I was probably born green – in that era, probably some malfunction within my DNA. I didn’t actually know I was green as a kid. If I had thought about it I would have just assumed everybody loved spending their life in the local creek and thought that animals were cute and tree-shade was a really good thing.
Lucky for me I had a great biology teacher who encouraged these weirdo tendencies and I ended up following them at university. I didn’t like the city – no creeks, the wrong sort of animals and only pretend shade – and I really only wanted to be a farmer. So after uni, home I came to manage the family cane farm at Aloomba and back to my beloved Behana Creek.
This was the early 1980s and it was obvious that recent sugar expansion had chewed up some really nice parts of our catchment, particularly the wetlands of the lower Mulgrave. But… these were good times for the industry – the money was good, diesel was cheap and with a bit of earthmoving it was easy to gain extra ground to help increase the size and efficiency of farms. Some did it well, leaving river bank vegetation and outstanding wetlands intact amid their farming operations, but many did it not so well. It was a mixed bag of emotions for me – I was a greenie before the term was invented, but I too enjoyed decent money for a change – the oldies were happier being able to provide for six kids (no wonder my DNA got messed with) and I could support my Moto Guzzi motorbike habit.
About this time some heavy duty green issues were emerging – the iconic fight to save the Franklin River down south, the coast road to Bloomfield here and some new aberration – a communist plot I was led to believe – called World Heritage listing. Well… though I liked the creek, the animals and the rest, it was obvious even to me that the unwashed, semi-literate, overly sexually active, dope-smoking hippies were out to steal all the region’s farm land and prevent me from using my own Behana Creek.
I remember going to a meeting in Babinda to hear some very, very brave person front a crowd of about 300 farmers to extol the virtues of World Heritage listing and explain the wondrous necessity for an extra buffer zone between the World Heritage Area and farm land. Considering that the Area was going to be placed over a fair swag of private land and, in the majority opinion, should be fought to the death, an additional buffer zone was er… unlikely to be given careful and courteous consideration. It wasn’t.
I personally didn’t stand to have any land covered by the Area but, man, this idea of losing rights over your own land and the right to farm just wasn’t very palatable. Like a frog in a blender, I was in a green spin.
Fast forward 20 years to 2009. I am still a sugar farmer, but also part of the Mulgrave Landcare Group. The World Heritage Area did come in and surround the Mulgrave Valley. It turned out to be a plot by conservation giants with very clear foresight – not reds after all. The sugar industry still has a few problems but not because of World Heritage. The local timber industry did disappear and I am disappointed that a sustainable, native, plantation forestry industry didn’t get supported well enough to replace it.
So why do I think World Heritage was a good idea? Because not only does it delineate areas as being of particularly high biodiversity value – areas like the beautiful upper catchment of Behana Creek that, globally, will be truly scarce in a decade or two – it delineates them with a legal standing that prevents easy fragmentation of those areas by various developments and activities, as used to happen. At least within the Area, conservationists are no longer a pushover.
This is the true value of 20 years of World Heritage listing. It set very high standards of conservation over very large areas as a goal. It achieved them without sending the region’s economy broke and forced the development community to treat the conservation community with respect. I congratulate the architects, the early warriors and now the caretakers of the Area for these achievements. If only we could now have such a line on a map for the rest of Behana Creek.
Bruce grew up on a cane farm in Aloomba and attended Gordonvale High School where he took a keen interest in biology. When his university studies were completed in Brisbane he returned home to become one of the first truly green farmers in the Mulgrave area. Bruce is passionate about trees, rivers and sustainable farming practices and has worked long and hard to promote conservation amongst farmers and others in the community. For over 10 years he has worked with the local community to rehabilitate the Mulgrave River catchment. This has included river and wetland restoration, weed control and tree planting. His current mission in life is to promote responsible use of the groundwater systems that underpin many Wet Tropics environments. Bruce continues to lead the way as the Coordinator for the Mulgrave Landcare and Catchment Group.
Countless numbers of Mike’s photographs have been reproduced in a wide variety of publications, bringing Wet Tropics wildlife and landscapes to prominence. In 2006 Mike commenced publishing a series of his own books about the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The first won the Queensland Multimedia Awards and the second was taken up as a high school text, which for Mike is his greatest personal achievement. He now looks forward to producing more books to further showcase the beauty and natural history of this very special corner of the Australian continent.
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