It’s official, ladies and gentlemen, I am now a landcarer. I join over 100,000 volunteers across Australia working on landcare projects that are focused on sustainable land management practices and environmental conservation. I’m also a newbie Canberra nature mapper. Better late than never, I guess. Over the last six months, I’ve teamed up with some of my neighbours to form a registered group to look after our community park. It is lucky that we had our own resident ecologist because, with his assistance, we identified something that needed protection. Even our ecologist was surprised.

My family has known for years that areas of the park had some lovely native grass – spear grasses (Austrostipa sp.) and kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) – as well as some native grassland plants, clinging to the edges, or under, trees. We also had an inkling that if the native grasses were allowed to grow rather than be mown, they might out compete some of the weedy, exotic grasses. But who would believe us? Nothing to see here, right?

When the drought broke, the resident ecologist discovered more and more native woodland and grassland plants at the park, and I started to incorporate these plants into my verge garden. My neighbour had also seen many interesting looking plants popping up down the park and she talked to me about starting a park care group. So our little adventure began and soon we were joined on this journey by some other enthusiastic neighbours. We embarked on months of self-initiated environmental assessments, community engagement and government liaison.

It is fair to say that not everyone is on the same page. Myths of snakes in long grass, experience of devastating bushfires and differences in aesthetics, beget many different reactions. I certainly get it because that was me. Of course, I am “passionate” about conservation, as was pointed out to me, but it is knowledge, not passion, that motivates me, ladies and gentlemen. As a team, we did our homework (ie. the biodiversity surveys, etc) and the park woodland did the rest.

And the result? A small patch of the park has now been officially recognised as critically endangered box-gum grassy woodland. This is both horrifying and exciting. It is horrifying because there is so little box-gum grassy woodland left in eastern Australia due to urban development and unsympathetic agricultural practices. It is exciting because we now have the chance to work together – both government and local landcare volunteers – to ensure that this precious ecological community is cared for appropriately. Well, that’s my view anyway. I can’t speak for the government or the broader community.

So we’ve planted a few plants, not many, to shelter the small birds. We have also been weeding, weeding, weeding. It’s been wet so there are many weeds. Weeding has been a learning exercise in itself because we are no experts on what is and isn’t a weed. Thankfully there are a lot of resources, including the resident ecologist, to help us make those distinctions.

I haven’t had time to swan around taking photos. I tried to combine my photography and land care interests at one point but I ended up leaving my camera in the grass when I got distracted by some weeds. Don’t worry, it was still there when I realised my error. I do, however, encourage swanning around with a camera because images (plus the expert narrative that goes along with them) tell a story and the story can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to action. So I haven’t completely given up.

Because the conservation patch is a grassy woodland, it has delivered, once left unmown, an outpouring of beautiful native grasses the likes of which I have never seen in our park. Let me show you.

Like the rest of Australia, Canberra has a growing multicultural population. Although my ancestors arrived here in 18th century, I include myself in that multicultural group. This multiculturalism extends to our weeds, gardens and pastures. Our nature reserves, and the indigenous species that depend on them, cannot withstand the onslaught of these “threatening processes” unless we do nature differently.

Exotic wild oats, St John’s Wort and Yorkshire Fog grass in Kama Nature Reserve

I’ve got lots of ideas about “ecologically sustainable development” and probably not very original ones. Improved community education about environmental conservation needs to reflect where we are as a community, so tailoring nature “education” to Australia’s increasingly multicultural population, through programs and materials in languages other than English, could be really helpful. I would also love to see even more community and government initiatives to re-wild and connect our urban green spaces. Canberrans, the latter is already happening and you can join in now. Contact Landcare or the ACT government to find out how you can get involved. The work is intellectual; it is physical; it is communal and I love it. Don’t wait until you are over 50, like me, before you get your A into G. There’s a job that suits all abilities.

In closing, I offer my best wishes to all who celebrate the coming festive season and to those of you who do not. My hope for the new year is that you too may have access to a resident ecologist and/or team up with likeminded friends to turn your dreams into reality.

Take care, everyone. Don’t be too naughty. Maybe I’ll stop for photos.

Kind Regards.
Tracy

57 thoughts on “Being Authentic Is Hard Work

  1. What a lovely and beautiful post, Tracy! I hate all the building in see in my area. It is pushing all of the wildlife into the residential areas 😢 We live kind of on the edge of town, though, so I am not too far away from some open areas. When I get outdoors, it refreshes my soul. I love all of the beautiful photos you included. More please! 😊 …and happy holidays to you and your family!

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  2. While the species of grasses and forbs are different, many of the approaches you mention are similar to those used here. It seems to me that more and more people are coming to appreciate the importance of native plants; it’s great to see the same appreciation growing there.

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  3. Congratulations to you and Higgins Landcare. It’s hard yakka but rewarding in so many ways, not least because you learn to read the landscape differently.

