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Article by Joan Dillon, Land for Wildlife member

Sunshine Coast Council’s conservation partnerships team recently celebrated land for wildlife landholders who have been members of the program for 20+ years.

Members who attended the celebration at Venue 114 were honoured with a sign presented by Mayor Mark Jamieson. Division 2 Councillor Terry Landsberg, Division 4 Councillor Peter Cox, Division 8 Councillor Jason O’Pray and Division 9 Councillor Maria Suarez 9 were also in attendance.

Joan Dillon delivered a moving presentation on her and husband John’s journey with their property in land for wildlife. Her speech was as follows:

“We know nothing of the first nations history of our area, but it was probably traversed by coastal people on their way to the Bunya festivals in the valley that is now Lake Baroon. Our forests cannot be returned to what they were in the past as there have been many changes over the years. However, thanks to land for wildlife and other programs, we are all creating and enhancing important habitats for their wildlife.

Hunchy was settled by Europeans in the late 1800’s and even in that era, lantana was noted! There were also patches of open grassland and the tree cover was described as ‘dry vine forest’, which it undoubtedly is. I’m told the area in general was logged for red cedar and white beech but was described by loggers as the ‘bastard scrub’. We quickly learned why; getting down some of our slopes can be decidedly difficult and the idea of hauling logs out boggles the mind. Dairying, beans, other crops for sale and barter, and lastly casual beef cattle grazing followed because the property wasn’t fenced. Cattle do know a thing or two about slopes and we followed a cattle track through the lantana to get to where we finally built our house.

A misguided agricultural scientist introduced glycine as a pasture legume, and not just in Hunchy. It of course enjoyed the soil and climate along with most other weeds known to SEQ.

Enter the Dillons who like many others had lived interstate. We had previously been involved in environmental matters, joined Barung Landcare prior to our arrival and had met our adjacent neighbours. This was a really good move as many of our neighbours were members of the same family whose forbears had settled in Hunchy. They made a practice of retaining pockets of native forest to hold the slip prone soil and are these are being added to today. How fortunate we were!

Weeds of course and very steep country dissected by one small creek and several deep gullies. Wandering cattle had caused some erosion of the steep and mobile dark basalt soil. It is slip country. A 4WD tractor and a brushcutter each were essential tools. There were a few remnant trees deep in the gullies but otherwise weed species dominated.

Ignoring the weeds while building a house and otherwise “living”, in inverted commas, was also a challenge. The issue of whether to use herbicide and if so, how to use it; not a preference anyway but sometimes unavoidable.

An unexpected and more recent challenge has been the invasiveness of certain local species, generally spread by birds. On other soil types they can actually be difficult to grow. Soils in this area do vary a lot depending on the underlying basalt, sandstone or coastal sands. It’s been essential to experiment and at times delete some otherwise desirable species from the plant list. Attempting to establish an area of native grasses in competition with introduced pasture species proved to be almost impossible, although dense barbed wire grass as a monoculture, not what I actually wanted, was relatively successful. It didn’t last. Every conceivable grass suppressing underlay was tried!

About 10 years later the area is now the ‘shrub and grass field’ a mixture of low shrubs, small but spreading native grasses and other ground cover. Dense low shrubs such as Austromyrtus dulcis have taken over the job of grass suppression.

Working with the neighbours on our eastern boundary to create a 50m wide forested zone as a corridor for our joint wildlife. The actual boundary crosses a slip zone so is ignored. We work above it, our neighbour below it.

Who has read the hilarious book, ‘Lantana Lane’ by Eleanor Dark? There’s history of ignoring surveyed boundaries on this type of country.

Successfully creating habitat for a wide range of small birds. That is so important. Neighbours sometimes say, ‘I haven’t seen certain small honeyeaters for a long time’ and I can respond “they’re at my place”. Habitat is the key.

We learned from our neighbours. We don’t all do things the same way or have the same objectives but adapt to our circumstances and our own knowledge. We all get along just fine.

We had species advice from Barung. Our LfW officers from council provided invaluable advice about “not biting off more than you can chew”! Amongst other questions answered. It is so easy to want to do everything at once. Don’t even think about it!

So, we started at the front gate and built our revegetation program out from there, taking advantage of an established edge. We planted up from the creek and gullies on both sides, taking advantage of any shade provided by remnant tree cover. We progressively eliminated lantana and replaced it with dense edge sealing equivalents, native of course.

Land for wildlife, for me, definitely has emphasis on for Wildlife, so much of our species’ selection has been about providing food and habitat. We have a creek of course but safe water containers in the garden are extensively used for bathing and drinking.

We have very clean birds!

Bottlebrushes and other nectar producing shrubs and trees bring a wide assortment of small honeyeaters. Banksias, particularly B. robur, bring the yellow-tailed black cockatoos.

However, they do need pruning lessons! Finding half a shrub on the ground means shrugging one’s shoulders and thinking Oh well, it will develop more branches and therefore more flowers. Pipturus argenteus is a favourite for its small succulent fruit as is Midyim, Austromyrtus dulcis.

The layered approach particularly in the garden, which merges into the revegetation, has attracted white-browed scrub wrens. The different levels cater for those preferring ground level foraging, up to those more at home higher up. Once established a dense low edge also tends to discourage the scrub turkeys. They like more open ground in which to scratch. Trees with loose bark favour insect foraging, plus leaf litter and fallen timber are food for many invertebrates and also habitat. Logs and rocks have catered for lizards and other ground dwellers.

Diversity at all levels has been an important focus.

It has been a fascinating journey, not quite over and we’ve learned so much along the way. Natural regeneration is now taking over.

We love seeing the wedge-tailed eagles soaring above the back paddock on the updrafts from the escarpment, or the almost resident goshawk flying at high speed through the trees. Wallabies are sometimes seen grazing well into the morning. The wildlife is such a joy.

My greatest pleasure is hearing a noisy pitta in the early morning or at dusk telling me to “Walk to work, walk to work!”

Those 20+ years could not have been better spent!”