Residents stand firm to protect Gandolfo Gardens

Gandolfo Gardens picket, January 15
Protesters link arms at a picket at Gandolfo Garens on January 15. Photo: Sue Bolton

A battle to save a historic park in Melbourne's inner north from the Victorian state government’s wrecking ball is continuing. On January 16, authorities did manage to fence off the park, despite the concerted picket by residents. But the fight continues, as the trees have not been removed.

On January 15, 50 protesters from the Upfield Corridor Coalition (UCC) stopped work on the $460 million Bell to Moreland Level Crossing Level Removal Project (LXRP) for the third day in a row.

The LXRP is the Labor government’s marginal electorate-winning “major infrastructure project”. It claims it will make travel times faster for drivers by removing boom gates at railway crossings and includes modernising two stations — Coburg and Moreland.

But Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan has proposed a design for the Brunswick–Coburg project that involves the destruction of the historic park Gandolfo Gardens. The park was created in 1911 by the local community. The current LXRP design allows 113 of the park’s trees — 92% — to be destroyed.

As contractors John Holland attempted to erect fencing around the park at 8am, protesters linked arms, circled the truck and prevented workers from unloading the fencing. Twenty police threatened to arrest the group that included elderly residents and young mothers.

At 10am, workers again attempted to cordon off the park but again the protesters linked arms, sang and resisted police and LXRP requests to move on. A Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union delegate declared the site unsafe and half the workers left. This was celebrated by the defiant locals.

Moreland Council socialist councillor Sue Bolton, who has been a part of the community picket, said: “We had another win today because residents have joined the protest, and helped keep the picket going by bringing water and food. People might not have time in their busy lives to come to all of our activities, but when it really counts, they are prepared to take strong action … to save mature trees from destruction.”

Bolton told Green Left after the police had evicted people from the site that residents had "certainly not given up". "The fight to save these trees is personal for many locals: they have raised their kids here, and these trees have a special meaning to them. It has been an incredible experience to picket alongside these passionate mothers with their children. While the trees are still standing, we have a chance to save them."

The UCC, an alliance of environment, transport, residents, public transport and urban forest organisations, has been campaigning since early last year to ensure the government project benefits everyone — motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, public transport users, and people with mobility issues.

The UCC has proposed a small design tweak to save Gandolfo Gardens: move the new, elevated station 50 metres south so that it straddles Moreland Road. This solution, assessed by independent engineers and arborists as perfectly viable, would save most of the trees and provide safer and quicker access to the train station without needing to cross busy Moreland Road. But the minister continues to block this minor design change without justification.

The UCC argues that the state government’s determination to destroy hundreds of old-growth trees during Australia’s fire disaster is unconscionable. The group says it is not against the project, but they want it built well and want to save the historic community built gardens.

The UCC has vowed to picket the Gandolfo Gardens every day from 6am until Allan and the LXRP agree to save the trees. Visit the picket, sign on to the mailing list upfieldcorridorcoalition.org.au and like Upfield Corridor Coalition on Facebook.

[James Conlan is a spokesperson for the Upfield Corridor Coalition.]

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