Tree change: How one Orchard and an army of volunteers can make a difference

Building Bridges to Boorowa Landcare project brings city volunteers to the bush

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Building Bridges to Boorowa volunteer Dick Orchard takes a break from tree planting. Photo: Andrew Scott

Building Bridges to Boorowa volunteer Dick Orchard takes a break from tree planting. Photo: Andrew Scott

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Annual tree-planting community project just one of many collaborations being celebrated as Landcare turns 30.

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GOING by his name alone, planting trees should come naturally for retiree Dick Orchard.

But having spent decades working in Telstra's telephone exchanges in NSW, the former engineer hadn't had much opportunity to get out in nature and get his hands dirty.

That was until he heard about a unique tree-planting project run by North Sydney Council and a rural community Landcare group.

"Friends of ours had been going out to the NSW Lachlan Valley year after year to help plant trees, and said why not come along," said Dick, 80.

So in 2015, Dick and his wife Betty - who at the time were living in the north Sydney suburb of Willoughby, but have since moved to the Gold Coast hinterland - signed up for the Building Bridges to Boorowa project.

This annual project takes city-based Bushcare volunteers from Sydney out to the rural NSW town of Boorowa on a weekend tree-planting trip to revegetate degraded farmland and help plant thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses.

A unique partnership between North Sydney Council's Bushland Team and Boorawa Community Landcare, the project has now been running for 20 years, and in 2015 picked up a NSW Landcare Award.

In that time it's seen more than 60,000 native trees, shrubs and ground covers planted on local properties, and is one of the many successful joint initiatives being celebrated this month as the Landcare movement marks its 30th anniversary.

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"We travelled from Sydney for five hours on a bus, having lunch on the way, and spent the next two days in Boorowa," said Dick, of the working weekend. "When we arrived we got stuck in straight away."

"I had never done anything like that before. It was damn good and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great way to see the country, and we also saw some amazing parrots and platypus too.

"And at the end of the weekend, we had a barbecue around a big camp fire."

Leaving a legacy

Dick has his friends Sissi and Ken Horiz to thank for introducing him to the project.

The couple from Cremorne on Sydney's north shore were some of the first volunteers to sign up, 20 years ago, and went on more than 15 of the annual trips together.

Sadly Ken passed away a year ago, and when Sissi returns to Boorawa this September she will make a visit to a special plaque which local farmers installed on the property in his honour.

Sissi and Ken Horiz on the planting weekend in 2015. Photo: Andrew Scott

Sissi and Ken Horiz on the planting weekend in 2015. Photo: Andrew Scott

"Ken was born and brought up in Moree, so he loved the country. Getting muddy and wet was all part of the attraction, as well as the camaraderie," said Sissi, 77.

"And the hospitality is so generous. I always say, I walk away with more than I have brought."

She said Ken would be overwhelmed knowing the farmers he had made connections with, have paid tribute to him by planting a tree and dedicating the plaque in his honour.

"He would think it is the most wonderful thing in the world. But for us, doing this is just something we enjoyed doing together."

It is thanks to the work of volunteers like Sissi, Ken and Dick that the flourishing trees are now helping to drop the water table, increase habitat corridors for the threatened superb parrot and many other species of wildlife, provide shelter for the ewes during lambing, act as windbreaks and erosion control, and help absorb excessive amounts of carbon dioxide.

North Sydney Council's Bushcare Officer Andrew Scott has been taking the groups out now for five years.

"When we survey volunteers afterwards, they tell us how they really value having that relationship with the farmers and learning about the challenges these farming families face," he said.

"Often people in the city hear about these problems, but don't know how they can actually help. This project literally provides a vehicle for people in the city to be able to help and repair the environment."

Bridges to Boorowa volunteers get to work planting trees. Photo: Andrew Scott

Bridges to Boorowa volunteers get to work planting trees. Photo: Andrew Scott

Landcare NSW chief executive Dr AdrianZammit said the Building Bridges to Boorowa project is a "unique partnership" that brings together like-minded people from the city and country, but said with the threat of climate change, biodiversity and plastic pollution, more needs to be done.

"It's clear Australia needs Landcare now more than ever," Dr Zammit said.

"For 30 years, the Landcare movement has made Australia a better place by directly working with local communities to build more sustainable environments and agricultural practices, but we're only getting started."

He said it is vital rural and urban communities continue to work together to protect natural resources and promote sustainable land management.

Three decades of Landcare

Landcare brought farmers and conservationists together 30 years ago - and now the movement is looking to attract new volunteers to help care for the environment.

On July 20 1989, the late former Prime Minister Bob Hawke launched the national formation of the Landcare movement to help protect the Australian landscape for future generations.

Three decades later, Landcare has evolved into a national movement of over 6,000 groups and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, all playing a central role in sustainable agricultural practices and conservation activities, while also developing and enhancing community spirit.

Bob Hawke's granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price said Landcare's 30th anniversary was a moment to acknowledge its success.

Sophie Taylor-Price is continuing her grandfather Bob Hawke's environmental vision through Landcare.

Sophie Taylor-Price is continuing her grandfather Bob Hawke's environmental vision through Landcare.

"Thirty years ago, my grandfather asked the community to join together in tackling environmental challenges," Ms Taylor-Price said.

"Pop was so proud to be a part of Landcare - he called it a great Australian success story."

Ms Taylor-Price said it was important to ensure the strong volunteer base endured and a plan to attract young people to the movement was maintained.

Landcare Australia chief executive Shane Norrish said the organisation brought young and old people together.

"It only takes a small number of people to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty but their work captures and motivates others to be a part of that process," Dr Norrish said.

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