Reflecting on Bicentennial Park, Braidwood

The Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare blog is intended as a collaborative effort. Over time we hope to post stories and articles by various contributors (see our collaborate-contribute page). For our very first of these we are fortunate to hear from Mr Peter Marshall.

Peter and Kate Marshall were recently awarded by the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council as one of four inaugural ‘Champions of the Catchment’ in recognition of their approach to sustainable farming. For a video introduction, try this link to an ABC story from 2013.

Peter is an innovative farmer well known for his pragmatic views on the use of non-native species in land restoration and agro-ecology. He is also known for his outspoken disregard for nativist doctrines in Natural Resource Management. He is a trained and experienced forester and he and his family produce a diverse range of products (and support a diverse range of wildlife) on their 500 acre farm near Braidwood. Perhaps the most notable of these products is their famous truffles sold under the name of ‘Terra Preta’.

Here, Peter shares his reflections upon some negative experiences with nativism that touched him very directly:

Reflecting on Bicentennial Park, Braidwood

Aldo Leopold said something to the effect of “a disadvantage of an ecological education is that one then lives in a world of wounds”; meaning that a trained ecologist may see broken ecosystems where another person may just see pleasant landscape. And so it has been at Bicentennial Park (on Braidwood’s Monkittee Creek) over the decades.

Bicentennial Park aerial view courtesy Google Earth 2014

Bicentennial Park aerial view courtesy Google Earth 2014

I knew the place since the mid 1980’s. We lived in a house overlooking it from 1990. In those days the big willows gave deep shade, there was little in the way of weedy understory. The few blackberries we saw we just grubbed out. The big wall of willows along one side of the grassy space and the row of houses across the road created the sense of a big landscape room. Lots of travellers stopped there, our kids played there most afternoons. It was our dreaming place and we loved it.

But different people see different values in landscapes. For example, a Landcare Coordinator once looked at a ruined streamline on our farm, incised and broken-banked after a century of overgrazing and said, “this is a pristine alpine riparian zone, you may not interfere with it”. Apparently he saw some gum trees and that to his perspective was good. ‘Gum tree good’.

The same man took me to Warri bridge (on the Shoalhaven River) to show me the bad diversity. ‘Look at this terrible diversity’, he said. Took me a while to understand he was looking at willows. He thought he saw a different leaf form, indicating a terrible willow hybrid which was poised to eat up the river. ‘Willow bad’.

We had walked into river-water. When my boots dried they stank from the sediment which had been suspended in the water. I thought this bad, all that soil going to the sea. We saw totally different things at the same place and time.
The reductionist mind set of ‘gum tree good’, ‘willow tree bad’ would not have mattered, except this person had authority, funding and followers. Arrogance and ignorance on crusade.

I tried to stop the destruction of the willows at Monkittee Creek. But ‘willow tree bad’ had been whipped up into ‘willow must be eradicated’ and lots of nice people had swallowed the story. You can find the letter in Tallaganda Times where the Chairman of the Landcare group debunked my silly proposal to use willows as a successional and bioengineering tool.

Early willow removal work at Bicentennial Park

Early willow removal work at Bicentennial Park

We came home one day and our favourite place was destroyed. A wonder what a Kato can do in a day.

It’s a pity that the planners hadn’t bothered to check with the people who lived in the street. Many were old folks who had lived their whole lives looking onto the tranquil scene. They were deeply hurt, grieving the loss of their place. From a generation who respected authority, they kept their distress private, but it did the reputation of Landcare no good at all.

Still, Mr Chairman was eradicating a terrible species; he need not consider the social consequences of his actions.

We were grieving too, and moved away. But we couldn’t escape the Willow Warriors, the fad had lost touch with reality and become an ideology.

Next the two Himalayan Cypress outside the Court house must go. People were so cowed by the new orthodoxy of ‘gum tree good, all exotics bad’. Those trees are only there today because I personally stood in front of a chain saw while making phone calls. Would it have been a better streetscape without them?

Willow sawfly managed to fly 2,000 km against prevailing winds in 2004 to arrive at Flood Creek and outside my kitchen window. Amazing journey for such a tiny fragile insect.

The fastest conversation stopper was to say the word ‘willow ‘ with a positive inflection. People would flinch “That’s a terrible weed!” You aren’t allowed to say anything good about them, you pervert.

My family were reported to the Government for private river repair work and threatened with huge fines. A nonsense charge as it turned out, but a shocking message about how a silly fad can turn into something terrible. Terrible waste of money, time, talent, trust, tranquillity.

A once deeply-eroded gully now returned to a series of ponds on the Marshall’s property

A once deeply-eroded gully now returned to a series of ponds on the Marshall’s property

Then began the native tubestock planting days. A mix of non-endemic gums (adding genetic pollution to the list of outrages) and other species; apparently chosen by committee, rather than for suitability to site conditions. One expert banned planting Casaurina littoralis on the basis that littoralis meant seaside, so it was out of place. Yet Boorowa mix wasn’t?

The sad old cycle: no planting preparation and no follow up resulting in dead chopsticks in milk cartons.

Then a new crew of nice, well motivated folks would arrive some years later and do it all again, and again. Was it four times or five?

