This month is an ideal time to observe some of the numerous shoreline birds that run along, breeding and feeding, on the edges of our Lake, Ponds, Creek and Wetland. The most common birds seen around Sanctuary Lakes are the Red Capped Plover, the Common Greenshank and the Masked Lapwing. In fact, when I started research on this article last week, I saw all three of them together at the Sanctuary Lake’s Salt Ponds by the Skeleton Creek weir. Let’s start with the smallest and probably the most common, the Red Capped Plover or Dotterel.
The red-capped plover or dotterel, or small plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)
The Red-caps are usually seen running along the water’s edge using a distinctive 'stop-run-peck' foraging method. They feed on small crustaceans, molluscs, other invertebrates and some vegetation. Although the Red-cap inhabits many of Sanctuary Lakes varied shorelines, it can, due to its size and camouflageable markings, be difficult to view. It’s beak to tail size is only the same as the small house sparrow, 16cm.
Red-cap males have a bright reddish-chestnut nape (back of neck) and crown, with a black stripe running from the bill to the eye and one running from the nape to the breast and the females have a grey-brown crown, a pale red-brown nape and less distinct black markings.
Red-Capped Plover’s nest
Red-caps are beach and shoreline-nesting birds. Laying their eggs in a shallow scratched out depression close to the water. The small eggs are extremely well camouflaged and can be accidently crushed by shore users including humans, animals and vehicles. The birds are very susceptible to disturbance during the September to October breeding season, often meaning that the eggs fail to hatch or chicks don't survive. To help protect the nests and young, Red-caps will often attempt to distract the intruder, including faking a wing injury to lead predators away.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Unlike the Red-cap the Common Greenshank are readily distinguished when strutting around the margins of our shore and waterlines. Firstly, they are relatively large, 35cm and have a prominent white triangle on their back. Secondly, by their strident ‘choo, choo, choo’ call given when flying away, in their very distinctive zig-zag pattern. They are migratory, flying between Australia and Siberia. Arriving here in early October and leaving around February/March. The Common Greenshanks do not breed in Australia but on their return back to Siberia.
The Common Greenshank is a rather heavily built wader. Mainly grey-brown on its upper body and pale below. The head and neck are flecked with dark grey and there is a narrow white eye ring. The bill is dark to green-grey and is long with a slight upward curve. The long legs are yellowish-green. In flight, the Greenshank has a dark outer-wing and the signature white triangle can be seen on the rump and back.
Greenshanks eat insects, worms, molluscs, small fish and crustaceans, feeding both by day and night. They feed by picking from the surface, probing, sweeping and lunging at the edges of mudflats or shallows. Walking elegantly along the shoreline it often catches small fish by chasing them rapidly in the water. It may also run erratically through shallows to catch shrimps with its long upcurved bill held slightly open.
Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles novaehollandiae
Masked Lapwings are a common sight in our neighbourhood. Presently we have two pairs residing with us. One pair are regulars around Breezewater and the 8th tee’s pond, with the other pair nesting on the Lake’s shoreline between the 17th green and the 18th’s fairway.
Masked Lapwing is native to Australia. Both sexes are similar, in size (length 36 to 38cm, wingspan 80 cm) and appearance. The adults have olive-brown upperparts and wings. Flight feathers are blackish. Rump is white. Tail is tipped black. Underparts are white. Undertail feathers are white, tipped with black and the crown is black. Both sexes have the distinctive nomenclature, yellow wattle masks on the face, and yellow bare skin covering forehead and upper area of eyes. The nape is separated from the mantle by a white collar. The bill is yellow with pale greyish tip. Eyes are yellow with yellow eye-ring. Legs and feet are dark pinkish.
