Austinville Landcare has been working for 18 years to improve the biodiversity of the Austinville Valley in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Part of Springbrook National Park covers approximately one third of our 17km long catchment. We work across the whole valley, on City of Gold Coast (COGC) Reserves, Private Properties and Springbrook National Park.
We are an unincorporated group of approximately 30 members. When we work on council land, we are strongly supported by their Naturally GC Landcare team. We alternate our volunteer work on council land, with work in Springbrook National Park. In 2016 we received the inaugural Healthy Habitat Award from our regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) Group, Healthy Land and Water (HLW).
We work with our volunteers to help them develop a love of our valley and an appreciation of its biodiversity. We educate and train them to increase their knowledge and skills. In this way they are more productive on our field days, and hopefully they employ better practices on their properties, and influence and educate their friends, family, and politicians.
However, from the outset we realised that part-time volunteers could never achieve the change we desired over the entire catchment. To achieve the productivity to create landscape change we needed to employ professional restoration contractors. These contractors have the skills, equipment, and time to restore large and difficult to access areas that are beyond the capability of volunteers.
This approach has been highly successful. Our volunteers worked in Council Reserves with the Naturally GC Landcare Program and our contractors worked adjacent to private properties along the rest of the creek line.
Austinville Landcare employs these contractors as an unincorporated group. This has been possible with the support and sponsorship of the regional not for profit group, Watergum. For a 5% fee on grants Watergum acts as a sponsor for grants, provides Queensland Water and Landcare (QWALC) insurance, and manages our funds in a dedicated bank account. Watergum supports 44 member groups in the Gold Coast area in this way to enable the volunteer groups to concentrate on on-ground action.
Springbrook National Park
In the 1930’s a large area of the upper Austinville catchment was cleared for a Banana Settlement which was established to provide employment during the depression. The area was subdivided into farms and 50 families moved there in 1934. The community boasted a school, store, and tennis courts. Unfortunately, the conditions were too difficult, and the farms were too isolated and by 1940 the Settlement had been abandoned.
The tragedy is that much of the vegetation which was cleared is now classified as critically endangered sub-tropical lowland rainforest. Once the bananas had been removed the area was overrun with lantana and other weeds. The land was gazetted as a State Forest in the 1960’s and several small Eucalyptus grandis plantations were established. In 1992 the Regional Forest Agreement changed the tenure to National Park. So, over a period of 60 years, the land had transitioned from critically endangered tropical lowland rainforest on private land to a weedy addition to World Heritage Springbrook National Park.
In 2016, Austinville Landcare considered whether we could restore the old Settlement area, now part of Springbrook National Park, from weeds back to rainforest. It was a daunting task with hundreds of hectares to be restored. The scale was tipped when Paul Donatiu of HLW partnered in the project and provided us with over $170,000 worth of funding to start the process.
HLW’s initial grants funded contractor work from 2016 to 2019. At the same time Austinville Landcare worked in the park in a volunteer capacity. The volunteers achieved a great deal, and the community was emotionally engaged in the project, but it should be emphasised that the bulk of restoration work was achieved by the grant paid contractors.
The major challenge of using contractors was the constant need to secure new grants. Without continuity of work there was a risk that partially restored areas would revert to weeds. Maintaining a steady flow of grants is challenging as they come from a variety of sources including federal and state government, NRM groups and other not-for-profits. Each source has different application and reporting requirements. Despite the challenges we have managed to keep winning grants and continue using contractors to restore the old Settlement area with great success.
Renowned Botanist, Dr Bill McDonald independently assessed our work in December 2022 and concluded: I commend Austinville Landcare and their community members and contractors for the quality and scale of their efforts towards rehabilitation of this most significant area adjoining the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
In response to the catastrophic fires in 2019, Landcare Australia and QWALC offered grants to provide for better management of the likely increase in the number of climate induced fires in the future. Austinville Landcare recognised that the rainforests in the Austinville Section of Springbrook National Park were highly vulnerable to fire.
We also learnt that limited resources meant that state and local government, including the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships (QPWSP), prioritised the protection of human assets over the biodiversity of natural areas. Therefore, many of the file trails in our relatively remote valley were in a bad state of repair or unusable.
Austinville Landcare was successful in winning a grant to upgrade the 20 km of fire trails in Austinville valley which ran across land owned by National Parks, City of Gold Coast and Private owners. The bulk of this grant money was allocated to the upgrade of National Park fire trails. These trails are being used for major ecological burns in 2023.
The model of working as volunteers and using grant paid contractors to have a greater impact has been very successful for Austinville Landcare. We have raised over $1,000,000 of grants in total, $420,000 of which has been invested directly into Springbrook National Park. We would recommend this as an approach for other groups, although we would make several points.
Volunteer groups need to diversify their membership mix and look beyond on-ground doers and look for people with office, computer, and mapping skills to manage the large tasks of applying for, managing, reporting on, and acquitting grants.
Through our work with Springbrook National Park, we have always had a close working relationship with the rangers. We can call and discuss projects and have joint workdays with our volunteers and Springbrook Park staff. What has been frustrating has been getting letters of permission and support for grant applications. Invariably our local ranger is supportive, however obtaining the required sign off from middle management has been difficult and stressful.
Watergum has been central to our success by providing grant writing assistance, grant sponsorship, QWALC insurance and banking services. However, Watergum only offers this service in Southeast Queensland. Fortunately, the new Friends of Parks QLD organisation has formed with the express purpose of helping volunteer groups working in National Parks over the whole of Queensland. If your group wants to avoid the burden of incorporation and associated administration, and to apply for grants to pay contractors, we recommend contacting Friends of Parks QLD.