2010 President’s Report


(Being part of the 2010 Annual Report and presented at the AGM/Feral Feast on the 21/03/2010)

[Word version 328KB]




An empowered community in charge of its own destiny


What a privilege it has been to be the Chair of the Southern Otway Landcare Network!  Even though, we are just a voluntary, locally focussed, community group, we have a lofty aim: to protect and repair our environment so that we can live, work and enjoy a healthy, productive, balanced landscape.


Why are we so tenacious in our belief that we have the capacity to achieve this aim? The answer is the thread that binds this Annual Report together. Please read it and share in our achievements and frustrations.


I’ve used the word tenacious because one of SOLN’s strengths is the fact that we are resolutely engaged with our community and we have the capacity to think in the long-term.  Riparian restoration, weed management, healthy soils and increased biodiversity are not the kind of environmental services that can be achieved by short-term thinking. After 13 years, it feels like we’ve only just got started. There’s much to be done.


Looking back over the last year, the Government’s shrinking level of engagement with comprehensive Natural Resource Management strategies has been characterised by massive knowledge loss and an appalling lack of continuity. It’s rare for SOLN to have relationships with the same Government Agency officers for more than 18 months. Many of the people we had relationships with have been retrenched. By default, SOLN is evolving into the primary custodian of the healthy environmental values that can sometimes be taken for granted in the Otways (clean air, clean water, natural habitat, greenhouse mitigation biodiversity, to name the obvious). These are values that sustain our existence. They are easily destroyed and require constant vigilance. There should be no doubt about the importance of the work that SOLN does. Strong connections and access to a healthy natural environment are inseparable from the social and economic health of our community.


SOLN is an integral component of an empowered community in charge of its own destiny. But we often wish that our State and Federal Governments (they are our Governments) would recognise the logic and cost effectiveness of supporting our work. If they did, we could spend fewer hours writing funding applications and more hours maintaining a healthy environment. Ballooning National debt combined with top-down policy frameworks, would indicate further funding cuts within a funding environment that is unlikely to improve. SOLN has responded to the lack of Government support by developing an innovative 5-year Strategic Plan aimed at making our operations financially sustainable


Federal Government policy failure


The official briefing in Melbourne for the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country (CFOC) Business Plan 2010-11 was a pitiful demonstration of policy failure indicative of the very limited influence and consequent empty rhetoric of Federal Ministers Garrett and Burke. I wouldn’t waste time criticising it here, were it not that its most obvious flaw provides an opportunity for highlighting how misaligned this level of top-down thinking is with our bottom-up strengths and real achievements.


The CFOC document itself is hardly a Business Plan because Australia has yet to develop a business framework that treats the maintenance of core environmental values as marketable services. Instead, the Federal Government has made a list of short-term priority ‘outcomes’ for competition. There is an underlying assumption that competition somehow guarantees these outcomes will be achieved. With such a meagre bucket of short-term funds for short-term projects, there are few winners. The biggest loser is our National Capacity to protect our natural environment. CFOC is now one of the only sources of Federal Government funding for Landcare. This means that to secure any level of project funding, SOLN will have to compete against our traditional partners such as Government Agencies and large regional organisations, such as Catchment Management Authorities.


Even if we are successful, the funding is short-term and project specific. Apart from a small project administration fee, the funds cannot be used to pay co-ordinators or to maintain our delivery infrastructure.


We can use the Federal Government’s own words to describe the importance of having a pre-existing capacity with skills and experience in order to complete and maintain, even short term, projects:


Achieving a healthy, better protected, well managed and resilient environment requires us to combine our experience, knowledge, skills and capacity.

                           CFOC Business Plan 2010-11, page 12


What’s overlooked is an acknowledgement, or understanding, of where this capacity might come from and how it might be maintained or nurtured. In short, there is no Federal funding for maintaining the capacity to deliver any form of ‘outcome’. Consequently, we are now seeing the capacity of regional organisations and other Landcare Networks wither and die.


The heart of the problem is the gaping contradiction in the fact that SOLN has exactly the kind of capacity that our politicians claim they want to build, but when it has been built, they are not prepared to support, or maintain it. Without a viable market for our environmental services or even a period of transition, our options require imagination and stronger, wider partnerships.


