By: Ella Maesepp
On September 22 and 23 2016, I attended the National Landcare Conference in Melbourne. For those who weren’t there – here are the key messages I got from the amazing array of speakers! 2016 was my fourth National Landcare Conference, with each having its own distinct vibe:
  • * Adelaide 2010: “We’ve lost our mojo, let’s ramp Landcare back up again!”
  • * Sydney 2012: “The sparkle is back and our relevance is expanding into new sectors”
  • * Melbourne 2014: “What we have is awesome, but we need to find new ways to deliver”
And I’ve decided to sum up Melbourne 2016 as
“Landcare is as much about human needs as it is about the environment”. – Ella Maesepp

Humans and the Environment are Intertwined

Dr Siwan Lovett, Australian River Restoration Centre, spoke of their human emotion angle to engage landholders in riparian projects. “Humans change emotionally near water,” said Dr Lovett and they tap into this, refusing to use facts and figures in their promotional material instead talking about how involvement feels good. They send thank you cards to project participants that feature local images and use the words “PROUD to be part of…” for their farm gate signage. The basic need for healthy natural resources underpinning human health was referred to many times. Major General The Honourable Michael Jeffery used his military background to show the link between soil and health with national security, and quoted a leading figure in the World Bank who stated that “fights over soil and water will be the major impact of climate change.” The Future Directions for Landcare panel discussion concluded that the Minister for Health needs to be a part of Landcare and related conversations just as much as the Ministers for Environment and Agriculture are. Conference host Costa Georgiadas repeatedly emphasised the need to reconnect people with nature as a way forward to tackle issues as wide as climate change and depression.

Costa – who called for Australia to adopt a ‘Ministry for Soil and Compost’

  But Hannah Moloney, Tasmania’s Young Landcare Leader nominee, hit the nail on the head when she identified access to land as a major barrier for so  many people to have that connection.
How do we fix this?
Don Burke, of TV gardening fame, and Aunty Esther, a Victorian Aboriginal Elder, suggested that perhaps there is a way for non-indigenous people to be ‘inducted’ into the Aboriginal nation of their area, building connection to country, responsibility for natural & cultural values and aiding reconciliation. I like that idea. The sense of responsibility we have towards caring for our planet was also a common theme. Don Burke said of his own feelings around his personal environmental actions – “I don’t want to lose a species that I could have saved”.
Don Burke takes the stage

Don Burke takes the stage

Major General Michael Jeffery reflected my personal sentiment that
“Farmers shouldn’t be left on their own to manage 60% of the continent on behalf of 24 million people.” – Major General Michael Jeffery
Will Steffen from the Climate Council of Australia pointed out that 18% of the worlds population account for 75% of global consumption. Those of us from wealthy countries need to rein ourselves in. Andrea Mason (Leigh Catchment Group), Brent Jacobs (University of Technology Sydney) and Terry Hubbard (National Landcare Network) all spoke about the enormous role Landcare should have in responding to natural disasters, with Mr Hubbard calling Landcare a “quick-strike morale-boosting team” and Dr Ron Edwards acknowledging that “resilience and bringing people together has been one of the great achievements of Landcare”.

Some On-Ground Gems

Will Steffen provided an order in which we need to address climate change:
  • * power generation,
  • * followed by transport,
  • * agriculture, and then
  • * waste
based on the overwhelming problem of fossil fuel carbon compared to land based (cyclic) carbon as contributors to the problem.

Temperature variation through history (white) and predicted (orange).

The section of graph in white shows the variation of average temperatures over history. The scary orange bit is the future predicted temperature rise, with the 2 degrees agreed at Paris marked with the ‘Committed’ arrow. Kevin Chaplin of the Mallee CMA lamented that they should have killed those last few rabbits after the newly-released Calicivirus went through – they’re now left with as big a rabbit population, but made up of the descendants of the resistant rabbits. An important biosecurity message I think – don’t get complacent, finish the job. Vol Norris of Desert Channels CMA Qld redefined ‘eradication’ in relation to their pricky acacia war, as they found the term ‘containment’ just sounds hopeless. So they call eradication “small enough to be easy and cheap enough for a landholder to keep on top of” – this gives both a goal and a hope. . The 2016 National Landcare Conference was well worth attending. It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues across Australia, make new contacts, be exposed to different approaches for the work we’re doing in Katanning and to recharge the enthusiasm battery to keep on doing what we do. This video sums up that feeling, and includes an interview with Jill Richardson and myself.
Thank you to the Australian Government through Landcare Australia Ltd and the South West Catchments Council Regional Landcare Facilitator program for the support to attend this conference.