Today I received a phone call from my local council in regard to a letter I sent before Christmas. I was beginning to lose hope I would ever get a response. I had chased up many times, and didn’t want to become known as a pest, but I was desperate to hear back. My reason for the letter related to a deep felt concern of mine. You see, I live in one of the the fastest growing shires in Australia, and vast amounts of bush are being cleared for new housing developments on a daily basis. To give you some idea, on my way to work, I drive through at least six new developments. The bushland and coastal vegetation, which was once beautiful and stretched for miles, has been replaced with dust, sand piles, sales offices and half built houses. I can see bush one morning, and diggers the next.
It got to the point last year where I was getting to work and crying: for the trees, for the endangered black cockatoos, for the world, for my family. I know it sounds dramatic, but it was affecting my happiness; I felt so frustrated that it could be allowed to happen. Please understand that I do acknowledge the need for growth, to meet the rapid population increase expected over the next five years (and beyond), but not this way. Not by clearing and levelling. Not by creating new communities in the middle of a wasteland, destroying the ecosystem so nothing else will grow, not by changing the feel of the landscape and leaving animals displaced.
Anyway. I needed to act. I wasn’t sure how and I reached many dead ends, calling councillors and local MPs, ‘Facebooking’ local environmental groups (there are two, but not in my area), trying desperately to find who was responsible for the clearing permits and like-minded people with whom I could share my concerns. Every time my call was not returned or my email not answered, it felt more and more hopeless. What was one voice in the scheme of things?
I decided to start small. I’d start right on my doorstep. I live in one such housing development, established about ten years ago. At the time I built my house, I envisaged the suburb would become greener, as trees grew and were planted, as the area became more established. But I was wrong. To this day, my street tree is 1.5 metres tall (it’s stunted from no water when it was planted), about 50% of my neighbours have decided against a tree, instead opting for only yukka plants, my local park relies on the shade from one large Eucalypt, and everyone’s grass is dead. It’s depressing, it’s dry and it’s hot.
So I emailed my council. I asked for a tree on my roundabout, more trees along the median strip on my closest main road, and an extra street tree for my property. In response, I received a phone call. Although the lady was very nice, the answer to all my requests was a resounding no. OSH regulations on roundabouts were thrown at me; I was told they had already planted tube stock along the strip, I just couldn’t see it yet; and apparently my neighbours would be affected detrimentally by another street tree. I was devastated. I couldn’t take no for answer. It quite simply was’t good enough.
So I wrote a letter. It was logical, it was realistic and, although I tried very hard to limit the emotions, I told them how I felt. I asked for an explanation as to why street trees were not promoted or looked after by the council in their formative years. I asked why native trees weren’t planted, instead ornamental trees are chosen (which are not suited to our climate). I took photographs, I debated sight-lines on roundabouts, I suggested ways for the community to get involved. I put my heart into it.
And so here I am today. I received another phone call. The man I spoke to was new. And he cared. He actually cared. I am getting my tree on the roundabout, I am getting more trees along the media strip and I can have my tree replaced with a native. He told me of new initiatives that will run to increase the canopy cover in my shire, he pledged a street tree watering program and community education. He was knowledgable, passionate, he even used the words ‘urban forest’ for goodness sake. I nearly cried from happiness on the phone. I had to disguise my voice breaking as a cough. I won’t see my trees until planting time in May, but for the first time in a long time, I am hopeful, I am really hopeful.
On my way home from work today, I saw a flock of about 100 endangered black cockatoos in the air. It was magnificent. They were swooping for food and squawking. It made me think of how it used to be in Perth, when the skies were black with birds and the bush was king. How I would love to have seen it. I only hope now, I can continue to make a difference, however small, to promoting regrowth of what has been lost.
I hope others will join me. Please do let me know if you feel the same way. I would love to hear from you.
PS. The original point of this post was to compare the incentive for writing my letter to the council to the incentive for writing my novel. I wanted to identify if I was writing my book for a reason. Well, I’m not sure I’ve concluded that thought, or even started it. But I am sure, it’s good to write for a reason.