7 October 2022

When it comes to building community spirit in Yass, anything is possum-able

| Sally Hopman
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Yass Youth Council coordinator Hannah Sparks, left, Yass Valley councillor Cayla Pothan and youth councillors Erin, Bella and Maddie at Tootsie Gallery with some of the completed possum boxes. Photo: Supplied.

Few things go better hand in claw when it comes to possums and people living together in harmony – than a dash of community spirit.

When Wildcare Queanbeyan put a call out recently for help with building some new rescue boxes for possums, Barry O’Mara, Yass’s 2022 Citizen of the Year and general go-to man when something needs to be done, was quick to respond. (Barry is also the founder of the Yass Valley SPIN group (Supporting People In Need).

“Queanbeyan cares for wildlife here in Yass too,” Barry said, “so we were more than happy to help out.

“I put the call out and with the help of members of the Yass Youth Council, and my young apprentice, we completed 12 boxes ready for Queanbeyan.”

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His “apprentice” was 10-year-old George Ballenger who moved to Yass recently with his family.

His mother Akka said becoming involved in such a project, where her son could learn new skills and help in what had become a family passion – protecting native wildlife – was like a lightbulb moment for the youngster.

Sister Erin was already involved in the Yass Youth Council so when Akka met Barry after moving to Yass, she asked if he’d keep his ears open to any projects that might help the youngster settle into his new community.

Boy using drill.

Building the possum boxes proved to be the perfect project for young George Ballenger of Yass – taking an active role in the community and helping the environment at the same time. Photo: Akka Ballenger.

Building the possum boxes looked to be the perfect project for George who, like many youngsters, experienced challenges moving to a new environment.

“When the local wildcare people contacted me, I thought it would be great to get the youth council involved and they were happy to come on board,” Barry said. “I knew George was keen to help so I did the pre-assembly work and he helped putting them together. George finished them up, putting the screws in and making them structurally sound. Then they did the painting at Tootsie.”

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The project has proven to be the perfect introduction for a new family coming into the country town, Akka said.

“Barry really helped George get involved in the community,” she said, “to learn about how to belong somewhere and to contribute.”

With help from members of the Yass Youth Council, coordinator Hannah Sparks and councillor Cayla Pothan, from Tootsie Gallery, Barry and his young aprentices, George, and grandson Ollie, worked together to build 12 boxes and to paint them to protect the animals against the weather.

Man with plaque

2022 Yass Citizen of the Year, Barry O’Mara. Photo: Yass Valley Council.

Not only did the project teach the youngsters new skills, a sense of community spirit – and provide a safe new home for wildlife, it also started a chain reaction – for George at least. After the possum boxes were completed, George asked if there was something else he could work on – now he’s building bird houses.

“When we lived in Dunlop, our house backed onto grassland,” Akka said. “After the Canberra fires there was so much devastation everywhere, so many dead animals and birds.

“It was tragic to see, so we wanted to do something. That’s how we got involved with projects that help threatened species.”

The plan, she said, then and now, was to get children away from the computer screens and out in the backyard to learn more about flora and fauna.

“And that’s just what’s happened,” she said. “Thanks to people like Barry O’Mara.”

The Yass Youth Council meets monthly, with members working on a variety of projects. Community groups in need of assistance should contact the youth council through the Yass Valley Council website.

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