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  Saving the Daintree CollectionAllen Sheather
 
  1. Daintree satinash Syzygium monospermum, 2. Archidendron ramiflorum, 3. Idiot fruit or ribbonwood Idiospermum australiense (All artwork by Bill Cooper from ‘Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest’ by Wendy Cooper)  
 
  1. Daintree satinash Syzygium monospermum, 2. Archidendron ramiflorum, 3. Idiot fruit or ribbonwood Idiospermum australiense (All artwork by Bill Cooper from ‘Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest’ by Wendy Cooper)  

As I watched the nightly news of the Daintree blockade in the 1980s I had no idea that I was destined to meet and become friends with many of the prominent characters who featured in those historic events.

My involvement in the conservation of the Daintree rainforest began with the purchase of ‘pristine rainforest’ through Quaid Real Estate on the Australia Day weekend of 1986. Initially, my then partner and I made this purchase for investment purposes but, after travelling around Australia for a couple of years looking for a place to settle, it became pretty obvious that few places could surpass the Daintree and its natural attributes.

It was no surprise that in 1993 we decided to build a modest house nestled in the forest with as little impact as we could. Much to our delight, those efforts for our sustainable house were later rewarded with a conservation award.

During this period we became disillusioned with the ordinary suburban approach of an overwhelming number of residents who seemed intent on ensuring that the Daintree ended up like most settled places – completely devoid of its original natural values and riddled with weeds and domestic animals. We found this alarming situation a potent motivation to get involved in Save the Daintree Again.

It was quite clear that the Daintree lowlands was a special place that urgently required protection. It was only political expediency that prevented most of the subdivided parts of the Daintree coast from being included in the World Heritage Area. At that time Senator Graham Richardson described it as ‘the hole in the heart of the World Heritage Area’. The next ten years became a fight against time to secure as much unsettled land as we could before it was too late.

I was totally fascinated by the plant life of the Daintree rainforest and set about studying the botany. I spent much of my free time traipsing through the forest in search of plants new to me and then working on their identification. Some would vex me for many months until they sported some aspect of reproductive material, a flower or fruit, to give some hint to their identity.

My involvement with the Daintree Cassowary Care Group (DCCG) began during this time, in particular the group’s nursery and revegetation efforts. This gave me a practical opportunity to grow the wondrous array of plants that I was encountering on my many wanderings. Collecting seeds and watching them germinate and grow continues to delight me and certainly helps to identify them in the field. Gone were the neck-breaking days of constantly looking up into a seemingly impenetrable canopy to catch a glimpse of leaf, flower or fruit. Now I wander head down looking for the young seedlings that I have come to know and seeking the odd ones that will grow into something new.

Blue or silver quandong Elaeocarpus grandis. Artwork by Bill Cooper from Fruits of the the Australian Tropical Rainforest by Wendy Cooper.

The many hours of studying these plants, which I like to refer to as the Daintree collection, certainly helped to counter the often ignorant ranting of those that opposed treating the area with any reverence. I would read comments claiming that ‘it was all cleared’ and then I would walk through areas that contained a host of palms, cycads and large trees that long pre-dated the arrival of white man a mere 130 years ago.

Of course, the other practical advantage of getting to know the plants is that we become better able to grow the right ones for helping to repair some of the damage done by past thoughtlessness. It now gives me great joy to visit places like Jindalba where the DCCG has been actively involved in revegetating the 30 hectares that had been cleared.

While you can always look back and see how things could have been done better, the fact that a handful of concerned people could achieve what we did is impressive. We had some amazing role models to motivate us. Mike Berwick would have to be the most outstanding example for his consistent hard work for well over 20 years. However, the process wasn’t without stresses and strains, with the human toll of friendships and relationships sometimes falling victim to the rigours of the battle.

Overall, I feel a great sense of achievement in knowing that it was all worthwhile – that a small part of the Wet Tropics is a little better and a bit more loved. And, who knows, maybe one day it will gain the already deserved honour of being included in the World Heritage Area.

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Allen Sheather

Allen has been a dedicated and enthusiastic worker with the Daintree Cassowary Care Group and Daintree Rainforest Foundation for over 15 years. He has spent endless hours organising and implementing revegetation works around the Daintree and Mossman areas. Allen has been a member of various WTMA advisory groups for many years and currently chairs the Cassowary Advisory Group. Allen and his partner, Barbara Maslen, are currently replanting rainforest and rehabilitating wetlands on their Daintree property, Wild Wings and Swampy Things Nature Refuge.

Bill and Wendy Cooper

Bill and Wendy built their home on the Atherton Tableland in 1987 and have a passion for rainforest flora and fauna. Together they produced their comprehensive and unique ‘Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest’. Wendy is a botanist who wrote the text and devised a system of keys to the tropical rainforest plants using their fruits as the primary means of identification. Bill provided hundreds of detailed illustrations of plants and animals. He was the first Australian to win a prestigious award from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia for his ‘artistic contribution to mankind’s better appreciation of living things’. Both Wendy and Bill have received Cassowary Awards to honour their work in the Wet Tropics.

 
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