For the past 16 years Peter has been responsible for helping hundreds of troubled teenagers out of a downward spiral of criminal behaviour and eventual jail. At the same time he has helped the Woori Yallock Creek escape its own form of jail – a life sentence of pollution, degradation and community indifference and ignorance.
As a former Principal of the Woori Yallock Farm School, Peter used agriculture and the environment as a backdrop for personal development, developing self-esteem, nurturing teamwork skills and “basically helping these kids become better people and therefore better students’’.
Regular tree-planting, water testing and bushwalks around the Yarra Valley helps “reach out to these lads’’.
“The results have been phenomenal,’’ Peter says. “There are people who are 30-plus years old now who I nurtured through our Farm School program. Many of them have said that if it wasn’t for the Farm School experience they would either be dead or in jail. Most of them were heading down a bad path and this is an early intervention program that hopefully nips them in the bud and gives them direction.’’
Peter says the program works effectively because reconnecting young people to nature gives them a sense of place in the world, especially if they are suffering from low self-esteem.
“We’ve planted thousands and thousands of trees where land around the Woori Yallock Creek was totally trampled by cattle and the water was horribly polluted. I’ve seen areas along that creek go from bare paddock to beautiful little forests that are teeming with life. That’s the legacy of these kids who are now living a range of interesting, successful lives.
“The great thing about that is you can take the current crop of kids down to these forests. If you just give these kids a little plant and tell them to plant it, they’re not going to do it – they just won’t care. But if you’re able to show them the end result they begin to see the difference they can make and they begin to take an interest in why they’re planting them and how it affects wildlife and water quality.’’
Peter moved into the Yarra Valley from Frankston 30 years ago and now lives with his wife on the banks of the Yarra River.
“I have noticed over the years how people have generally become more aware that what you dump on the side of the road eventually ends up in the rivers and our bay.
“But we’ve still got a long way to go. You only need to stand where the relatively clean water of the Yarra meets the pretty grotty looking water of the Woori Yallock to realise the damage we cause. If we can’t look after the catchments here, what hope is there for the river further down?’’
Written by Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, May 2008