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Documentary aims to keep Australian history alive

By Tang Li


As one of few original campaigners still fighting Sydney’s longest conservation battle, Gavin Gatenby thinks the younger generation needs to know about Wolli Creek.

Mr Gatenby has transformed a forty-minute Powerpoint presentation into a video documentary series, Saving Wolli Creek, to explain the history of the struggle to younger activists.

“Even people like me who got involved in the mid ’80s are pretty rare, so I wanted the new generation to understand the lessons,” said Mr Gatenby, co-convenor of EcoTransit Sydney.

His documentary traces the birth of the ‘freeway’ in Sydney, and the long fight to protect inner south-west Sydney’s environmental gem, Wolli Creek Valley, from threat of an eight-lane M5.

Mr Gatenby believes that now WestConnex has manifested, his project has taken on a new urgency, as Saving Wolli Creek highlights the counter-productive nature of radical urban motorways.

“In a city like Sydney, with its powerful and corrupting business and development lobby, nothing ever gets saved for the future, life never gets improved without a tremendous effort.”

But his message isn’t limited just to Sydney, as he believes the experiences are worldwide.

“Motorways generate huge amounts of additional car traffic and cause cities to sprawl horribly, a fact that was well understood, thanks to the U.S. experience, even in the mid 1970s.”

Saving Wolli Creek is not only a warning of ‘highway hell’, but serves to keep Australian history alive, and ensure governments are held accountable to their actions.

“It’s important to understand, for example, that governments will lie spectacularly in order to con the public, as the Greiner Government did when they got elected in 1988 promising to lift the freeway reservation through the Wolli Valley, then announced they’d lifted it, and then a few months later, put it right back there again,” he said.

Grassroots activism remains a vital method of advocacy against roads and infrastructure, and Mr Gatenby believes digital technology, such as iMovie, has significantly broadened his audience capacity.

To watch Gavin’s documentary on Youtube, you can visit

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