Madeleine Murray July 14, 2012
New digs ... Lindi Luu Joy and Mary-Ann Johnson get their hands dirty at Diamond Bay Reserve, Vaucluse. Photo: Sasha Woolley
An army of weekend volunteers has weeds and invasive species in its sights rejuvenating bushland around the city.
Despite the early hour and ominous skies, seven volunteers arrive at Diamond Bay Reserve, Vaucluse, on a Saturday to rip out weeds and plant natives.
They don't appear to have much in common except age (30-plus) and unlikely double-barrelled first names such as Mary Beth, Suellen, Mary-Ann and Lindi Luu. Waves crash on the rocks below the steep slope as a light drizzle falls. ''I love rain, it's so great for the plants,'' Mary Beth Treuen says.
''Be careful of trip hazards. Watch out where you walk, and put your foot down solidly,'' warns the site supervisor, Mary-Ann Johnson, as she shows everyone around the damp, sloping site.
Johnson used to paint sets for events companies and Opera Australia but now works for the National Trust's Bushland Management Services, which contracts bush regenerator experts out to councils.
She outlines the morning's strategy - to remove winter grass, which is seeding now, and to plant four types of tubestock. Pointing to each species in small plastic pots, she explains that coastal rosemary is good for borders, spiky hakea keeps people out of the bushcare areas, wattle grows quickly and provides shade, and baurea rubiodes is pretty, with pink flowers.
This little plant community, known as eastern suburbs banksia scrub, once covered the Sydney coastline before its residents cleared most of the land and spread invasive species by planting exotics and dumping garden waste. The interlopers and noxious weeds crept in and took over, strangling and overwhelming the original species, reconfiguring the landscape, driving away the native birds and animals.
The workers set about ripping out the winter grass, digging small holes and putting in native plants. The steep slope beside the gorge, too dangerous for volunteers, is permanently covered in morning glory, honeysuckle and other weeds.
''There is absolutely diddly-squat native any more in that gully,'' Johnson says. ''But the good news is that the site we're working on today used to be weed-infested, and it's now covered in natives that the Bushcare group planted.''
It's hard work pulling out the winter grass, putting it into bags, scrambling up the slope to get the tubestock and the Wettasoil, down to plant the bush, back up to get bamboo stakes and plastic guards.
But it doesn't seem to bother Treuen, who proclaims with horror and righteous indignation: ''I do this because I dislike weeds - they overtake! Just have a walk up these stairs up the cliff there and you'll discover the most amazing collection of lantana and morning glory strangling the banksias and all the things that were there.''
Ian Cadden sits under a wattle tree in the middle of the group, waiting for others to fill the bags so he can carry them up the hill. Legally blind, Cadden, a maths student at TAFE, came all the way from Glebe to help.
Despite the drizzle, a few joggers and dog walkers are out. ''You're doing a great job,'' one calls out. ''I must come and help sometime.''
Lindi Luu Joy, an occupational health and safety trainer, is further down the slope planting wattles for shade, and hakea. ''I come just because I love uniforms,'' she jokes. ''I love being part of a team; this is one of the manifestations of it in my life. And it's so therapeutic, it completely consumes me.
''Before this, I had no relationship with nature at all. I didn't notice anything - animals or birds or insects.''
There is a pleasant camaraderie, good banter and afterwards the satisfaction of seeing the slope covered in plants that will thrive in a few months. After three hours, they trudge up the hill and retire to Suellen Bassetti's balcony beside the reserve for coffee and almond croissants, just as the thunderstorm hits.
There are dozens of Bushcare groups in the Sydney region - and beyond. Phone your local council or see bushcare.org.au to find a group in your area. Bushcare provides volunteers with training, tools and regular information through newsletters, talks and field days.