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'Treetops'
DancePlant

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Tree-planting on Treetops

On June 29th and 30th my family hosted a tree-planting weekend on our farm Treetops, just northwest of Cootamundra. A group of enthusiastic volunteers came along to plant five hundred indigenous trees and shrubs on a tall, rocky hill recently fenced from cattle. Some volunteers camped for the night and the Wagga-based group Danceplant brought music, art, energy, and fun to celebrate our hard work.

Since moving to Treetops in 1977, we have observed a steady pattern of ecological decline. Across the hillsides are many rotting trunks of drooping she-oaks (Casuarina stricta). Through the decades the oldest she-oaks fell and died. No young she-oaks escaped the mouths of stock, and only a few old and twisted trees remained. Red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees died one by one for a range of interrelated reasons, including their isolation from other trees, the absence of understorey plants, and ringbarking by cattle hungry for their fibrous bark. Except in one scrubby corner of the property, no young stringybarks grew. The hill bears the marks of earlier changes too. Grey ringbarked stumps dot the slopes. Generations of sheep camped on the hilltop, bringing nutrients to build a soil that most native plants found too rich.

Ecological scientists say that land needs a diversity of species to deal with stresses like drought and overstocking. To reverse the steady trend of a narrowing in our farms biological diversity, we successfully applied for funding through the Department of Land and Water Conservation to fence off a substantial part of one hill. As this hill is a significant watertable recharge site, our efforts to restore perennial, deep-rooted plants will stop water flooding the subsoil to haul deadly salts to the surface.

300 drooping she-oaks and stringybarks were grown from seed collected on Treetops. We bought understorey plants, including violet kunzea (Kunzea parvifolia), prickly tea-tree (Leptospermum sp.), two varieties of hopbush (Dodonaea spp.), and several types of acacia, from Marie Ryans wonderful nursery of local native species. About twenty volunteers from Wagga, Narrandera, Cootamundra, and Canberra arrived to help out. Two Israeli travellers came along too. The days were cool and sunny. Hearty soups, banana bread, and a barbecue kept our bodies going.

On Saturday night Danceplant provided dinnertime music beside two great campsite fires before upping the volume for those who still had the energy to dance. Inside a small marquee an ultraviolet lamp lit up fluorescent murals of Celtic designs, reptiles, and circular motifs. A red floodlight illuminated one sturdy red gum. Danceplant seeks to build relationships between urban youth and rural land and people, and between generations, by giving people opportunities to work, talk, and have fun together.

The week after our planting good rain fell, settling the young plants into the earth. We are already planning our next tree-planting event. If the long-range weather forecasters are right, there might be more watering involved than planting. Hope to see you there!

[George may be contacted on 02 6125 8137, or by e-mail georgem@cres.anu.edu.au. If you are interested in Danceplant, or would like the groups help in your own tree-planting project, see www.danceplant.com]