How to recognise capacity when you can’t always see it


It has taken 13 years for SOLN to build up an efficient support and delivery infrastructure. Let’s list what this entails because the list goes someway towards demonstrating what a small, but effective Landcare Network with experience, knowledge, skills i.e. capacity, actually looks like:

·            One full-time, and 3 part time highly skilled Co-ordinators who attend to a wide range of daily enquires from members, the public, local and State Government Agencies, and university research teams;

·            An efficient project management office, effective procedures and processes, performance measurement rationales, well kept records and a vehicle for site visits and for carrying tools, equipment, seedlings etc. around our region;

·            A recognised seed bank of species with accurate local provenance;

·            A nursery and support centre where we grow and store seedlings for re-vegetation projects and store equipment such as feral cat traps, seed cleaning, and propagation;

·            Productive partnerships and liaison with government agencies as well as business, convening, chairing and participating in Reference and special interest Groups;

·            Good Governance through an expert and committed Committee of Management with a rigorous 5-year Strategic Plan aligned with regional Catchment Management Authority strategies;

·            Educational programs (e.g. Waterwatch, seed identification and propagation, fern spore harvesting), internships, staff development programs, participation in university research;

·            Engagement with Indigenous community (e.g. Richard Collopy’s launch of the Barham River Festival and the Barham River Backwater planting day)

·            Detailed mapping and GIS of restoration projects, weed, pests, and soil hotspots;

·            Reference Library, local field guides, local brochures, local booklets and educational packages;

·            Subscriber website, electronic and printed newsletters, media releases;

·            Event and Festival organisation;

·            Individual property planning, catchment management planning and participation in Local Government and regional planning;

·            Submissions about local issues and perspectives to Government White Papers, Regional and National Strategies;

·            Fund raising through grant applications, submissions and income generating projects.

In early April 2009 we had the chance to meet Minister Burke and present the case for Landcare. We followed up with letters to both Ministers Garrett and Burke. Not only were our arguments ignored but the weak responses to the critical issues we raised were met with political spin about the importance of continuing community engagement in similarly worded form letters.


The blame for such systemic policy failure must also lie with Landcare itself. The Victorian Farm Trees and Landcare Association (VFTLA) has a limited capacity to influence Federal policy and has maintained a ‘business as usual’ approach. The absence of any form of effective representative body now means that there is little or no appreciation, by the Ministerial decision makers, of what Landcare is, does and would like to be. SOLN and its member Groups are now supporting former SOLN President, Roger Hardley in his attempts to address this level of ignorance through the recently formed Victorian Landcare Council.


Using capacity to revitalise our community


Following our meeting with Minister Bourke, the Group Presidents met to review and update our 5 year Strategic Plan. The SOLN 5-year Strategic Plan 2009-2013 has now been completed. The Plan clearly states our vision, goals, principles and work plans.  I commend this document to you and congratulate our lateral thinking Group Presidents on its timely development. In this Annual Report I would draw your attention to a particular element of the vision (from the Strategic Plan) that arose during a general discussion about building on SOLN’s strengths (i.e. highly skilled staff, strong partnerships, relatively healthy ecosystems, and native habitats).


The idea is to work towards developing an Otway Sustainability Centre. The concept is supported by the following principles:


1.  A community should invent its own future: to survive and thrive;
2.  It is best to build on the skills and assets that you've got;
3.  A sustainable approach will bring long-term viability and benefits to the region.


The Centre will be a regional hub providing the supporting infrastructure for community groups and Government Agencies to work together to:


·            Build the capacity of the community to support and enhance the local environment and adapt to global climate change;

·            Deliver learning and change programs to develop community resilience and boost the local economy;

·            Maintain and grow local jobs in the sustainable, natural resource management, river health, environmental auditing and monitoring, geo-spatial mapping, biodiversity and renewable energy sectors;

·            Provide in-the-field ‘green future' skills and job training by offering the practical components for existing certified training packages;

·            Develop training programs around best practice environmental management, auditing and monitoring, geo-spatial mapping, soil health, community gardens and sustainable technologies;

·            Provide the community with Regional Resource/Information Centre weed identification, how to collect and propagate local seeds, where to get indigenous seedlings, who to talk to about installing solar hot water, audits etc;

·            Test the commercial viability of sustainable enterprises, small landholdings and renewable technologies (links with China);


A large proportion of the 3,250 square kilometers of the Colac Otway Shire is National Park, including coastline, rainforests and lakes.


