Thursday, 11 January 2018

Another year on Earth

So it’s another year on planet Earth. Here we are, twirling slowly through space, night and day, season following season. Mildly-informed citizens know now that the gig’s up. We know in broad brush what a 2 degree rise will do (intensifying storms, reduced water, etc), and that habitat and species diversity are in precipitous decline. We can’t know how these new phenomena will play out locally. The tipping points are all around us, but we can’t know exactly what’s going to break when, only that it is already.

The gig is up. The new normal has arrived, but it’s unpredictable, playing out in every locality in a different way. Here on the southern slopes of the Macedon Ranges, perhaps we haven’t been much affected yet, though the signs and intimations are all around. The year before last, the owner of the daffodil farm told me that Spring had come 3 weeks early that year. We each have our own markers: when we lost 1000 km of mangrove fringing the Gulf of Carpentaria, in summer 2015-16, I felt sick, sad, disturbed, for weeks. The event barely registered in mainstream media. 

Now the Great Barrier Reef is 2/3rds gone, though perhaps it will come back, with a new mix of species. Bushfires in California, blizzards on the East Coast, hottest months, hottest years. And yes, perhaps the tide is turning, despite our governments, but these are disquieting times. Welcome to another year as an environmentally responsible citizen.

Riddells Landcare’s first event in 2018 will be a walk through Barrm Birrm the morning of January 26. Australia Day, Invasion Day: whatever you call it, it was a big day in the life of this country. Then we have Cleanup Australia Day, Sunday 4th March. If your idea of fun is being in the bush with enthusiastic, responsible people, this is a date for your diary. The Scouts have joined us for the last few years, and it’s wonderful to get alongside these kids and their troop leaders as they scour the 120 ha of Barrm Birrm and haul back shopping trolleys and car tyres and discarded furniture and marvel at the behaviour of humans.

And who or what exactly is Landcare in Riddells Creek? We are a group of people who support each other looking after our own properties, and in doing what we can to care for the remnants of the grassy plains and woodlands around Riddells Creek, that once covered the volcanic plains down to Melbourne. And the open forests that sit up slope, off the grasslands, which is where Barrm Birrm is located.

We do what we think is necessary, and what we can manage in the midst of busy lives. We work to our own agenda, and we are independent of government, although we talk to government. Sometimes, we speak out on the performance of government programs and policy at national, State and local level—our unofficial 2017 rating for community and government was ‘could do better’ (and that includes us in Landcare!). We need to do more, or do what we’re doing a whole lot smarter, and preferably both. A kangaroo stamp to the Macedon Ranges Shire, which has a heap of good things environmentally in the pipeline.
Clean-Up Australia Day 2016

But because we’re volunteers, we make sure we enjoy what we’re doing, alongside the hard work. At our events, you will meet interesting people, learn a little more about the bush, and leave knowing you’ve done a bit for Planet Earth.

Our next big event is Clean-Up Australia Day, Sunday 4th March. Meet at the T-junction of Gap Rd and Royal Parade, 10-12 am. Just show up, with gloves, a hat and some water. Or drop in at the Farmers Market, and tell us what’s on your mind.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Clean-Up Australia Day 2016, the Scouts loading up the trailer

Friday, 5 January 2018

A better place to live

After three weeks in Japan, I shuddered for days under the shock not of the new, but of the familiar. Landing at Tullamarine, this wide land announces itself first in the bossy, slightly sour attitude of airport terminal staff. We shrug our shoulders and bear it at as we are directed through immigration, luggage collection, customs.

In the city, I’m stuck by the dirty public places and the movement of so many different peoples. A score of races press themselves into the crowded tram, glued to their phones, kind of resenting having to put up with others. It’s that knockabout Australian attitude: “you do what you want and I’ll do what I want and let’s not get in each others’ way”. That has its strengths, but it can get tiring when no-one attends to the space between.

The Japanese have a different civility. People attend to the shared public space – it counts for a lot in Japanese life that you think about what the other person needs.   

Sweeper of fallen leaves, Tokyo

A city of 33 million is one reason to cooperate - this is the Tokyo Underground
Back in Australia, I got used to Australian culture pretty quickly, just because it is so familiar. And I can stand it because I live in Riddells Creek, where people stop for conversations in the supermarket and the post office people greet you with warmth and sharp commentary on this modern world. I stood in the lush green of the valley, imagining what the wonderful Japanese people I’d met might think of living here. The swallows had settled under the eaves at the back door, the grass was up, and the silver beet and kale had run to seed. It took me till Christmas to get on top of it.

