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Colourful Stories

Lakshmi Kanchi – On Hope Road

As a new migrant to Australia, Lakshmi found connection and community at the Wetland Centre Cockburn. But soon after her arrival, the wetlands were under attack from highway development.

Funded by City of Joondalup and produced by Centre for Stories, Colourful Stories is a collection of experiences set to the theme of ‘Better Together’ and showcased at the Joondalup Festival 2024. These stories came from residents living in Joondalup and the surrounding suburbs who shared a belief in the power of connection and community, reminding us of the strength and value we gain when we overcome individual desires, ego and biases to value unexpected people and places around us.

This story was shared by Lakshmi Kanchi. As a new migrant from India, Lakshmi found connection and community at the Wetland Centre Cockburn. But soon after her arrival, the wetlands were under attack from highway development. Taking part in the Roe 8 protests to protect this important environmental reserve taught Lakshmi many lessons.

Note: Lakshmi first shared a different version of this story for Hear Our Voice, a series of stories campaigning for a Yes vote in the 2024 Voice to Parliament referendum. Listen to that version here.

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Copyright © 2024 Lakshmi Kanchi

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and City of Joondalup by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories or City of Joondalup.

Photo by Aaron Claringbold. Story published 21 March 2024.

View Story Transcript

INTRO: Hi there. In today’s episode, we bring you a special live recording of Colourful Stories featuring community voices from Joondalup and the surrounding suburbs, made possible with funding from the City of Joondalup and training by Centre for Stories. These experiences come from local residents who had never shared their stories in front of a live audience before, but stepped up to the challenge for one special evening to share their belief in the power of connection and community. Set to the theme of ‘Better Together,’ their stories remind us of the strength and value we gain when we overcome individual desires, ego and biases to value unexpected people and places around us. Recorded in the City of Joondalup in March 2024, this next story comes from Lakshmi Kanchi. Enjoy. 


LK: I’m going to invite you to stand in my shoes. It is 2016 and I am brand new in Australia. I am fresh off the plane drenched in the summer sun of January, which I’ve never experienced before. The sky is turned upside down and the landscape, even the landscape is different. And I find myself looking for a sense of connection, a sense of community, and a sense of belonging. And it is as if by divine intervention that I spot an ad in the newspaper. It is by the Wetland Center Cockburn, and they’re looking for a volunteer to join their team. And this is really interesting to me. I remember we were living in Kardinya those days, so we take a walk, a very picturesque walk by North Lake, Bibra Lake and down to the Wetland Centre where everyone is gathered outside by the gazebo, enjoying morning tea. 

It was such a warm and inviting atmosphere. I honestly feel I haven’t left the place since. I’ve kept going back week after week, month after month, day after day since that day in 2016. And I found a deep connection to that space, especially to Bibra Lake, which is much like Lake Joondalup. And also I found a community of like-minded people. I felt like the spirit of the place has embraced me. This is around about the time when the Roe 8 protests were happening. So you might wonder what the protests were all about. Roe 8 was about building a highway in between or in the middle of our wetlands, not understanding the crucial and delicate interlinkages that we have between the two bodies of water between North Lake and Bibra Lake. 

We get phone calls, frantic phone calls every year by people who have spotted a turtle on the road somewhere. And usually it is around turtle nesting time when mama turtles are out and about with eggs in their bellies. And nine out of 10 times, by the time we find the turtle or reach the turtle, the turtle is dead. It’s been squashed under a car or a truck on the road. And this is a road. Imagine if it were a highway going through a wetland. This information impacts me a lot because as I was telling my story, I’ve just just found this place, this magical place that exists. But I found my connection, my community, and suddenly it is under threat. I don’t know if this place will exist anymore, if it’ll be there tomorrow, or if it’ll be razed to the ground. And I’m propelled into taking action. 