The main industries have been Agriculture, forestry and fishing. All have declined markedly in the last 2 years with the cessation of clear fell logging in 2008 and the decreasing viability of farming. Tourism, the next biggest employer, is not necessary a stable industry and is at risk of shocks from pandemics (SARS and Swine flu etc), climate change (rising sea levels) as well as residual impacts from the Global Financial Crisis. Rather than find other jobs or diversify, the majority of workers from these two industry groups are now unemployed. The unemployment rate has risen since 2007 and sharply since January 09. Colac Otway has a lower average income level than surrounding Shires and the Victorian average. Similarly, education level is lower because of the lack of educational institutions and opportunities in the region.

Who benefits?

The Otway Sustainability Centre will seed and nourish a developing green economy in the Colac Otway Region by providing the necessary training and resources.  Benefits to the area will include the direct contribution from the activities of the Centre: this is the first step towards a regional transformation where economic benefits will flow from the development of a centre of excellence with a focus on Sustainability. The Centre will apply the principles of sustainable design to the community itself.  This initiative will increase the attractiveness of the area as a destination for eco-tourism and residential habitation, with consequent increases in revenue for the Shire. 

In addition, the project addresses a serious decline in the training of skilled environmental consultants. Dr Andrew Campbell, former Executive Director of Land and Water Australia, has identified the causes of this decline as shrinking university budgets, falling enrolments, and a breakdown in the technical capability within many State Agencies due to a 20-year period of restructuring and rationalisation where little has been spent on staff development.

The long-term approach taken by the Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN) has meant that it has been taking on the role of trainer for many contracted Government Agency officers. The Otway Sustainability Centre will formalise this level of training using a pay-for-service model.

The long-term benefits are expected to include:

·            Income stream for SOLN

·            More resilient community with more (non-tourist) visitors

·            Creation of new jobs in the sustainable space

·            Development of new ‘green’ industries (wind, wave, solar, regional auditing etc)


To date we have made a series of presentations to the DSE, Colac Otway Shire and (more importantly) a 2-day facilitated workshop with local community leaders (gratefully funded by RMIT). The group developed a series of scenarios for the future of the Otways. I’m pleased to say that the concept of the Otway Sustainability Centre is now gaining traction and is supported by our community leaders. Because it is a collective concept, we are looking to Colac Otway Shire to take ownership of the idea and work with us to develop a business plan. In the meantime, SOLN has funded a Training and Assessment Certificate IV Course for our Co-ordinators (and Chair) so that we can begin to deliver Certificated Training.


This is just one example of the manifold ways in which SOLN is acting as both a facilitator and a catalyst for revitalising our community. Another demonstration that has had flow-on effects was the success of the inaugural Barham River Festival held on 28th February 2009.


Healthy environment makes a healthy community


Richard Collopy (a representative of the traditional owners) opened the Festival. More than 400 people attended and celebrated the natural beauty of the Barham River and its catchment. Many Otway residents and newcomers reported that they understood more about the fruitful partnerships and complex challenges that all the Agencies encounter when looking after the health of the river.


Denise Hooke, President of the Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group (OBCLG), is to be congratulated for her efforts in organising the Festival. Nevertheless, the Festival would not have happened were it not for the financial support of Barwon Water. After the decision to have another Festival in 2011, I am pleased to report that Barwon Water has indicated that it will fund the Festival again.


When Festival participants were asked to comment on their aspirations for the Barham River, there was a strong call for greater access to the river and for a shared bicycle/walking path as well as for a natural linkage corridor between the forest and the estuary to enhance in-stream habitat.


The rejection of the proposed Great Ocean Green housing/golf development by planning Minister, Justin Madden, has meant that the riparian restoration of the lower reaches of the Barham River could now proceed. The first action was organised by the SOLN team and involved the fencing and restoration of the lower estuary (backwater) of the Barham River with the planting of swamp scrub (see Co-ordinators Report).


Acting on the feedback from the Barham River Festival, the Otway Barham Reference Group decided to incorporate a shared walking and bicycle path into the riparian restoration of the lower reaches of the river. A shared path will provide better and safer access to the Barham River and more physical connectivity with the town of Apollo Bay and Marengo. It will also to facilitate a closer connection to the river’s riparian restoration.