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  4. Such beautiful grasses Tracy and what a wonderful project! 💚🌿 Wishing you and yours a blessed festive season too 💖 xxx

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  5. Welcome to the Landcare community Tracy. You will find so many resources that will help you with your patch. I was involved in helping a farmer conserve a box-gum grassy woodland on his place in the late 1990 – early 2000’s in the Armidale area I think.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. It was a long time coming. It is marvellous how much confidence a really good weeder can give you.
      Box-gum grassy woodland is good grazing country so I admire any farmer who sets aside this land for conservation, or perhaps they are legally required to conserve it. Either way, it is a good outcome for the environment and the species that depend on these ecosystems.

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  6. Well said, Tracy. Congratulations on both a beautiful post and joining a worthy cause.

    Your images reminded me of the many photogenic types of grass I used to see in the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne. The landscaping team use grasses to great effect, especially when the wind blows their delicate stems and seed heads in the air – bending, straightening, dipping and twisting.

    I have a wonderful little book called Field Guide to Weeds in Australia by Charles Lamp & Frank Collet – 3rd edition published in 1989. I bought it at random on a ‘sale’ table in a bookstore many, many years ago and have found it a good resource for many of our grasses (and weeds). I wonder if it has been published in an up-to-date version.

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    1. Thamks, Vicki. I love being in a sea of grass. Like the sea, it gets a little intimidating though when you can’t see over it. That’s very useful to have a weed book like that. I will Google it. There are so many new weeds, it would be hard to stay current, I would imagine.

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  7. This is so exciting, Tracy!! Thank you for sharing the photos of the wild grasses in their natural state. My son-in-law in San Diego has a thriving side business doing environmental conservation and restoration.

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  8. What a stunningly excellent enterprise, Tracy. I don’t need to tell you that it’s so-ooo important to re-establish indigenous species, for the good of other indigenous species that rely on them, and anyway the grasses are very beautiful. Hats of to you and fellow gardeners.

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  9. This warmed my heart, Tracy! Such good work you are doing. The only native plant nursery we had has long since gone out of business and, sadly, not another has stepped in to replace it. Keep up the good work.

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  10. Good for you Tracy! Such important work. We are very fortunate here that our nature is cherished and we have a wonderful team of biologists and naturalists who make sure it is protected. If we didn’t I think many of us would care enough to do the kind of work your are doing. Kudos and keep up the amazing work. Happy Holidays to you!

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    1. Thank you, Tina. We have learnt so much through our volunteering efforts. It has also kept me very busy.
      I am sure you would love this type of land care work, Tina, if your island’s biologists and naturalists ever needed assistance.

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  11. Fascinating, Tracy. I know that from the native grassland in “my” wilderness park in California, there were two things related to fire. Some of the native grasses and wildflowers needed it, and, after fire, they came back stronger. The danger, of course, is a grassland fire that grabs onto trees. I love what you’re doing. I know that one reason “my” Refuge is a refuge for me is because it’s a refuge for the plants and animals that pre-existed farming, etc. Sometimes I wish some of those people would show up — speaking English, of course — so I could talk to them.

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    1. That is the same for our grasses, Martha. Some seeds don’t need fire, but will germinate from the smoke alone. I wonder if that is true of our kangaroo grass seeds in the park? We have now had a couple of rainy years since the bushfires when the park was blanketed in smoke for months. So when it wasn’t mown, it just popped up everywhere because it had been prepped.
      You chose a good place to settle, Martha. The Refuge has all the stories you need there. I wonder if there are middens there that would give a clue as to how pre-farming communities lived? Did they have a permanent settlement or did they just pass through? Let me know if you ever hear from those people.

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      1. I know what those people did. In my valley they combined semi-permanent dwellings (caves) with hunting. They didn’t cultivate crops. All the veggie things they needed are all right here. I’m hoping next summer to do a story on a guy who’s an expert on the pictographs all around the Valley. I will learn a lot from him about things I do not know.

        And, anyway, I think I “know” those early people somehow. ❤️

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  12. What a fabulous and worthwhile opportunity. It seems you’re lucky have them, and they’re lucky to have you, and the whole country stands to gain from your efforts, even if most of them neither know nor care. Keep us in te loop of this exciting project.

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  13. Such an uplifting post, Tracy. What a wonderful thing you and your friends are doing. Your photos are a record of your success, and the grasses are so beautiful and photogenic. Best wishes to you, your TL and beautiful boys for the festive season.

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    1. Thanks, Jane. Hopefully we will have more photos soon of the big and small? Have you been to Bilby’s Blooms at the Pillaga? I would like to go there one day. It is a nursery.
      I hope you have an uneventful Christmas, Jane. All the best.

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      1. I haven’t been Bilby Blooms, but they come to our market in Mudgee a couple of times a month bringing not only a selection of native plants but also glorious native flowers to buy by the bunch.

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  14. Just wonderful Tracy. I’m so glad to hear about this — grassroots (heh, heh) project. I believe this is the wave of the future as governments have become more removed from local communities and their needs.

    Please keep us updated. And Happy holidays to you and your family, too! xxoo

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  15. This is such a heartwarming thing. Good for you and your community. It speaks to how like minded people and those with willing hearts can make a difference. Wishing you the best this holiday season.

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