When they arrived on their recently purchased 58 acres on a curl in the Bermagui River 21 years ago, Dean and Annette [Nettie] Turner were driving a teal bus, which they planned to live in while they established a nature camp for young people.
“We started really small,” Nettie laughs, while Dean chimes in “it was either going to make us or break us.”
It may have been a small start but since that time, non-profit The Crossing has seen hundreds of school groups move through its multiple buildings, successfully applied for over 50 grants and planted 18,000 trees.
“There are a few reasons it’s called The Crossing,” Dean explains, gesturing downhill ” just down there is a natural stony ford where Indigenous people crossed the river and farmers also used it as a stock crossing. But also, the kids who come here are crossing from kids to adults and we hope that they are crossing from consumer to conserver.”
Although the Turner’s are locally known as the faces of The Crossing, they are clear that their role is as custodians, not owners.
“The Crossing was never really ours,” Nettie explains, pointing out a grove of citrus trees and showing me the dormitories, fashioned from a 1920’s train carriage, “we were a non-profit with a board from the beginning and so many amazing people have helped along the way. Wherever I look, I see a story of someone who donated their time, money or skills to make this happen.”
Although the Turner’s lived in their teal bus for seventeen years, constructing a house around it, they have in recent years sectioned off 8 of the 58 acres, built their own house and donated the 50 acres back to The Crossing.
Now they have a camp host for eight months of the year, who lives on-site, managing the day-to-day aspects of the property’s extensive permaculture gardens, giving Nettie and Dean a bit more freedom, although Dean is still employed seasonally by The Crossing to run their nature programs and annual Sea to Snow journey.When they were looking for the land originally, the checklist was fairly short but no small thing to find in one property.
“We wanted the land to be beautiful, have a body of water, be north-facing, adjacent to a national park and also not too far from a town,” Nettie says.
After driving the steep, winding dirt roads to The Crossing, it’s hard to believe that Bermagui is only a short drive away.
“Bermagui is twelve minutes drive – that means twelve minutes to an ambulance station,” Nettie laughs “although we’ve only had to call one three times in 21 years!”
Next weekend (August 17/18), Dean and Nettie will have the chance to celebrate all this, and the other achievements along the way, as The Crossing has its 21st birthday party.
“It’s pretty significant for a non-profit to be around that long,” Nettie muses “I hope everyone can feel really proud.”
Returning to Dean’s original thought when he and Nettie arrived on the land, I wonder if the last 21 years have, as he said, made or broken them.
“What do you think?” Nettie asks Dean, grinning up at him “we’ve just had our 26 year wedding anniversary, I think it’s made us.”
“It’s definitely made us,” Dean confirms, smiling back.
The Crossing’s ‘First 21 Celebration’ is free to attend on Saturday, August 17 at 11 am, register via The Crossing website so catering can be organised. Lunch and afternoon tea will be provided by donation on the day.