GUEST POST BY RANDY SERRAGLIO
Amidst the flurry of scenic field trips and interesting meetings during our last week in Australia, a scheduling conflict prevented Louise from accompanying my brother Andrew and I on a visit to a restoration project in the Mount Lofty Ranges, so I’m going to chip in on Louise’s blog with a quick post about that fun day.
(By the way, if you ever take a trip to Australia, I highly recommend tagging along with Louise while she’s on sabbatical—we got to see and do a lot of cool things that we otherwise never would have stumbled upon as mere tourons!)
My brother Andrew is in school studying Conservation and Land Management. His courses get him out in the field a fair bit, learning plants and doing hands-dirty restoration. On the Tuesday of our last week in Oz, I joined him and his classmates on a visit to their lecturer Nick’s house high in the Mount Lofty Ranges south of Adelaide.
Nick has built a straw bale house on about 37 hectares (roughly 90 acres) near the crest of a wind-swept slope, most of which was cleared for pasture many years ago. However, in the back end of Nick’s property is a remnant patch of more-or-less native bush, and he has undertaken an ambitious restoration project to extend that habitat and allow nature to reclaim some of the open field on his property.
Nick is an official participant in “on ground works to improve the environment” under the auspices of the Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association, a non-profit organization that offers landowners advice and support for projects such as “bush management, revegetation, watercourse restoration, plant ID and more.” They help landowners connect with government agencies and access funding to initiate projects that improve management and restore the land. Nick’s neighbor is also a participant, and together they co-manage the contiguous block of native bush on the hilltop behind their houses, where they’ve removed the fence along their shared property line.
It was a bleak and blustery day, with chilly temps, overcast skies and wind gusts topping 50 mph, but we had a good time despite the hand-numbing, earlobe-reddening conditions. We planted a variety of native trees, shrubs, and grasses (and picked up a few seed pods of some exotic nasties). The digging was easy, thanks to the sandy soil and recent rains.
We installed plastic guards and chicken wire around the new plants to ward off hungry kangaroos, one of which eyeballed us inquisitively from across the open field as we prepared to deploy. We also repaired a few of the wire cages that had been twisted up by the ‘roos, who apparently like to use them for scratching posts and occasionally attempt to bend them out of the way to reach the tasty young morsels.
At lunch we broke for some steaming hot potato leek soup and homemade breads, perfect ballast for such weather, and got a tour of Nick’s house. Much of the wood and other materials he used to build it had been re-purposed from various demolitions, including some beams from a faraway jetty that one of the young women in the class used to walk upon as a girl.
As big of a mess as Australia is when it comes to rampant exotic species and decimated natives, these sorts of restoration projects offer long-term hope for at least a modicum of recovery. One property at a time, landowners like Nick are taking the overwhelming job of healing the land into their own hands and making what difference they can.
I’d like to finish by thanking my brother Andrew for his hospitality throughout our trip. It was particularly helpful that he lined up a free car for us (he doesn’t have a functioning vehicle at the moment) and drove us all over the place so we wouldn’t have to worry about the added stress of driving on the wrong side of the road and crashing headlong into one of his amiable countrymen (as Yanks have been known to do). Maybe a few years down the line he’ll head over here to the States for a similar trip full of inquiry and discovery, and we can return the favor.
Cheers, Andy! Love ya, man!