Museum of Brisbane

Trish FitzSimons and the Creek People of Norman Creek


Join me and special guests on Saturday 5 September for a community working bee at Moorhen Flats, Woolloongabba, as part of BushCare’s Major Day Out and the Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee. There will be a chance to hear the stories of this special space, the transformation and plain hard work that has turned what was once an industrial wasteland into an urban forest, a place of regeneration for humans, animals and plants and for water.

For those who have already visited Navigating Norman Creek, this event will offer a chance to see places they’ve learnt about in the exhibition, while others will get a taste of the stories that will be revealed in the exhibition. It is an important opportunity to know more about a hidden corner of Brisbane and to contribute to its future.

At the heart of Navigating Norman Creek is the idea that Brisbane’s creeks represent a parallel universe to the suburbs that they enclose and meander through. The exhibition includes video portraits of ‘creek people’, those who live on the creek, at its edges or in adjacent suburbs, but for whom the creek is their place of focus. ‘Creek people’ over the last two decades have created the special place that is Moorhen Flats.

Prior to the 1980s the land we now know as Moorhen Flats was part of the Malleys factory, surrounded by an often flooding creek. When Sydney developer, Turbo Investments bought the factory in the heady days of the Bjelke Peterson government much changed. Turbo created the industrial area above the level of regular flooding that is today known as Turbo Drive. Together with Brisbane City Council they then considered possibilities for the rest of the site. One was that the creek could be turned into an underground drain, like Kingfisher Creek, and that Turbo would then build a Westfield Shopping Centre on top. Community opposition to this plan and the fallout from the 1987 stockmarket crash scuttled these pipedreams. Instead, Brisbane City Council pushed through a channel from Stanley Street to Deshon Street, designed as a flood mitigation strategy to get the water away faster. It was this channel that resulted in what is now Moorhen Flats being left as an industrial remnant.

It was at this time when the work of many ‘creek people’ began.



Meet the Creek People of Norman Creek:

Carla Catterall was a young ecologist, mother and academic when she moved into the area over two decades ago. She had noticed the vacant land and had already considered its capacity for urban bush regeneration when a flyer from other likeminded people arrived in her mailbox. Many weekends planting and mulching followed. Carla is now a Professor of Ecology at Griffith University and a specialist in urban forests.

Fran Thomas spent her working life as a biochemist and brought her love and energy to Moorhen Flats in retirement. Caring for plants is what she loves and she wishes that there were more in the community who shared her passion.

Uncle Bob Anderson is Nughi Elder from the Quandamooka who spent his childhood just along the street from Moorhen flats. He remembers when Kingfisher Creek ran free right through to the Gabba and when young prawns clustered around the flood gates that had been built on that tributary to Norman Creek. He had many a feed of baby prawns from the creek as a child, as well as reguarly ‘swimming in the nuddy’ with his mates.

And me? How do I fit in? I’m Trish FitzSimons, filmmaker and guest curator of the exhibition at Museum of Brisbane. I’ve known and loved Moorhen Flats a long time, but can’t claim any credit for its beauty, the occasional Saturday working bee with Fran and Damien Madden notwithstanding. My first experience of Moorhen Flats was not so auspicious. As a working mother of young children, in the early 90s I brought my children to a Saturday afternoon working bee and to meet with a Council consultant keen to gain community input into the future of the area. My suggestions of playgrounds and public art did NOT meet with approval from the dedicated band of bush regenerators who wanted THIS park to be different to the many child-focused inner-city parks. Fast forward a few years and Moorhen Flats was the ‘secret place’ of my son and his mates. Some time around 2002 they managed to set a small patch of the park on fire, mercifully only dead grass and NOT the special replantings. For me now, Moorhen Flats is somewhere I feel very proud of the citizens and the council of Brisbane for creating and a place I regularly bring interstate and international visitors to see.Urban forests provide vital respite and community to all kinds of community members.
Trish FitzSimons profile pic

Come along to Norman Creek Catchment Working Bee  on 5 September to find out more, and consider what the Creek means to you.