Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wonga Wetlands: Recreating Floodplain Habitat

Welcome to Wiradjuri Country and the Wonga Wetlands!  Wiradjuri People lived along the rivers of the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and MacQuarie for more than 40,000 years. In the last 200 years and since the building of the Hume Dam and the regulation of the river many of the wetlands in the floodplain dried out. The creation of the Wonga Wetland is an attempt to rehabilitate and repair the environment using reclaimed water from Albury City Council’s treatment facility.

We found the wetlands teeming with bird life. When the project commenced only the older River Red Gums were to be seen. With no cattle and people around the younger trees are sprouting in the thousands. It is a peaceful place and a sanctuary for the more than 150 species of birds that now call it home. It is also a great example of that phrase, “if you build it they will come”!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Anne-Marie: Naturopath, Herbalist, Wildlife Carer & Raw Food Coach!

It is a delight to meet Anne-Marie. We came to visit, interested in learning about her wildlife land trust property, but left having learnt much more. Over tea and an amazing vegan passionfruit cheesecake we connect with Anne-Marie who invites us to camp overnight on her property. As the sun sets, we settle into her comfy chairs and over a few glasses of red wine, she tells us her story. 

Anne-Marie first settled in Western Australia when she migrated to Australia in the early 1980’s from Southern Ireland. She now lives on a Wildlife Land Trust property in Oakview, Queensland with her partner; nestled in the hills along an amazing creek, surrounded by bushland and wildlife.

Anne-Marie is passionate about Australian wildlife and devotes her life to caring for injured and orphaned wallabies, kangaroos, flying foxes and many other animals.  She works from her beautiful mud brick home running an online business as a naturopath and herbalist. Money raised from selling wildlife supplies goes toward caring for the little joeys and other animals she rescues. It costs about a thousand dollars and about 2 years to raise a joey and release it back to the wild, so the work of carers like Anne-Marie (many of whom are migrants to this country) is a wonderful contribution to conservation.

In 2005, Anne-Marie was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal cancer.  The doctors gave her 3 months to live and said she would have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Instead, Anne-Marie used her skills as a naturopath and herbalist, and found her own solutions.

Today, she is a committed vegan and says she is healthier than she has ever been and is also free of many of the other ailments that she used to suffer from such as allergies, arthritis, asthma and a poor immune system.  In between being a substitute mum to rescued wildlife, she runs vegan-cooking classes, to share her passion for eating healthy, delicious food with no animal products.

In the morning we go for a walk on the beautiful property. Besides the vegie patch, and the numerous sheds surrounding the house, there are 270 acres of habitat and many farm dams on the land. Incredible to realise that places such as this are more affordable than your average house on a half-acre block in a Sydney suburb.

During our walk, we see first hand the contribution of Wildlife Land Trust properties to both wildlife and habitat. While Australia is fortunate to have one of richest collection of endemic species on the planet, only 11.5% of our landmass has some form of protection as a protected area. We have one of
the worst records for mammal extinction in the world, and because many of our species are endemic, they are then lost to the planet forever. Private landholders who are dedicating large tracts of land for the protection of wildlife are making amazing contributions to conservation.

Our walk has ended and it is time to leave. We say our goodbyes and leave, feeling inspired by Anne-Marie’s story and glad to have learnt a little more about the concept of the Wildlife Land Trust properties, a concept that is spreading worldwide.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Portraits in Pink Travels to Stanhope Gardens Library

It was very inspiring to be at the Pink Sari Exhibition at the Library in Stanhope Gardens. The project has increased the breast cancer screening rate in the sub-continental community by about 8-10%! Exciting to know that the project plans to broaden its scope to other states and that I can continue to be involved as we travel.

In conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, Palmera Projects has partnered with the beautiful women at Pink Sari Project to produce a video to raise awareness about breast screening among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities.

Being a key community of support for Palmera, they recently found out that this community has one of the highest prevalence of breast cancer, so they couldn’t help but do their bit!

Start the conversation with the women in your life. Help SHARE and LIKE the video.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Magnetic Island: Sunshine, Sand and Solar Energy

After travelling through the outback, it’s been really great to finally hit the coast and see a bit of blue and green. We’ve took the ferry to Magnetic Island for a couple of days of camping and enjoyed the laid back feel of the island and the great opportunities for a swim in the warm waters and a bit of snorkelling. More than 85% of all Australians live within 50km of the coast!  I may be biased but I think Australia’s has some of the world’s best beaches…and many of them are completely deserted!

We also discovered that Magnetic Island was one of seven locations across Australia that is being transformed into a ‘solar city’ as part of the Australian Government’s Solar Cities program. I read that the Government is investing $94 million in the Solar Cities program with the intention of transforming the way we think and use energy. We were amazed to discover this innovative skate park project that advertises the fact that it is not just a play station…it is a power station!  The 100KW system on the roof of this skate park was designed with a lot of community consultation and peak demand on the island is now lower than 2007 levels. The project has been a great result for the community and a wonderful example of integrating passive and active recreation with energy production.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Barkly Highway: Droughts, Dinosaurs & the Inland Sea

In the last week, we have travelled east from Three Ways Junction (just north of the Devil’s Marbles) to Charter’s Towers on the Barkly Highway. It has been a journey of discovery for both of us. The highlights have included camping at Porcupine Gorge, discovering Australia’s Dinosaur trail via Richmond and Hughendon where marine and terrestrial dinosaurs once roamed, learning a little more about our inland sea, and visiting my friend Megs, at Charter’s Towers.