I’m propelled into participating in the protests, but in a small way, I’m at the centre in the kitchen, cutting up fruit, making tea, organizing platters of food to take to the protestors who are outside in the heat, on the road by the curbside or huddled inside tents. I have conversations with them when morale is low and we swap stories. And there are great, great stories of such amazing bravado, like this woman who stripped down naked and climbed atop a tree. She knew that if anyone was to touch her, it would be considered assault. And so she stayed put atop that tree for days on end and ended up saving that tree. These were our heroes. But there were also heartbreaking stories like the story of the honeymoon trees. These trees had been planted by honeymoon goers back in the day. They were about a hundred, 120 years old. 

And if you could imagine two trees, majestic pine trees, a hundred, 120 years old, framing the entryway to the lake, those were trees and they cut down these trees. So now what remained were two stumps. Two stumps framed the entryway to Bibra Lake. It was heartbreaking, the brutality of it, the atrociousness of it. I also spoke to a number of people who had been taking care of the country, looking after the land, looking after the wetlands for 30, 40, 50 years. Some of them going back to the Farrington Road protests when we lost the battle and the present day, Farrington Road actually was put through the wetlands. Back then, it was only a handful of academics and environmentalists, people who knew of the value of the wetlands, who had come together to protest the highway, but they were unsuccessful, but they were not defeated. They realized that there was a need, a need for a center of education, a center for creating awareness. And so this, this coincidentally, the whole Farrington Road protest brought about the establishment of the Wetland Centre Cockburn on Hope Road. This is the reason I’m calling my story ‘On Hope Road’ because it is such a crucial milestone. The establishment of the Wetland Centre and the 30 years of work that we have done. Conserving, protecting, looking after our wetlands, creating awareness involving the community, engaging the community. 

I also want to talk about the indigenous leadership. Aunty Marie Taylor is an indigenous Elder and she is the Elder-in-Residence at the Wetland Centre. And we’ve had the privilege of her guidance on all our programs that we deliver to the community. So you can imagine there’s a part of that indigenous knowledge that gets imparted to the community through these programs that we deliver. And now the community, all armed with information empowered and impassioned, has come together, protesting the Roe 8 highway. And we saw that. We saw that coming together and the result was amazing. The result was that the Beeliar Wetlands have got environmental protection now, and they are considered or deemed a Class A Reserve. What that means is that a road or a highway will never go through the wetlands ever again. And that is such an amazing outcome, one that we ought to celebrate. 

Let us just take a moment and come with me to India where there was a patch of nature brimming with these beautiful banyan trees that grow in thick clusters, dense clusters, almost networks of them with their roots dangling to the ground. I would love walking taking a walk amidst the gentle giants. I would love reflecting and writing poetry there. We happened to go back to India in July last year, and this was after a gap of almost seven and a half years, a long time. And I was eager, very eager to go back to my favorite spot in the world and go for a walk. 

I found that the unpaved park that led to the park had now become a paved road, a Pakarasta. There was a parking, and the parking was overflowing with cars and vehicles of every type. There used to be a few debilitated buildings and a few buildings that were falling apart, you know, throughout the reserve. But these buildings now were rebuilt, reconstructed. There were newer areas added. There were people moving in and out of these buildings. There were people all around working in these buildings. And because of the people and because of the traffic, there was litter and rubbish everywhere. It was chaos. But the most heartbreaking thing of all was when I walked into the park and I found that they had cut my banyan trees, my beloved Banyan trees to make room for progress. 

I want to reiterate with my story, the importance of these spaces that are spaces of healing, of catharsis, of the community coming together and of these people who care for these places who invest so much love and effort into looking after these places. I want to say that it is only through these people that such actions can take place, that we can preserve and conserve our wetlands wherever they may be, whichever space they may be. And this story I would like to conclude by saying that this is the story of Hope Road, and I hope that we all find it in us to find a little pocket of land that we can all conserve and protect. Thank you very much. 


OUTRO: Thank you for listening to our courageous, brilliant storyteller. The stories we’ve shared today are what drive our organization. Center for Stories is a small, not-for-profit, relying in part on your support. If you liked these stories today, please let us know by emailing us your thoughts or any feedback you have to or by making a donation at our website center for, big or small, all donations help us to keep sharing these important experiences from our community and support our mission of changing the world through building empathy and connection one story at a time. Thank you. 




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