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Quarry lifecycle: What comes after a quarry shuts down?

Quarry Lifecycle

Like all operations that rely on finite resources, there comes a time when a quarry lifecycle will come to its end.

The question of what happens to a quarry once it’s no longer in use is not something most need to think about, but as Extractives Strategy Taskforce chair John Krbaleski notes, the question is considered more often than one might think.

“A quarry may be temporary, but it supplies critical materials for our daily lives and the possibility for the future of quarried land is endless,” he said.

The resources that once sustained the quarry will eventually be exhausted, and the next stage of the quarry lifecycle will begin, where the quarry needs to be rehabilitated. 

This rehabilitation plan is normally determined as part of the quarry approval process, and will often involve replacing the original topsoil, reproducing waterways, and replanting local trees.

The process of rehabilitation is normally a continuous one as the operation moves from one section of the quarry to another. Ongoing rehabilitation work is important to ensure a self-sustaining environment once operations are completed.

In some cases, quarries are completely redeveloped into parklands, sporting facilities and even housing estates.

This is exactly what happened to Karkarook Park.

View of the lake in Karkarook park Victoria Australia.

Karkarook (Aboriginal name for ‘sandy place’) Park is a recreational and sporting space that spans 10 hectares in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Heatherton. 

The site of the park has a varied history, originally used for flood retarding, market gardens, and horse agistment before being turned into a sand quarry.

In 1997, Parks Victoria entered into a partnership with CSR Limited and Boral Resources to extract sand from the site and then rehabilitate it to form a new recreational lake, wetlands and parkland.

The park is now described as a recreational oasis and those who visit can see nothing of the former sand quarry on the surface.

But it is not just Karkarook Park that has been created from a former quarry site.

In fact, many of Melbourne’s most well-known parks – including Fitzroy Gardens and Albert Park Lake – were once quarries that operated in the 1830s and ’40s. Some of these parks were rehabilitated from Melbourne’s first quarries.

Arguably the most famous post-quarry park is the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, an award-winning contemporary space that was once a sand quarry that functioned for more than 50 years.

“I’ve been working within the industry since the 1980s, I’ve seen active quarry sites change greatly over that time and many of them are now unrecognisable,” Institute of Quarrying Australia (IQA) president Shane Braddy said in a statement in February 2022.

“One of the best projects I’ve had the pleasure to be involved with is Karkarook Park in Heatherton, a large site on the corner of Warrigal Road and what is now the Dingley bypass.”

Karkarook Park provides one of the most diverse habitats for different animal species in Victoria. More than 100 species of birds and a wide range of fish call the park their home.

Indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses, and aquatic marsh vegetation help to balance the needs of the 160,000 yearly visitors with the needs of the local environment.

“A former 40-hectare sand quarry is now a leisure and environmental haven that forms a key part of the area’s green wedge alongside residential, retail and business areas,” Braddy said.

“Along with the partners of that project, we were honoured to receive many awards for that work when the park opened in the early 2000s.”

Quarry rehabilitation is also an important topic for the Victorian Government, which in March 2022 announced the Quarry Transformation Grants to accelerate the rehabilitation of former quarry sites across the state.

“Quarries are essential in securing affordable materials for Victorians, the process of transforming these spaces for community uses will also create jobs in the future,” Victorian resources minister Jaala Pulford said.

“The Victorian Government is committed to promoting innovation in our quarrying sector”, Krbaleski noted in the publication The New Lives of Old Quarries.

The grants saw a total of $550,000 made available to four successful applicants in two categories – small quarries and larger operations.

Victorian quarries are required to rehabilitate their sites to a safe, stable, and sustainable standard under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990, and these grants will take the pressure off future recipients. 

Many rehabilitated quarries are transformed into lakes, as their locations provides a great option for water and fishing.

“Metropolitan man-made lakes typically come with good access and transport options, well-designed fishing spots and their proximity to a large population make them perfect family fishing spots,” Victorian Fisheries Authority chief executive officer Travis Dowling said.

“It’s great to be able to offer good quality inland fishing opportunities via these former quarry sites. 

“Looking at the number of quarries on the outer areas of Melbourne, I think we will see future generations of anglers wetting a line at more places than we can today.”

Karkarook Park boasts an impressive lake of 15 hectares and makes a perfect spot for canoeing, kayaking, or sailing. Rainbow trout and red fin can be found in the water. 

The Karkarook Park lake was completed and filled in 2004, just three years after sand extraction was completed. By transforming a quarry into a recreational space at the end of its lifespan, those in the business can ensure that quarries continue to stay useful.

Quarries are key local employers, and their rehabilitation leads to a wide range of ongoing careers like park development and management and flora and fauna conservation.

Quarrying has long been an essential part of the Australian economy, and proper rehabilitation can ensure that no quarry site ever goes to waste.

“We can only extract the rock and sand once, whether it’s for the construction of roads, bridges, homes or hospitals,” Braddy said.

“However, we can leave behind some amazing community assets that become the centre of community activity.”

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