Perth has so many little parks and areas of remnant bushland tucked away in unexpected corners of suburbia. One such place where I went for a walk recently is Star Swamp Reserve in the suburbs of North Beach and Watermans Bay. It’s the sort of place you’d never know was there if you didn’t live in the area…
Last time I caught up for a walk with my friend Alice we were talking about different places around Perth to go for walks, thinking of some new places to go other than our usual options of Kings Park, Cott Beach or Swan River foreshore. She remembered this place called Star Swamp, where her grandmother used to take her to a long time ago to walk the trails and catch tadpoles.
Star Swamp Bushland Reserve covers 96 hectares of remnant coastal scrub vegetation and paperbark swamp. It’s criss-crossed by walking tracks, including a 1.4km Heritage Trail with informative signs runs north-south through the west side of the reserve from Groat Street to Beach Street. Other tracks loop around the eastern border near Marmion Street and across through the middle of the bushland so you can go your own way and explore the reserve on a short or longer walk.
When we were there, there were quite a few people out for a stroll around the reserve. I thought it would be a great spot to take the dog for a walk, and was surprised to read they are allowed (on lead), despite it being an A-Class Reserve.
The Henderson Environmental Centre
On the southern edge of the bushland reserve, near the Groat Street entrance next to North Beach Primary School, there’s the Henderson Environmental Centre, a sustainable eco-designed building used for community events, educational programs, meetings and private functions. The Henderson Centre gives the community a meeting place for the guided walks, volunteer work and other activities within the bushland reserve organised by the Friends of Star Swamp group several times a year.
Star Swamp Plants and Animals
The actual swamp for which the reserve gets its name is located at the western edge and is easy to get to via Hope Street or by following the Heritage Trail (see below) to the left at the first intersection when walking north from Groat Street.
The fresh water swamp covers 4 hectares and is grown over with shady, twisted paperbark trees and marsh vegetation. There’s meant to be a lake in there somewhere but what we saw was more like a series of puddles. We walked along a trail entering into the paperbark grove but it met a dead end almost straight away. We didn’t see any frogs or tadpoles, but we could hear them.
Surrounding the swamp to the north, south and east are an additional 92 hectares of open tuart and banksia woodland, low heathland, plus some marri/jarrah forest. On our springtime walk we saw some pretty wild flowers including dryandras, wattle, wild violets, banksias, orchids and hibbertias. Most of the wild flowers we saw were in the eastern half of the reserve, which was more open and heathy compared to the swampy and more forested western side.
Birds and their songs are a constant companion while walking the tracks through the reserve. We saw magpies, ducks, twenty-eight parrots, crows, honeyeaters and tiny wrens. The reserve provides a sanctuary and breeding ground for native birds, frogs, insects, spiders and reptiles.
Quendas (local name for WA’s southern brown bandicoot) were taken from the huge area of bushland that was cleared for the suburb of Ellensbrook and released a few years ago at Star Swamp and Dianella Bushland. We didn’t spot any, but they could have been hiding!
Star Swamp History
The origins of the name “Star Swamp” are unclear, but a few theories are that it was named after a man called Star, or that it was marked on old maps with an asterisk.
The heritage trail signs (see below) go into more detail about the many uses of the land over the years and pointing out specific sites of historical significance. Through walking the trail you learn that in the 1930’s and 40’s part of the reserve was used as a dump for rubbish and sewerage from nearby residences and depression-era shantytowns. Then during the Second World War, a squadron from the Australian Army 10th Light Horse Division was stationed nearby on coastal watch duties, and used the swamp to water their horses.
In the days before white settlement the area was used by Aborigines, and an area they used to camp is marked by a sign on the heritage trail. From the mid-19th century it was part of a cattle lease held by J H Okely of Wanneroo, and was used as a camping and watering spot for drovers. The surrounding land was further divided into pastoral leases in 1869-70, most of which were taken up by the Hamersley Family and there was an orchard growing near the western edge of the swamp where Hope Street is now. An area to the south and west of Star Swamp, including the swamp area and some of the pastoral leases were set aside as a camel quarantine area for camels imported from India and South Australia before being sent out to the gold fields.
The area to the west of Star Swamp, now the suburb Watermans Bay, was subdivided for housing development in the early twentieth century and grew into a holiday village by the ocean. Marl was quarried from Star Swamp for use on roads in the new subdivision. Prior to the land being converted to residences, cattle were grazed in the area and cows from Bettle’s Dairy used to walk themselves down to the swamp and back.
Star Swamp is an example of what the northern beach suburbs of Perth would have looked in the 19th century like before settlement, or if the land had never been cleared to make way for a sprawling sea of suburbia across the entire Swan Coastal Plain. It was lucky that Star Swamp was left uncleared in the first place, but it could have easily gone the way of suburban development in the 1970’s, if it were not for an 8 year community campaign by a group of locals, politicians and environmentalists who fought for its conservation.
Today it is guaranteed as safe from development, preserved as a “Bush Forever” site and since the mid 80’s has been an A-Class Reserve (unlike other ecologically important bushland reserves now in danger of being developed for housing such as the Underwood Avenue Bushland).
The Star Swamp Reserve Heritage Trail and Other Tracks
Running north-south from Groat Street up to Beach Street in the western half of the track is the Star Swamp Heritage Trail, established in 1988. There are 10 signs along the length of the walk, each describing an aspect of the reserve’s history and the history of the surrounding suburbs.
Click to download the Star Swamp Reserve Heritage Trail Brochure originally published by City of Stirling in 1988.
More trails branch off from the heritage trail. You can cross right through the middle of the reserve or walk around close to eastern edge where you can hear the traffic on Marmion Street but not see it. The tracks are all very flat and sandy with a limestone base and are suitable for prams and wheelchairs.
Location of Star Swamp Bushland Reserve
Star Swamp Reserve is located in the eastern half of the suburb of Watermans Bay, and on the northern edge of the suburb of North Beach. It is bordered by busy roads Marmion Avenue and North Beach Road on two sides, and quiet suburban streets Hope Street, Mary Street and Beach Road on the others. A good place to park your car for a walk is Groat Street (off North Beach Road), or alternatively Mary Street at the other end.
The reserve is fenced around its borders with the busy roads but there are access points into the bushland on all sides.
Once you’ve had a walk around the reserve, you might like to walk over the hill to the ocean, which is less than half a kilometre away. You could also walk to Mount Flora, another much smaller park between Star Swamp and the Ocean, where you’ll also find a playground and a local history museum housed inside an old watertank with great views from the top. The museum is run by volunteers and is usually only open on the first Sunday of each month from 1:30pm – 4:30pm or by appointment, but opens more frequently during school holidays.
Last Updated: 6th November, 2015.
First posted on 6th November, 2015 by Bonny.
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