By LUCINDA GARBUTT-YOUNG
Through the winding lanes of Annandale, there is a long-reigning community spirit. Paths bloom with seasonal foliage, and small front yards have rambling verge gardens.
Much of this can be traced back to Kathy O’Donnell, who took over a dilapidated alleyway in 2015.
Almost six years later, her now well-known project is finally gaining official recognition. It began simply, as a labour of love.
“We moved to the area and we downsized. I brought a lot of plants, none of which fit in my teeny tiny courtyard,” she said.
Kathy was encouraged by a neighbour on an adjoining property to start gardening in the council laneway. Asphalt, rats and debris crowded the area. Without a tap and with only limited access to a hose, Kathy bucketed water from seven doors up to feed the growing space.
More than a garden
For Kathy, Ferris Lane was never just her garden. She saw the potential for greener urban places around Annandale, and set out to make an entirely public space.
“It was [a] clear-cut [vision] from the start. The first thing I planted was herbs.. communal herbs, for everyone,” she explained.
Known as ‘The Magic Lane’, Ferris Lane has become an inclusive green space, treasured by locals. People are invited to use the area as they wish. Some simply walk through, others contribute to the garden. Many locals have made a visit part of their daily ritual. There’s teddy bear’s picnics, family lunches and an array of children’s games, all nestled within rare plant varieties and several species of natives bees.
Inspired by Wendy Whitely, Kathy and her community have transformed a vacant alley into a place of untrampled community fun.
But by 2018, concern for Ferris Lane’s official status was growing. The green space, now a joy to many, was still zoned as a road.
Though this thoroughfare hadn’t been accessed by cars for many years, Kathy and community members were concerned that future developments could see the road reclaimed by Council or State government.
Lack of formal recognition for the green space also made it challenging to afford improvements like the addition of a tap for easy watering. There was little scope for government funding.
“I’d applied for six to seven rounds of funding from the State and Local council prior to 2018,” Kathy said of her limited grant success.
Kathy took 500 signatures to council, which she walked the local streets to collect. It wasn’t until newly elected Councillor Marghanita Da Cruz motioned a rezoning of Ferris Lane into a potential park that council support started to grow.
For Clr da Cruz, the call for rezoning was a vital step in supporting the community.
“There is a history in Annandale… of the community doing things and then bringing council along,” she said, citing development of wetlands and bush care initiatives. “The council is there to support the community, not the other way around.”
A vision complete
Almost three years later, permanent closure of Ferris Lane as a road is nearing completion. The community was able to have their say throughout early May on whether the lane should become an official green space. For many, this is a Council acknowledgement of what has been reality for six years.
“I haven’t seen the report yet.. but I think most people said, ‘what are you talking about, it’s already closed’,” Clr Da Cruz said of the community feedback.
Clr Da Cruz believes rezoning is an important initiative for the Inner West’s future. It will prevent any abolition of the lane due to WestConnex and allow increased care for the area.
“Community and biodiversity are two things I’m very excited about,” she said of the diverse plant species that locals have contributed to the garden. Ferris Lane also allows creek run-off to absorb into the ground and nourish existing trees.
The seasonality of flora here, which Kathy is meticulous about, has taught many Annandale residents about the importance of local horticulture. Her passion has spread; locals dug up their grass to make gardens.
“It [Ferris Lane] is a model for how we can do things,” Clr Da Cruz said. “My vision is that it is replicated all over Sydney.”
“It’s the Inner West’s favourite story… it’s probably Sydney’s!” she added.
For Kathy, the long fight to finally have ‘The Magic Lane’ rezoned is, at its’ core, about serving the people who visit.
“It’s certainly been a challenging journey.. but it’s through the beautiful community that we have been able to continue this,” she said.
Inspiring neighbouring communities
Kristi Parsons recently discovered Ferris Lane not far from her home in Erskineville. She said Kathy has taught her about gardening and inspired her to make a change near her own home.
“I live in a Department of Housing flat… and the people in my area treated the grounds outside my apartment like a tip,” she explained.
Ms. Parsons said she’s wanted to do something about the state of her street for a long time and has “finally got around to it.” When she saw Ferris Lane her vision totally changed.
“I saw Ferris Lane and completely changed what I had in mind, which was a much more manicured garden,” she said.
“I’ve been collecting things like bike wheels, tables and chairs… from street bounty and have had lovely people give me plants. I’m not quite ready to start planting yet, I’m still preparing the land and a water pipe has burst so flooded out one section, so I need to wait until Housing finally fix it!”
For those like Kristi, Ferris Lane has prompted cultural change.