Accounts of Perce White Reserve

Perce White Reserve can be described as situated on the margins: the vegetation is treated as significant because it remains from an earlier time, some of the practices reputed to occur in the space are treated as marginal or deviant, and it is a site where administrative boundaries have been contested. Contrasting understandings of this reserve demonstrate the material consequences of accounts of spaces.

My first impression of Perce White Reserve was that it was a scrubby place that I had not expected in an inner suburb beyond the steep banks of a creek or river. The Friends of Port Melbourne Foreshore have undertaken revegetation work in the reserve. In 2011 their primary focus was on weeding a small section with a significant local grass. In addition to providing a space of remnant bush land, the space has been used as an illegal camp ground, outdoor (unregistered) raves have been held there and it has a reputation as a beat.

As an area of remanent bush land and a space where revegetation has been carried out, protecting plants has been prioritised in recent years. Fences to stop plants being trampled were constructed by the council in consultation with the friends group. The vegetation appeared to fare better but fences were often cut, probably in order to continue to enter the space. Fences may try to enact a particular vision for the space but they have not stop all other uses of the space.

The fences constructed were in straight lines without ‘blind corners’ – a key tenant of ‘crime prevention through urban design’. The straight lines, described as important for safety, were also described by some people as detracting from the aesthetic value of the space. If being ‘a bit wild and bushy’ is a defining feature of the reserve for some people, the value of the reserve can be found not only in allowing plants to grow but also in the absence of other built structures.

Perce White Reserve belongs to the Port of Melbourne Corporation and falls just outside the municipal boundary of the City of Port Phillip. Management was handed over to the City of Port Phillip in 2010, but taken back by the Port Corporation earlier this year. Changes in the administrative definition of the space has had and will have material consequences for the reserve. The Port of Melbourne website describes the land as a ‘buffer’ for port activity. There are concept drawings on their website as to how they might make the area ‘family (i.e. certain people with small children) friendly’.

Accounts of Perce White Reserve have had material consequences. However, as these accounts require people to impose order on the space, they can be challenged.

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