A Short History

Up to 1946:

The Highett Grassy Woodland is in Boonwerung country.   A lovely book “Indigenous Plants of the Sandbelt: A Gardening Guide for South-East Melbourne” (Published by Earthcare St Kilda, 2002) shows extensive areas of Yellow Box woody grassland in pre-European times, especially on the “red beds” where wind had swept sand from the tops of ancient dunes to reveal sandstone, as on the CSIRO site.

All has gone, except on the Highett CSIRO site.

The CSIRO site was first owned by Europeans as part of an 1852 Crown Grant to Henry Foot, surveyor of Moorabbin.  Henry Foot sold his land for a 400% profit within a year!

Henry Foot Crown Land Title - 1852


By about 1890 the site plus the land north to Highett Road and south to Bay Road was owned by a Mr Williams.  All this land passed through the family and it looks like the northern area was used for grazing although in the late 1930s it was advertised for sale as ‘Williams Aerodrome’.  No one knows how or why the Grassy Woodland almost miraculously survived.

In a 1939 article T S Hart told about his discovery of the “Lost Vegetation” on the site with its Yellow Box trees, already rare in the Sandbelt region.  With the start of World War 2 the Commonwealth took it over and built an aircraft engine foundry near Highett Road and an aircraft assembly line near to Bay Road.  Some of the houses for the workers survive in Royalty Avenue.

1946 – 2000:

The government eventually formalised its title to the land from Highett Road to Bay Road in 1943 and in 1945 transferred it to the CSIRO, with the north and south ends on separate parcels.

In 1996 the land became part of the City of Bayside area.

After the war, the existence of the Highett Grassy Woodland was forgotten except by a tiny number of naturalists. Some of them encouraged the Bayside Community Nursery to propagate Highett Yellow Box seed since 1990. As a result you can see some of these trees in Bayside’s parks and streets – but without the natural understorey!

These naturalist guardians have been crucial in the 21st Century!

Highett Grassy Woodland - Aerial Photo - circa 1940s

View an aerial-animation which ‘transitions’ from 1945 to now… and back again:
1945 to Now… and Back Again

2001 – Now:

In 2001 the Mayor of Bayside, Craig Tucker, heard about the sale of the CSIRO site and warned Michael Norris. As a result, one of the few naturalists who knew anything about the site, Jason Stewart, alerted him to the plants, as well as the magnificent trees. The Highett Grassy Woodland community campaign began.

In 2003 the Friends of the Highett Grassy Woodland was formed to lobby for the protection of this unique vegetation.

We, with the backing of about 100 individuals and several groups, succeeded in getting:

  • Experts to say how important the Grassy Woodland is
  • Recognition of the vegetation as a State Government Biosite
  • An official assessment by Biosis
  • Support by the Federal Environment Minister (and local member) David Kemp
  • Commitment by the Federal Government to do some restoration and protect some of the woodland “in the longer term”
  • Rejection of a ‘concept’ of the site covered with housing
  • Changes to Highett Structure Plan and the Bayside Planning Scheme to recognise the value of the Highett Grassy Woodland
  • Rejection of straightening Graham Road to go through the woodland area
  • Better set-backs from any development on what is NOW the VicUrban site to the south

Note: There are no planning controls on the CSIRO site because it is Commonwealth land.
The State Government is negotiating planning controls with CSIRO with the public having NO SAY, except through Bayside Council and YOUR efforts to pressure politicians.

The struggle is not just about conserving natural heritage – it’s about livable conditions for the people and families in the tidal wave of new dwellings the State government wants in Bayside.
It is in an area that is SHORT OF OPEN SPACE

It’s great that Bayside Council has a clear united position to advocate for “in the order of 3 or 4 hectares” for the woodland to survive “as naturally as possible” and provide an open space buffer for passive recreation. LET’S BACK THEIR CAMPAIGN!

Pressures for High-Density Development on the CSIRO land are growing.

In March 2011, VicUrban (…an ‘arm’ of the State Government) purchased a site immediately to the South of the Highett Grassy Woodland for a speculated $7 million, and is speculated to be the interested buyer of the CSIRO site (including the Highett Grassy Woodland) as well!

Tell politicians the Highett Grassy Woodland is a much needed place for peaceful, family recreation.
Tell your representatives they can combine community benefits and conservation at Highett.

With the pressure for development, many previous gains (2004) could be lost!