The Masked Lapwing is sometimes referred to as the Spur-winged Plover because each of its wings are armed with a yellow spur at the ‘elbow’ or carpal joint. Indigenous people used to say that the birds were carrying yellow spears. Lapwings use these spurs when diving at potential predators or intruders during breeding season, while chicks are running around or when the eggs are just about to hatch. As some SL Golfers will testify these attacks are quite unnerving, although the birds never actually strike their ‘victims’, preferring a close approach with plenty of screeching to scare them away. Like the Red Capped Plover, Lapwings also perform the “broken wing manoeuvre”, in order to lure predators away from the nest. Usually, these behaviours cease after hatching and when chicks are mobile. Parents defend large territory around chicks, rather than the nest-site.
The Masked Lapwing searches for its food mainly on the shoreline, marshes and nearby grassy areas. They forage by raking steadily with one-foot extracting invertebrates, insects, larvae and earthworms from just below or on the surface. These birds often feed alone, or in pairs.
Strangely Masked Lapwings may breed at any time of the year when conditions are suitable. Both sexes share the building of the nest, which is a simple scrape in the
Of the thousands of tree species in the world, the Oak tree stands head and shoulders above all others. It is without doubt one of the most well-known and with good reason. The Oak tree has been a symbol of strength, morale, resistance and knowledge. Throughout history, the Oak has been constantly represented in different mythologies and sometimes linked to powerful gods (in Greek mythology it was a symbol of Zeus, the God of Thunder).
Legend has it, that both Robin Hood and King Charles escaped from their enemies hiding in Royal Oaks. Also in the United Kingdom, the Royal Oak is the symbol of Toryism and the Conservative Party. In 2004 the United States Congress passed legislation designating the Oak as America's National Tree.
The Oak tree is considered a cosmic storehouse of wisdom embodied in its towering strength. They grow slowly, but surely and in their own time. Thanks to its size and longevity the Oak is often associated with honour, nobility, and wisdom. Oaks are known to easily surpass 300 years of age, making it a powerful life-affirming symbol.
The largest living tree in Australia is Sydney’s Bland Oak planted by the early colonialist in 1840.
Oak Trees are also practical and produce a major hard wood. An essential in early ship building. Oak planking was common on high status Viking longships in the 9th and 10th centuries and until the 19th century Oak wood was used in Europe for the construction of ships, especially naval galleons and men of war. On land, it was the principal timber used in the construction of European timber-framed buildings. Even today Oak wood is commonly used in furniture, floor boards, veneers and of course manufacturing Oak Barrels for storing and aging wines, beers, sherries and spirits.
“The Oak tree is a living legend representing all that is true, wholesome, stable, and noble.”
It is therefore no surprise that here in Sanctuary Lakes, the initial landscape planner and designer Barry Murphy planted a block of twenty-one Oak trees in and around the first planned garden/park, Saint Andrew’s Square and possibly as a contrast to our wonderful Australasian entrance of Red River Gums some 350 metres away.
The Oak tree species Barry chose was a native of Spain, Portugal and North Africa the Quercus Canariensis, better known as the Algerian or Mirbeck’s Oak. Despite its scientific name, it does not grow naturally in the Canary Islands, though it may have in the past. Quercus Canariensis enjoy flat clayish soils and slightly salty air, perfect for Sanctuary Lakes conditions.
Today, after 20 years growth they can be seen as young handsome large-leaved, wide spreading, broad domed canopy trees growing as broad as they are tall. Presently they are standing around 15 metres but will grow to twice that size. Their characteristic thick, arching branches coming off squat, but strong, straight trunks that will mature to a one metre plus diameter. The bark of the trunk is a dark greyish brown and deeply fissured.
The leaves are oblong or elliptical and have a sinuous or shallowly lobed margin, which are rounded to more pointed peaks. They are alternate, somewhat leathery and deciduous, but are also marcescent, i.e. the dry leaves of the previous year stay on until the buds of the new ones push them off the following spring. The tree flowers in September October and the male blossom appears on long yellowish filaments (catkins) that facilitate the dispersion of pollen by the wind. The female are small buds wedged between leaf and branch. When mature and fertilised, the female bud blooms and develops into the acorns, which are borne on short, thick stalks. The acorns cluster in two to threes’ and begin falling in the Autumn.
