Did Dept of Housing spend $1 million on a community garden?

UPDATE:  Highest viewed post in 2018. Nobody wants to see scarce resources wasted like this.


Bentley Community Garden

The shabby vista in the photo above, taken two weeks ago, appears to have cost taxpayers and ratepayers, one way or another, circa $100,000/yr in benefits and may have gone on as long as 10 years*, while thousands remain homeless or at wits’ end in terms of affordable housing.  About the only thing that hasn’t been spent on this garden is the effort to maintain it between bailouts, including as late as last November.

(Images below – You decide if this has been value for money)

Premier Mark McGowan was pictured in a high-viz vest recently, selling The Big Issue alongside a man of limited means in life.  “[Don’t cast your eyes down as you walk by]” Mr McGowan said, “[Every edition Steve sells he gets to keep half the proceeds…]”.

It led to an observation about the homeless – the Premier estimates there are about 10,000 in WA and went on to say a range of services was available to help, including Homeswest: “[It’s a problem…been around for a long time…the State is doing its best to fight it]”.

It seems the Premier may be a little out of touch with where funds to help those in need of affordable housing are applied today, if what’s going on at the Bentley Regeneration project in the City of Canning is any indication.

Homeswest hasn’t existed since 1999, and the agency for public housing  that we knew has changed.

In fact the Premier might be appalled to know how much money Housing is spending on consultants and groups that claim to create community, activate spaces or work to achieve resiliency when it comes to, particularly, large tracts of public housing (like the Bentley Regeneration precinct), when nothing enduring seems to emerge.

In the case of this hopefully soon-to-be overhauled section of Bentley, that in the 60s produced one of the first, large-scale affordable and diverse housing precincts in Perth (later falling to ruin), the outcome to expenditure designed to engender hope has been, quite simply, ludicrous.

Essentially, around 10 years ago the state govt, via Housing, created a community group eventually known as Bentley Community Focus (BCF).  Consecutive consultants were appointed to assist the group, but rather than developing in proficiency as time went on the group’s committee seemed to get everything bar their botties wiped.

Creating Communities informed me they provided “day-to-day assistance”, years of it, from running its meetings to providing graphics, advising on governance matters, liaison, etc.

Did I mention BCF’s committee, over the last two years at least, has largely composed of university-educated, gainfully employed or retired, no doubt well-meaning types: fmr mining engineer, fmr electoral officer claiming to have been trained by Alannah MacTiernan, teacher, several Canning staff members, current school principal, current cafe owner whose wife ran for Canning council and may well do so again….

Why would people with skill sets like this, “luckier” in life than those who ended up living at the Regen, need so much help?

My understanding is consultant contracts may have run as high as $100-150,000 a year by the end – the asterisk in the intro of this post denotes that no matter how hard I tried to find out where it all went, what other community groups or “stakeholders” in the vicinity of the Regen were assisted to improve its chances of sustainability and resiliency, no information was going to be provided.

Perhaps this can help – in conversation with me in 2016, BCF Committee member, Bentley Community Garden co-ordinator and now member of the City of Canning’s community advice group on matters sustainability and environment, Maria Bonser giggled at me:

“Whenever we need something [they] just do it for us!  All we have to do is ring! “

Even more staggering is that despite years of high level assistance, when Housing finally cut the umbilical cord claiming the group had “transitioned” to independence, BCF, or more to the point it’s only tangible outlet, Bentley Community Garden, transferred it to City of Canning, which promptly told me it “works with community groups” to help establish them.

Have a look at the results of the last two years, following years of training by consultants, and benefits since 2015/16 including from City of Canning, well-meaning companies and local, state and federal govt grants.  Do you feel this is [money] well spent? 


All parties involved find excuses for this eye sore but its gone on for  years and the BCF committee, which arrives to partake in canapés and media ops at the garden cheerfully enough, doesn’t extend those energies to weeding it.

BCF is a virtual entity, as far as I’m concerned; its main skill set seems to be up-describing what it did at some point and the value it believes it signifies otherwise, on a website it took two years to produce (even though it, too, was funded by govt).

It’s only other outlet, for four hours a year, the Harmony Day festival, appalled me so much I wondered if it were a case of Canning Kept Poor?

I can’t even get an answer as to why BCF doesn’t have a Chair, right after an AGM that had Garrick Smith, the new guy at Housing appointed to “deliver the Regen”, believing everything was alright (now).Nice man; doesn’t seem to get out to Bentley much.

More community engagement/activation consultants are on the way!  No doubt BCF and Bentley Community Garden will seek something from them – but what’s needed is for all vested parties to get their act together and restore the Regen to a place that once offered something for everyone.

Photos taken by author, or sourced from Facebook.
All newspaper extracts sourced from Canning Times
Personal communications between author and Creating Communities and Maria Bonser occurred 2015-2017
Image of Garrick Smith from Dept of Communities (Housing) website

5 thoughts on “Did Dept of Housing spend $1 million on a community garden?

  1. This is not a surprise. Perhaps these clowns should visit the site in Wellington Street Perth just down from RPH where the Street Doctor and various community minded people and groups provide for the homeless. There is NO excuse for homeless in W.A. However as long as we have simple minded politicians and Local Govts it will continue. I can’t for the life of me see how this picture represents ONE MILLION DOLLARS or anything near that.

    Byford Progress Association (BPA ) and Serpentine Jarrahdale Shire claimed to have spent MILLIONS on the entry to the Shire on the corner of South West Highway and Thomas Road, crap they have, a few statues, weeds (more recent a few shrubs ) and the public are not permitted to see any minutes of the BPA and question how this money is spent. WRONG, NO TRANSPARENCY, NO HONESTY, NO INTEGRITY. The leader of this group doesn’t live in the shire and hasn’t done for years.


    1. Good Lord! I think we will just see more of this now, not less.

      I know state reporters fought a furious battle two years ago to stop the Barnett Govt withholding information about infrastructure projects by citing “commercial in confidence” etc, but what’s really happening is information is simply being kept from the public more and more, no matter the level of govt, period.


  2. Hi Diana Ryan my name is PETER RENTON i am a volunteer at THE BENTLEY COMMUNITY GARDEN and have been there around 7 hours every day working,,,And I am asking you to please come and meet me there any day and at any time ,,to see if you can help with any ideas you might have about running the garden center ,,,,you can let me know by emailing me with date and time ,,,If you refuse to come and meet me then all I can say is that you are a COMPLAINER NOT A HELPER,,,,,,I hope you will email me that you will come,,,, 1st,,not with a reason not to come,,,,,2nd ,,or to complain ,,,,,, if your email is 1st or 2nd do not bother sending it,,,, as it will only mean that you are a TOTAL COMPLAINER AND NO GOOD TO ANY COMMUNITY,,,,,,,,,,from Peter Renton


    1. (This comment went to my junk folder. Not sure why – hastily constructed or unverified email account perhaps)

      I can’t see you have anything to be upset about – this is not a hard-done by “community garden”, which the post makes clear, and claims a sufficient membership.

      As to why it continues to struggle, it may help to ask Maria Bonser, Garden Co-ordinator, of the many communications that passed between us. Should prove illuminating.

      As Homeless Week nears, I think it’s important to remember this garden was set up to engage people on the lowest incomes, in housing of last resort. To become aware that an initiative paid for by Dept of Housing, opened up to the public years ago, needed to be cleaned up again by outside parties, late 2017, only to fall back in to squalor almost immediately is disappointing – especially as it emerged the membership, who do not constitute those in most need, seemed to need enticing with free food from supermarkets to clean it up again.


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