After seeing trees on steep slopes ‘plucked’ out of the ground while on holidays in the United States, one of the first things Fran Church did when she returned home was to contact Trust for Nature and ask for a covenant to be put on some of her property.
Until then Fran thought the remnant Mountain Ash on her South Gippsland property was safe, given they were growing on steep slopes; however she figured it wouldn’t be long before similar machinery would be available in Australia. She consequently had a conservation covenant placed on five hectares of her property in Dollar, north of Foster, in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges.
Originally a dairy farm, the property caught her and her husband’s eye 40 years ago because it was affordable, albeit neglected and overrun with weeds, they could see its potential. The family lived in inner-city Melbourne and wanted a weekender where their young children could have space to run around, and where they could become aware that water and power are finite (the property was on tank water and solar power).
Fran said, “We spent a lifetime cleaning up the property. There are still some blackberry patches and in the last 12 months I’ve been working with Greening Australia to revert the bulk of the property to bush.
“I’ve always been a believer that if you’re privileged enough to own land, you have a responsibility to leave it in better condition than when you found it. Many think I’m mad reverting the place back to bush, but I know I am doing the right thing.”
These days the property is a getaway for Fran’s grandchildren. She said, “It’s lovely to see history repeat itself with an eight and a five-year-old enjoying the freedom of being allowed to wander off to explore on their own, to make and cook damper outside in a sunken fire pit and learning that if they leave a tap on, the tank may empty, and if they leave a light on, the batteries may run out, which hopefully translates to better practice at their home.”
“My problem is there’s only so many years I have left to manage the property. I’ll keep it as long as I can before eventually selling it, knowing that no matter what happens, the covenanted land cannot be touched.”
In the meantime she enjoys the property’s natural springs, the birds—particularly the lyrebirds—Swamp Wallabies and wombats, and sitting on her deck with a glass of wine admiring the hills across the valley glowing from the rays of the setting sun.