A visit in October to St Andrews Square, adjacent to Lakeside Drive, is guaranteed to visually surprise. The intense bright green of the newly minted leaves mixing with yellow pollinated catkins is truly delightful to the eye. A slight breeze will not only shimmer the light off the leaves, but creates a soft rustling sound. A reminder that in Ancient Greece when the Oak trees were considered sacred and the centrepiece of the pantheons, the priests would divine the pronouncements of the gods by interpreting the rustling of the Oak's leaves. Sadly, my classical education failed me and I was unable to translate for the SL Newsletter readers this week’s proclamation. But if you are walking around the lake take a slight detour to St Andrew’s Park and visit our magnificent young Oak trees. You won’t be disappointed and, who knows, you may hear a tree rustle from the Gods with a possible tip for the Melbourne Cup!
This story begins a few Sundays back, when my neighbours Jan and John spotted a swan in distress from their lakeside garden. The swan, later confirmed to be male, had tangled himself in a discarded fishing line, that then wrapped itself around his leg, wing and neck, giving it an almost puppet-like pulling posture each time it tried to move.
The AGL Marine Response Unit was called and responded immediately, arriving within 30 minutes from the time Jan and John rang them. Liza from the AGL Unit was able to cut the fishing lines from the swan, and transported it to Melbourne Zoo despite believing his future looked quite bleak.
Fortunately, the Veterinary staff managed to clear the fishing lines and treat the swan for the injuries he sustained. The swan was later released back into the lake, where he paddled happy and free, back to join his partner and their three cygnets. I spoke with Mark Keenan from the AGL Marine Response Unit about the incident, and others like it.
Mark told me that the Unit is regularly freeing birds wrapped in fishing lines. Light-weight fishing lines are a big threat, as they tangle so easily. These lines have no stretch and will readily cut into the birds which can leave them maimed or cause death; most birds become entangled when they're foraging for food beneath the water. The issue begins when a length of discarded fishing line accidently catches on a bird’s foot, for example. The bird tries to kick the line off, and though they can sometimes free themselves in other cases the lines wrap around their legs or feet.
Mark says he’s also seen a number of other injuries occurring in birds coming into contact with fishing lines, such as line being swallowed or hooks attaching to parts of the bird. Additionally, fishing lines don’t biodegrade or break down quickly, and can tighten around the bird; especially when the area affected begins to swell.
The best way to avoid this from happening is to avoid dropping, snapping off or cutting off fishing lines. Where appropriate, educate others on the proper disposal of fishing line and hooks. If you fish yourself, you can use a float on your line to prevent the hooks snagging in seagrass. Preventing the snagging will prevent the need to cut lines.
In addition to this, Seal the Loop bins are provided around the lake for proper fishing line disposal.
Mark also told us that from his own observations, he had found that birds often form an association between the action of a person throwing food, and the action of a person casting a fishing line. The birds begin to think that the cast line is food, so will follow it which can lead to them getting caught in lines or having hooks caught in their beaks if the line is baited.
This led me to ask Mark about feeding birds.
Mark advises that we avoid feeding our feathered friends, and instead encourages creating a friendly environment for birds. He says that, just like in humans, a constant supply of ‘artificial’ food (such as white bread) can be unhealthy for the birds.
Although feeding birds is strongly discouraged, the reality is that around a third to half of the households in this country feed birds at their home or local parks. For many people (and especially children), feeding birds is their main relationship with the wild.
So, if you want to feed the birds on our lake or in your garden, then there are a few simple rules you should follow to make sure you feed them the correct way:
- Remember it’s a snack, not a meal. The birds only need a little to eat and they will (and should) get most of their diet the natural way
- Keep it clean and wash food scraps before feeding them to birds
- Simple is best; avoid anything processed (including bread or mince), or anything that contains salt or sugar
- Ensure you only give them foods that are compatible with their natural diet
Shredded lettuce placed in the water is a healthy food for most swans and ducks. You can also vary with a cos lettuce, endive, cracked corn, wheat and seeds. Always place these into the shallows of the water, instead of throwing it in. Don’t feel disappointed if they turn their nose and give you a look that says ‘OK, where’s the bread?’, persist and they will get used to it and enjoy their healthier snack options.
