action-story | 5th May, 2005

Mt Toolebewong Landcare Group

As members of the Mt Toolebewong Landcare Group near Healesville, Karen Garth and her family have spent much time “up on the hill” - removing weeds such as ragwort and sycamore maple from the narrow roadways and caring for the upper reaches of Badger Creek, a tributary of the Yarra River.

Karen, the group’s secretary, describes the Landcare group as a small community, a mix of neighbours scattered across large bush blocks. “We know that if we don’t protect the good pockets of the catchment up here, there will be problems further downstream,” she says. Until about three years ago the Landcare group, which began in 1996, worked within its own isolated community, their projects largely unseen by the wider public.

Then the group heard of a report which described Badger Creek in less than flattering terms.

“I couldn’t believe it was rated one of the ‘worst’ creeks in Victoria, if not Australia,” said Karen. “I thought it was still in pretty good nick.”

“We took umbrage at the report,” adds Norm Casey, president of the group. “We’re proud of the creek.” But the report made the group think about its position in the community. Even though its members include Healesville Sanctuary and three local schools, community awareness of the 24 member group, and more importantly its work, was limited.

“It was time to look beyond the top of the mountain,” said Norm. The group decided to also work on the middle reaches of Badger Creek, rather than just upstream.

So, on a damp Friday afternoon in May Norm, Karen and her son Daniel, plus a handful of helpers, are planting native grasses and bushes along a 500 metre stretch of the creek that runs past a small playground and the backyards of local residents.

Daniel, eight years old, and two schoolmates from Badger Creek Primary, sisters Ashley and Sarah Whittle-Herbert, take particular pride in planting delicate seedlings and then hammering in the stakes that support the protective plastic triangles.

The three children are members of the school’s junior Landcare group, which meets at lunchtime
every second Friday. Assistant Principal Mary Moore says the group can range from ten to 90 children, depending on other lunchtime activities.

Mary explains that the group has conducted Waterwatch monitoring along Badger Creek as
well as some weeding, planting and cleaning up.

The enthusiasm of the group is seen when it takes Environment Victoria on a tour of the school grounds. Daniel, Sarah and Ashley are amongst the proud tour guides, with their fellow classmates Patrick, Amber, Emma and Zac.

With the clouds hovering in the hills of the mountain ash forests, the children walk around the school pointing out the vegetable garden, the native garden, the Japanese garden, the ‘wildlife corridor’ and the Badger Bird Bank – a reclaimed bank of the sports oval.

“Watch out for bull ants,” says one child as we walk through the 100 metre corridor of bushes near Badger Creek Road. “You might get ants in your pants!” “And watch out for the ibis,” says another. “They’ll take your lunch out of your lunchbox.”

The children are very protective of their Landcare work. “This is only for the Preps and Grade Ones!” calls out one boy when he sees older children in the vegetable garden, which still has corn, pumpkin, parsley, broccoli, beans and radish.

The junior group formed two years ago. “It was prompted by a desire from Mt. Toolebewong Landcare to see more youth involved in sustainability and by the Healesville Sanctuary working a lot more with us on environmental education,” says Mary. “Also, a parent was offering to work with the children on propagating plants needed for the Sanctuary’s horticultural department.”

The school is directly opposite Healesville Sanctuary, one of Victoria’s most popular attractions. “The children learn about general flora and fauna and, in particular, about plant identification, propagation and how to plant,” says Mary. “It’s a fantastic liaison. We are so privileged.”

The liaison between the school, the Mt Toolebewong Landcare Group and Badger Creek is also a fruitful relationship, with the creek and therefore the Yarra, benefiting.

“If things are not right up here near the top of the mountain,” says Norm Casey, “there is no hope for the river further downstream.”

Story by Vin Maskell, 2005