How did you become interested in local environment projects?

I first became interested in environmental issues in about 1976 when I came to Rozelle, Sydney. I became a member of a number of environmental organizations and Leichhardt Council projects.

What projects were they?

Initially transport. There was a Transport Committee and I was an observer of the Official Traffic Committee.

What was the role of the Transport Committee?

I can not remember the exact objectives but it was looking at alternatives to the private car and looking at reducing pollution. I was more interested in reducing pollution. At this stage I was with Friends of the Earth and I worked on a pedestrian campaign and was trying to convince councils to improve conditions and access for pedestrians.

Do you think access for pedestrians has improved?

It is improving except for a number of things. One of the biggest problems for access is too many cars on the road or a bigger problem is speeding cars. From the safety point of view probably the most important factor for safety of pedestrians is the speed the car travels and actually Leichhardt Council has become one of the leaders in this area now in that the Balmain peninsular has a 40km zone and it is starting to produce local area traffic management schemes for the whole council. It is a big project, probably take ten years and is designed to help slow cars down and make it better for pedestrians and also better for the safety of the cars too. Leichhardt has excelled in improving pedestrian safety.

What other aspects of the environment have you been involved in?

Well of course there’s the environment Committee I became involved with in the early ’90s. This is when the council started an open council policy with public participation style of committees. Transport was one and environment was one and then at a later date also became interested in planning committee when I realized the planning committee had a lot of influence. There was all the ad hoc type committees. There was a contaminated sites committee, a drainage and stormwater committee and park management committee. These committees would run until the job is done and they’re finished.

Ted you’d remember that in 1994 Leichhardt Council released a document Towards a Sustainable Future?

Yes, that’s good.

….which set down a program for environmental planning and change in the Local Government Area. What do you think has changed in the ten years since that document came out?

O I am a bit confused because there’s been some very good and there’s been some very bad ups and down.

Shall we talk about the good first and then the more negative?

Well I think the whole community has become more aware. Since the community is more aware that then gives the councilors the push to also be more aware and do more things for the environment and also more aware councilors are elected by the democratic process. So I think there has been general changes to improve general environmental functions of council. But then there has been ups and downs. There is also the staff involved in all this and staff come and go and they they can be good or bad etc. etc. What the staff is doing despite what the community feels or the councilors feels has a very big bearing.

Okay so we are talking about working with council staff, do you think there’s been a change in environmental awareness amongst council staff say in the last ten years since the launch of that document?

Well the ones I know, most staff that I had to deal with, no.

There hasn’t been a change in awareness?

Not much. Not much in what I look at. But of course there’s been some very outstanding staff who have done very good work despite the rest of the staff. I am reasonably impressed now with the top management and I think the top management now is probably more aware say in going back say ten years. But unfortunately it’s just scattered here and there and I suppose you get this anywhere, you can’t have everyone being perfect.

Sure, sure. Ted you’ve been involved in Whites Creek Wetland project inAnnandale. Do you want to talk about that?

Well, this is a shining example of good and bad staff. A very shining example.

In what way?

Well some staff basically were against it and this might be a bit harsh but this is how I felt, whether it’s true or not this is what I felt. I felt that some staff just try and sabotage the whole project and that’s what I felt was happening.

How do you feel some people were trying to do that?

Not just doing the work they were directed to do.

Right. How did the project start, the Whites Creek Wetlands project start? We go back to the beginning of the whole idea, how did that…?

After I said all that, the success of Whites Creek project depended very highly on some of the very senior management. And some of the senior management were very supportive but those a bit down the line, complications and a problem.

The project started when I was with Friends of the Earth. I had an interest in storm water issues. My professional background is a degree in Agricultural Science with a major in soil science. For five years I worked with Soil Conservation Service down at Wagga research station just before I came toSydney. The Soil Conservation Service was a forerunner then in total catchment management. I was in the Service when total catchment management was born and these ideas interested me.

InSydneymy work did not involve soil science but I was still interested in soils. I had an interest in the environment and joined Friends of the Earth and applied for and received a grant from the State Pollution Control Commission to do some leaflets on soils and in the grant I had to choose a catchment. Whites Creek is close to Rozelle where I live.

