It’s fun and easy to be green

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Sarah Dawson helps to green the Wheatbelt, getting trees in the ground at Gabbin.
Camera IconSarah Dawson helps to green the Wheatbelt, getting trees in the ground at Gabbin. Credit: David Broadway

It is a bright winter’s day in the WA Wheatbelt and in a paddock near Gabbin there is music playing.

The sound of people chattering mixes with birdsong to transform what is usually a quiet paddock into a hive of human activity.

Activate the Wheatbelt volunteers are armed with pottiputkis and kidney buckets, tools of the trade for tree planters with a serious number of trees to plant.

Volunteers Charlotte Pham, Lenny Van den Haak, Sumita Hill, Akira Higgins and Pierre Elkington.
Camera IconVolunteers Charlotte Pham, Lenny Van den Haak, Sumita Hill, Akira Higgins and Pierre Elkington. Credit: Koro Brown
Charlotte Pham prepares seedlings for planting at Gabbin.
Camera IconCharlotte Pham prepares seedlings for planting at Gabbin. Credit: David Broadway

There are more than 100 people working to plant 31,200 native species in an area which will connect two reserves, forming a nature corridor of diversity in an area that needs a boost in many ways.

Avongro deputy chair Dr Liz Kington describes Activate the Wheatbelt as a program born from the organisation’s focus on revegetating and regenerating.

Her role is to work with a community of volunteers on annual Activate tree-planting events, re-vegetating cleared landscapes and reviving biodiversity habitat.

Melaleucas, eucalypts, acacias and hakeas were among the diverse species planted in days.

But the Gabbin event is about more than trees. During the last weekend of June, people converged on the small town.

Some came by bus, a journey that took them 245km from Midland via Northam or Toodyay, Goomalling, Dowerin, Wyalkatchem, Koorda and then along the Gabbin-Trayning Road.

The WA Now and Then website says, with a population of 10, Gabbin “has all but ceased to exist”.

As with so many small country towns, the changing nature of farming has changed the nature of communities; people have to work hard to keep them strong.

But for this weekend at the end of June, and for one weekend a year during the three years prior, the tiny town is well and truly alive.

The Gabbin tree-planting weekend is part of an ongoing eight-year mission to provide a 25km, continuous, vegetated habitat link for the vulnerable malleefowl bird (Leipoa ocellata) known to inhabit neighbouring reserves (particularly the Gabbin and Narkal reserves) in the eastern Wheatbelt.

With assistance from State NRM and the National Landcare programs, Activate is making possible the vision of Gabbin farmer Ros McFarlane and her partner, the late Bob Huxley, while contributing to the revegetation of native habitat in the farming region.

In 2017, Active’s volunteer crew planted 27,500 seedlings with 40 tree planters in less than two days.

Avongro deputy-chair Dr Liz Kington works with the Activate the Wheatbelt program.
Camera IconAvongro deputy-chair Dr Liz Kington works with the Activate the Wheatbelt program.

This revegetated 50ha now connects to the area planted with 26,000 seedlings in 2016, creating a corridor between the Gabbin reserve, a 250ha nature reserve where the malleefowl are known to live, and the Mulji reserve to the north.

Promotional material encourages people to take part in more than just a weekend of environmental healing, with live music, DJs, dancing, community and education completing an enticing package.

The event is a drug-free and family-friendly affair open to all ages.

All meals are provided, while you camp in your own tent or undercover in the town hall.

Dr Kington said this year’s event gave people who cared about the environment a chance to contribute in a fun and hands-on way.

“We know there are malleefowl in the Gabbin reserve, and some were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one roosting in a tree during a night walk,” she said.

Dr Kington said that during this year’s event a smoking ceremony was conducted by Aboriginal elder Mort Hansen in memory of Mr Huxley, the farmer who inspired the plantings.

“The ceremony was a way of recognising Bob’s contribution to the sandalwood industry, to tree cropping and to land care,” she said.

Dr Kington said farmers were encouraged to incorporate sandalwood trees in their revegetation plantings.

In an area which calls itself the “Sandalwood Shire”, the financial benefits of doing so were benefits that were in addition to the environmental ones.

“Sandalwood is a high-value product which will enable farmers to increase biodiversity while getting the chance to earn something as well,” she said.

While funding for landcare- related activities was getting harder to access, Activate the Wheatbelt was keen to foster planting events similar to Gabbin’s.

Even if the projects only boosted the population for a weekend a year, they had a positive impact on both the environment and the communities that lived there.

“At Gabbin, there is a keen community which is managing the hall. They encourage its use for events like ours,” she said.

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