Many of the areas along the Barkly Highway have been in drought for 3 years. If you live along the coasts of Australia, it is hard to comprehend what 3 years of drought can do to a landscape. Cattle stations, some of which might be the size of a small European country have been abandoned. Many people have committed suicide because they are unable to service the huge debts that have accumulated. So, it is quite ironic that the secrets that are being unearthed around these parts and the amazing geological formations to be found here are all caused by a great inland sea that covered much of Australia.

We are really amazed to learn that thousands of dinosaur fossils have been discovered in these parts and that many fossils still lie buried here. In Richmond, we marvel at the Pliosaur, a carnivorous, marine reptile that has been unearthed by a local grazier, in the late 80’s.  It was perfectly preserved and the best example of such a specimen in the world, and yet it lies tucked away in this little museum in Richmond, with many travellers only learning about its existence when they travel this highway.

It’s hard to imagine that species as dominant and widespread as the dinosaurs could eventually become extinct and the museum discusses the possible causes of extinction. They argue that a single
event such as a meteor hitting the earth is unlikely to be the sole reason. Other events such as the rise of flowering plants and insects would have reduced the diet of the plant eaters, causing a fall in their population and therefore reducing available food for meat eaters. Volcanic eruptions may also have warmed the planet causing changes in sea levels and consequent changes in local climates as was the case in central Australia. We are both quite amazed to see the map indicating the extent of the inland sea and we wonder if it is too far fetched to imagine a new inland sea if sea levels rise again.

Curious about this, I’ve asked Dr Google for the answer. According to maps published by National Geographic and an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia will get an inland sea if global warming continues and melts the world's ice caps and glaciers, lifting sea levels about 70 metres. This could take about 5,000 years and according to Dr Neville Nicholls, a climate expert at Monash University, scientists have known for decades that the upper end of sea-level rises from melting ice would be around the 70 metre mark. Of course for those of us living in places like Sydney, it is the first metre that’s predicted for the end of this century that is a worry!

Charter’s Towers is the last major town on the Barkly Highway, before we hit the coast. I’m excited to catch up with my friend Megs, who I first met 5 years ago when we both volunteered on a Conservation & Photography project in South Africa and shared a room for 4 weeks. We haven’t met since. We spend a day with Megs and Mick (see last 5 photos) on their lovely heritage home at Charters and Megs takes us to Dalrymple Park, where we both have fun with our telephoto lenses.

It’s almost time to hit the coast and head back to Sydney for our various commitments in October. We’ve learnt lots driving the Barkly Highway and wander why it’s treasures are not more widely talked about.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sacred Landscape or Massive Monolith?

For many non-indigenous Australians, Ayers Rock is just a massive monolith in the middle of the Australian continent that is begging to be conquered and photographed. To the local Pitjantjatjara people, Uluru is a sacred place with great spiritual significance.  For thousands of years, they conducted both men’s and women’s ceremonies here. With the discovery of the rock by Europeans, this tradition was tragically impacted. We literally trampled all over a sacred landscape.
We renamed it Ayers Rock and we proceeded to climb it and photograph it with little or no respect for the wishes of the traditional custodians who had considered this to be a sacred site for thousands of years.

Today, more than half the native mammal species that lived around this area are locally extinct and many alien species have suppressed the native grasses. Within a short span of time, we have managed to destroy a landscape that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years.

People of both cultures are now managing the park and I wonder is it possible for the two traditions to co-exist?  I want to believe the answer is yes. We are a lot more enlightened than we were 200 years ago, but we have destroyed their way of life and have insisted for many years that there is only one way to live.

So, we gave them the dole, we built them houses and wondered why they didn’t aspire to a 40 hour working week and a life of debt that will enslave you for 30 years or more. Perhaps it is because they know better. If you have come from a culture that only worked about 4 hours a day to provide for your basic needs, then why would you aspire to be locked up in an office for the better part of the day?

I often wonder if the lack of respect in western cultures for the natural environment is because most urbanised people have lost their connection to the land. They see the environment, as something outside of their existence and find this idea of connection foreign.

While at the park visitors’ centre we watched a video, depicting an indigenous person’s perspective of how westerners behave. The video says that the ‘white fellas’ are like ants. They all come together to the rock, then run around taking photographs and climbing to the top. At sunrise and sunset we
congregate at the same spots, then minutes after the sun has risen or set we disperse. There are a lot of trigger happy tourists but hardly any contemplation to discover the spirit of this incredible place.

While we think of indigenous people as nomadic, I am surprised to learn they only travelled within the boundaries of their ‘country’. They were responsible for managing the land and were entitled to its bounty including the animals that existed in it. The waterholes were a key part of their life. They travelled from one to another, learning or teaching the dreamtime stories, but only within the bounds of their own country. They hunted at the waterholes very cautiously; only taking the last animal, so as to not spook the rest of the herd and often digging a little well some distance away to avoid leaving their scent at the waterhole.

I am begging to understand why the rock is sacred. It was life giving. So they ‘worshipped’ the land that provided for them and some of these practices were gender specific and taboo if you were of the opposite gender. Hence the restrictions on taking photos as they have no wish to inadvertently see places that are off limits. I read that the Anangu’s request to refrain from climbing the rock comes from their desire to keep all visitors safe but also because the path crosses a sacred traditional Dreamtime track.

The ‘white fellas’ are slowly learning to respect this sacred landscape and to learn to connect with nature rather than to conquer it.

I believe the rock is a sacred landscape. What about you?