We residents of Sanctuary Lakes are extremely fortunate in having some of the most beautiful and iconic birds as our neighbours, and with that comes a responsibility towards them. Mark tells me that in his time with the AGL Marine Response Unit he has seen birds in a state of horrible distress and suffering, due to human’s often innocent actions.
The good news is that you can help prevent this happening. By following the above guidelines if you do choose to feed birds, by fishing conscientiously and using floats on your lines to prevent the need to cut them, by properly disposing of fishing lines and hooks, and by simply keeping your eyes peeled for discarded fishing lines whenever you go walking around the lake. If you do come across one, wind it up into a tight ball and put them in the Seal The Loop bins provided at locations around the lake.
If you see injured or distressed marine wildlife, please contact the AGL Marine Response Unit on 1300 AGL MRU (1300 245 678).
One of the many curiosities of our neighbourhood birds, is our lack of understanding of their nomadic behaviour. But modern technology is starting to give us clues. By placing tiny chips into bird’s bodies, it is allowing bio-scientists to not only monitor their movements but build a picture of their life patterns. Melbourne University’s myswan.org is already involved in ground breaking research of the Black Swan.
In the Sanctuary Lakes neighbourhood there are numerous nomadic visitors, some who annually stop here for just a few days, others that make four or five visits a year, some arriving as small families, with others as large flocks. For this month’s Rubik I have chosen three very regular native Australian visitors, each with their own story for enjoying the delights of our neighbourhood.
First up, the sparrow sized and distinctive coloured Yellow-rumped Thornbill.
Yellow-Rumped Thornbill Acanthiza chrysorrhoa
A small family of about half a dozen Yellow Rumps are visiting us and can be seen presently around the bushes and native vegetation near the maintenance sheds and at the bottom of the driving range. A relatively small bird at approximately 9.5–12 cm in length; but as the name would suggest it has a very eye catching, striking, bright yellow rump and a distinctive black forehead with white spots. There is a thin white line above the eye, a whitish throat, grey head and neck. It has a short tail with a long slender black bill. The belly is white with light buff below the wings. The wings are grey and the tail is black.
Yellow Rumps mainly feed on the ground, moving in a series of jerky hops picking up insects, spiders, caterpillars and occasional seeds all of which is readily available in our Green Spaces. When fly hopping the tail is frequently fanned briefly exposing the yellow rump.
Hopefully our visiting Yellow Rumps are here to breed, which takes place between July and December. One female forms a breeding group with several males and this co-operative can raise up to four broods in a good season. The Yellow Rump’s nest is very unusual. A small untidy structure of grass and bark on two levels: an upper 'false' cup-shaped nest and a lower, domed, nest-chamber with a hooded entrance. The function of the false nest is not clearly understood, with many theories being put forward, such as: deterring predators, a roosting place for male or fledglings, a 'practice' nest for the helpers or as a 'displacement' activity for males. Whatever the reason the nest only lasts one brood so the co-operative is constantly nest building during the breeding season.
The Yellow Rumps are regular visitors but they are also common nomads in our area’s shrublands, along the watercourses, in parks and gardens.
Our second regular Aussie visitor is the small bird of prey, the Black-shouldered Kite.
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris
A pair of Black-shoulder Kites have been staying with us for the past six to eight weeks. They have been seen from Skeleton Creek through Breezewater and up past the maintenance sheds to the starter’s hut area. They have also been seen around the driving range and the green space between Pinnacle and the lake.
For a bird of prey Black Shoulders are relatively small, measuring around 35 cm in length with a wingspan of 80–100 cm. Adults have predominantly grey-white plumage and prominent soft reddish-brown markings on its head above its dark red eyes. The nostrils are yellow, as are its legs and feet. It gains its name from the distinctive black patches on its wings. It has a direct flight with quick shallow wing beats interspersed with glides on upswept wings (like a seagull), and is often seen hovering, with feet dangling.
