It’s all about space. Leaving enough of it free of homes so that there’s enough room for people to get out into it, and coincidentally build communities. At least that’s what landscape architect Matt Frawley thinks, and it’s this philosophy that sits very comfortably with the property group he works with.
“It has always been about making communities and so our focus has been on public open space – we put in two to three times more than other developer: at Googong this translates to around 24 per cent of the total space.” Matt believes that making real, genuine-scaled spaces available for passive and active recreation is a critical part of the magic in watching communities form. “With enough of the right spaces, people want to get out into it.”
Matt grew up in Sydney near bushland so perhaps it’s not surprising he holds this view – he’s seen it in action. “The bush was the greatest thing. I’ve five brothers and one sister and we’d all go into the bush: and I can see the same interest in my own children – the need to get outside.” And after spending many happy hours in the garden with his father and grandfather, he naturally gravitated to studying landscape architecture, doing the hard yards as a landscaper’s labourer before practicing as a landscape architect in and around Sydney.
Around that time, there was a well-funded and supported industry in Indonesia, where spending $30million on a gold course or equally impressive amounts on the grounds of a hotel was common: Matt took off overseas to broaden his skill set. No question that he gained a fresh view. “On the first project, I was managing the construction of an artificial creek with an army of 200 labourers.” After a few years he returned to Sydney as a consultant to work on equally epic projects, if using smaller work teams – the perched garden at Darling Park, Sydney, which thrives despite growing on a slab; the fabulous waterfront Sunshine Plaza in Queensland.
And then he joined a property developer (CIC, later acquired by PEET), as its NSW and ACT Landscape Manager. It was a happy match. The company’s culture places a high value on green space and they were looking for someone to manage the quality of the landscapes that were being put in.
Apart from the long-term benefits of liveability, often it’s the green spaces that help people get a grasp of what a future neighbourhood could be like. “When there’s not a house but just sheep paddocks, it’s important to build the new neighbourhood’s landscape before anything else.”
And so it was with Googong, a new cluster of neighbourhoods set just south of Queanbeyan in NSW. It will take 15 to 20 years to build Googong’s five neighbourhoods and when it’s complete there will be up to 6,000 homes set amongst generous landscaped spaces, including 12 sports fields, 18 playgrounds, 27 parks, a 56 hectare conservation area and the expansive Googong Common. The first of the five neighbourhoods is almost complete and with it, three of the 12 sports fields – Rockley Oval and two more at Duncan Fields. That quality control is alive and well in this project is obvious when you hear the story behind these ovals…
“When we built the first oval – Rockley – we delivered a premium $1.5 million facility.” Even when you’ve been in the business as long as Matt and his team have been, there are still moments when you learn from a mistake, and in this instance it was a case of handing over a thoroughbred race horse to someone who only had the resources to stable a pony. Matt had overlooked the fact that the local council, who would be maintaining the ground, didn’t have the equipment or resources to deal with it. A solution was found through having the developers extend their care of the field to two years, by which time it was well established and had been conditioned to thrive under a less pampered regimen in future. But the lesson learned was carried forward when the two ovals at Duncan Fields were constructed.
“We thought more about maintenance and future-proofing these fields.” Taking their premium approach as a starting point, they tweaked it to produce something that would deliver the result but be more easily managed by council. Instead of the usual 300mm of sand over a 100mm of gravel set over the drainage, they reduced the sand layer to 250mm and used a loamy mix instead of the usual golf course mix. This was laid directly onto the existing heavily compacted base with drainage set to pick up the cross fall. Just as they’d done with the previous oval, they laid washed turf to reduce the organic matter at the surface, but instead of the Wintergreen couch, this time they rolled out Village Green, a form of kikuyu that establishes quickly, recovers quickly and has a shorter period of dormancy. Also, unlike Rockley Oval, Duncan Fields made use of TerraCottem to boost establishment and aid maintenance in the longer term. Looking at the results from both installations, each is meeting its drainage target. Rockley takes four hours to recover for play after a major downpour (50 – 60mm), and those at Duncan Fields take six. “But Duncan established faster and better, and it’s been easier to maintain in this climate.”
Seems like a premium approach, with some added brianwork is the best approach to take.