To the occasional visitor, much of the Bendigo Creek seems an unloved drain that carries the pong of sulphur from many years of mining.
But work to rejuvenate the waterway has begun as part of the Reimagining Bendigo Creek project being carried out by the City of Greater Bendigo and Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owners and other government agencies.
“That’s us also wanting to put spirit back into country. It’s complex but I think it’s a form of healing,” Mr Carter says. “It’s fundamental to wellbeing.”
The Bendigo Creek stretches for 150 kilometres, starting at the Big Hill range and then running through the spine of Bendigo’s CBD. But the main focus of the reimagining project is the 20 kilometres of creek corridor and tributaries within the urban area.
Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke says the rejuvenation is a long-term project that may take decades and tens of millions of dollars to complete.
It combines Aboriginal knowledge with the council’s engineering expertise.
“There will be sections that might go back to their natural state and there will be sections that will probably stay urbanised but will have a different feel and touch to it,” she says.
The council wants to revamp the creek by building more footbridges to encourage walking, cycling, fishing and bird watching.
Improvements to urban design such as litter traps and storm water storage are planned to help manage the flow and filter rubbish.
Part of the vision includes new lawns, cycling paths, native vegetation and rocks to soften the harsh concrete.
After rain, the water flows through culturally significant wetlands, rural landscapes and then over bluestone and concrete where its path has been redirected and urbanised.
But often it is dry.
At one site a series of large ponds have been created behind some houses, just outside Bendigo’s CBD, to filter pollutants and aerate water from the creek.
Mr Carter says the rehabilitated site previously looked like a “moonscape” and was treated like a rubbish dumping ground. Now native plants and amphibians are flourishing.
The ponds are designed to hold water when the creek stops running while it waits for rain. Similar designs will be replicated in other spots along the waterway.
“It’s an isolated achievement but as a proof of concept it’s been brilliant,” he says. “There’s amphibians and birds and you’re seeing an improvement in biodiversity and the ecosystem.”
Environment Victoria chief executive Jonathan La Nauze says creeks are often crucial corridors for vegetation and habitat for birds, possums, platypuses, fish and insects.
But he insists creeks can be successfully rehabilitated even after they’ve been badly damaged.
“It’s a matter of time and using both western science and First Nations’ knowledge and patience,” he says. “Protecting your creek might be an extraordinarily important bit of ecological restoration”.
Benjamin is a state political reporter