Black-shoulder Kites feed mainly on rodents and small mammals, particularly mice, rats, young. rabbits and hares, often following rodent plagues in agricultural areas. It will also eat lizards, snakes and larger insects such as grasshoppers. It prefers to hunt during the day, particularly early morning and late afternoon, often hovering with its wings held upright in a V-shape, before dropping down and grabbing prey with its talons. Prey items are eaten while flying or on a perch, which can be a high tree or an artificial structure like our boulevard light poles.
Black-shoulders are nomadic following their rodent food supply and enjoy living in grasslands, wastelands and coastal areas.
Breeding season is from August to December, therefore like the Yellow Rump family it is hoped that the pair presently visiting us might look to breeding here. Nests are a platform of sticks 27-45 cm across, lined with green leaves, bark or fur, usually hidden in the canopy of a living tree, or occasionally an artificial structure. Three to four eggs are laid, and hatch after a month. Juvenile birds are dependent for a month and then often disperse widely (up to 1000 km).
Our third regular Aussie visitor can be described as both nomadic and migratory. Over the past few years in flocks of over fifty birds, it has regularly visited Sanctuary Lakes for a few weeks in late August September and then again in February March. It is also known to take a short minor migration to northern NSW and Southern Queensland in the winter months. This little traveller is the Fairy Martin.
The best description of the Fairy Martin was a Sanctuary Lake’s neighbour who told me there was a large flock on a fairway of what he thought were Swallows but on closer inspection they obviously had different markings.
The Fairy Martin is slightly smaller (12cms) than the Welcome Swallow (15cms), with darker wings, a whitey-brown underbody and a pinkish-red head whereas the Swallow has its pinkish red colour under its beak and above its white breast. The Fairy Martin has a short, slightly forked tail that appears square in flight. They feed on flying insects that they catch on-the-wing high in the air column. It is gregarious, feeding in large flocks and nesting in colonies. It enjoys open green spaces and being close to water.
The Fairy Martin is sometimes called the Bottle Swallow, because its nest, made from tiny pellets of mud or clay, is bottle shaped. The nests are often placed in colonies in culverts, roof eves or under bridges. The entrance to each nest is via the horizontal spout.
Fairy Martin’s bottle nests
Although our bio-scientist are building a picture of our nomadic Aussie visitors, it is hoped that with the new chip technology they will be able to tell us the who’s, the whys and where-fore’s of our regular Aussie visitors.
Once a year I try to write an article about the history of our area, the Western Plains, Point Cook and Sanctuary Lakes. Last year while researching I found a drawing by the original architect, Chris Honey, which was the very first sketch of Sanctuary Lakes Resort, its lake, its golf course, houses and property.
As you can see everything is outlined within the sketch; the lake and its butterfly islands, the entrance, the circuit of the boulevards and the shape of the golf course.
I have always been fascinated by the moment when an idea leaps out of the creator’s mind and becomes visual or audible so that it can, for the first time, be communicated.
It is the singularity before the big bang.
It is the moment that a concept becomes a reality.
It can now be seen.
It can now be discussed.
Working with Chris Honey was the original Sanctuary Lakes engineer and now SLC Vet golfer, David Hunter. Fortunately, we met playing a round and discussed how he and Chris, standing on a bare moon-scaped setting of basalt rock salt pans and decaying wooden pumps, conceived that this was the ideal location for an up-market residential development attached to an International Golf Course and Melbourne’s largest lake.
The landscape that David and Chris sourced their inspiration of Sanctuary Lake
Aerial view of Cheetham multitudes of salt pans covering what is now Sanctuary Lakes
After a couple of months in the maturing pit of my mind, I sent David a letter outlining my thoughts and the basis of an article based on the Chris Honey Sketch
Here are my initial questions based on viewing Chris Honey’s first concept drawing of Sanctuary Lakes.
