“We have brown quail that come up out of the lake into our garden, and every morning while you’re doing the dishes you can watch the kangaroos and black wallabies hop past,” he says smiling. It’s a beautiful spot, even though the lake hasn’t seen water since 2002.
Paul’s sense of custodianship for the Loddon River has always been strong. Over his 60 something years of farming the land – following a family tradition that dates all the way back to 1870 – he has become an expert on indigenous pastures, native plants and animals, and Aboriginal history. And he knows how important all this knowledge is to sustaining the river and land.
There are now drastically deep cracks in the parched bed of the Loddon, caused by excessive silt, mainly from stock treading the banks of the river. “The problem has been compounded by the lack of large winter floods and a very small stream in summer that has shifted the silt into the holes,” he says somberly.
But in the last few years, Paul has noticed a shift in peoples’ attitudes toward the river and environment. “People are trying to get the land back a bit how it was,” he says. As he continues to play an important role in influencing farmers to fence off their property from the river, Paul says they are seeing the benefits. “An important part of fencing the river out is so the native grasses remain, even in drought. With native grasses growing it means you see positive things happening to that part of the river and to the land around it.”
When it comes to making progress in the environment, Paul is a strong believer in education. “You should make people want to do it, not feel they have to.” And Paul is doing just that, spreading his knowledge to farmers, children and all those in between. “I often do excursions for schools kids now, taking them out and teaching them about the river, its history and the animals. A highlight is when teachers send me pictures the kids have drawn that reflect what I’ve taught them.”
Universities from Melbourne and Canberra every year bring bus loads of students all the way out to Boort to visit Paul. He shows them around the area sharing facts and anecdotes about the river, the land, and sensitive methods of management.
The Loddon River is in Paul’s veins and he’ll never give up on it.
“That river’s my heritage. I remember the big floods of the 50s and the ducks bred so prolifically. You realise it’s not just the water that’s important, but the habitat beside the river, where things breed, that’s just as important.”
Paul’s legacy is guaranteed. His 12 grandchildren, aged from two to 13, seem destined to continue his passionate work. “The important thing is to not just tell them about it, but take them down to the river and show them!” says Paul enthusiastically. And he thinks that nowadays, “there’s no excuse for abusing the environment, and education and examples are the most important thing.”
Story and photos by Verity McLucas, September 2009.