16 Jun 2020

TEM Stories: Nature was my playground, now it’s my purpose

Nature Playground
TEM   |   Carbon Offsets   |   Climate Change   |   TEM Stories

The hills were not an attractive place, but for us, it was our playground. And down along the creek where the willows choked the banks, we would set our night lines in the hope of catching a large brown eel. We caught many, and a strong line to hold them in place until our return in the morning, using snails as bait. Our bush adventures were the real thing, and we had no need for screen time with Pacman or Donkey Kong.

All the while and without our noticing, we were connecting with something larger than us. A connection to a greater force, nature. A connection that would endure for our lifetime.

In September 1980, the main street of the town near our home was decorated in yellow, black and white streamers for the upcoming Grand Final.  My footy team was not playing that day and I certainly didn’t care much for the Tigers and Magpies. I was 10 years old, and eagerly peddling my new BMX towards the surrounding hills. Each weekend I would tell mum that I was heading off with my mates to catch rabbits and hangout with the lizards at the back of Werribee Gorge.  Being the youngest of four children I think my mother’s cautionary concerns had withered away over the years, for her only instruction was to “keep off the railway tracks” and “please don’t bring any more lizards home”. The rabbits on the other hand made for a welcome addition to mum’s homemade soup.

Over the years we noticed changes in our playground. House by house the little town grew.  Paddocks where cows once grazed turned into residential estates and native forests disappeared, reincarnated as woodchips. On occasions, we would notice a farmer replacing trees. How novel that seemed. Over the years we would see the near invisible seedlings slowly emerging into green islands in a sea of yellow grass. It was serendipity that a green thumbed uncle of mine would supply a great number of these seedlings to farmers from his native plant nursery. This sparked an interest for me and by my mid-teens I was on the payroll, collecting seed, paid by the kilo. Money growing on trees – who would have thought?

At the end of 1988 I had to decide on my future – what would my career be? I had undertaken a summer job working with the local park rangers and had developed connections with the ‘Friends of the Park Working Group’. I became interested in caring for and improving the environment. By the end of that summer I decided to accept an offer to study science. This decision set me on a path of discovery that lead me to explore a bigger playground, Australia.

I realised that population growth and poor decision making was driving human civilisation towards an unsustainable future. I also realised that our thin veneer of finite atmosphere could not endure the barrage of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. There had to be a better way!

My initial experience of “finding a better way” occurred right in my own backyard, near the small town of Tantanoola, just past Mt. Gambier in South Australia, where my family had lived for generations. There, I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects that mankind can have on the environment. For many decades, two local pulp mills were granted licenses to allow them to pump waste effluent into a drain that flowed straight into Lake Bonney, the largest freshwater lake in South Australia. Fish floated to the surface belly up, aquatic plants died, and the lake changed colour to a blackish brown. During winter, the overflow from the lake was guided by a small outlet channel to the ocean, sending the toxic black sludge many miles out to sea.

The local cray fishing industry and local conservationists (including old uncle) joined to voice their concerns and eventually sufficient attention was focussed on the dying lake, that the South Australian Premier had to act. It’s taken three decades, but the lake is healing and the fish and birdlife returning.  As well, one of Australia’s largest renewable energy wind farms has been established just to the east of the lake’s shoreline along the Woakwine Range. Two outstanding examples of finding a better way right in my own backyard. How many more might could we find?

But why does our environment have to be pushed to the brink before we act and change our behaviours? I am fortunate to have worked on projects that make a positive difference, projects that will last for generations to come. Attitudes are changing and our broader awareness deepening. Our collective knowledge and willingness to repair our planet in 2020 is certainly far superior of that in 1980. We have a long journey ahead if civilisation is to make good on our past mistakes.

Thankfully, companies like TEM are paving the way forward for businesses and individuals to make a positive impact and lead the race towards a better future for our planet.

Grieving Hills by Stuart Macleod

Exposed to the sun and weakened, the soils had succumbed

eroded gullies steepened in a war zone that gravity had won

and boxthorns grasped a foothold, now the battle had begun.

The rabbits have a playground amongst the horehound in the sun

their only rude awakening, the sound from the farmers gun.

But little Stuie plundered, in the rocks to find that lizard

With arms outstretched and burrowing

Mr Scales turned to something different

With vacant legs and harm intended

A snake appeared and reared its head

A lizard not what he contended

Retreat retreat, his arm withdraw

A lucky escape he surely knew

His weekend splendours tapered now

But he worried not, in his playground got

For it formed a part of his adventure

With natures surrounds, in all its splendour.

Stuart Macleod is TEM’s Carbon Projects Development Manager; a boy from the bush who has an extraordinary way with landscapes, landholders… and words.