Written by Suzanne Frydman
An awareness of nature’s gifts is something residents and visitors in the beautiful Otways experience regularly. To have this expressed by one of the region’s Landcare managers is a meaningful reminder, especially in times when the environment can be taken for granted. The qualities of successful community action, personal responsibility and life focus are some of the reflections Dr. Libby Riches, program manager and facilitator for the Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN), highlighted when asked about the possible impact of Landcare participation on the people doing the work.
What are some of the health & personal benefits you gain from this involvement?
As a facilitator for SOLN, when not at my computer undertaking advocacy, communications and fundraising tasks I am privileged to spend substantial amounts of time out walking the Southern Otways. After seven years of living in Apollo Bay, I am gradually starting to learn all the special and more secret places. There are many moments in my work in which the beauty of the local area literally takes my breath away and induces a quite blissful state. So the psychological benefits are tremendous. Apollo Bay, where I live, is so often connected to the Great Ocean Road and whilst the road is undoubtedly glorious, I think we tend forget the Otway Range behind us.
Really though, it’s connection with the community that I love most about my job. Landcare is a very diverse movement and despite huge differences in personal and political beliefs among members, and different opinions on how to manage land, all members are connected by a genuine love of the local area. Community is a complex organism and too often we focus on quite superficial differences rather than our common goals. I am really passionate about the power of community and deeply believe that small, intra-connected communities can produce genuine change if they are working effectively. It’s a real privilege to work in this space.
I’ve met a lot of incredible people in my job – skilled, intelligent, passionate people. These relationships have changed how I think about my future and the way I want to live my life. I am connecting to landscape much more profoundly than I believe I would have without these connections. I constantly realise what a beginner I am in terms of understanding this community and landscape and it’s wonderful to think of all the opportunities ahead of me personally.
How do you think others in the community benefit from their involvement?
There are a lot of benefits to being in Landcare. I would like to say that there are physical benefits to being in Landcare (tree planting, weeding etc) but in reality I think anyone who has property in this part of the world tends to be quite physically fit! Some of our members have been involved for twenty five years and have developed deep connections with community. At times of personal hardship or tragedy, you see the strength of community coming together. The sharing of knowledge is an obvious benefit, particularly for new people coming into the area. Properties in the Southern Otways can be very challenging to manage – they are steep and landslip-prone and things grow almost uncontrollably. I think a lot of people can become stressed and overwhelmed. Landcare members can help out by providing help and support where possible.
Landcare is a completely decentralised, grass-roots movement. There is no central organisation, but rather community-governed groups scattered all over the country promoting good environmental practice on private land. Decision-making at all levels of government is becoming increasingly centralised and top-down. Rural communities are feeling the impact of this retraction of support all the time. Funding is being stripped from a variety of rural services and the ability of community to influence social and political agenda is ever diminished. This can be quite disempowering. Landcare provides a model for community based decision-making and allows people a voice.
Landcare is an opportunity for people to take action – we have a great group of people called Townies for Landcare who volunteer every Wednesday afternoon. They actually DO the work that other people complain about not getting done – weeding, cleaning up rubbish etc. They do it because they can see the results of their work, see their actions making a difference. They understand that as a community we can get things done and don’t have to wait for somebody else to do it for us. Maybe we’re just taking care of sea spurge (an invasive weed) on the foreshore today, but imagine if we just started to slowly grow this idea of co-operative community action outwards to connect with all the other little hubs of community activity? What if we all just started to take action? I personally find this very exciting – empowerment of people is really important.
Are there any particular upcoming projects or events we should know about?
In 2015, we are looking to extend the Otways Community Based Stewardship Program that we delivered in 2014. This was a type of property planning course, but instead of using off the shelf government sanctioned products and practices, we put together a bespoke program to suit our particular social, economic and environmental needs. The course drew on material from Holistic Planned Grazing, permaculture, agroforestry and experts in small-scale farming and direct marketing. As a result of this, we have a great group of people working towards restoring local food production through niche agricultural practice. A certification system for Otways food and fibre is being developed that will ensure that product is being produced using Regenerative Agricultural Practices (ie: practices that actively build environmental health as opposed to being merely “sustainable”). The group hopes to use this as a basis to market and build an emerging niche agricultural economy in the district. We hope that this will provide multiple benefits: economic development opportunities beyond tourism, practical techniques for managing landscape, more local food being produced and a strengthening of community relationships. Agriculture has the potential to regenerate people as well as landscapes.
We are still seeking funding to bring specialists into the landscape to share knowledge. In the current political environment this is going to be a challenge but look out for Regenerative Agriculture gurus Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan in early 2015 on what Regenerative Agriculture is and why we should be doing it.
Thank you Libby Riches for sharing your experience and knowledge with Otway Life.
Clearly, being awake to the environment around us and making choices to spend time respecting and giving back to nature provides benefits both personal and communal. And from whichever part of the Otway skies we might look around us, there are things we can all do.
Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN) is an umbrella group providing support for four local Landcare groups: Hordernvale Glenaire Landcare, Otway Barham Catchment Landcare, Apollo Bay Landcare and Wye to Wongarra Landcare.
Landcare works with private landholders to manage their land. All of these groups are run by volunteers. These four groups provide representation on the SOLN Committee of Management, which employs Libby Riches and Mike Nurse, the Executive Officer. It is Libby and Mike’s job to support the projects they might want to undertake either on their own properties or on public land in partnership with public land managers.
by Suzanne Frydman http://www.relaxcommunications.com.au