Sunday, 8 July 2018

Indoor Landcare

I’m at my desk on one of those blessed sunny mid-winter days, doing some indoor Landcare. Paul, a long-term Landcare member down Gippsland way, was wont to protest, when he showed up at a Landcare conference, that there was too much bloody indoor Landcare and whatever happened to outdoor Landcare! Paul had left the Melbourne scene in his twenties and settled on 40 acres of old dairy country in West Gippsland, where he proceeded to fatten a few steers and run his van on used cooking oil and rehabilitate Archies Creek.

When I visited his property on a field trip in 2005, the creek had been transformed from an eroded gully into a light and airy temperate rainforest. Paul said he hadn’t had to do much, just knock the weeds off and let the seedbank spring back, and the birds had done the rest, bringing in seeds from the remnant bush around. When he’d got started on his place, he’d worked upstream on his neighbour’s bit of the creek, and downstream too.

Some seed dropped into me that day, the idea of a lovely bit of creek to look after, and when I trundled up Gap Road one stinking hot summer day ten years ago, I found my creek. So thanks Paul for showing me what was possible, though I have to make the point yet again that it just isn’t enough to do the outdoor stuff. Indoor Landcare is important too, because it’s the place where we work out how to govern ourselves.

It’s easy to get fixated on government and what it is and isn’t doing, when government is just one player in the collective business of governing. An intricate mix of hierarchies and social networks wraps itself around each place and issue in the landscape, and that social web is where we think about what is happening to the landscape, and work out how to repair the damage done. ‘Natural resource management’ we call it, in our technocratic way—‘NRM’ for short. And ‘integrated catchment management’, to situate ourselves in the living landscape (‘a catchment’) and prompt us to integrate and not work in isolation. Alongside those terms, and older than them, there’s Landcare, land care, to remind us that caring for the land is the ethic that should underpin our governing.

Imagine a collection of people sitting around a map, governing. They are listening to each other’s understanding of what is happening to the land. Each is from a particular place in the governance structure—a community group, the Council, Melbourne Water or Parks Victoria. As they listen, they get a more complete picture and begin to get at why things happen the way they do—that is, the drivers behind the bad and stupid things damaging the environment. Out of all that talk and analysis, we hope they pull together wise decisions that influence what humans are doing. That’s all we can do in governing—influence what humans do.

This is indoor Landcare. It is a rational process, allocating effort where it will make most difference, but it is also a delicate negotiation between differing perspectives and interests. Our role as community members is to trust what we know and speak out, to learn how government works and treat those who work there with respect, and when decisions are made, to make sure they are put into action. Then to meet again, to learn from what happens, and keep the pressure on.

To keep going, indoors and outdoors.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

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