23 Jul 2018

As work begins on the ambitious new foreshore concept, Urbis Associate Director Peter Hillman talks to Emma Young of WAtoday about Perth’s new playground. 

An ambitious plan to transform the high-profile foreshore areas forming an eastern gateway to Perth city reflects a growing trend to reconnect people with their river.

McCallum Park and Taylor Reserve connect Sir James Mitchell Park to the Causeway Bridge, and on the other side to Crown Perth. The area is highly visible to people entering the city from Shepperton Road.

Peter Hillman, associate director at Urbis, which created the makeover plan, said people approaching Perth from the airport needed their first glimpse of the city and the water at the same time.

“We really need it to be a gateway,” he said.

“They must think, ‘wow – I had better come back and have a look at that’. Also we’ve tried to bring back a lot of tree shade and canopy cover while maintaining views … that’s really lacking along the Perth foreshore.”

They must think, 'wow – I had better come back and have a look at that.

Peter Hillman View Profile

The plan to transform the area with sloping beaches reflects a growing tendency to natural waterfronts in Perth city locations shown in redevelopments at South Perth, Point Fraser and Waterbank in East Perth .

McCallum Park’s vast lawns make it ideal for events including Skyworks, pop-ups, music, food, cultural and garden festivals and horse and car shows. And its playing courts, skate park and walk and cycle paths are used heavily.

But there is little to attract tourists or visitors from wider Perth, and its river wall edge sits about 1.5 metres above the water and is degraded by erosion from the relentless force of the river. Bits regularly have to be fenced off.

The playgrounds are out of date, paths and the jetty are crumbling, the location is exposed to prevailing winds, there is little shade to paths and seating, and interaction with the river is considered “passive” – that is, people look at it, but can’t go and stand in it. There’s no parking around the activity areas, a common complaint for patrons of Embargo Bar this summer past. Park entry points are underwhelming.

In short, the space cries out for a makeover. By the end of this year the Town of Victoria Park will have demolished the hardwalling and begun the transformation to a “destination park”.

By April 2019 it will have spent $600,000 (half funded by the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions) to create a water’s edge with alternating rock revetments and gently sloping beaches, fringed with native plantings that filter stormwater pollution and encourage native animals back to the river’s edge.

They will also include “pause points” – areas that invite people to sit and reflect, access the water and read information about the area’s indigenous and European history.

After that, the concept plan describes a design for a “structure to frame the views [and] a prominent feature totem” at the Canning Highway/Shepperton Road intersection, and a public beach and activity area to be visible from the Causeway.

There will be a volleyball net, hammocks in a shady grove, a mounded playground, skate park extension, playing courts added to with a BMX track and outdoor gym. The idea is to have something for all ages and interests.

Event spaces will remain in the park and pedestrian and cycle pathways will eventually be separated, with the cycle path to move back in line with those through Sir James Mitchell Park.

In another nod to modern sensibilities, Taylor Street will be upgraded with paving and flush edging to signify “a shared zone rather than a roadway.” The area at the end will be formed into a headland at first, and will later get decking. The vision is eventually a cafe or coffee van, and even a ferry stop.

“When they think Town of Victoria Park most people don’t think Swan River or Burswood Peninsula. They think Albany Highway cafe strip,” said TOVP chief operating officer Ben Killigrew.

“And yet we have some of the best access of any local government in the state … kilometres of river frontage.

“We have a very strong desire to create that linkage, especially for the peninsula, where many of our future residents will live in all those transit-oriented developments. We want to reintroduce the river to Victoria Park.”

Mr Killigrew said this approach would both protect the environment and “activate” the space. The river wall was way past the end of its useful life and was only a burden on ratepayers.

“Natural edge treatments will attract fauna, including black swans, back to the river, and that’s an important part of the ecosystem that’s not really happening right now,” he said.

People were increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and saw river ecosystems as important, and also as beautiful.

Peter Hillman View Profile

He said the town had drawn inspiration from works in South Perth, particularly around the Narrows Bridge, and Belmont, also progressing towards a natural edge.

“We’ll learn from the good examples, but also create something unique,” he said.

The lines and rings of massive fig trees, and other stands of large mature trees in the park, will remain and be added to with more plantings to shade paths, in line with the urban forest strategy.

In contrast to approaches at other significant public spaces, such as Elizabeth Quay and Yagan Square, the town will not only choose native trees, but will add exotic species in selected areas.

“On the river edge treatments we’ll go with endemics and natives to make sure the naturalised river treatment is a familiar WA environment,” Mr Killigrew said.

“In other places, exotics will complement the existing large Moreton Bay fig trees on the site.

“In some instances this will create shade, and in other places colour and vibrancy and keep the interest that is already down there. We don’t want to recreate the river edge of several hundred years ago, but to balance environmental and community outcomes.


“We are well aware we are an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle of metropolitan councils and we are keen to cement that place with other river edge communities.”

The river edge works will run from the South Perth boundary to the edge of the future beach zone. Stage two and beyond is not fully costed but detailed design will be done by April 2019.

While further state contributions are “warmly welcomed”, this project is considered a “priority” for the town with or without outside funding.

Urbis’ Peter Hillman said people were increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and saw river ecosystems as important, and also as beautiful.

“They want to go and stand on the beach and touch the water,” he said.

“This is happening in Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne and probably in other cities across the world. I know of a number of projects along Sydney waterfronts and I would imagine the same reasons are behind it.

“To gather at a beach within the city is a really exciting thing for people of all ages.”

Works at Point Fraser across the river in the City of Perth have proved the effectiveness of reintroducing riverfront wetland systems to reduce pollution from stormwater.

Effectively reversing the previous urban expansion emphasis of infilling the river and foreshore, the $2.25 million project focused on reinstating original native vegetation, fauna habitat, three different wetland zones and mudflats in recognition of the barrier a hardwall posed both to people and animals.

Fourteen years after its completion, wildlife is returning to the area, and interpretative trails give both locals and tourists visiting the Ku De Ta redevelopment insight into the environmental issues and the area’s cultural history, both indigenous and European.

This article was first published in WAtoday To view the full article click here