This would have been in the early ’90s?

Oh about ’94, it was about ’94 I started on leaflets, they came out in ’96. While doing that project I walked over the catchment quite a lot and found this bit of weed infested land beside the canal, or creek, and it had a whole lot of attributes which were good for, physically anyway, for a wetland in an area that is highly populated. It’s hard to find a bit of dirt, a bit of ground where you can do projects like this. And I thought oh wow I’ve found this bit of non-used land and then I found out it was still owned by Sydney Water.

What did you do then?

In the early stages I tried to get in as many people to help me and actually, there’s oh at least twenty in the early stages. Got together all these people, a local firm did a a landscape plan,UniversityofTechnology,Sydneydid a feasibility study. So I was around trying to get as many people.

How did you do that networking Ted? How did you get the word out and start making contacts and getting people involved? How did you disseminate the information?

Sometimes I wonder. Some people I knew had similar interests to me. For example the Environment Officer, Birgit Seidlich.

At Leichhardt Council?

Yes. She supported the idea and still supported even when she left the job and her husband ran a company who did a nice big landscape plan voluntary, worth thousands of dollars. That is free and that’s for the grace of kind, niece friends I just knew.

I contacted theUniversityofTechnologywho had an organization who connect the University with communities and get the University to help the community groups in whatever they are doing. And I contacted them, just heard about it. Got in contact with Civil Engineering and a student did a major project on it, a final project and that was the feasibility study.

If there is an opportunity you grab it. People often ask me how do I plan? I don’t. My plans grow organically as I say. I can’t sit down and draw a timeline. I have what I call an organically grown plan, that means it just develops as it goes.

Okay, I make other contacts, and other people help etc. etc. Off course the Landscape plans and theUniversityofTechnologywere the biggest and most significant inputs to help. Then there were locals or members of Friends of the Earth who did a little bit on certain sections.

Oh sorry, this goes on and on, a whole network and always no money, well hardly any money. Oh sorry I’ve got to apologize there, the Council in the early days gave a couple of thousand dollars, as community grants. A lot of resources came from the grant for the pamphlets.

I went around and got to know the staff, got to know who are the helpful staff and get to know the councilors and who are the helpful councilors and so it goes on. So how it is done? I did not sit down and have planning meeting, and determine a project schedule or any thing like that. I just did things and then people helped.

The Wetland today, what can you tell us about it?

Well of course, well I suppose I’ve got to say I’m happy and probably proud that it’s happened. It looks so good because of the people who do the actual on the ground or in the water, management and that’s Kim Wheatley and she has another volunteer, Peter Timmins. I think they do a marvelous job, to keep it alive, keep it growing. So thanks to those two, it’s growing well. Now the the big turn around was the grant from the State Pollution Control Commission, I remember that was nearly quarter of a million dollars.

That would have been in 1996, 2000?

Yeah about then. Of course Sate Pollution Control Commission, their brief is to stop pollution so the money, the reason why they did the grant is to try and prevent the water pollution and especially into Sydney Harbour. So that’s their main rationale behind giving out this particular grant. So it was quite experimental in that way. Using growing wetlands to absorb up the nitrogen and phosphorus and that’s the nutrients and the pollution that causes the alagal blooms and they can happen in the Harbour.

So it’s a bit experimental and also the wetlands can trap some of the heavy metals. Now that’s what it was built for, that’s what’s the money was for. Now every one else can have their own reason why it was built. Someone might say oh it’s great because it’s got shrubs or because it looks good. It’s legitimate to say it’s good because of different reasons but that’s what the money was for.

My perception now is its biggest,   it’s biggest function and success has been education and community awareness. Now I think that has been more valuable than the actual pollution that’s been removed.

And that’s through the school groups, the tours, the volunteers that work on the project?

Yep,yep,yep. All of that. Plus Jade Herriman who has just resigned (from Leichhardt Council) was very interested in education and she did a lot of work in education, not only on the local environment but also for the wetlands, a lot of it is now on the website and I think more will come on the website. So there’s that.

