Graeme admiring the decades of restoration of his bit of paradise in Brookfield.

It was sad to hear that late last year, one of Brisbane City Council’s original Land for Wildlife members, Graeme Wilson had passed away.

Graeme was a stalwart in the Brookfield area, building his house on his 7 hectare block on Savages Road 62 years ago. His professional and life experiences throughout his 99 years could fill a novel, but it was his passion for the environment through the restoration of his property and his thousands of volunteer hours with the Moggill Creek Catchment Group (MCCG) that I knew him best for.

You could say that Graeme was before his time. His knowledge and passion of the environment started some 50 years ago, before most of Australia’s leading environmentalists had even left school. This passion was no doubt bought on by his childhood experience on the family farm, his study of botany, his love for nature and the beauty of the bush. Rather than a broad-scale weed control approach, Graeme was an advocate for working with nature, relying largely on natural regeneration and working with the weeds to achieve a natural habitat.

His knowledge in local flora and ecosystems made Graeme the go to person for any local plant identification. This made him a great candidate to become the nursery manager with the MCCG, a position he took up for almost 16 years.

He was also a long standing editor of the catchment group’s quarterly newsletter, amazingly up until 99 years of age, often sharing his knowledge of the environment and local and exotic flora. This outstanding contribution to the community led to Graeme being awarded the Brisbane City Council Senior Citizen Australia Day Award in 2013.

Graeme’s passion for the restoration and the overall protection of his property resulted in him signing the second ever Voluntary Conservation Agreement (VCA) in Brisbane in November 1996. Somewhat fittingly it was Graeme’s 20th anniversary in the program only a few days before he passed away, also coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the MCCG.

Even before signing the agreement, Graeme’s passion resulted in huge amounts of effort put into the assisted regeneration and supplementary planting of large portions of his property, which had been extensively cleared for cropping in the early 19th century. Fortunately a small corridor of Large-leaved Spotted Gum (Corymbia henryi) woodland through the centre of the property escaped cultivation. Weeds were kept under control in the remnant area and it is a highlight of the property today.

“Some of my favourite memories of Graeme’s property are walking through the forest and hearing the non-stop calls from birds.”

Graeme’s enthusiasm rubbed off on his youngest son, Andrew, and over the last 20 years they turned the property into a refuge for an assortment of fauna, particularly birds. Surrounded mostly by cattle grazing and mown paddocks, Graeme’s property was a beacon for local wildlife.

Graeme’s property 1946
This 1946 imagery of Graeme’s property highlights the extent of clearing before he purchased the property in 1954. Fortunately the patch of Corymbia henryi through the centre of the property was kept and no doubt assisted with the natural regeneration that took place over the following decades.

Graeme’s property 2016
After 62 years of rehabilitation, Graeme’s property now provides refuge for an abundance of local wildlife.

Some of my favourite memories of Graeme’s property are walking through the remnant open eucalypt forest, and no matter what time of day hearing the nonstop calls from birds flittering around in the canopy of the large eucalypts.

Hillsides were controlled of Lantana and allowed to regenerate and, when necessary, replaced with a variety of eucalypt and hardy dry rainforest species. Natural regeneration was encouraged, and those that escaped the wrath of ever-present deer, flourished throughout these areas, with a huge variety of species establishing.

Down towards Wonga Creek, the soil and moisture was more inclined to the planting of rainforest species. A permanent sink hole was revegetated with figs and other rainforest species some 20 years ago. Today, a 20 metre high Moreton Bay Fig can be seen from Savages Road, showcasing the great work that both Graeme and Andrew have put into the property.

Graeme sharing his wealth of knowledge with members of the Moggill Creek Catchment Group.
One of Graeme’s favourite plants were figs. He encouraged their planting throughout the landscape and propagation at the Moggill Creek Catchment nursery. Here, Graeme admires a large Ficus superba in Brookfield.

This stunning Hoop Pine was one of Graeme’s first plantings, 65 years ago.