E. viminalis in foreground willow regrowth and Monkittee Creek at rear

E. viminalis in foreground, willow regrowth and Monkittee Creek at rear

Yes, poison was used; badly, by untrained operators. Useless anyhow against the masses of weeds invading the suddenly-sunny ground.

Now a word about park design, which is such an important discipline it is taught in universities:
One block up the hill is a beautiful park. Well spaced trees, form pruned to lift up a big sheltering canopy. Deep shade and a feeling of quiet comfort. People love it. But none of this was reproduced at Bicentennial Park. Because the nativist mindset completely precluded use of the nicest sheltering species god gave us. Nasty exotics!

I do not wish to offend the nice people who planned and planted the park but all I see nowadays is an incoherent, fruit salad planting of scrub; a fire risk on the urban edge. It has none of the values of a lovable park.

A mix of different plantings maturing at Bicentennial Park

A mix of plantings maturing at Bicentennial Park

No top shelter, no feeling of big forest rooms, no borrowed views. No deep shade during the hottest part of the day. A huge safety issue as the gums start dropping branches on hot days.

No integration into the riparian zone. In fact, no justification for the waste of lots of money, decades of time and the heartache of the whole sad affair.

The saddest thing to me? Lessons not learned. The pointless destruction of these few hundred yards of creek line is being repeated a thousand fold all over the state. By the same people who wrecked my special place.

What a world of wounds.


8 responses to “Reflecting on Bicentennial Park, Braidwood

  1. Well yes I humbly concur. However I think the dunny pump-out landscape feature should have been a horse trough. Such a manufactured natural environment could have also included a natural amphitheater for a frog opera. Landscape-achitecture, if not Project Management Scoping, are the words that come to mind. Don’t worry PM , practice makes perfect!

  2. That was a great post, Peter. I still heartily disagree with several of your assertions, but I definitely appreciate and respect your perspective more so now than perhaps I did in the past. Thank you. In my eyes you are a most worthy champion of the catchment and you have precious knowledge.and wisdom to share.

  3. Dear Peter H ,
    Thanks for kind words . Different people , different perspectives .
    Disagreement can be a good learning exercise for all of us .
    Do you want to list hose assertions which bother you ? We can talk them though .
    All Best

  4. Pingback: Collateral Damage: How the Willow War Kills the Bushcraft Culture. | Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare

  5. Pingback: What We Did In The Holidays | Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare

  6. High Temperature Limb Breakage

    It happened again last week . Three times me or mine have been nearly killed by a gum tree .

    First was years ago . My three boys and the neighbours kid were standing in the shade of a big euc . Hot , still summers day .
    I was 50 feet away . Heard a massive ‘ Crack ‘ , then ‘ THUD ‘ .
    Turned to see half the tree on the ground . Kids disappeared in the heaving canopy .
    Ran towards the downed tree quite sure they had all been killed . Thank god , they had been standing in line . A giant fork ( made three tons of firewood later ) fell either side of them . Two had scratches on their noses , two on the back of their heads . One foot in either direction and they would be dead.

    Second time last December .
    Hot , still day . Big euc I have driven past twice every day for 24 years just split in half and fell straight across the road . Missed me by 3 minutes . Missed school bus by 30 .
    Had chain saw in the car . 1 1/2 ton of firewood . Growth rings indicated it had stood there for 80 years . What are the odds ?

    Pretty high as it happens .

    Third time last week . Hot still day . Went to work at friends place . They had a big spreading euc near the tool shed . only shade in the paddock so everyone parks cars under it . I was going to do the same , except as I opened the gate it shed a huge limb . Missed me by 3 minutes .

    HTLB occurs on still , hot days . It is a main mechanism for starting hollows in gums . Nice for wildlife habitat but lethal for picnickers seeking shade.

    That’s why a fruit salad mixe of Eucs is the worst possible choice for a public park .
    Inventory of Monkittee Creek Park shows at least 50 weak limb attachments which will inevitably become HTLB .
    Too late to correction prune , so by rights they should be removed and replaced with Oaks .

    Who has legal responsibility for such an identified public safety hazard ?
    Please advise .


  7. PS

    Forgot to say . The faulty trees are a great resource for other functions .

    Removing them could be a very positive , educational experience . Teaching woodcraft skills , successional thinking , on site repair materials ,
    pattern language , mushroom growing .

    -Coppice them and correction prune the new stems . That will retain visual
    amenity whilst replacement Oaks are coming through .

    -Poles bundled into fascines .

    -Used to lift water level . Better , more oxygenated pool environment .
    Enhanced emergent zone .

    -Used to build planting cribs to protect riparian plantings from competition .
    Huge improvement in native species survival and growth rates down in the jungle .

    -Smaller material makes wood chips to support new plantings and make mushroom beds .

    -Selected logs for Shitake and Reishi production .

    -Opportunity to study travellers response to different shading strategies .
    ( Have a look at the aerial photo . The cars always park under the only non native , an ash ) .

    Just because the eucs are out of cultural context , doesn’t mean they should be wasted .
    They are not right for a heavily used park but very handy as a rehab and teaching tool .

    NNLC is available to write the plan and run field clinics .



  8. Pingback: Our Hero Nativist. (Or how the Australian Humanist of the Year 2005 has made my family miserable and set back riverine repair by decades) | Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare

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