What I would like to know and write about is, what were the ‘gravitational waves’ that pushed the idea?
- What were Developer Michael Tan’s riding instructions?
- What was the reality of the landscape you were going to build upon?
- Was it really a moonscape, were there trees, bushes hedges? Or simply basalt rock salt pans.
- Why a lake and what inspired it?
- Why the Butterfly shaped islands?
- Why the position of the Entrance? Did it already have the impressive Red River Gums growing?
- What were your thoughts when you first saw the location?
- What did you think when you first saw Chris Honey’s water colour sketch plan? Was it a Eureka moment or was it a vision of almost impossible mountain to climb or both?
I am sure your answers will create more questions but at least it is a start. Hopefully we can have a quick chat this Monday at the Vets check in and arrange a meeting for a discussion
Thanks for your help
His wonderful reply (below) was way beyond my expectations. It tells a gripping story of how the Sanctuary Lakes concept happened in a manner that only a person totally involved could tell:
Subject: The singularity
Good morning Tom,
Thank you for the opportunity to put down my memories of the process. I had been involved with the land well before it was purchased by Michael Tan. I was working for IEL at the time and negotiated the agreements for transfer of the wetlands to the State and the conditions of that transfer. I also worked with the planners to get the site rezoned for residential use. I knew the site intimately and the issues involved with getting it to a marketable state.
In the beginning ……
When the property was being re-zoned by IEL and put up for sale, we prepared what is called a yield plan, which sets out the highest and best use for the land - being residential - and the number of lots that one could expect to get from the parcel. That basically sets the land value. At that stage the expectation would have been 10 to 12 lots per hectare. However, the nature of the site meant that there would be less developable area because of the low-lying land and the requirement to fill it to make it viable for housing. The numbers we did at that stage indicated that the filling would have to be provided for free, if it was all to be developed. Bear in mind that the approach from developers at that stage was that Werribee was “first home buyer” and low cost was the aim.
So the initial plan, prepared in haste and with yield in mind, was for about 6,000 lots, with a water body in the middle. That plan was neither imaginative nor aesthetic. Its primary purpose was to get the value as high as possible. It was an exercise in value setting, not design.
So, when it went to market, there were two options:
- a) Avoid too much fill and create a bit of a water body, or
- b) Fill the lot over many years with free fill.
Michael Tan was made aware of the sale. He was interested in securing a parcel of land that was able to meet his expectations for a quality development. I was asked to pick him up from the city on a Wednesday morning to take him out to show him the land. The Agent, Frank Nagle, had emphasised that the site "was only 15 minutes from the city”. So, the drive out was quick, but achieved the timing objective.
The site in its original form, consisted of a large red brick building and out buildings which were now derelict, dirt roads, remnant salt patches and hectares of evaporation ponds and concentrators. These were a pink colour and caught Michael’s imagination about creating a "pink lake”. After explaining that the salt concentration was 10 times higher than sea water in order to get that colour, it was agreed that we wouldn’t go down that path.
We drove across the site over the next hour or so and ended up at the Skeleton Creek weir. The water body above the weir was bathed in sunlight and water birds. The city skyline beckoned in the distance, with the bay stretching out toward Dromana. The vista was all a sales team could need. Michael turned to me and said, "can you make this happen on that land? Can you make that look like this?” I hesitated, thought for a moment and said, “it’s possible Michael, but it will cost more to do.”
He thought about that for a while and looked out over Skeleton Creek, turned to me and Frank and said, "I think we can make this work.”
We travelled back to the city, within the 15-minute time frame, and made arrangements to meet again that evening to discuss the land.
Over the next few days, Michael asked for some more options on development plans, market advice on sales price and likely planning approval processes. I expect that he was also in discussion with Chris Honey, his architect in Kuala Lumpur and the UK. Chris was a one-man practice who split his time between Cambridge and Kuala Lumpur. He had designed a building for Michael and also a subdivision - urban design.