Then Council applied for and received two more grants from similar funding to have tours and the water tank at the community gardens just up the hill. These were follow on grants. Now I’m not quite sure if Council had any more follow on grants.  I’m not up on all that but I know all this added value to the project, has added a lot of value, especially the tours.

There is a lot of evidence to show there is a number of sewage leaks into the creek upstream. There could be a continual one or a lot of them are sporadic. The wetlands had to be closed a year or so ago for a few weeks because of a major break which of course Sydney Water fixed. Now we have a suspicion there’s a lot more sewage leaks.

Now crucial to this, are there more sewage leaks happening now or are more people aware and notice them. Of couse if they notice them, they contact either the council or Sydney Water and then they’re got to go and try fix them. I don’t think there’s been a sudden increase in the number of leaks, I think little bits been happening all the time and awareness now to tell the authorities this is happening so they can go and fix them.

Awareness is having really good results. I think it is a good result and is not a specific program, its just people. Now they look at the wetlands, they walk down the footpath all the time and they look at the water and this is bringing up awareness and now if anything goes wrong in the wetlands the council starts to get complaints because things are going wrong. They have to go and fix it because people want it to be fixed. So this awareness has been a big plus and I would never had thought of it when I first started working here.

So there’s a sense of community ownership when it comes to the wetlands?

It is, I think, growing. It had a problematic birth as you might know in that before it was built there was a lot of community opposition to it. I haven’t heard of any opposition at all since it’s been built.

Can you talk a little about that community opposition and how you brought people around?

I didn’t. I didn’t bring people around and some people even advised me to stay away and not inflame the people and let the council try. But no, I thought I’d better try a better way. I had my friends and they were helping me and giving me advice it was a good project. Oh by the way I had more support overall from anyone I’d talked to except for the local group that suddenly built up this opposition to it.

Well the gentlemen who’s now not with us who organized this was a local for that matter, very, very local and I think I was treading on his turf and it was probably quite obvious I was. He decided not to like it and then he decided to get people, get his friends also to be on his side and yeah.

And this group was saying they didn’t want the wetland to go ahead for what reason?

Why they didn’t want to go ahead and the reasons that were presented would be completely different because this happens in a lobby process. Let’s say the reasons that were stated, the reasons that were put down in writing, a big one was mosquitoes, probably one of the biggest ones. There would be a mosquitoes breeding ground. The noisy pump, the pump would be noisy. It’d be a pollution trap for, well it was going to just trap pollution so that means it’d become very polluted, oh, I can’t remember exact how. There were a list of things like that, but of course those concerns were really just beaten up mainly because it was local people who always thought they had a better idea for a bit of land.

Did they articulate any idea for the land?

I haven’t seen it written. I haven’t, no I have not seen it in witting, no.

During this time Ted, you were working with the Environment Committee of Leichhardt Council?

Yeah, I retired a couple of years ago and I’m just trying now to sort out what I retire from, yes, yes-preconstruction of the wetlands I was on the committee, yes, Council’s Environment Committee.

How was the committee working at that time? Was it, were there a fair few people involved? Was it something that a lot of people were active in?

Oh it wasn’t too bad for some things but back earlier there’s a lot of people got more active and decreased for some years and it’s still going but it’s sort of decreased in effectiveness, decreased in all sorts of things over a number of years. I retired from it, so I’m not sure what’s happened for the last couple of years, but I do know though that in the last year there’s been quite a deterioration in the effectiveness and interest etc.



Ted, one of the things the Environment Committee was involved in was guidelines for passive solar design, home insulations, heating and space, windows and ventilation, a solar energy kind of program in the area. Can you talk a bit about that?

Yes. From my point of view I think this is one of the most significant environment policies that, well that I know of in Leichhardt Council. Back in the early ’90s again and this is when Birgit was the Environment Officer and also there was a very supportive Mayor and a number of very supportive Councilors etc. etc. They broke very new ground on a number of things and one was they developed which ended up being called DCP 17. Let’s just call it the solar energy policy. Within the solar energy policy most new developments have to have solar hot water systems. It’s called mandatory or the equivalent. This is what the policy was then, there have been some changes, let’s talk about the early policy. So the early policy was basically a world first, well not quite, very close, to have this type of policy. Also the policy was you had to have insulation and that was quite significant  and then there’s lot’s of other things too and I won’t go into them all but to make a house energy efficient. So this policy now has changed slightly, but it has been operating for ten years quite successfully.

