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A free family event was held at the Federation Botanic Reserve on Sunday. Sixteen sites were set amongst the regenerated ground, which was a bare paddock not long ago.  

“This paddock here we’re in now, was in fact a clear paddock 25 years ago,” said Alan Mathers as he gave a history of the site.

“Phil O’Neill, myself and a few others came in with our tractors and machinery and other contractors. 

“The support from the community was amazing at the time.”

Alan paid tribute to Evelyn McConnell, David McConnell, Pam O’Neill, Roger Knight, Noel Tyers, Christine Dartnell, Bob Wheeler, Pat Cooney, cluBarham and the many others who make the Federation Botanic Reserve possible.   

Attendees stood among 130 native species of ground cover, shrubs and trees that have thrived on the site and had the opportunity to listen, sharing the opportunities and experiences of people connecting with their natural environment. 

Free sausages and coffee were provided as the crowd walked among the many sites, including Murray Local Land Services, Western Murray Land Improvement Group, Barham Landcare, Petaurus Education Group Inc, Charles Sturt University, NSW Rural Fire Service, Koondrook CFA, the Koondrook Barham Men’s Shed, and Murray-Darling Basin Wetlands Working Group.

Throughout the morning, speakers presented on their fields of expertise. Sarah Ning from the Murray-Darling Wetlands Working Group shared the organisation’s history and the work the group is currently involved in. 

“We’re a non-government, not for profit group and we’ve actually been around for over 30 years,” said Sarah.

 “We currently operate within both New South Wales and Victoria.

“What we do is we rehabilitate degraded wetlands and improve wetlands generally throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.

“In our 30 years that we’ve been in operation, we’ve delivered hundreds of projects to help rehabilitate wetlands on public and private property, and we’ve delivered over 80,000 megalitres to over 250 wetlands covering 75,000 hectares.

“We’ve worked with over 600 landholders and essentially, to support them to improve the health of wetlands on their land and we’ve also worked with over 200 different partnering organisations.”

Dr Kirsten Wehner from the National Museum of Australia joined local farmer and accomplished artist Wendy McDonald for an amazing look at how the environment impacts and influences locals. Dr Wehner is currently working on a project called Living on the Edge, which is looking at threatened places, threatened ecological and cultural communities, across Australia. 

“A big part of the project is focusing on what we’re calling River Country, which is essentially the Murray-Darling system, and we’re really looking at collecting and sharing stories from places along the Murray-Darling, particularly those places where people are just kind of focused on caring for ecological community,” said Dr Wehner.

“I thought what we would talk a bit about today is how does art help us understand the river, and care for the river?

“I met Wendy McDonald, who, of course, is a wonderful local farmer and artist, with an amazing combination of skills and backgrounds.

“Wendy has contributed to the River Country Community Day, the big installation that we had and that we’re hoping to bring around to different places along the Murray in the next six to eight months.”

Wendy’s art has taken inspiration from her home on the edge of Thule Lagoon and she uses it to tell stories through her eyes, and talent with the brush.

“We try and balance our farming system with restoration of the wetland and looking after the remnant habitat that we have.

“In light of the things that have happened over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve had the multilayered impact on our landscapes and communities of the Basin Plan, the changes in water trading and the climate cycles, it’s all sort of contributed to make potentially challenging times for a lot of our wetland areas.

“I would challenge anybody to live in a place like Thule Lagoon and not have some need to respond to that creatively, it’s a beautiful changing landscape.”

Wendy’s artwork has been touching the hearts and minds of people around the country as she proudly displays the feminine attributes of our landscape.

“I would say that people often comment, and quite purposefully I do this, that my landscapes are quite feminine sorts of works. 

“There’s lots of soft pinks and lovely subtle colours and things that you see in the landscape.

“Even potentially, lots of very soft, rounded forms in the trees are beautiful, big old trees in our landscape to me, that in my mind, I call them the grandmother trees. 

“So, I want people from outside this landscape to be able to sort of look at it and not be confronted, not be put off by scary pictures of drought and the sort of sheep’s skulls and all the sorts of associated things that I think a lot of male painters have, particularly in our visual art history of Australia, in the stories of our continent.

“I have flipped that and I want to show the beautiful nurturing and gauging aspects of our landscape and they are feminine and I suppose in that way, it is a reflection of me, it’s part of me.”

With live music from Simon Marks, the crowd mingled and explored the site with a heap of activities to keep the kids engaged.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 18 April 2024

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 18 April 2024.

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