In the resulting discussions, the concept of a golf course and lake was put forward. I arranged for a rough sketch to be prepared and overall land use assessed to determine how many lots might be achieved from the site. In that process, Michael asked me to approach [then known as] Werribee Council about the likely support or otherwise for the broad concept proposed. I met with John Nicol, the then City Engineer, responsible for planning and development. I remember John’s words after I had finished my presentation. “This is exactly what the west needs, somewhere for the business owners to live. This is excellent.”
With that enthusiasm, Michael entered a contract of sale to secure the land. It’s fair to say, that there were not a lot of bidders for the site. The perception of problems with salt and fill had depreciated the value in the eyes of the local developers. All they could see was a “first home buyer market.” Michael could see much more… the Skeleton Creek aesthetic.
It was some time later that Michael returned to Melbourne, accompanied by an entourage of friends and investors and Chris Honey. We spent the next week taking people to the site, explaining how it might work, walking the site and thinking about how the site might integrate with the rest of Point Cook. At this point, the discussion about the golf course got serious. A number of designers were discussed. It’s important to also understand the protocol around the professional golf course designer process. Designers want to have a quality course which can have a high profile and enhance their brand. Developers don't want multiple “branded” courses in close proximity as it degrades their advantage. So, the selection of a designer has to take into account what courses they already have in the region, what they can bring to the project in terms of cachet and market value, and what can be leveraged for marketing.
The decision was taken to appoint Greg Norman as the designer as he did not have a course in the region, could bring all of the market value that the project needed and was fascinated with the prospect of changing the landscape at Point Cook. I was asked to pick up Greg and his Designer, Bob Harrison, from Essendon and take them to Point Cook to the first press day. This was the first time that Greg and Bob had seen the site. The press was there in force. After a series of presentations and questions and answers, Greg asked to be taken over the site.
Once in the middle of the site, we stopped to walk around. What attracted Greg’s eye was the salt bush and plants. The colours were deep green, purple and red. “Can we get these on the course?” he asked. “Absolutely", was my reply. We spent a few hours walking the site and discussing how the course might be set out, what were the implications for fill and top soil, how about water? These are the questions that can only be answered when a design is begun based on survey and geotechnical advice. The design process therefore had to be tempered until we had more information.
I set out getting the technical information and once available, we could start the process. With Greg (Bob Harrison) as the golf course designer, Chris Honey arrived to work on the project from our office for a few weeks. Bob Harrison came down from Sydney and we began the design process.
The base plan was put on the table, the original plan was reviewed and discarded. Yellow trace appeared and lines began to be appear highlighting the “must keep” elements. These included the copse of trees which is now the entry, the Skeleton Creek interface, the drainage lines required to meet the expectations of Melbourne Water and the “heritage items” which included the pump station blocks (which were concrete foundations) and the timber sluices. (After much discussion with Heritage Victoria, it was agreed that we could demolish these items after photographically recording them and maintaining an historic record of what the site was about).
As the design progressed, the course started to coalesce. The lake was still not resolved as the issues of filling and geotechnical conditions was still to be finalised. By this stage, we had cut channels through the lower areas of the salt pans to drain the area in preparation for survey. The drained areas revealed rock at shallow depth with the occasional dip in the profile. This encouraged me to confirm that islands are possible with special compaction processes.
With that information, Chris started to work on the detail of the urban design. The parameters were; a) there is a minimum surface area of lake required to meet flood management objectives; b) there is a minimum cross-sectional area of water way required to avoid any back up of water during a flood event.
The yellow trace came out and Chris went into his very intense state, drawing; overlay another sheet; draw some more, this time more strongly. Throw that away, more yellow trace, drawing, overlay more yellow trace, drawing with a thicker pen, another overlay, more drawings this time in a different colour. Question, “David, how would you build a bridge to the island?” “With box culverts, Chris.” “Right, but that’s going to look a bit industrial”. “Yep, might need to look at alternatives, but a full span bridge will be very expensive”. “Right.”
