Sunday, 17 May 2015

Suburb Guide: Upper Kedron

Pale-headed Rosella (Platycercus adscitus) in the pre-dawn light along Millwood Place.

Just a twenty minute drive out of the Brisbane city centre, Upper Kedron somehow manages to feel yet a million miles away. Nestled in the foothills of the D'Aguilar Range, the suburb is home to almost 4,000 people, most of whom reside in modern, recently-built estates. Confusingly, Upper Kedron does not lie to the north of, nor even border, the suburb of Kedron; the name refers to the fact that the upper reaches of Brisbane's much-loved Kedron Brook can be found near here, fed by Cedar Creek also.

Featured areas: (1) Western hills, (2) Cedar Creek, (3) Suburban
Upper Kedron, (4) Quarry, (5) Cedar Woods. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
Upper Kedron's landscape is an undulating series of hills and gullies, with some peaks rising two hundred meters above sea-level. This is particularly the case in the western section of the suburb, where it is bordered by D'Aguilar National Park. This is also where the remnant vegetation remains the healthiest—elsewhere, much of the eucalypt forest that existed before European settlement has been cleared for housing in the centre of the suburb, and for a quarry to the east. Thanks to its proximity to the city and scenic surrounds, Upper Kedron has become prime real estate in recent years, and to visit on any given weekday morning is to hear the sound of construction crews working furiously on housing projects throughout the area. One such project, named Cedar Woods, is currently generating considerable controversy for the size and scale of its proposed development—this is looked at below.

1. Western Hills
Most of this area falls on large privately-owned bush lots, but the landowners have made a noticeable effort to retain and replant native vegetation on their properties. 'Land for Wildlife' signs are posted near the entryway to almost every residence, and such good conservation intentions are rewarded with an impressive biodiversity in the area. Walking less than a kilometre along Millwood Place, for example, will take you through several different types of vegetation groups, including wet and dry eucalypt forest, and riparian (streamside) scrub. Not surprisingly, the lucky residents of this area therefore live in a birdwatcher's paradise, waking each day to the sounds of Eastern Whipbirds (Psophodes olivaceus), Bell Miners (Manorina melanophrys) and Spectacled Monarchs (Symposiachrus trivirgatus). 

Foambark tree in fruit, along Cedar Creek.

Koala scratches on a Grey Gum (Eucalyptus
, Cedar Creek.

2. Cedar Creek
Originating in the rainforest clad mountains of the nearby D'Aguilar Range, Cedar Creek forms an important wildlife corridor throughout Upper Kedron, and its preservation is essential. This was especially highlighted for me when I found Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) scratches on a tree just two meters from the garden wall of a neighbouring house. Retaining the vegetation along the creek can also be a matter of safety for these nearby residences; the dense streamside thickets would have certainly reduced the amount of property damage suffered during recent floods, for example.

An abundance of water flowing through Cedar Creek means that some rainforest plants and trees can grow along its banks. A particularly common species in the section adjacent to Kirralee Crescent is the Foambark (Jagera pseudorhus) tree, so-named for the bubbly froth its bark scales create when mixed with water. This occurs due to the tree's high concentration of a compound named saponin, a substance with the power to split apart water molecules. The saponin forces the oxygen to break free of its bond with hydrogen, bubbling up out of the water in gas form as it does so. The Indigenous people of the area used this special power to their advantage; they would use the bark to remove oxygen from parts of the creek, in order to asphyxiate fish that could then be collected with ease from the water's surface. Other dry rainforest plants found here include the Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) wattle and Native Jasmine (Jasminum simplicifolium) vine

Large flocks of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) are
abundant throughout Upper Kedron.

3. Suburban Upper Kedron
Full disclosure: some very good friends of mine lived in Upper Kedron a few years ago, and I spent a fair bit of time at their place on Highbury Close. They have since moved on, but I went back to this street recently to ponder the environmental value of the area's suburban design.

Neat streets and exotic garden plants add little environmental value to suburban Upper Kedron.

The developers for Highbury Place and the surrounding streets are to be commended for retaining some of the gully vegetation that runs behind these houses. This allows for the survival of native wildlife including Red-necked Wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus), Striated Pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus) and harmless Common Tree Snakes (Dendrelaphis punctulata). When my friends lived here, they would remark often about how nice it was to experience nature literally from their back verandah, and to wake to the sound of the 'Bushman's clock' each morning (the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae). 

The streetscape along the front of the houses, however, deserves less praise. Modern housing developments tend to miss some easy opportunities for conservation by featuring bland expanses of water-guzzling lawn, interspersed with a small variety of exotic trees. Along Highbury Place, the street trees are comprised solely of Yellow Poinciana (Peltophorum pterocarpum), and the gardens do not feature much native vegetation either. The ubiquitous Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis lutescens) makes frequent appearances throughout the suburb's gardens; this Madagascan tree offers very little benefit to Australia's wildlife and is an uninspired landscaping choice. With people moving to the outer suburbs specifically to appreciate the landscape and enjoy a semi-rural atmosphere, it's surprising that housing developers don't 'add value' to their product by embracing Australia's nature more.

One of the key aspects to conservation, however, is to educate people about it—developers, business people, politicians, residents and tourists alike. Members of our community will often have good intentions but not the right information when it comes to encouraging our beautiful native wildlife. A prime example of this is seen in the gully behind Highbury Place, where a devoted and talented local gardener has elected to 'beautify' the bushland behind their property with a collection of introduced bromeliads and hanging plants. Chances are, this person also adores seeing wallabies and parrots close to their home, but doesn't quite make the connection that altering their habitat in this way makes it harder for these creatures to survive.

