Long road ahead for William Ricketts

One of William Ricketts' sculptures as captured in 2011. Pictures: KIMBERLEY CARTMELL.

By Mikayla van Loon

The Dandenong Ranges is home to a number of popular national parks and reserves, many of which were the most affected by the storms in June.

But one of the most devastating losses has been the destruction of a number of statues and buildings at William Ricketts Sanctuary.

The 1.7 hectare display of William Ricketts’ 92 clay sculptures, which celebrate the heritage and culture of Aborginial peoples, was surrounded by a canopy of mountain ash trees.

“Assessment of the storm damage at William Ricketts Sanctuary has found 32 sculptures have been damaged by falling trees,” Parks Victoria district manager Victoria Purdue said.

“The public toilets, original residence, Stone Studio and Kiln have also been damaged as well as fencing, pathways and handrails.”

Parks Victoria’s rangers have been working closely with arborists to identify and clear thousands of hazardous trees and assess the damage across the Dandenongs, including William Ricketts Sanctuary.

Restoration of the sculptures and buildings is still a while off, as tonnes of debris is also cleared from walking tracks and roads ready for the bushfire season.

Parks Victoria is working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning as part of Forest Fire Management Victoria to ensure the Dandenong and Yarra Ranges are prepared for the summer bushfire season.

This includes the annual slashing program to over 160 kilometres of fuel breaks, with staff prioritising the clearing of vehicle and fire access tracks, fuel breaks and management of green waste debris.

Parks Victoria is also conscious of the return of tourists and bushwalkers when kilometre restrictions ease in coming weeks under the Victorian government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

“These areas remain dangerous for the public to enter – the risk of weakened or damaged trees and branches falling is still extremely high, even on days that look calm. There is often no warning and no time to get out of the way.”

While some parks and walking tracks have been made safe to reopen, Parks Victoria is asking people to remain on the dedicated path

“We’re asking Victorians to put their safety first and observe site closures, signage and fenced-off areas as trees, rocks and soil may continue to move – especially during or after rain,” Ms Purdue said.

“The Sanctuary will need to remain closed into 2022 as we carry out the significant and complex work needed to make it safe for people to enjoy once more.”