in our nature

A dog, hard work and hope

Anna Povey | 29 October 2021

This is the text of a speech given at the Landcare Tasmania conference, ‘Restoration: Reconnecting people, place and nature’, held on 1 October 2021 in Launceston. As well as working with the TLC, Anna is a member of the landcare group, Friends of Trevallyn Reserve.

Hello everyone! Welcome to Launceston! If you are new to the city, you may not know that we have over 600 hectares of natural bushland in the middle of our city, with Cataract Gorge and Trevallyn Reserve. I hope that you will find time to walk in the beautiful Gorge, which should be done by everybody every day in Launceston if you can possibly manage it.

We also have this beautiful river, kanamaluka, the Tamar estuary, which you can now walk and ride along for miles. If you go far enough that way, up the North Esk River, you can find the Ribbon of Blue project, where the North Esk Landcare Group restored a choked strip of willows to native forest and sedgeland beside a flowing river. Today we have a number of different visions for the Tamar, from just Fix the Mud anyhow you like, to turning it into a vast lake, to restoring the natural wetlands along it, with the aim of working with nature instead of against it. Watch this space!

I’ve been pondering the title of the conference - Restoration: Reconnecting people, place and nature – and I know we are going to hear lots about the wonderful projects that you are all doing around Tasmania, but it strangely put me in mind of our dog, Pepper. She’s injured at the moment and we’ve been having to care for her. I’m sure many of you have a dog, and you’d know that they are loving, entertaining, cute and also a lot of work. It’s the work part of this equation that links with Landcare for me, so bear with me.

When we got Pepper from the RSPCA, we thought she was a beautiful red kelpie-cross and she seemed to have a calm temperament. But the drugs from the desexing operation wore off and she started to get a bit wayward. As we picked her up once again from yet another kind stranger who found her wandering the streets, we wondered if we’d picked the right dog or even if we wanted a dog at all. Much fencing … and going to dog training classes… and running her in the bush every day. She was keen to please and things improved, but still, it was a lot of work.

It was when she had her first trip to the vet and I was holding her while she did her best not to bite the vet that I realized that I truly loved this dog. It was the realisation that this creature relied on me, was trusting me, was trying to do her best for me, and that we had a connection based on working together that made me love her. She’s not just a pretty dog that I can enjoy looking at and then move on from. She is our dog, she takes work, as a kelpie she takes a LOT of running, and that is what connects us.

I think that Landcare connects us because it involves work, not despite that. It’s not just the love we already have for nature and people, and the achievements that we rightly celebrate, and I’d love to snap my fingers and fix all environmental problems, but the work of restoration is actually part of why landcare is so great.

Anna with Pepper (and Michael). Photo by Jenn Purtell.

Much about our modern society has been an effort to reduce work. Now, I think it’s a good thing that I don’t have to spend six days a week tilling the fields or hand-washing clothes. But we’ve gone so far down this trajectory that we don’t even have to move to make our devices work – we can just say, “Hey Siri”. Many people are starting to lose connection with nature, with their place, their community and even with their own bodies.
There are many good people who connect through sport and other community activities. But connection with nature is sadly lacking in many of these.

People are drawn to nature and want to connect with her. We have a focus on ‘eco-tourism’ in Tasmania and it is very popular for good reason. Tassie is still wild and beautiful. Locals and tourists appreciate this in such numbers that eco-tourism projects are being developed all over the place. Some of these, however, are missing the point, and are about consuming the environment, not connecting with it.

We have proposals for cablecars on almost every surface at the moment, so that people who spend a lot of time sitting in offices and cars can spend their holidays sitting in a cablecar, looking at a beautiful view through the windows. You know about the proposed cablecar on Mt Wellington, and we had one proposed in the Gorge too. Both would no doubt have been spectacular for the occupants but mar the experience of precious natural places for others. Even for the people in the cablecar, I believe that they would have no lasting connection with the place from looking at the view through the windows.

I was walking in the Gorge the other day and noticing the visitors walking there. Some were walking over the causeway, then suddenly decided to leap up on the boulders and balance along them. Some were dangling their feet in the cold water. Some were stopped to look at some birds. Some had just stopped altogether to really take it all in. They were engaging with the Gorge in a way that is not possible when you are just looking at it through a windscreen. These experiences will stay with them, and connect them to the Gorge forever, in a way that consuming the view from a cablecar cannot.

All of us as children loved to be outside, and given a chance, many adults still love to be outside, which is especially important to us at this time of lockdowns. Many of us here would have taken up bushwalking, and typically we started that with the aim of getting to a waterfall or a mountaintop. We might learn to identify the iconic Tasmanian plants along the way, like pencil pines, then slowly learn our own local species. Perhaps we join a Landcare tree planting session and things progress from there. As we start to get active in restoring the land through planting and weeding, growing natives from seed, or monitoring waterbugs, we get to another level of intimacy with nature. Working in restoration increases our connection with nature in wonderful and rewarding ways.

When our Friends of Trevallyn Reserve meet each month, we mostly do weeding. We have had hundreds of Landcarers join us over the years. Each new Landcarer has to be shown how to tell the difference between Spanish heath and native heaths, between gorse and native pricklies, between native wattles and mainland ones. Soon each person is becoming expert, and they start pulling out weeds on their private walks as well. Often they start growing native plants in their garden. While working, we notice small creatures in the understorey; we have found a sparrowhawk nest, a wombat burrow, devil scats and bandicoot diggings. We become more intimate with our local bushland, and we have the satisfaction of keeping it in good condition.

It’s a funny thing, too, how easily connections with people happen when you are working together. You don’t have to talk if you’re feeling quiet or shy, but it’s easy to do when you are working side-by-side. Conversations roam all over the place with such a varied bunch of people. Young and old, born locals and newcomers, slight oddballs and popular extroverts – we’ve had them all and we all enjoy working together.

I want to acknowledge the Aboriginal people of trowunna, for their age-old and ongoing connections with this place. They have been involved in caring for the land through fire and hunting and living in ways that maintain nature in good health, and we have much to learn from them in how to reconnect ourselves while restoring the land together.

Some recent words of Greta Thunberg seem to me relevant to this conference and Landcare generally:

“Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”

Thank you, all of you, for the action you are taking to restore nature and community in all your small and large ways. Your work is what connects us with people, place and nature.

Banner photo of weeding at Egg Islands Reserve is by Rob Blakers.

Author Profile

Anna Povey

Conservation Programs Ecologist

Anna is an ecologist with broad, practical experience over 30 years, including growing native plants, controlling weeds and revegetating, flora surveys, a consulting business, environmental education and small mammal research. She enjoys working with private landholders with conservation covenants, and learns something from every landholder.