I was born with the impulse to get outside and have always preferred activities that allow me to spend time in the great outdoors. Planting trees is one such activity I indulge in regularly at our 120-acre property. Ours is a forest-filled farm but this doesn’t stop me from planting even more trees. Now because I adore my green surroundings and I’m super committed to reducing my carbon footprint (and plane travel increases this big time), a client has to make it worth my while for me to want to leave my life behind and emit carbon. So when Officeworks invited me to their volunteer event commemorating the first birthday of its ‘Restoring Australia’ initiative; an event where I’d be planting trees to help restore cleared areas in Victoria – I decided my beautiful farm could do without me for several days and the earth would forgive me for this particular indiscretion. This region needed my help!
So I left Queensland’s sub-tropics to face Victoria’s cool winter temperatures. Brave I know, but I’m originally from Melbourne and lived there most of my life so acclimatising was a cinch.
Making my way to Alvie in Victoria I couldn’t help but compare the landscapes to the ones back home. The Colac region is green and luscious indicating that the area’s rainfall is high. We don’t get anywhere near this level of rainfall where I’m from – luscious is not a word you’d describe my neck of the woods. Dry and brittle are the words I’d use. We battle months of dry spells and I’m constantly dancing for rain. Seriously.
Anyway, what stood out for me most about this Victorian region is how bald the area looked, expanses of green plains, yes, but not many trees. I felt sorry for the wildlife. There weren’t many safe places to seek refuge or build their homes. Here the only thing dotting the cleared landscape were sheep and cows it seemed. In the area of Queensland I’m from, trees fill in the landscape. In fact, controlled burning occurs regularly in my region, so farmers can manage their properties and reduce the risk of wildfire.
After travelling for about an hour in the wonderful company of Officeworks Sustainability Officer Andreas Rey, Corporate Responsibility Manager Ryan Swenson and The Green Hub’s Kira Simpson, we reached Alvie Recreation Reserve where we were met by the Greening Australia team headed by Candice Parker, the Project Officer in charge. We then made our way to Red Rock Lookout in Alvie where we were joined by a bus of staff volunteers from Officeworks who were braving the cold and were ready to get their hands dirty. A day of tree planting versus a day in the office – I’d have done the same!
The views at Red Rock Lookout were spectacular. There were sloping hills and green fields as far as the eye can see. But without tall protective trees to shield us from the gusts of wind, it was freezing. Even more so when you climbed the stairs for better views!
From here, we then drove to Corangamite Park, a 250-acre working cattle farm, where I had the pleasure of meeting Nigel Barry, the land owner who had owned the property for some 40 years. He explains that the hills used to be covered in Sheoak trees and that the site of the tree planting, Lake Gnarlingurk, had once been filled with water and used to be referred to as “bottomless” by the locals. Looking around the waterless ‘Lake’ Gnarlingurk, I couldn’t quite picture how this bare expanse of land could have once been a “bottomless” body of water. As if to prove his story, Nigel whips out his phone to show us images of what the area used to look like. I gasp. There it was, a pristine lake glistened, the contrast of the blue waters unmissable against the green grass. Since I live on a farm and understand how precious water is, I felt devastated for Nigel. That beautiful lake on his property now gone. I started to reflect on how difficult some months had been with drought-like conditions forcing us to ration water across our veggie paddocks. Farmers live with the consequences of a changing climate. Hardcore sceptics who deny the reality of climate change have no idea what it’s like to live on the front lines of the climate battle.
Farmers are practical people so they need practical solutions. While the aim of this project is to bring wildlife such as birds and kangaroos back to the property and restore the barren-looking land (Nigel tells us, since tree planting began this year, he spotted his first kangaroo on the property and koalas are returning to neighbouring properties too), there are also other practical reasons for planting trees: it’ll help reduce the need for weed spraying since trees stop weeds from spreading seeds and trees help to improve the quality of the soil since it helps to protect the ground below. Want to convince farmers to plant trees on their block? These are the arguments to use.
After a morning of tree planting, we enjoy a guided walking tour around Lake Corangamite, which I learn is the largest permanent salt-water lake in Australia. Lead project officer Candice shares her extensive knowledge about the area’s local vegetation, birdlife and cultural heritage. She explains the work they are doing to remove introduced species that crowd out native plant species. As the tour ends, I think back to the annoying lantana (an introduced plant species) on our property and all the cane toads (another introduced species) in our region and wonder: Will Greening Australia help with this problem?
By the end of the day, a total of 3,000 trees were planted at Corangamite Park. An incredible result and 500 more than anticipated. I’m thrilled for Nigel and his farm. I look around at the diverse mix of people representing the organisations. I feel a shared sense of accomplishment. The family-like team at Officeworks look tired but content. The team at non-profit environmental organisation Greening Australia look proud.
On the drive back to the hotel, I fire more questions at the Officeworks duo responsible for the sustainability programs, aimed at manager Ryan particularly, who handles the hour-long inquisition with professionalism. There is no question that seems too hard for him. He shares openly about their sustainability initiatives, although I’m familiar with much of their policies since we’d written about some of Officeworks’ programs before. I conclude that Andreas and Ryan are genuine in their attempts to create change. That Officeworks has a dedicated team looking after the sustainability aspect of its business is brilliant. These people have difficult jobs in building business cases and getting things signed off by upper management, but I think for a company its size – 165 stores and 7,000+ employees – and the complexity of its business model, Officeworks is progressing wonderfully towards its 2020 sustainability goals. That management gifted their employees with KeepCups and reusable water bottles and are planning to add these items to employee starter packs speaks volumes of their commitment to reduce environmental impact.
Back in my hotel room, while flicking through the images I had taken earlier in the day, I reflect on the people I had just met and the organisations they represent. I realise more than ever that collaboration with others in the community is the key to solving the climate change problems that lay before us. Collaboration between all parties within our society is really the only way forward. Officeworks partnering with environmental charity Greening Australia to establish the ‘Restoring Australia’ conservation initiative is a great reflection of this. Greening Australia partnering with farmers is another great example. I hope many more corporations and individuals follow in their footsteps. The earth needs all the help it can get.
For more information on Officeworks and its commitment to sustainability, click here.