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The creek was originally named the Skeleton Water Holes. The volcanic rock that lies below the creek basin, creates a natural filtration system, so that rain collects into shallow pools which then overflow and form into a watercourse. The rock springs begin further inland and then flow through Truganina, Tarneit and Hoppers Crossing. It then fans at Altona Meadows into its estuarine system at the Cheetham wetlands, and finally filters out into Port Phillip Bay. This area was once a temperate Kakadu, and its abundant Flora and Fauna attracted the indigenous people, who camped along the banks. There are many sites along the creek of archaeological significance. The developments of European farming and suburban life took its toll with the loss of habitat and of diversity in wildlife. 

The Friends Of Skeleton Creek are a voluntary group that do wonderful work alongside Melbourne Water to bring some of this past diversity back. Today remains a tremendous natural shelter for wildlife and therefore it is a wonderful area to visit, full of interesting things to observe. On the Altona Meadows side of the trail, look out for nine Flora and Fauna information boards illustrated by Sanctuary Lakes resident, ornithologist Bob Winter’s brilliant photographs. They are a wonderful guide to understand what you see. Some things to lookout for:

 

The River Red Gums. These great iconic Australian trees can grow to over 35 metres high, and provide the functional elements for our wetland ecosystems.

The Common Reed.  You will see a lot of this reed a tall, perennial grass that can grow to heights of four metres. It is an essential plant for the waterway, as a contributor to control a creek’s erosion and an important habitat for birds and other native fauna.

Two native shrubs that are easy to recognise along the Trail, are,

The Correa rock is a dense 2-3-metre-high shrub with erect, strap-like foliage that can vary in shades of grey to green. It has distinctive tubular horn shaped lemon-yellow flowers.

The Coast Flax Lilly is a tufted plant with blue-purple flowers. Its leaves are up to 0.5 m in height. They form a soft tussock which conceals the flowering stems.

Two wonderful birds to spot are:

Golden Headed Cisticolas

One of the most often seen birds here, that have made their home in the Creek’s Water Reeds. Cisticolas are very small, but their presence is easily betrayed by their distinctive loud buzzing and whistling calls. Once this call is heard, it is often relatively easy to see a Golden Head perched atop of a reed’s stalk.

The Red-necked Stint is a summer resident. It is one of the smallest waders, just a little larger in size than a sparrow, but with a longlegs and beak. They are best seen foraging near the Cheetham end of the Creek. They are easy to recognise as they forage in a distinctive manner, taking a hunched posture, picking rapidly at the muddy surface, then dashing to another spot and start jabbing again.

The White-necked Heron is one of the largest and toughest birds in the creek. It can grow to over 110 centimetres. The head and neck are white with dark grey bill. Its back and wings are a sooty black with a bluish sheen. Often seen by the Creek’s foot bridge searching the shallows for their enormously varied diet. 

   The area was originally part of the Chirnside estate. But it was not good land for grazing so was passed to different owners. Eventually, a large part of the estuarine area became a site for the industrial harvesting of salt, the Cheetham Saltworks. The area was divided in to salt pans of varying levels of salinity and you can still see the remnants of them today. At its peak there were four pumping stations, several houses, a refinery, a workshop, a timber yard, sheds and bridges, and a tramline. It was in business from 1926 to 1970. Part of this complex is the site of the Sanctuary Lakes Estate today.  

  Walking the creek between its suburban hinterland is a relaxed endeavour but it’s worth reflecting on the areas has areas significance. This is archaeological because of the earlier indigenous presence on many sites in the area. It has International significance as the wetlands are now a Ramsar protected site. And last of all it has Historic/industrial significance because of the Saltworks.

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