Dog rescued from sinkhole in Kirkdale Park

An ordinary visit to a popular Brunswick East park almost ended in tragedy

Larry the dog being rescued from the sinkhole in Kirkdale Park.
Larry remained calm throughout his ordeal.

Brunswick Voice

KIRKDALE Park, the off-lead dog park adjoining the Merri bike path between Albion and Victoria Streets, is one of East Brunswick’s best kept secrets. But it also contains a hidden, potentially deadly hazard.

The park is beautifully landscaped with a shady nature play area, barbeques, a public toilet block, water taps, and a half basket-ball court. A row of wonderfully gnarled peppercorn trees runs along the Victoria Street side and there’s a stunning mural painted onto a 20 metre-long brick wall along the western boundary. A lookout area with seats opens onto the creek edged by a small wilderness of native trees and shrubs with its thriving bird population.

From the 1860s onwards, the Kirkdale site was mined for basalt used for bluestone pitchers, cobble stones and crushed stone to build the growing colony of Melbourne. According to information displayed at the lookout, the 50 metre-deep mine was worked for almost 100 years until it ran out of basalt and closed in 1957.

Some relics of the park’s mining history remain. One of the cranes has been re-purposed to clear out a litter trap for a storm water drain. The remains of a bluestone tower are incorporated into the lookout. The tower was once used as one end of a ropeway that hauled buckets of rocks across to the other side of the mine near Kirkdale Avenue.

After the mine closed, it was taken over by Whelans as a dump for waste from their wrecking business. Over the years the hole was filled with hard rubbish and bulldozed over. In the early 80s it was still used by Whelans as a tip. I remember fossicking there for useful bits and pieces after I first moved into the neighbourhood in 1982.

Moreland Council bought the bottom half of Whelan’s tip site in the mid-80s to convert it to parkland. Weeds and blackberries infesting the side of the creek were cleared out, the tip was bulldozed, covered with fresh earth, and planted with native trees and lawn. Being filled with industrial waste, it could never be built upon because the ground is unstable.

Kirkdale Park is located along the Merri Creek path, between Victoria and Albert streets.

It’s also prone to sinkages, especially after heavy rain when loose earth can be washed down to form underground holes or caverns close to the surface. This is how Larry the dog got himself buried on New Year’s Day.

Larry and I go to Kirkdale most days of the week to walk, sniff around, and chat with other dogs and owners. A week or so earlier, I noticed a hollow about 30 cm across and 15 cm deep on the sloping ground in the top corner near Victoria Street. I suspected it might be a sinkhole but thought little of it.

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Early on New Year’s Day, Larry, my beautiful, old, frail border collie, trotted into the hollow and disappeared. To my shock and amazement, he kept sinking down into the loose earth. The more he struggled, the more deeply he became buried, until just his head was poking out.

I threw myself onto the ground and held onto his head and collar, but there was no-one else at the park, so no point in crying out for help.

Soon a dog walker came down Victoria Street: Kate with her German pointer George. Kate couldn’t get Larry out so rang my husband Dave who zoomed to the rescue on his bike. He knelt down to widen the hole and dig away the earth around the top half of Larry’s body while I held onto his head and collar. Dave then braced himself with his forehead on the ground, and with a mighty heave, hauled the rest of Larry out of the hole.

Larry nonchalantly shook the dirt off, rolled in the grass, and had a quick word with George who had been watching the rescue effort with great interest. Our dear old boy was relaxed throughout. He knew we’d rescue him because we always do. I am enormously grateful to Kate for helping.

Clearly, the sinkhole posed a potentially deadly risk to dogs and children. I rang the Merri-bek Council emergency line, but it was not answering. I sent emails and notified councillors to try to get the sinkhole fenced as soon as possible. We put a stake and some chicken wire into the hole to alert people. A week later, however, nothing else had been done.

Council, please sharpen up procedures for responding to dangerous situations such as the sinkhole, and please organise the emergency phone line so messages can be left there at all times!

Jill Sanguinetti is an East Brunswick resident, dog lover and occasional writer.