Imagine seeing over 30 years’ worth of blood, sweat and garden shears languish before your very eyes.
This is the reality for one of Nambucca’s most diligent volunteer groups – the Gordon Park Rainforest Management Committee – which is facing extinction in the face of an untenable winged migrant situation.
The grey-headed flying fox population, which made its home nearly a decade ago in the remaining hamlet of the town’s coastal rainforest, has now deteriorated the canopy (planted by the committee in the eighties) to the point where any future work is proving futile.
The committee has achieved a vast amount in the past three decades, not least of which was converting a marshy weed-infested bowl into a verdant boardwalk-lined paradise for winged, bipedal and quadrupedal visitors alike.
One guiding light on the Rainforest Walkway Project was committee pioneer, Janet Van Spanje, who so loved the green sanctuary that she mandated her ashes be scattered there after her passing in 2001.
But it’s now one step forward, two steps back, as the rampant morning glory spreads its sea of purple under the gaping hole of the destruction, and the lovingly-constructed timber walkway crumbles beneath the weight of guano.
The despondence was palpable last Friday as the committee said its sad farewells at its final meeting.
“It’s been a fairly active committee, but it’s gotten to the point where there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” president and botanist Gwen Harden said.
Longest-serving member Edna Stride said she felt “incredibly disappointed” after years of effort.
“It’s now our hopes that Council will reignite that light,” she said.
“We need to get councillors to put a value on what Gordon Park as a remnant rainforest in the centre of town means to this community.”
Gwen said the draft Vegetation Management Plan for Gordon Park, floated earlier this year by Council, was “overly optimistic” in its estimation of the regenerative capability of the rainforest if nothing was done to mitigate the numbers of flying foxes at the site.
“The requirement that work be carried out by professional bush regenerators would require ongoing funding and would end the use of volunteer workers,” she said.
The committee has also found it incredibly difficult to attract and guide more youthful volunteers through the tightly-woven web of OH&S red tape that has come with the bats.
Although the remaining committee members are not unsympathetic towards the colony, most believe that without intervention and/or a major monetary boost, the remnant rainforest will be lost for good.
Committee stalwart John Tait said it was a real shame for Nambucca Heads that the town had “now lost one of its main tourist attractions”.
“It used to be quite a delightful place to be in,” he said.
Committee member Anne Smyth points out that there are scant few towns left which are lucky enough to feature a rainforest right in the centre of town: “I think Brisbane’s the only other one.”
This may be goodbye from the last of the rainforest warriors, but they refuse to believe this is the end; They’re holding fast to the hope that a youthful spirit will one day pick up the green baton and run like hell.
The early days
Excerpts from the Gordon Park Rainforest history as recorded by management committee member John Tait
Aboriginal people certainly knew it to be a good place. There are traces of middens in the forest, testimony to the plentifulness of seafood in the river and there was a fresh water supply from the several springs and there was shade from the majestic red cedars and other fine species – until we cut them down and shipped them off to Sydney or processed them in the timber mills along the shores of the Nambucca river.
The main spring is still flowing today at about 6000 litres per day – about double what it says on the sign. You can see it flowing as a mini creek from the Pioneers’ Well past the horsetrough to the pipe near the north end of the tennis courts where it goes underground for the rest of the journey to the river. The Pioneers’ Well was where the townfolk back in the 19th Century used to get their fresh water. There are two “wells” interconnected and are actually holding tanks for the spring water. Perhaps the pioneers began with one tank and as the population grew there was a need to expand to two tanks.
That area between the tennis courts and Wellington Drive used to be marshy because the ever flowing springs up in the rainforest just seeped their way down to the river. Nowadays the flow from several springs is channelled into a mini creek and as mentioned earlier, even that mini creek is now channelled into a pipe that takes the flow underground to the river – leaving the surface nice and dry for park users.
