3 August 2022

What's been happening at West Basin? A whole lot (including a beach)

| Ian Bushnell
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Man in hi-vis walking beside a lake

City Renewal Authority boss Malcolm Snow on the new boardwalk at West Basin. Photo: Michele Kroll.

The transformation of West Basin into the Acton Waterfront – a great public space by the waters of Lake Burley Griffin – has reached a major milestone with the end of the lake reclamation project and extension of the boardwalk.

Come the October opening, Canberrans will be able to walk a further 500 metres along the water’s edge from Henry Rolland Park to a new sandy beach and picnic area in the curve of the lake near Parkes Way.

About 160,000 tonnes of gravel have been laid to create a new lake edge on the alignment of the original 1915 Griffin plan and a three-hectare crescent-shaped space, about the size of Glebe Park, that will become a major new public park for recreation and events.

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The gravel will need six months to settle before soil can be trucked in and laid to prepare for the next phase of the project, the detailed design and construction of the park, which benefits from national planning rules requiring a 55-metre setback from the lake shore.

A Works Approval is expected to go to the National Capital Authority in November, with construction to start in mid-2023 and an opening by the end of 2024.

Lakefront

The Acton Waterfront and the new beach. Triathlon ACT is keen to use it for events. Photos: Michele Kroll.

The concrete pedestrian-only boardwalk is more or less complete and Region was able to take a stroll with City Renewal Authority boss Malcolm Snow down to where tonnes of Murrumbidgee River sand from Tharwa have created the yet unnamed beach.

Mr Snow said Commonwealth funding allowed the CRA to make something more of the informal beach already there and Triathlon Australia has expressed interest in staging events at the site.

The other interest in the waterfront project has come from the Lake Users Group, whose members want to make use of the new boardwalk.

“You can’t have a waterfront in my book without also the opportunity for watercraft to use it,” Mr Snow said.

That includes yachts, kayakers, electric-powered Go Boats and lake ferries.

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“We’re very keen to see ferries coming into that part of the city lake edge because I think that would be another great visitor attraction and also help people get around the lake itself,” Mr Snow said.

The CRA is currently investigating the use of attachable jetties and pontoons to cater for the different crafts that would tie up there, including keeled vessels where the water is deep.

Man in hi-vis looking at lake

Mr Snow looks out of the bay at the western end of the boardwalk, near the beach.

Mr Snow said the initial park design is about half completed and would respond to the shape of the site, such as enhancing the natural amphitheatre of West Basin with a tiered or terraced grass landscaping.

He describes it as a high-quality urban park that would use native plant and tree species and feature a “terrific” children’s playground, barbecues, shelters, kiosks, toilets, accommodate cyclists and be a place for significant public events, as well as serving the residents and workers from the of the mixed-use development planned behind it.

“I think can serve both those local as well as event needs,” Mr Snow said.

It is also being developed with strong input from the traditional custodians through the Caring for Country committee and what they’d like to see incorporated to tell their story.

Lakefront

The new Acton Waterfront. Mr Snow is keen for boats of all kinds, including ferries, to tie up there.

Mr Snow said the design will recognise the significance for the Ngunnawal people of the park’s location, possibly one of the most important on the lake itself outside the National Triangle.

He said that before the lake filled that part of the Molonglo River course had limestone caves, which were used quite extensively pre-white settlement for storage and shelter.

“The significance of the Molonglo, and what it meant in terms of the way the Ngunnawal used the landscape and used the country at that time, was obliterated,” Mr Snow said.

“We knew that to hear them talking about that as something that they genuinely feel some sorrow and pain about makes us reflect on how the materiality of the park, in terms of the way you might use limestone, and start to introduce motifs and art to help people interpret what was there long before the lake and certainly long before white settlement,” Mr Snow said.

“We think it would be entirely appropriate to pick up that First Nation theme and see how that would help shape the design, so I think that’s … a fantastic opportunity for our city and future generations.”

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So the ACT government won’t build behind the Hyperdome for Murrumbidgee riverbank environmental reasons, but will happily build an inner city artificial beach that uses thousands of tonnes of Murrumbidgee River sand.

There’s certainly been a lot of cherry picking on when and when not to follow environmental concerns or when the Minister will use his call in powers for new developments around Canberra over the last few years.

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