26 July 2023

Prime Minister drops in to commend 'cracker' fire regeneration project at Milton

| Katrina Condie
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Group in nursery

Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meet a volunteer during a tour of the Milton Rural Landcare Nursery on Tuesday. Photo: Office of Fiona Phillips MP.

During a flying visit to the South Coast, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese dropped into the Milton Rural Landcare (MRL) Nursery on Tuesday 25 July to congratulate volunteers on the success of their Black Summer bushfire regeneration project.

The PM labelled the $225,000 Forest Recovery Project, jointly funded by the Australian and NSW Government Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, as a “cracker of a project” that has supported 15 fire-impacted properties in the Milton-Ulladulla area over the past three and a half years.

“This is a great example of the resilience of humanity and the resilience of this local community,” Mr Albanese said.

“People who have been knocked down got themselves up, not just got themselves up, but got their local properties up as well.

“It’s a great example of how people care for this local community and how the community has bonded together in the wake of such tragedy and such trauma as occurred during the summer bushfires of 2019-2020.

“I pay tribute to the volunteers who are here, for getting that black dirt under their nails whilst they’re making a difference here in the local community.”

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As part of the recovery project, local Landcare volunteers identified burnt areas that would be highly susceptible to infestation by weeds that would in turn compete for resources with the native plants. Following the fires and the flooding rains, weeds became the next nightmare for landowners which also posed a fire threat.

In addition to weed eradication, the volunteers propagated plants using seeds and cuttings collected from local native plants that were replanted to revegetate damaged properties.

Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips met local landowners Ian and Fiona Stewart soon after they lost their home at Yatte Yattah, and she says the seeds for the regeneration project were sown during conversations “surrounded by charred and blackened bushland”.

“They were rebuilding. But what they were really concerned about, on top of all of that – if that wasn’t enough – was the damage to their local land,” she said.

“They were worried about the weed infestations coming and just the loss of that local environment. And they said that, that on top of everything else, it was just too much to handle.

“I met with many local people who were not only devastated by the loss of their homes, but equally by the loss of the bushland they loved so much.

“I spent a long time speaking with ministers and shadow ministers, calling for better funding support, not just for individuals, but for our environment as well.”

Mrs Stewart says, while she and her husband are grateful for the work that has been carried out on their property, she’s disappointed the Forest Recovery Project will not continue.

“The State Government project ended on the 30th of June, and this project is finishing soon, but we are nowhere near done,” she said.

“We’re talking about the re-creation of habitats for animals and birds, including critically endangered species. You can’t do that in three years.”

Mrs Stewart has written to State Member for South Coast Liza Butler, and the NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe calling for more funding to continue long-term co-ordinated remediation projects.

Forest Recovery Project coordinator Penelope Lumb thanked Mrs Phillips for her support and said volunteers were surprised by the PM’s visit.

“Fiona was fantastic throughout this whole process. She listened to our concerns and helped us secure the funding to get this project off the ground,” Ms Lumb said.

“The project has been so good for the community. We’ve been able to control huge amounts of invasive weeds, and the planting program has been very effective.

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Ms Lumb said, with one day’s notice of the visit, volunteers “went into overdrive” before enjoying a “very relaxed and happy nursery tour, discussion and morning tea”.

“Also attending were four property owners who participated in the Forest Recovery Project and they had the opportunity to tell Mrs Phillips and the PM about their experiences during the fires and the support they’ve received as a result of the project,” she said.

“Volunteers from the nursery, who were there in the propagation area doing their usual nursery work, were also paid a visit and the PM literally got his hands dirty and potted up a Morteton Bay Fig seedling.”

The volunteers were responsible for propagating 800 tube stock that were planted on nine local properties.

Mrs Phillips said it was wonderful to see volunteers, government and the community working together for such a great outcome.

“It was so exciting to show the Prime Minister first-hand how our South Coast spirit is helping us to recover and build our resilience – he was thrilled,” she added.

Mr Albanese said it was “quite inspiring to hear stories about the land coming back stronger than it was before, with more species than were here before”, such as bandicoots and wombats.

During his visit, he also said it was timely to remind landowners in the region to prepare for the upcoming fire season.

“We’ve just been through an incredible wet period. But the science and climatologists tell us that it’s going to be a dry season coming up. With that comes risks. And so preparation is also really important,” he said.

“I wanted to come here in July, well in advance, to make sure that I did my bit to promote a safer community.”

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