Specific objectives will include:


o        Design and construction of a shared walking and bicycle path to connect Apollo Bay, Marengo with the Barham River;

o        Development of Community Capacity to sustain and expand restoration through educational programs;

o        Willow and weed removal (to begin in March 2010 as determined appropriate by CCMA);

o        Fencing the areas associated with riparian health (where necessary);

o        Streamside re-vegetation with indigenous and locally sourced species appropriate to the ecological values of the river;

o        Maintenance of re-vegetated areas;

o        Weed eradication and on-going control;

o        Provision for off-stream watering points for stock (where necessary);

o        Continuous monitoring of river health according to the index of stream quality;


The project will be co-ordinated by SOLN as a member of the Otway Barham Reference Group. SOLN’s expertise in determining what is environmentally sustainable and what will, or will not, contribute to the long-term health of the whole river system comes from the combined expertise of our partners (Colac Otway Shire, CCMA, Barwon Water) and from the considerable experience of its Co-ordinators and members.


This is a proposal that will contribute to the health, not only of the town, but also of the natural ecologies that depend on the efficient operation of the whole river system. It is possible because SOLN has the vision, knowledge and skill to develop strong and effective partnerships. Ambitious as this project is, it is a component of the longer-term vision of the Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group to restore the whole Barham River so that it forms an unbroken habitat corridor from source to sea.


Here you can see an example of how the ‘capacity’ to put on a Festival can lead to the capacity to identify and act on the community aspirations that arose from the conduct of the Festival. We can do this because we are engaged with our community. The facilitating role that SOLN has taken with bushfire preparation is a further example.


Bushfire preparation


Almost exactly a year ago Victoria experienced catastrophic fires. The Otways have recently been identified as an area at high risk. According to fire experts at Melbourne University, the catastrophic fires such as Black Friday, in 1939, Ash Wednesday, in 1983, and Black Saturday, in 2009, have all occurred after a lengthy period of very low rainfall, extreme temperatures, a fierce north wind, followed by a south westerly change.  


Most of the people living outside the town of Apollo Bay and those that live in the small settlements such as Wye River, live in steep, deeply forested river valleys, or on ridges, with only one narrow road in, or out. According to CFA Fire Chief, Colin Coleman, the residents cannot expect the CFA to go down these roads when a fire is approaching.


SOLN is the network that actually connects the landholders in the Otways. SOLN has facilitated a series Community Fire Guard workshops led by our members and co-ordinated by Aurel Dessewffy (CFA). Overall, we have been exasperated by the lack of co-ordination between Colac Otway Shire, the CFA and the State Government. It would appear that each of these Agencies is acting independently to protect itself from litigation rather than acting to save lives. Consequently the public are receiving contradictory messages and don’t know who to trust.


The State Government has developed a fire rating system that makes no sense to our members because there are no real or practical points of distinction between the actions required for Code Red, Extreme, Severe and Very High. The State Government has also instigated a mobile phone warning system. However, the Southern Otway region has very poor mobile phone coverage and many of our members have city billing addresses and will not be sent the warnings.


SOLN has been proactive in facilitating research by a team led by Dr Yoko Akama, who leads a design team from RMIT. The team has been working with the Otway Community to develop effective communication and planning strategies in the event of the inevitable catastrophic bushfire. So far this led to several bushfire awareness days in January 2010 and to the development and testing of what are referred to as ‘Design Scaffolds’ or methods such as postcards with written scenarios for prompting discussion and unlocking local knowledge.


Festivals, fire preparation, river restoration, connections between people and the natural environment, communication and deep learning - all come from SOLNs capacity to imagine a better future and to work out ways of making it happen. SOLN has been fortunate in being able to attract highly skilled staff. Without our paid co-ordinators, our ability to maintain our level of service will be severely constrained.


The continuity of highly skilled staff

Without the impeccable work of Dianne Inglis in managing our Support Centre and nursery, we would not have seen the centre develop into the showcase that it is today and we would not have the fabulous relationship with our volunteer ‘Townies’ group who work away tirelessly in any weather. Without our Pest Plants and Animals Co-ordinator (Renaissance man), Luke Hynes, we would not have such a comprehensive Strategic Plan and we would not have seen the Agencies sitting around the same table and working from the same maps. We would not have the GIS data for roadsides and we would not have had the Group meetings or information exchanges that fed into the Strategic Plan. Nor would we have had a band at the Chrstmas party. Luke’s, calm, even personality has won over farmers, counter-culturalists, entrenched Government Agency men and women.

