Docklands’ community landscape
Docklands has long been criticised for lacking community spirit and frequently written off as having unengaged and transitory residents.
But if ATET has an upside, it is that it became a catalyst for community engagement and a lightning rod for more broad-based deficiencies in Docklands, mobilising several community groups – particularly on Facebook (FB).
One such online group of note is Docklands Victoria 3008. For people who live and work in Docklands, which was established in December 2015 and now has a membership of more than 1.8k.
Administered by Tony Van Eyk, Nina D’Angelo and Rob Whyte, this group’s stated purpose is “to keep in touch, see what others are up to, socially meeting”.
The new FB kid on the block as of January 2023 with 816 members is Docklands Residents – a centralised community consultation group; which says that it is about “collecting liked minded Docklands residents in one place”. This FB group was setup by Molly Burdett who came to Docklands in mid-December last year. Helping run this group are administrators Jo Bacon and Sandi Severin.
Docklands also has three registered community associations.
The newest is Residents of Docklands Inc. (registered in January 2023) led by Ross Malcolmson. This group lists its focuses as:
- Noise from ATET;
- Postcode change to 3007; and
- State legislation planning permits.
Its chief activity so far has been a GoFund Me campaign for “Docklands Reasonable Noise Controls”, which raised $4030 of a $15,000 target.
The longest standing group is the Docklands Community Association Inc. (DCA) which was established in February 2004 and run for many years by Roger Gardner. The last president was John Kakos, who was elected in 2017 but has since moved from Docklands.
This group traditionally undertook an advocacy role, purportedly on behalf of residents but its approach to issues became increasingly divisive, leading to the cancellation of its regular column in Docklands News in mid-2016.
The third association is the Docklands Representative Group Inc., registered in February 2021 with a stated purpose of “facilitating and participating in networks and activities to represent and advance the various interests of the people and place of Docklands - residents, workers, community groups and the environment”.
Docklands Residents FB group admin Sandi Severin addressed City of Melbourne councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting in May and contacted Docklands News with a litany of queries, ranging from Lord Mayor Sally Capp’s support of ATET, to Development Victoria’s (DV) disregard of residents and questions about the role of the DRG, including its composition.
These questions were put to DRG president, Ben Ball, who said, “we all know that Docklands is not a traditional suburb. Its beauty is in its tapestry of different lifestyles and activities. This means there isn’t just one viewpoint, not even one ‘resident’ viewpoint – and the DRG is about ensuring these different and various perspectives are heard, even if they are conflicting.”
To achieve this, the DRG operates on a network basis – “a network of networks”. By this Ben means that the DRG aims to connect into the various parts of Docklands and also connect out to various groups which impact Docklands. He said this was a model better suited to a multi-faceted place like Docklands.
“You’ve got to have reach – but to do this, you need to be building trust, otherwise you aren’t let in, and you can’t build rapport,” he said.
This principle of connection underpins the composition of the current committee. Ben said, “It’s not enough just live or work here, you must have demonstrated reach into various parts of the many Docklands communities” – and this is a key feature of all committee members, who currently comprise:
- Ben Ball, president: seven-year resident of Docklands, owners’ corporation (OC) committee member of The Quays, and through his lived experience of disability and membership of groups (such as People With Disabilities Australia) represents the interests of those who need better accessibility and improved inclusiveness;
- Aditi Rawal: resident of Victoria Harbour, steering committee member of Docklands Pop-Up Neighbourhood House (Hindu cultural committee organiser of events such as Holi), community champion for the neighbourhood batteries initiative, and as a community leader and convenor of Indians in Docklands, brings the perspectives of Docklands’ growing Indian community;
- Linda Dugan: Nine-year resident of Docklands, OC committee member and local business owner (operating in District Docklands), winner of 2022 Enablement Award and The Globals 2022 Awards (Seniors Care Trends) and brings dual perspectives of local business and ageing.
- Katy Send: resident and owner of two Docklands businesses (conveyancing and data governance), volunteer of local non-for-profit Travellers Aid and as vice-president of the Docklands Primary School Parents & Friends, brings perspectives from school-families with a particular focus upon safety; and
- Janette Corcoran: resident and Chair of Victoria Point OC, and as convenor of the Docklands Owners’ Corporation Network (DOCN) brings perspectives of vertical living and its governance challenges.
Underpinning the committee are a range of associates, including representatives from Neighbourhood House, with which the DRG has enjoyed a long-standing connection. This connection serves to ensure the views of those outside the mainstream (new arrivals, those facing financial hardship) are also heard. This associate-model is a key feature of the DRG as it allows fluid interactions and helps the DRG to be adaptable.
Ben said that this approach was better suited to modern dynamics, where volunteering trends show that people prefer to get involved on an issue-by-issue basis rather than give an ongoing commitment, which was the case in the past.
Added to this, the DRG connects outwards by participating in a range of networks – some official, such as Victoria Police’s Neighbourhood Policing Local Safety Committee, and many collegial, such as with CBD residents’ group Residents 3000. The DRG also participates and collaborates in a myriad of forums and consultations, ensuring Docklands voices are heard.
“We turn up. We go to the numerous consultations and presentations, most recently Greenline, which a lot of other groups don’t do. We go there, we form connections, and we build trust,” Ben said.
“It’s fine for others to have online exchanges, but change happens when people directly engage with each other – and participate. Throwing brickbats might feel good in the moment, but it isn’t a particularly effective strategy. We have found it is about trust and connections.”
When asked why this structure and approach was chosen over a more traditional residents’ group model, he said that despite having become recently incorporated during the pandemic, the DRG had its origins in July 2012 following the partial transfer of planning authority from the Minister of Planning to the City of Melbourne.
Then Places Victoria (now DV) and the City of Melbourne jointly established the Docklands Community Forum for the purpose of sourcing the diversity of viewpoints held by various parts of the Docklands. At the time, the DCA was the traditional residents’ group and it participated in the forum in that capacity.
Regarding current priorities, Ben identified three as being key to Docklands …
The first is Central Pier and Harbour Esplanade. “How this is redeveloped is absolutely key to the future fabric of Docklands,” he said.
The second is governance, an issue that the DRG raised well before ATET was on the scene. Also included here is governance of vertical villages which is why the DRG has a project “DOCN” focused on OC committees and their governance. The council provided $15,000 to the DRG in 2022 under the Connected Community Grant program, which has been acquitted, for the purposes of establishing this initiative and running events.
A further $18,000 has been committed by the council under the Connected Community Grant program to continue the group’s efforts during the current year, much of which has yet to be invested and will go towards the continued infrastructure setup – and possibly an extension of focus.
Our third priority focuses on community strengthening and we operationalise this on a partnership basis. We purposively connect with other groups and help them with their initiatives. This can be by hands-on joining forces, such as with the Repair Café Docklands, or providing auspice for a grant application for a group that isn’t incorporated.
Ben said the key value of, and to the DRG, was connections.
“It’s all about reach and perspectives and credibility – and working together. One group doesn’t have to be all things to all people, but there is much more to be gained if we work collaboratively,” he said.
Should residents feel the need to establish a new residents’ group of their own, the opportunity to revive the Docklands Community Association is there, and the DRG would only be too happy to assist in this process.
In the interim, you can reach the DRG committee at any time to discuss any topics or issues relating to the Docklands community by email.•
For more information: [email protected]