for the Perth metropolitan area, this has caused a further shrinkage of the precious resource.

Bibra Lake has suffered adverse impacts. Usually, maximum water levels were seen around October and minimum levels during April. However, Bibra Lake and North Lake are now breaching these standards. This has significant implications for planting and weed control.

 

Two pictures comparing seasonal water levels of Bibra Lake
Snapshots comparing maximum and minimum seasonal water levels in Bibra Lake

A thorough understanding of these circumstances is essential towards developing a successful restoration program for Bibra Lake. We need to take the variations and on-ground conditions into account, adjusting when and where we weed and plant as we maintain and restore the lake and its surrounds.  The focus as we move forward must be on adaptive management.

We must also accept that we are moving into a period of some uncertainty, with climate change and global/local weather events becoming unpredictable. We may not get this 100% right 100% of the time. But every failure is a learning and a step forward.

 

Weeds and invasive species

Weeds are one of the most pressing problems we face at Bibra Lake, and weed control is an ongoing initiative. Often, the removal of one weed creates space for another. In some cases, it even allows the overgrowth of opportunistic native plants which can pose additional challenges. We see this most starkly in the constant balancing act of Typha control on our lakes. But that is a story for another day…

A combination of manual and chemical control along with mulching and saturation planting has been the most effective method in combating weeds. (Saturation planting is when native vegetation is planted densely and in large numbers so as to saturate and give little scope for invasive species to spread.)

At Bibra Lake, the following have been our findings:

  • Weeds must be actively growing before initiating weed control.
  • The revegetation plan should be in place prior to weed management to make the best use of the weed control efforts.
  • A monthly weed control commitment is required with a plan for the whole year.
  • At The Wetlands Centre, we have developed Seed Production Areas (SPAs) and refined propagation techniques to grow plants in our nursery.
  • The weed biomass in the seasonal zone degrades during one flooding and receding event. Slashing is sometimes required to make the area suitable for planting.
  • Mulching of the lower damp to upper seasonal zone (the weediest zone) with Typha mulch reduced the frequency of weed control.

 

Satelite images of Bibra Lake from 1953 to 2018 showing vegetation cover
Satellite images showing revegetation of Bibra Lake by The Wetlands Centre Cockburn over the years

Invasive species such as feral bees, foxes and cats are also detrimental to our wetlands. The feral cats and foxes prey on vulnerable native animals. Foxes are an introduced species and our lizards, turtles and quenda are especially susceptible since they have not developed any specific defences to stay protected.

 

Runoff and Algal Blooms

Human activity is primarily responsible for the degradation of our wetlands. Our urban developments are placed closer and closer to the wetlands, with little or no buffer. Roads and tracks crisscross the perimeter. And our wetlands are losing their lush cover, that helps protect wildlife from noise, light and other forms of pollution. All this further challenges their survival, exposing our species to danger and disease, and putting them at a risk of endangerment.

This also means that there is a greater impact on how nutrients, sediments and pollutants are naturally filtered by the wetland. The degraded quality of some of the fringing and upland vegetation around Bibra Lake is causing alterations in the water-quality of the catchment. However, Bibra Lake still fairs better than other heavily impacted lakes within the Beeliar Wetlands.

Runoff, whether it is the chemical runoff from roads or the phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen from fertilizers that we use in our gardens, leads to a nutrient explosion, and subsequently, algal blooms. The algae reduce temperature and light penetration in the catchments, suffocating and dominating over aquatic life. The algae also spread rapidly and give off an unpleasant odour as they break down. There is a direct link between the excessive use of garden and horticulture fertilizers and algal blooms in our waterways.

Reducing the use of chemicals in our gardens, keeping our storm drains clear of unwanted litter, conserving water and using it judiciously, and using landscaping practices that benefit wildlife and their habitats – every little step you take can lead to positive outcomes for our lake.

 

Join The Wetlands Centre Cockburn

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, we are fortunate to be located adjacent to the resplendent Bibra Lake, within the Beeliar Regional Park. This places us in an ideal position to lead by example in the care of our natural surroundings. We recognize that we bear a great responsibility to inspire, reinforce and connect, and to work with the community to safeguard and protect this amazing area.

The issues we have highlighted in this article are very real. They are threatening the health of our wonderful lake and its bountiful surrounds. We are working hard to understand and combat these issues while spreading awareness of core problems. Our team of volunteers and staff are dedicated and ever-vigilant.

In working with the land and connecting with its nurturing ways, we have come to cherish it deeply. And we want to share this connection with the greater community. Come, get involved with us. Learn. Plant. Protect. Conserve. And spread the joy.

 

This article is adapted from and based on notes and insights shared by Denise Crosbie, Wetlands Officer, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn.