Gellibrand resident Malcolm Gardiner was 16 years old when he pleaded for his parents to protect bushland along a creek on the family's new 157-acre property.
“All that bush was subject to lots of negotiation within the family so mum said if I wanted to keep it I had to make sure there were no blackberries, thistles or ragwort along it. It was a big job and my wife Kay and I are still continuing to do it now, more than 45 years later,’’ Malcolm says.
“Over the years our family has fenced the entire creek from the cows and gradually extended the fence out and kept planting. So there’s a whole range of varieties of trees through here now and I guess it’s a wonderful legacy to leave for others to enjoy’’.
The 62-year-old says the same sort of care for the creek systems is replicated throughout the Gellibrand River region.
“It’s such a beautiful place to be and because of that the people here respect it and look after it. We’ve got so many trees and good clean drinking water. People in other regions don’t have the same sort of ownership. I have a lot of confidence in the local people’’. However, that confidence does not reach to the region’s water authorities. Malcolm is currently heading a spirited campaign to scuttle Barwon Water’s plans to tap into underground aquifers in the Gellibrand catchment.
“Groundwater extraction is a hideous thing and we have witnessed first-hand the damage it is doing at nearby Boundary Creek,’’ he says. “A year after they began extracting groundwater there it dried up and it now looks like a bomb has hit the place. It’s turned a beautiful wetland into a desert and it’s getting bigger all the time”. “If test pumping of the aquifer happens in this region it will dry up all the tributaries to the Gellibrand River which will result in a chain reaction of death all the way down to the ocean’’.
Malcolm says even the planned test pump has the potential to destroy the Gellibrand River system. “That water is high in hydrogen sulphide, acidic and high in iron. It will leave an orange iron oxide sludge down the creeks and will kill everything that’s in them.”
“It will destroy this area and people won’t want to live here. Food production will drop, the beauty of the area will disappear and most of the precious environment will no longer exist.”
“These sorts of situations sometimes make you cry but there are stacks of people in this region, including the farmers, who are very conscious of looking after this place. When we have asked for help in regards to this issue people have come out of the woodwork. It’s not just the community behind us; it’s also fishing organisations, as well as the tourism and forestry industries. This is a State issue’’.
Malcolm, a self-confessed “semi-greenie”, says his love of nature is born out of natural justice.
“A lot of environment issues involve an underdog which can’t defend itself and it requires people like us to do it. Let’s hope we can preserve this precious place the way it is’’.
By Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, November 2008