The River Red Gum Precinct is the culmination of five years of hard work and collaboration between Urban Initiatives, The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (GMCT), lead consultants Lambert & Rehbein Engineers and Water Sensitive Urban Design specialists Aquatic Systems Management.
In 2015 Urban Initiatives were engaged by GMCT to develop the master plan for the ‘River Red Gum Precinct’ their expansive greenfield site in Glenroy. Bound by the Metropolitan Ring Road, the fifty hectare site sits to the north of the existing Northern Memorial Park.
Our extensive experience working on memorialisation projects renders us well-versed in the ethical challenges of land development for memorialisation. Traditionally it has wiped sites clean of their ecologies, and, once burial sites are filled and visitation ceases, the spaces become redundant. On this project however and with a progressive client in GMCT, we saw the opportunity in addition to the provision of the required burial sites, to advocate for improved outcomes for this site in the areas of environmental sustainability, accessibility and public amenity.
The desire to celebrate several striking and significant, remnant River Red Gum trees pre-dating European settlement was a starting point for our design, functionally, conceptually and environmentally. Their retention and large Tree Protection Zones (TPZs) were critical in determining the layout of the underlying road and pathway network as well as informing an approach for the indigenous planting palette and design for the landform.
Awed by this species, their extensive life-cycle and regenerative prowess we recognised an emotive and hopeful narrative for a central memorialisation space. Memorial Hill was designed around one of these Red Gums, ’Tree 65’. This landform provides a vantage point to overlook the whole precinct and orient oneself on the vast site. Working around the TPZ and with the constraints of existing ground levels, a series of contemporary, sculptural precast concrete walls with cremated remains niches were created as a landmark feature around the tree. These niches break with tradition and offer a contemporary option for interment of cremated remains. Portions of an image of Tree 65 were replicated in the concrete panels mimicking the shadows cast by the tree. A painstaking and highly detailed process, the design team collaborated with Reckli to design the moulds for the concrete panels.
Beautiful artwork by local botanical artist Bev Lewis was also embedded in the wall design. Her artwork depicts the life cycle of the Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum) trees. Text on the edges of the centre panel provide a written description of the cycle as a reminder of the link between the life cycle of the trees and our own life cycles. The seedlings sprouting underneath the tree are a powerful symbol of regeneration. It is hoped that visitors might draw some solace from these seedlings juxtaposed against the impressive Tree 65 and the information contained in the concrete panels.
The care taken to preserve and protect all the remnant Red Gums through our advocacy on this project has meant that the health of the trees has visibly improved. Previously overrun with weeds such as Box Thorns and Scotch Thistle this project has seen the TPZs cleared, mulched and planted with native grasses and groundcovers. The mob of kangaroos who live on site appear content lazing in the shade provided by the large trees.
Our design included extensive WSUD measures and rehabilitation works throughout the site and in the projects short life, significant improvements to ecologies have been noted, particularly in the ‘Habitat Zone’ a riparian corridor through which the Campbellfield Creek flows. Where previously the area surrounding the creek had been infested with weeds, extensive areas of jute matting were installed for weed suppression and a vegetation management plan was developed for this part of the site. Thousands of indigenous plants as well as advanced tree stock were installed, a harvesting pond was constructed and a permit obtained from Melbourne Water to top up the main lake when the levels drop. Water is drawn from the lake for irrigation so as not to rely on potable water. The alignment of the creek was also adjusted to improve the flow path and address flooding issues.
The roads running north/south contain large swales in the central medians, capturing the water run-off from the road. The water is filtered by vegetation and collected in a series of ponds before flowing into the feature lake. Abundant birds are attracted to the water bodies here also and frogs are prolific.
It is intentionally a flexible design, with the incorporation of temporary carparks which will be developed in the future once the burial areas are full and the pressure for parking space is diminished.
The cemetery is now open to the public and several burial types are available including monumental, lawn and cremated remains. Natural spaces for reflection and contemplation provide users a chance to support their mental health through the grieving process. The main lake has a soothing water feature and a loop path to explore. A recreational lawn and future picnic areas allow the site to function as a parkland.
The River Red Gum Precinct is also a destination for joggers and dog walkers. A future connection to the existing shared path network is also intended. This will provide a link with the open green space north and south of the Metropolitan Ring Road.
The infrastructure framework is in place to ensure it will become a sustainable legacy for future generations.
Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (GMCT)
GMCT, Lambert & Rehbein Engineers, Aquatic Systems Management