Here at Riddells Landcare, we’re talking to the Shire’s weeds person about the options with Galenia, common name carpet weed, because it rolls like a carpet over everything. Regular readers will remember that last summer’s spraying program was stymied when our contractor’s preferred mix of chemicals was found to be “off-label”, that is, not registered for use with Galenia, despite being the only mix that had proved effective.

After consulting the expert in Agriculture Victoria, we applied this year to use a chemical registered for use with Galenia. Now we find this chemical isn’t acceptable in residential areas. What is to be done? The Shire officer suggested digging. Mature Galenia has a very long tap root, up to a metre, so summer wouldn’t suit. Perhaps in winter, when the ground is damp, a weed contractor might be tempted to forgo their spray rig and hop on the end of a crow bar and shovel.

In the meantime, we are having one last try for a licence for ‘off-label’ use of our original preferred chemicals. Such licences are only extended in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Is this an exceptional circumstance? Watch this space.

It takes time and emotional effort to dig around in the bowels of bureaucracy and negotiate these matters. Videos like these, about people in the City of Knox bringing wildlife back to their backyards, are an antidote at those moments when I feel myself slipping back into “You do what you want and I’ll do what I want and let’s not get in each others’ way”.  No, no, no. Wrong thinking! There’s a lot of us, and when we work together, we make the world a better place to live, right now!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

In Japan

Now where the hell is the lift?! We’re struggling with our suitcases to get down to the platform at Kanayama Station in Nagoya, Japan. There’s usually a lift but we don’t know the station. Out of nowhere, a woman points us in the right direction. No request from us: she just reads the situation and throws us a little help in the middle of her daily commute.

I’m in Japan for the First International Landcare Conference. The formal courtesy of the Japanese makes an immediate impression. Endless hellos and goodbyes, thank yous. Surprising at first, then charming, then a little tiring, until I give up and go with it and bow. Behind this formality lies a sensitivity to social space: a stranger reads a traveller’s predicament and helps. She’s not a stranger of course - this is her home, and her social duty is to help.

Travelling with seven Australians and one Kiwi on the preconference tour, I am struck by the way we address the space between. We don’t temper our noisy outgoing natures. We’re friendly and well-meaning, but blunt, lumbering about in a culture where the first move is to bow out of respect not just for the other, but for the business of negotiating a shared social life.

We’re visiting Shinshiro, a rural area 100 kms out of Nagoya, to meet with Akira Takahashi, a forester supporting the local community make more of its timber resources. Planted post-war, the cypress pine in these steep valleys made good money until international supply in the 1980s brought the price right down. People took jobs in neighbouring manufacturing areas, and gave up looking after their lots. Families have forgotten what they own, and children don’t think much of owning a bit of rural land. The few who still work the forests are in heading into their 80s.

A well-tended Cypress Pine lot

Akira introduces himself as a forest detective, tracking down who owns what in the forests, and showing the locals how they might go back to using local timber for heating houses and greenhouses. We head into the forest to see the pines, well-managed lots climbing up the slopes and those that have been left to grow untended. The afternoon light catches the shift to autumn in the deciduous trees.

Akira Takahashi, Shinshiro
Next morning at the community centre, we find that Akira has a couple more strings to his bow. Timber harvested locally buys a sum in a local currency that can be used to buy services from local businesses, or cashed in (if people choose) for hard cash. The 30 or so timber harvesters gather monthly to hear what has been harvested and what has been spent locally. Keeping track of the local currency brings them together and strengthens their commitment to harvesting. It builds the motivation to bring other families and their forgotten forest lots into the scheme.

He’s an outsider, Akira says. It has taken time for people to trust him. I’m struck by his vision and his patience. He’s using a local currency to make the value of logging visible in the community. The scheme is leverage too to bring local government in with a subsidy added to what the market will pay for local timber. He senses the space between himself and others, and what it will allow. As we put forward our questions and suggestions, I watch him attending to the space we make together. That’s the learning I take with me as we pile onto the bus, rowdy Antipodeans, for the next leg of our tour.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,