It’s around 7.30 pm. More yellow trace, this time the pen flows in a more fluid way. The pizza and beer are starting to get us all a bit freer. Bob has just about got the course sorted. We review where he’s at. It looks OK, but we need more lots. A bit of animated discussion ensues about the relative priority of golf and housing. We come to a compromise and decide to call it quits at 8.30 pm.
Next day, 7.30 am. Back at the table. Chris looks a bit shattered, but also a bit elated. He has been thinking.
Out comes the yellow trace and the black felt tip. The lake and course intersect now at a few points, following the review last night. “Here’s what we can do” says Chris. The pen moves over the yellow trace and the base plan. The edge of the lake starts to bend, and the first of the butterfly island shapes start to appear. Size is the issue - we need a minimum width to get house, road and services. The blocks need to be big to attract the price required. The waterway area is still critical. More trace, broad pen becomes finer as we put on dimensions. The islands appear in the right places, the land to the south gets narrower because the islands are the best result. We can get lots down each side of a road, but we need more land to make the islands work. The islands are where the money is. Let's buy the land to the south. That's the solution.
The plan evolves quickly now. The course is about set, the lake and islands are now the right size. What’s the reason for the shapes Chris? A basic design principle is to provide “long and short views”. He opened a small text called “A Pattern Language; C Alexander, S Ishikawa & M Silverstein”.
This is what he was reading last night and a re-read clarified for Chris that vision for the islands and how the lake will be viewed from the lots, the course, the entry road and the Club House. The landscape is enhanced and the community enriched.
The eastern part of the lake is not big enough to get the butterfly to work, but the principle is the same. Short and long views to emphasise space and context.
The shapes are looking good. "Now about the bridges - box culverts you say? Hmmm …. how about we put panels on the fronts so that they look “bridge like”?” This time its sketching, a box or two, just enough to separate the island from the land and then separate the two halves of the island. We need to maintain the waterway area, so the dimensioning is checked and double checked.
"How to fix a face panel to the boxes?"
"We hang it off the deck we cast on top of the boxes - simple as” I say, wondering how exactly we can do that. But I have designed and built bridges before, so it’s all doable.
The final touch is to dimension everything and then give it to the surveyors to prepare the plan, before the final approval. Chris heads back to Kuala Lumpur and then the UK. Bob is back in Sydney setting up the course design in detail, including the contouring to take advantage of the view lines created by the lake and the islands.
The layouts are complete, with lot dimensions, curve radius, existing trees and new contours. The view lines are checked and the plans tweaked. Everybody agrees that it works. Now to build what some believe to be impracticable.
The salt pans were created by pushing the topsoil into berms to hold the water. This topsoil is tested and found to be high quality, with very little salt content. Scrappers are set to work to strip the banks and stock pile for use on the golf course. The rest of the site is tested for salt content. Although high in some areas, it can all be managed by applying gypsum to the surface and allowing the rain to flush the salt through. The existing trees on the site are testament to the fact that landscape will not be affected by salt levels.
The land to the south was purchased and part used for filling for the project, as well as enhancing the lake outcomes and drainage control. Nearly 1 million cubic metres of filling was moved across the site during construction.
All filling is compacted under the supervision of a geotechnical engineer and tested every 600 mm of fill. The housing will be constructed on solid foundations. As with the road network. Some Council engineers were sceptical at first and insisted on additional strength testing on all sites. An expectation of salt contamination was unfounded and after much debate, there was agreement that the project was viable. From then on, the community began to see the potential. Deposits for house lots were opened and within 24 hours the first stage was gone.
The lake was originally constructed in two parts to ensure that the water levels would be maintained and the drainage controls achieved. This also enabled construction of the remaining islands to be undertaken.
The project required considerable investment and vision. Michael Tan’s preparedness to think differently to the local developers and see the potential is a testament to his courage and conviction. Being able to share that vision and bring it to reality has been one of the highlights of my career.
I hope this helps to explain how it came to be.
And 22 years later, it became a reality
Sanctuary Lakes 2018 photo by Terry