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Changing The World ... One Park At A Time

Date: 15-Apr-09

Tree Planting © Planet Ark

All credit to Graeme Phipps and his dedication as a Site Coordinator.

As a community, perhaps the key thing about our large local park at Ermington on the Parramatta River NSW was to realise that it was worth caring for. We saw how quickly the environment repairs itself - rewarding everyone for their small but targeted efforts. Words like ‘biodiversity' and ‘sustainability' can be off-putting, but you can see the results of these concepts demonstrated - George Kendall Riverside Park and our upstream sister park at Pemberton Street Reserve.  The animals and plants vote with their presence. They give us a big ‘thumbs up'.

Beginnings

Our community work began in 2004 when a road works project threatened many mature Giant Lillies - Spear Lillies to be exact. We organised a ditch digger and truck and relocated 52 of these magnificent plants to the adjacent park. And they all survived! Not only that, but nine flowered last year giving a stunning display of bright red flowers.

From this we began Bushcare, and in 2005 held our first National Tree Day event. Since our park was once a tip site and needs further capping we decided not to plant trees as such but instead smaller ‘habitat' plants indigenous to our area.  Fortunately Parramatta City Council maintains a nursery at Cowells Lane to produce exactly those plants. Since 2005 we have planted over 16,000 habitat plants.

Where once were weeds there are now wattles, hopbush, Dianellas, wandering postman, sarsparilla, kangaroo grass - all growing strongly. In springtime there are masses of mauves, yellows, reds and white flowers. The thick plantings choke out weeds and provide habitat for a range of wildlife. During the recent drought, the park was home to over 30 Brown quail, 30 Double-barred finches and also about 20 Zebra finches.

We had recently reconstructed a large native Kangaroo Grass meadow.  It is really rare to have such a habitat so close to the centre of an international city - it may be unique in the world. I mean, we can see the Sydney CBD from the grassland.  Shortly after mowing ceased, various grassland butterflies came to live in the grassland, so we decided that National Tree Day 2006 would extend this area with more habitat plantings. The community supports Tree Day activities in their hundreds, and we supply refreshments plus guidance on how to plant.    Not everything works out as planned. However, since the drought broke we found out this area was much wetter than we thought. Many of the plants perished, but others of course thrived.

Continuing Transormation and Community Party

National Tree Day 2007 was also centred on George Kendall Riverside Park. It is a very large park with a lot of area to cover, but since we had so much community support we decided to use it. We take photos of all planting days (with the people) and make up posters for subsequent years so that people can see just how much the park is being transformed by their work.  This time we followed Tree Day with a community party supported by Parramatta City Council. Events included a wildlife show to demonstrate "What kind of animals do you think will move into the habitat areas we plant when they grow a bit?" Goannas, possums, birds, lizards...they were all there.  

The community party included activities such as jumping castles, face painting, and painting stepping stones.  Then, a few months later, we followed up with a park party for kids: setting their stepping stones, and then stepping on them through the bush. Our younger kids had discovered that it was not only wildlife that had moved into the habitat they had built - bush fairies were there also. They use flowers, spider's webs, anything sparkly and also feathers that birds no longer need to make items and generally clean up the bush. But they aren't able to clean up any large rubbish such as drink bottles, cans etc, thoughtlessly discarded by humans.

Celebrations

2008. By now National Tree Day at George Kendall Riverside Park had become a major event. Since the community party was such a success we followed Tree Day 2008 with the park celebrations for the 50th Anniversary of our local Ermington United Sports and Recreation Club. It was a stunning day.  Funds raised from local sponsors such as Shell Clyde Refinery, allowed us to hire a photographer to make a full record of the day.

The planting session began with a Welcome to County conducted by Uncle Greg Simms. This was particularly moving because a family of kookaburras began singing just as Uncle Greg had completed a story and began welcoming everyone in Dharug. Then Uncle Wes Marne conducted a smoking ceremony including leaves of the angophora tree that shaded everyone, because that tree would have been there over 200 years ago. All the while Graham King was playing his didgeridoo with clap sticks. It was a moving ceremony for everyone, including our indigenous hosts who went on to spend time with everyone and then to smoke the nearby midden in honour of ancestors.  

Needless to say, the plantings all went very well. Over 20 species have been planted.

Where To From Here?

NTD 2009? - Well, the big party has to come to an end. We have a lot of in-planting to do, but this is more or less on-going maintenance work. After four years of George Kendall Riverside Park getting star billing (which got us all going) our Tree Day focus needs to shift to other sites that need community help.  It has been a great success as evidenced by the many community members who mention how much they now like the park, and spend time in it. It is more welcoming not only to wildlife, but to humans. A lot of the vandalism and littering has also reduced; people seem to behave better when they are in an area of ‘good vibes'.

Learnings

Perhaps the biggest learning was to know that caring and conserving wild areas begins at home. I mean, literally, at home. Right where we are standing.  Right where we are living. The conservation frontier is not just over in Africa or somewhere remote.  It's here. And also, that conservation is not really practical unless you have community support.

National Tree Day events also inspired us to not only reconstruct indigenous habitat but to repair declared threatened ecological plant communities that are in the park. Saltmarsh along the riverfront is one such community. We have successfully written grants to get professional work done in these most precious areas, and then follow up with ongoing work in this rather unglamorous habitat. We also do saltmarsh work a little further upstream at Pemberton Street (Baludarri Wetlands) where we re-created saltmarsh as a pilot project. It was a phenomenal success, as shown by the many hundreds of fish and fry photographed in the marsh at the last king tide.  From these results it has been decided to continue with the program of re-creating the saltmarsh.

So where and when does all of this end?  Well, we know that everything is interlinked. For us, our ‘park emblem' is the resident breeding white-bellied sea-eagles. Since 1992 they have had trouble with the more toxic nature of the area here, but the river is slowly improving. As we rebuild the habitat brick by brick, beginning with such humble areas as saltmarsh, we know that from the saltmarsh and mangroves come the nutrients that feed the invertebrates that feed the fish that these birds need, so eventually these magnificent top level birds will also thrive and survive.   

Thanks to Graeme Phipps for his dedication as a Tree Day Site Coordinator over the years, and for putting together this wonderful story.

To find out how to get involved in National Tree Day visit treeday.planetark.org

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