It all started when one of Ian’s old school friends told him to stop complaining about the poplar tree problem along the Mitchell River’s banks, and to do something about it. This spurred Ian into action and led him on a 10 year journey to form the Bairnsdale Urban Landcare group and eradicate poplars along the river, replacing them with native vegetation and a walking track. “Since we built a walking track between the two bridges it has brought people back to the river and it is now being used for recreational purposes,” he says.
“This town turned it’s back on the river many years ago when it was no longer of importance commercially…it has only been in recent years that we have been able to get people to take notice of the river and to bring back its beauty.”
But it was not an easy task and Ian had to endure hate mail and being labelled a vandal for wanting to chop town the town’s “pretty poplars”.
“It took a while for people to understand that what they called pretty poplars were bad for the river.
“They were planted about 80 years ago, perhaps to beautify the area and to stabilise the banks of the river, but they’ve had the opposite affect. They are shallow rooted plants that have dragged a huge amount of soil from the river banks and done a huge amount of damage.”
The East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Bairnsdale Urban Landcare group and the East Gippsland Shire Council all assisted with funding the Mitchell River banks makeover
“Our latest project involves dividing the riverbank up into 18 different lots which we call Adopt a Site. We’ve had schools, young people, families and other interested groups sign up to look after these sites and to plant native trees.”
Ian believes the Adopt a Site project is not only vital for repairing the river’s banks, but that it is also important for teaching the next generation about how and why they need to look after their river.
“One of our aims with Landcare is to involve the younger people to make them aware of what the environment’s about.”
It seems like Ian and the Bairnsdale Landcare group are determined to make sure the Bairnsdale community never turns its back on the Mitchell River again. And this will be especially important as the river faces what Ian perceives to be its greatest challenges in the future: climate change and the chance it might be dammed.
“To prepare for climate change I think we need to keep planting trees, have better farming practices, move towards reducing the amount of waste we’ve created and to stop burning fossil fuels.”
Ian also believes that if the Mitchell was dammed it would be an environmental disaster.
“The river around here is pretty much an icon in Australia. I would be sad to see it ever touched by damming.”