PERTH City Farm celebrates its 25th birthday this month.
Once derelict industrial wasteland, the farm’s half-hectare nestled beside the Claisebrook train station has been transformed into a flourishing urban farm and community hub.
The project was started in the early 90s by a small group of folk led by Rosanne Scott, Joanne Tucker, Chris Ferreira, Clayton Chipper and Neal Bodel who envisioned an urban centre where people could get in touch with nature and meet others interested in sustainability.
With the backing of Men of the Trees they started looking for a home.
The East Perth Redevelopment Authority gave the group a two-year lease on a former metal scrapyard and battery recycling facility, with volunteers remediating the toxic soil, planting gardens and repurposing old warehouses into studios.
“Where the community garden is now was filled with scrap metal and machinery,” says Ms Scott, who is now PCF chair
“The buildings were just as dirty, full of grease and grime and dust.
“I think there was a bit of naivety, because I personally didn’t have any idea how long it would take.”
A metre of contaminated dirt was dug out and liners put down. Fresh soil was expensive and the budget thin, but they had a bit of luck: the musical Bran Nue Dae’s premiere season was closing and a huge pile of red dirt trucked down for the show was up for grabs.
It was hauled over to PCF, mixed with compost, and used for the early garden beds.
In 1999 the Court government made moves to redevelop the site, but Ms Scott said opposition was “swift and loud”.
“We’d become a community hub for people from all over Perth and they banded together to save it.
Save City Farm Action Group won a two-year extension and the Court government promised a new home, but the founders dug in.
They put up a protracted fight, and a year after the Gallop government came to power in 2001, planning minister Alannah MacTiernan gave them a 40-year peppercorn lease.
“She was absolutely awesome,” Ms Scott says, noting the minister was regularly seen wandering through the gardens.
Former Perth MP Diana Warnock was also a crucial backer: “She just constantly campaigned to help us get this all the way through.”
Over the years City Farm has hosted Perth’s first organic farmers market (it still runs weekly), taught more than 2400 unemployed people horticulture and building skills, and kickstarted the community garden movement.
Performers like John Butler, Richard Walley, Stormie Mills and Tessa McKay have had their careers kicked along as well.
Traditional Whadjuk Noongar owners have explored the area’s Aboriginal history, and a bush tucker garden’s been started to commemorate early Noongar resistance figure Fanny Balbuk (1840 to 1907) who once foraged her food in the area.
They got their formal organic certification in 2004; a pretty big win for a former toxic site.
“The story is one of persistence,” Ms Scott says. “We got a contaminated site, and with lots of love — and compost — we grew a garden, and with those values we created a place where people could grow and play out their own vision.
“I really hope that when young people come up wanting to do things, that us older people and people in power don’t just squash it.”
A farm open day is being held on Sunday September 15 from 11.30am to 6.30pm at 1 City Farm Place, East Perth.
by DAVID BELL