Formed in the late 1980s, Friends of St Helena Bush Reserve is described by one of its dedicated volunteers as exhibiting a ‘…really great example of what indigenous flora was here before white settlement.’
St Helena Bush Reserve is a wonderful example of protected bushland in a largely suburban area. Surrounded by quiet streets and family homes, the 2.1-hectare space may seem unassuming but is actually a haven for some impressive indigenous plant species. Members of Friends of St Helena Bush Reserve have been coming along most Sundays since the group was first established, and their dedication to conserving such a rare patch of bushland in the midst of suburbia is admirable.
Group co-ordinator Lawrie describes how there is not much of this kind of vegetation left in this part of Melbourne or in the City of Banyule, explaining that he gets ‘…great joy from being in the bush, no matter how small a sample it is.’
The group’s main focus is weeding and, although this may not sound glamourous, the positive results far outweigh the sometimes tiresome nature of the work. Matthew, one of a core group of four volunteers, says, ‘I just find it very relaxing even when we’re doing the tedious stuff, pulling out weeds. I find it quite meditative.’
After moving into the area about three years ago, Matthew has been looking after his own property as well as the reserve. He knows first-hand what this kind of bushland can turn into if it’s not looked after; ‘it takes a lot of effort,’ he says. As distinct from other local green spaces, St Helena Bush Reserve doesn’t contain many woody weeds. Lawrie explains that ‘pasture grasses [are] the main thing we’ve been controlling with the help of Banyule.’
Garry, an expert on local plants, acknowledges that while St Helena Bush Reserve is home to a range of native fauna, it is the diversity of flora that is most impressive. There are an astounding 130 different plant species in the reserve which are local to this particular area, including 36 orchid species. Matthew in particular has learnt plenty from Garry regarding these native plants and describes their flowering as an amazing event and something which has ignited his fascination with Australian flora.
Along with established volunteer Linda, Matthew is responsible for uploading photos to the citizen science platform, Bowerbird, on behalf of the group. He is passionate about engaging the wider community with identifying the incredible botanical species to be found in this small patch of bushland. As with so many Friends groups, one of the great benefits of this kind of work is the new experiences that volunteers encounter every week. ‘A lot of it’s about learning,’ Matthew says, identifying species being just one element of the work from which he earns a sense of accomplishment.
Whilst Friends of St Helena Bush Reserve is extremely dedicated, the need for more people power is something that is often on the minds of group members. ‘The reality is if people don’t come along, what will happen is we’ll rely totally on council,’ Matthew explains. ‘The council likes to know that the community’s behind it and involved.’
Linda whole-heartedly believes that ‘this area of bushland wouldn’t exist now if it weren’t for the early efforts of Lawrie and our group.’ Banyule Bush Crew employee Adrianna agrees, stating that ‘we’d lose a lot of expertise and knowledge’ if the Friends group was to disappear.
It is the ‘knowledge that you’re protecting something that’s intrinsically Australian’ that Lawrie finds incredibly comforting.‘I’ve always wanted my children and my grandchildren to experience this,’ he says, ‘to understand what was here before we came along and made major changes to the environment.’ The hope is that Friends of St Helena Bush Reserve continues its important work, gains more eager volunteers and sustains this rare patch of indigenous bushland existing quietly in the otherwise busy north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Friends of St Helena Bush Reserve meets on the fourth Sunday of every month at 10.30am from February to November at the Eskdale Court entrance.
This story was originally featured in the Banyule Community Conservationists magazine published by Remember The Wild and supported by Banyule City Council. You can view the magazine in full here.
Banner image courtesy of Chris McCormack.