July 6, 2011

Tubers, WIRES and Wetland in second Hub MeetUp

Above, the blades of the wind turbine spun slowly in the light breeze. A mild and sunny winter day, it couldn’t have been better for the second Sustainability Hub MeetUp at the Randwick Sustainability Education Centre. The first MeetUp had been this year's National Permaculture Day on 1 May.

There's a story behind this first meetup, and it starts with a community participation process led by veteran sustainability education consultant, Grahame Collier. Grahame engaged with past participants of the Living Smart and Organic Gardening courses that are held at the Centre, as well as eastern suburbs community associations in a process that refined the Sustainability Education Centre's role as the major venue of its type in the region and set out a plan for monthly Hub MeetUps that would give community sustainability organisations the opportunity to organise their own activities on the days.

The Wildlife Rescue service, WIRES, was the community organisation featured om the day. They have a cage in the adjacent bushland where they rehabilitate injured birds and animals.



A highlight of the afternoon was harvesting the Jerusalum artichoke. Several of the plants, their foliage now dry and brown - signifying that the tubers were ready to dig up and turn into soup or steamed vegetables - had now gone through their tuber-to-tuber lifecycle im the orchard area.

For Julie Gaul (who works with the Early Childhood Environmental Education Network) and the others in the garden, a little leverage with a garden fork soon lifted and revealed clusters of the pale, knobbly tubers.

Participants went home with tubers to plant in their own gardens or to toss into the soup pot.



It was a difficult choice, whether to stay in the garden with the crew cleaning it up and spreading the layer of straw mulch, or to join Matt, one of Randwick City Council's bushland team, for a guided walk around the large remnant of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub - the only vegetative community that can thrive on the sandy, low-nutrient soils.

There's now a walkway most of the way through the 13 hectare bushland reserve. It will form a complete loop as soon as the Defence Department, whose land it used to be, completes construction, and it was from the walkway that Matt pointed out the work of the bush regeneration company clearing thickets of bitou bush (introduced by sand mining companies during the 1950s to stabilise sands in mined areas) and lantana (Lantana camara). They have cleared the plants and stacked the woody material into long, neat windrows. According to Matt, regenerators have to take care in removing the lantata because it is used by small native birds. Its tangles of spiky branches protect the birds from predatory cats.

Lantana might have some ecological value, however what Acacia saligna offers is less clear. Matt explained how the tree, native of Western Australia, can form monocultures here in the eastern suburbs. The acacia, which is plentiful in the reserve, grows into a medium tree quite unlike the local Acacia sophorae, the Sydney Golden Wattle, which forms dense clumps of large shrubs.

The best discovery on the walk was the last stop. Here, on the southern side of the reserve is a wetland (image below), an ephemeral wetland that is often empty of standing water. This is the low point of the surrounding catchment and its to here that water from the surrounding streets flow before they disappear through the sand into the subterranean reservoir of the eastern suburbs aquifer. This wetland is like a big sand filter that removes pollutants as the water moves into the aquifer and this characteristic of the wetland demonstrates why it is said to provide 'environmental services' of value to the people of the region.

That day, the wetland really lived up to its name because, thanks to the recent rainy period, it was full... a large body of standing water through which casuarina trees protruded and cast their reflections and onto which the sun, now low in the sky, painted in shades of pink and blue. Below the viewing platform a couple wild ducks paddled, their progress over the still waters marked by the V-shape of their wakes.

This was a picturesque and fitting end to Matt's educational walk and we returned to the Hub with its Permaculture Interpretive Garden to find that the gardeners had covered the ground with a fresh layer of yellow straw mulch. Nearby, one of the children working with their mother in the garden washed soil from the harvested artichoke with the hose.

As people put the garden tools into the storage shed, the mother of the children commented how good it was that there was now a place that offered interesting activities where she could bring her children.

Family friendly and open to all, the Sustainability Hub with its permaculture garden is a new community feature in the urban east. Now, The Sustainability Hub MeetUps are set to create a new community attraction that enables people to learn, socialise and cooperate.

MeetUps: First Sunday of month. 2.30-4.30pm.



Story written by Russ Grayson.


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