No unicorns, but plenty of creatures and plants that needed Landcare's help

Peter Ridgeway, Max Krensell, Dana Pank, Richie Benson, Clr Danielle Wheeler, Gill Tutton, Xuela Sledge and Archie Glass, Kirsty Reynolds, Steve Body and Victoria Selem.
Peter Ridgeway, Max Krensell, Dana Pank, Richie Benson, Clr Danielle Wheeler, Gill Tutton, Xuela Sledge and Archie Glass, Kirsty Reynolds, Steve Body and Victoria Selem.

THERE’S a rare, magical place down behind Hawkesbury High and Freemans Reach Public School. While its custodians can’t promise bunyips or unicorns, this pocket of critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland can boast goannas, birds, mammals and endangered plants.

The site has had many changes since its use by local Darug people as a retreat from floods and summer heat. Its creatures and forest would have supplied their camp with meat and eggs, fruits, tubers and flowers.

The bushland has had some grazing of cattle and sheep over the years, and a cross country course from the schools went through it. The combined effect of these has been to almost destroy about 80 species of plants, most of which were in ground layer, including a rare orchid.  

Recognising the huge significance of this pocket, the Greater Sydney Landcare Network’s Cumberland Plain Landcare Program sent a merry band of weeders in on Saturday, July 15 to work on restoring the forest to a form the Darug people would have known.

Hawkesbury Councillor Danielle Wheeler joined the team for the morning to walk the site and join in on discussions about its management and sustainability as a living record of historical changes. 

Local Landcare coordinator Xuela Sledge, Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) team leader Gill Tutton and volunteers including former Hawkesbury High teacher Steve Body and ex-pupils Victoria Selem and Richie Benson, ripped into the noxious weed green cestrum, and lantana, which were both overtaking the bushland. Hawkesbury River County Council are pitching in as well, working on the larger plumes of weeds in the woodland over coming weeks. 

The group had hoped to see goannas, a sure sign of a resilient ecosystem, but did not on the day. However they weren’t too fazed as goannas are shy creatures, slinking away when humans enter their territory, but also winter is when they retreat into their hollows and lay low until spring. 

Hawkesbury Environment Network’s Robin Woods said the goannas that used to live in the old ironbark trees and scavenge scraps from the adjoining playgrounds were Lace Monitors so that was the variety they had hoped to spot. Lace monitors usually lay their eggs in termite mounds, which offer protection and heat for incubation. The termites themselves then provide a meal for the young goannas as they hatch.

When the young goannas reach adulthood they enjoy a diet of nestling birds, eggs, snakes, some ground fruiting plants and carrion

The Landcare group will return for more work closer to spring, and may spot the goannas then.