In 1982, the Year of the Tree, Ian Jones began planting trees in the area to the north of the tennis courts now known as the Arboretum. There’s a plaque in the Arboretum in memory of Ian. “These trees were his vision”, it reads. Because the area was swampy, species such as Melaleuca, Ficus and Casuarina were planted to suck up the water – but to get those species started it was necessary to plant the seedlings in used tyres or up on blocks of wood out of the water. You can still find a fig tree or two growing happily on their blocks of wood, and unfortunately there are still a couple of she oaks still growing over their protective tyres.
It was about 1986 that a group of volunteers decided to do something about the tangled and overgrown forest between the town centre and the river and set to work removing the weeds, lantana in particular. In the gulley from the entrance at the bend in Wellington Drive leading up to Ridge St, once the lantana was removed, there was basically only gum trees surviving. The Forestry Commission permitted seedlings to be gathered from forest west of Missabotti and the gulley was planted out.
That was not a straightforward exercise by any means, as on two occasions the seedlings were stolen at night and it was not until Albert Boswell one of the hard working volunteers, camped out overnight and discovered who the thief was, that the forest regeneration really began. That area is now called Bozzey’s Gulley.
In 1987 the Gordon Park Rainforest Walks Committee, which had been formed in September 1986, received its first grant, $500, from the Australian Bicentennial Authority, for more planting in the arboretum. More significantly this was followed by the approval of a project to the value of $58,400 under the umbrella of the Community Employment Program which enabled a five member work team to be paid for 6 months, building several kilometres of graded track from Wellington Drive to the Rotary Lookout. In went steps, handrails, bridges, and seats as well as the tracks of which only the steps and tracks remain today, about 20 years later.
Part of the walk created in 1987 was named after John Davey, a former councillor and shire president. You’ll find a sign “John Davey Walk” at the entrance opposite Woolworths and another at the entrance at the bend in Wellington drive.
In 1998 the Pioneers’ Well was accidentally rediscovered. One of the volunteer workers while clearing rubbish, fell through the rotting boards and earth and vegetation that had been covering the well. Refurbishing the well, and fencing it in for safety sake (there had been one drowning over the years – a grandson of Jabez Buckman I understand) became a project in itself. New trails were necessary to lead to the well which has since become a main focus for short time visitors to the rainforest.
One other ‘non-natural’ feature is the horse trough, the last in the series used for watering the horses that used to bring supplies overland from Kempsey by cart. Back in the 1940s the horse trough was used for watering animals of a different kind when the circus came to town and hoisted the big top on the flat between the present day tennis courts and the riverside boardwalk.
The low level boardwalk came about as a solution to crossing the marshy area near the Pioneers’ Well and its viewing platform. The funds for the materials for Stage One were kindly donated by Gwen Worrall and that section was opened in December 2004. That donation acted as a catalyst.
It was decided to extend the low level boardwalk so that it would provide easy access from the bridge entry near the northern end of the tennis courts all the way to the Pioneers’ Well for those with walking difficulties, those in wheelchairs or those with prams and strollers. Funds were applied for and granted from the Environmental Levy.
Stages Two and Three were completed during 2007 in time for the opening on 3 December 2007, the International Day of People with a Disability. Mark Bettini of Nambucca Heads in his wheelchair was the first to travel along the completed boardwalk after the tape cutting ceremony by Council’s General Manager, Michael Coulter and the President of the Rainforest Walks Committee, Dorothy Secomb.
It’s a big area to cover. There are parts we never visit, those we visit infrequently and those we visit weekly. You have to do that when the series of reserves that make up Gordon Park and its walks amounts to almost 197,000 square metres if you don’t count the beach and dunes area down near the V-Wall and almost 304000 square metres if you do.
Most visitors agree it is a special spot that we are so fortunate to have on the very doorstep of the town. As the plaque says at one entrance to the forest: “The Rainforest – a remnant of the original forest regenerating with the assistance of volunteers, Council and State and Federal Governments. Frequented for centuries by the Aboriginal people, important in the early development of Nambucca Heads town, and significant now for the diversity of its flora and fauna – an invaluable asset for you to enjoy.”