Sadly, we are losing our Team Leader, Anna O’Brien first, to adventures in South America and then to a new life, perhaps in the city. For 3 years SOLN has been richly rewarded by Anna’s humour and her calm and professional efficiency. She has developed procedures that strengthen SOLN and lessen the risks to shocks of staff turnover. Anna has charmed all who have encountered her and she has been a wonderful ambassador for promoting SOLN’s work and achievements. From my own perspective, she has made the job of Chairing SOLN, an effortless pleasure. Anna has that uncanny ability to anticipate what and when something is required and then provide the gentlest reminders of what’s been forgotten or overlooked.  She has put in many unpaid hours and has worked above and beyond our expectations. Thank you Anna, you have left your mark. SOLN wishes you every success and happiness wherever you find yourself and we hope that from time to time you will pass through and admire some of the many projects you have helped facilitate.

Nevertheless, we are also fortunate to have a Community Education Co-ordinator, Kristen Lees to step into the role of Team Leader. Kristen is one of those people who gets on with the job in hand and ensures that it is done professionally and with excellence. Kristen was been largely responsible for nurturing SOLN’s closer ties with the Indigenous community. In 2009 she developed interpretative signage for the Barham Backwaters and Wild Dog Estuary and worked with Music festival to become carbon neutral through contracts with Landcare’s Carbon Smart using a local carbon offset planting in Wongarra. Kristen has developed our Seed Bank and the Waterwatch Program to enviable standards. She can take credit for the success of the Barham Backwaters planting days by cleverly aligning it with School’s Tree Day and National Tree Day activities. 150 students came on the Friday with rotating NRM education activities and 40 volunteers on Saturday with more than 8000 trees planted in total. She also helped facilitate the ‘Seeds to Success’ training program held over 4 months in 2009. We are confident that Kristen will make a fine Team Leader in 2010.

Committee of Management’s volunteer hours


The SOLN Committee of Management has met monthly over the last year. Group representatives have contributed a total of 1438.5 unpaid, voluntary hours to the process of ensuring thorough and rigorous Governance for SOLN (see table). The hours recorded do not include driving from Hordern Vale or Wye River and back again and the countless other inconveniences that go with putting the needs of a community before your own.


If both the Federal and State Governments were to match the value of these hours with funding contributions for maintaining our paid staff, then SOLN would be in a far better position to maintain the level of capacity I have outlined.


I would like to thank Sherryl Smith (President of the Wye to Wongarra Landcare Group) and Ken Forrester (Apollo Bay Landcare Group) for representing SOLN at short notice. Peter Gardiner for his work as Treasurer as well as Denise Hooke for her thorough and most timely work with the HR Committee. Somehow Denise found the time to organise the Barham River Festival on top of her numerous other Community activities. Ken Forester and Peter Gardiner have consistently worked the Project Committee and this has been the engine room of SOLN.


Sincere thanks to the other enthusiastic COM members, Carole Webley, Fiona Nelson, Bruce Costin, Doug Watson, John Marriner, David Churchill and more recently, Ros Jamieson, without whom we would not have been able to make such well informed or balanced decisions.


2009 Committee of Management Meeting Attendance

 Key: √ = Attended, A = Apology, L = Leave, X = No Show
















Volunteer Hours (since 1 Jan 09)

Otway Barham Landcare group

Simon Pockley





Denise Hooke






David Churchill





Apollo Bay Landcare group

Ken Forrester




Fiona Nelson








Carole Webley




Ros Jamieson













Hordern Vale – Glenaire Landcare group

Bruce Costin











Doug Watson









John Marriner






Debra Moore














Wongarra to Wye Landcare group

Peter Gardiner




Sherryl Smith



















Healthy partnerships


I have alluded to the many partnerships that are critical to SOLN’s capacity to act. Here I would single out for thanks and congratulations: Barwon Water, Colac Otway Shire (COS), Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA), and Parks Victoria for their support and participation in Reference Groups such as the Otway Barham Reference Group, where the Catchment Management Framework has emerged as a model for other Networks working to improve and maintain whole river systems.


Last, but not least, I would like to thank our volunteers and you, the members of Landcare. We would not exist without you. Your ideas and enthusiasm drives us. You have been out there working in wind and rain when others would stay at home. When positions are declared vacant we hope you step forward and take a turn at the helm of this wonderful organisation.



Simon Pockley PhD

Chair: Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN) http://soln.org
[email] simonpockley@gmail.com
[mobile] 0418 575 525