And this was the first of its kind in Australia?

Yes. Now some of the interesting things about this was they had incredible opposition outside of the council, a bit in the council too. Incredible opposition from outside the council.

Where was that opposition coming from?

Mainly energy companies who tried to bully Leichhardt Council, basically bullied by sending a solicitors letter saying the solar hot water section should be withdrawn. You’ve got to be a a lawyer to interpret what it exactly meant but it was basically what they were trying to do. Now this is what Friends of the Earth and I was an environment advocate could do which the council could not do. We put out a press release which got taken up by both the Herald and Telegraph and I got a phone call I think it was as early as half past nine from the then senior management of Sydney Electricity.

The press release was stating that?

That the, the press release. Oh well stating things like that I was calling Sydney Electricity a dinosaur sinking into oblivion, it said things like that but stating too they can’t do this, I mean they are acting beyond their authority, anyway things like that. It was enough to get into, to get the papers interested. So the story came out and well it was stating that Sydney Electricity is opposing Leichhardt Council’s policy on solar hot water. That is not good publicity for the company and so their senior management got on to me very early that morning begging to have a meeting. Birgitt who was the Environment Officer then and the author of DCP 17, I asked her and she said oh we’ll both go out.

So we both went out to where the bloke’s office was.  They were crawling as much as possible for us to try and not say these sorts of things and they apologise and say oh it wasn’t done from my authority and all this. If actually you look back at it, it’s funny to see that and then the paper reports came out to say Leichhardt Council and Sydney Electricity have overcome their disagreements and Sydney Electricity just saying they were asking exactly what council was doing and it was all covered over. So that was one major opposition.

AGL, the gas company put out pretty heavy submissions to council to say oh, really shouldn’t do this, gas is pretty good and so forth. So the gas company, they tried it that way, then those are the two big ones that I know of. While we were developing the plan I was continually getting advice that oh no you can’t do that. This is by academics, by other government officials etc.

Why were people saying to you, you couldn’t do it?

Well the legal interpretation of it was, was that a council cannot make it mandatory to have one product, there has to be a choice. They were claiming council couldn’t say solar hot water was mandatory over and above electricity. Look I am not a lawyer, but that was what they were arguing. There was very little choice, no competition.

Did the solar energy policy state that solar power was the only option?

Yeah. Solar power or the equivalent. Solar power or equivalent with a few exceptions. If there was a good case that it would spoil the heritage look of a building, you didn’t have to. So there was a few exceptions like that and basically you had to do it. Please do not ask me to give proper full definition of mandatory, I am not sure but in effect it meant that you just had to do it.

So that policy came in to effect in the early ’90s?

Yes ’94 it was.

And is it still in effect today?

Yes. As I said but there’s been a few minor adjustment changes but the policy now is written completely into the Town Plan. So it’s not a separate DCP. It’s now included in the complete Town Plan.

Ted you talked earlier about access for pedestrians in the Leichhardt area and the safety policies that are now in place. Could you talk a little bit more about how that evolved?

Yes well within my Friends of the Earth work I became interested in pedestrians as an issue and then wrote up a short policy statement which Council, well not all facets of course, adopted and probably the most significant thing was to look at making the Balmain peninsular 40 kph. That was back in ’92. That was the start of the 40 kph idea for the Balmain peninsular. I haven’t done much work on this issue since then. The council took it up, and they have done a lot of work in supporting pedestrian access and the 40 kph and a number of other things and they just recently, we won, the council won 40 kph for Balmain peninsular and also now the council’s looking further into other places, for example in Norton Street or Booth Street.

I had a nickname then called ‘Pedestrian Ted’. So sometimes there was joking at me too but just as a little side one day I looking after my sister’s car and was getting some petrol and it was a great big V8 monster and they started calling me ‘V8 Ted’ instead. So that was one other thing, transport.

Ted where do you think there are areas for improvement in regards to the environment in this local area?

[A general discussion was held on the importance of improving public transport.]

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