Dry eucalypt woodland covers much of the Field of Mars Reserve. This vegetation is typical of the dry, infertile sandstone soils found in Sydney’s north and is known as dry sclerophyll woodland. Many of the plants in this area have hard, waxy leaves that tend to be small and narrow, features which help to reduce moisture loss.
Despite being only 56 hectares in size, the reserve contains around 300 species of plants. These plants support an even greater array of animals from the tiniest spiders to large possums and birds.
Surveys conducted in 2006 found evidence of animals that were believed to be missing from the reserve. These include Sugar Gliders, Echidnas and Long Nosed Bandicoots. Control of pest species like foxes may be contributing to the return of animals to the reserve.
Along Buffalo and Stranger’s Creeks there are long pockets of moist gully vegetation, known as wet sclerophyll forest. Different plant species flourish in the moist conditions found here. Wet sclerophyll forest is characterised by moist rich soils, shadiness and plants with dark green, soft leaves. The cool, moist conditions found within these gullies create the perfect habitat for some of the reserve’s animals like finches, wrens, whip birds and ringtail possums.
There are many examples of human impact found within the reserve. Positive impacts include the installation of nest boxes, weed removal, bush regeneration and the recent restoration of a section of the Buffalo Creek channel to improve the wetland environment. Negative impacts include exposure of the landfill in some areas, weed invasion, illegal dog walking and pollution in the creek.
The Field of Mars Reserve – A Brief History
The area was called Wallumetta and the Aboriginal inhabitants were the Wallumedegal (Wallamattagal) people of the Dharug nation. The clan name was probably derived from the word wallumai meaning snapper fish and matta meaning place, often a water place. The Wallamedegal people would have been the ‘snapper people’ and the snapper fish would have been their clan totem. They lived as fisher-hunter-gatherers.
A smallpox epidemic in April and May of 1789 spread through the Aboriginal population and most of the Wallamedegal population was wiped out by 1790. Scattered middens, artefacts, axe grinding grooves and rock engravings remain in the area.
The Name ‘Field of Mars’
In 1792 Governor Phillip granted a piece of land on the north side of the harbour to eight former British marines and named the settlement the Field of Mars. It is believed that Phillip gave it that name with reference to the Roman god of war, Mars, so ‘Field of Mars’ means ‘land of the soldiers’ (field = land; Mars = soldiers). (The name ‘Field of Mars’ has been used though history for military parade and exercise grounds.)
Field of Mars Common
In 1804 Governor King set aside the Field of Mars Common for the use by the local community to run stock and for firewood collection. It was more than 2500 hectares in area and about 2.2 kilometres wide extending along Lane Cove River from Boronia Park to North Epping. Between 1885 and 1900 most of the common was sold to provide more land for settlement except for 45 hectares of land between Stranger’s Creek and Buffalo Creek. This was set aside as an area for public recreation and was given to the newly formed Ryde Municipal Council to manage. The land sale funded the construction of the Gladesville and Iron Cove Bridges.
The area remained undeveloped and stayed as a patch of bush until the 1950s when post World War II housing development spread through the surrounding suburbs and garbage disposal became a problem. Some of the low-lying saltmarsh environments beside Buffalo Creek were used as a garbage tip until 1959. These areas can be recognised today as the grassed park around the current entrance to the Field of Mars Reserve and the general area of the visitor centre and environmental education centre.
In 1965 the threat of re-opening and expansion of the tip by Ryde Council brought opposition by local residents and the formation of the Ryde Hunters Hill Fauna and Flora Preservation Society (RHHFFPS). After active lobbying by this group and others, the parcel of land was preserved and became the Field of Mars Reserve of today. In 1975 the reserve was proclaimed a Wildlife Refuge under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974. Ryde Council continues to manage the reserve and RHHFFPS provides advice and assistance. The latest Plan of Management was released in August 2007.