Quarry, with views out to Moreton Bay on the horizon.
4. Quarry
Where Levitt Road and O'Quinn Street meet, there is a rough, steeply ascending bush track to a summit overlooking the local quarry. The hillside is cloaked in eucalypts, acacias and Black She-Oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) that are all in various stages of regrowth, hosting birds like the Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa) and White-throated Gerygone (Gerygone olivacea). At the top, splendid views of the countryside—all the way out to Moreton Island on a clear day—can be had. The quarry itself is a deep scar in an otherwise forested hillside, and the exposed airway above it is the hunting ground of a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). On an attack dive, this species is the fastest creature on the planet, having been recorded at speeds of up to 320km/h. Pity the poor birds that have to fly over the bare quarry from one side of the forest to the other!

5. Cedar Woods
Last year, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk announced that a $900m 'mega-suburb' named Cedar Woods would be built on farmland in Upper Kedron. Nearby local residents immediately became concerned at this news, as the area currently has limited infrastructure, and land right up to the border of D'Aguilar National Park is now earmarked for development. After resistance from community groups like 'Save the Gap' and 'Save Upper Kedron', the newly elected Labor State Government has decided to reassess the merits of this proposal, with Deputy Premier and Planning Minister Jackie Trad overseeing that the "right balance is achieved for the environment, the economy and the concerns of the local communities."

2007 plan vs. 2015 plan. Image courtesy of 'Save the Gap'.
Upper Kedron locals are hoping that a city planning scheme drawn up for their suburb in 2007 will be adhered to over the new proposal, the latter of which reduces the amount of green space available from 140 hectares down to 92 hectares. The older plan also retains an area zoned strictly for rural use that would act as a buffer between any further housing development and the National Park. Unfortunately, it seems that as the amount of money exchanged between the landholder, the developer and the city council has increased, so too have changes to the original planning design. This redrafting excludes the needs of other stakeholders in the local community, whose views on their suburb's sustainability and natural environment deserve to be considered also.

The appeal of living in a beautiful place near a National Park is understandable, and I would happily live in such a location myself. However, as we increase our knowledge about environmentally-sensitive urban design, it is important that this is reflected in the layout of any future projects. New housing developments tend to have a somewhat high density, featuring small blocks of land filled almost entirely by buildings and with little room left for native gardens. This makes sense from a business perspective, as it maximises the number of people paying princely sums for land purchases, but it ignores the needs of the area's environment and is not a fair balance. If lots of people are crowded into one district, the impact on local wildlife is magnified also, with an increase of cars, pets and various forms of pollution all having an effect. If land is to be developed for residential use, it's also important that the people buying these properties are made aware of rules and guidelines that protect their furry, feathered and scaled neighbours. The last step is to provide education on why these protocols exist, so that following them is not seen as a restrictive burden, but a pleasurable responsibility that enhances community lifestyle.

Hopefully, if the Cedar Woods development is to occur in Upper Kedron, it will resemble the design shown in the 2007 local plan. The impact of such a development on local wildlife can be reduced by incorporating a mix of generously-sized reserves and linking vegetation corridors into the design, especially when buffered by semi-rural properties. Using native trees for both the street front and garden landscaping would be helpful, and replacing areas of thirsty lawns with mulched native garden beds is a good idea also. This is really only scratching the surface on sustainable development theory, however; eco-friendly design principles are just ineffectual thought experiments if developers and councils don't implement their practical use.

Beautiful South-east Queensland is changing rapidly before our very eyes. It's important that we choose wisely when considering what direction we will steer it in.

Cedar Woods proposed location, as seen from Brompton Road, The Gap.


  1. HI Christian It wasgood to read allabout what is happening near you and what the ddeveloper are planning forthe future of the area. I do hope thye will consider the wildlfie and the environment in which they need to live. a nephew of mine and his little family of wife and 3 small children have moved to Brisbane and are just settling down. I have only spent 1 day/night there onmy way to Innisfail further north. but never birded there. HAve a great week.

    1. Hi Margaret, glad you have links to Brisbane, maybe you'll get to know the lovely creatures we have here someday! Thanks for reading and I'm glad you found it interesting :)

  2. the birds you have in the wild are just amazing. i hope nature can continue to survive next to humankind expansion.

    1. Thanks Theresa, me too. I don't want to live in a world without birds, etc!

  3. I like the Pale-headed Rosella. I've only seen one and that was way before
    I had a decent camera so I only have a really bad drawing of it.

    1. Yes it's a beauty, a bit more subtle than its Crimson and Eastern relatives!

  4. Hi Christian. Thank you for your usual illuminating and expert insight into Australian wildlife. Your focus on suburbia is especially good as I suspect that it is a neglected area of survey and general interest, just as it is here and probably most countries.

    It is good that so many people seem to have the willingness to help but as you point out, lack the expertise or basic knowledge and so make mistakes with often unforeseen negative results. More power to your typing my friend, I hope your words reach the wider audience they deserve.

    1. Thanks Phil, yes I do enjoy throwing the spotlight on the amazing things that survive in our midst! Thanks for your kind praise too, I have been working harder than usual lately on the 'wordy' parts of the blog! :)

  5. These issues are so complex. I also wouldn't mind living up against a National Park but it would be great if these sensitive border areas had covenants on them, particularly in regard to pets. Everyone loves their pets but unfortunately pets and national parks aren't a good mix.

    1. Yes I feel the same. I'd happily trade a dog/cat for a resident koala/bowerbird. So many new estates just aren't eco-friendly as they are however, especially in regards to the lack of vegetation in gardens and street scapes. Whatever happened to our Brisbane ideal of the leafy suburb?

  6. Love your work Christian. I feel really strongly about preserving bushland in suburbia, and it's great to see people like yourself being such wonderful advocates for the cause.