With the better soil, nutrients and moisture came the weeds. Climbing Asparagus in particular started to take over the edges and move into the forest. However, with the bad came a positive discovery. As far back as 2010, Graeme and Andrew noted that the curtains of Climbing Asparagus were not as thick and green as usual. Plants looked to be thinning out, turning a yellow colour at the end of the vines and in some cases die-back was present. After a bit of research and correspondence with someone in the food asparagus industry, this thinning sounded much like a fungus/rust that is the scourge on the industry. These symptoms where accelerated in recent wet years. Although not officially proven, the damage was very noticeable and was definitely having an effect on the vigour of some vines.

Unfortunately Climbing Asparagus, one of the most invasive weeds in Queensland, continued to grow, particularly on the edges of the forest. This is when Graeme and Andrew applied to Brisbane City Council for a Community Conservation Assistance (CCA) project, to control the worst patches and plant local native species in areas that had been dominated by asparagus vine. This was no mean feat as the huge infestation of Climbing Asparagus had degraded the soils, and smothered and killed native shrubs and small trees. Thanks to CCA funding, the area is now vastly improved, with the wall of Climbing Asparagus gone. With the help of some well-timed rain, natural regeneration is complementing the planted shrubs and trees, which are now starting to poke their heads out of the tree guards.

This is only a scratch on the surface of what Graeme achieved in his lifetime. His outstanding contribution to the environment on his VCA property and through the MCCG can’t be understated. His legacy will live on through the hundreds of thousands of trees he passed on as nursery manager of the MCCG. As stated in his nomination for a BCC Australia Day Award in 2013:

“Graeme’s contribution would be worth significant recognition and accolades whatever his age. That he continues so outstandingly at the age of 95 years is astonishing, such that he is a role model for people of any age. He is a legend.”

 

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Article by Cody Hochen
Land for Wildlife Officer
Brisbane City Council

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3 responses on “Tribute to Graeme Wilson

  1. Hello Cody
    My name is Ian Hislop. Together with Leo Ryan, we negotiated the first LFW agreements with landholders such as Graeme at the inception of the program. Your tribute is a fitting one as Graeme’s enthusiasm for restoring the habitat value of his property was impressive, if daunting. Remember back then, there was almost no network of accessible expertise to provide good quality support and advice., “green social capital”, if you like.
    I’m currently working with my wife as a volunteer in Tonga, returning to Australia in December and my home base at lake Moogerah in the Scenic Rim but I regularly visit Brisbane. I’d be really pleased to meet you and members of your team at BCC, Perhaps we can arrange something for December.
    My best wishes to you and to all other participants in the Conservation Partnerships team. Keep up the great work that you do in helping many “”ordinary” people achieve extraordinary things for nature, their community, and Council. Cheers Ian

    1. Hi Ian.
      Thanks for this comment. Yes, I have seen your name on early Land for Wildlife documents in South East Queensland. I have passed on this comment to Cody at BCC and I am sure he will be in touch.
      This year, 2018, is the 20th anniversary of land for Wildlife in Queensland and there should be several events to mark this occasion – possibly you might be in town for one of them.
      All the best, Deborah Metters

    2. Hi Ian

      Thanks very much for contacting us and for your kind words. Apologies for the late reply and I hope we haven’t missed the boat with catching up.

      Although it was very sad to hear Graeme’s passing, writing the article was really inspiring for me. What he achieved in his 99 years was amazing, particularly the restoration of his piece of paradise. Hopefully my article on what Graeme achieved inspired a few other property owners who are a bit overwhelmed. Hopefully I can work with them to achieve their goals. I am not sure if you met Graeme’s son Andrew, but his property has been left in very adequate hands.

      It would be great to catch up with you. As Deb said, 2018 is the 20th anniversary of LfW and we are celebrating it with a few events. BCC’s major 20th anniversary celebration is on in October (date not set) at John Sprent Reserve in Moggill. You may have been involved with John Sprent 20 years ago when he was our first LfW partner signed into the program. Sadly, John passed away a few years ago, but his property was acquired by BCC and is now called John Sprent Reserve. A fitting place to have our event. We welcome you with open arms to come along and celebrate the 20th anniversary with us. We will send a formal invite once we work out a date.

      If you get a chance and would like to have a chat to organise a catch up, please give me a call on 0435 961 503 or you can email me on [email protected]v.au .

      Looking forward to chatting further.

      Kind Regards

      Cody and LfW team.

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