It’s a Saturday morning on Brisbane’s north side and a small group of women are toiling among the peaceful trees of Chermside Hills Reserve, pulling out handfuls of overgrown weeds.

The Little Cabbage Tree Creek Bushcare Group is one of approximately 160 volunteer bushcare groups lead Brisbane City Council dotted around the city, keeping Brisbane’s native reserves and parks healthy.

Serenaded by king parrots, wrens and kookaburras, and secretly watched over by bizarre wallabies, these volunteers have spent years patiently digging up weeds and caring for the reserve.

In the decades coordinator Patricia Geue has volunteered at the Chermside Hills Reserve, she has seen the group shrink to just two people.

Now it’s on the rise again, with six volunteers showing up on Saturday.

Patricia Geue, Little Cabbage Tree Creek Bush Care Volunteer Coordinator, has seen the group shrink to just two and grow once again to over six volunteers each month.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

“We have to plant what is native to the area, and most of what we do is weed…when people were building there was a lot of trash thrown away and people still throw some trash away,” he said. she declared.

The group meets every fourth Saturday in Chermside Hills, working two hours in a labor of love to fight an endless battle against invasive species while feeding the vulnerable natives.

Advantages “better than a retirement home”

Two other long-term volunteers are Val Struthers and Lesley Watson. Both volunteer for several bush care groups in the area and have seen the long-term results of their efforts in reams of weed-filled streams turning into clear, fresh bush.

A smiling elderly woman standing in the bush holds a large pile of weeds
Val Struthers has volunteered at Chermside Hills since 2007, seeing the reserve change with the seasons.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

“The group drifted up to Trish and I, and we used to come regularly but we saved some plants that had been planted by the council I believe – we were pulling water from the stream,” Ms Struthers said.

A woman crouches next to a fern and plant guard to dig up weeds
Michelle O’Dowd, a volunteer with the Little Cabbage Tree Creek bush care group, works to pull weeds next to a recycled plant guard.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

For Ms. Struthers, the benefits of volunteering are clear.

“I think it’s better than a nursing home,” she said.

“Having friends and having conversations, especially when you live alone. You have to go out and talk to people or you might as well walk away, which I don’t plan to do in the near future.”

The group of volunteers increases by 10%

Search for Volunteering Australia shows that broad mental health benefits are achieved by even small amounts of volunteering, including improved mental well-being, increased self-esteem, and significant mental health recovery benefits.

A smiling woman kneels by a large tree trunk and pulls weeds
Lesley Watson volunteers at Chermside Hills and also leads another group of bush care volunteers at McDowall.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

Ms Watson agrees, saying the mental health benefits of volunteering and being out in the bush once a month are powerful.

“It’s definitely the most satisfying thing, doing this weeding,” she said.

Brisbane Environment, Parks and Sustainability Chairperson Tracy Davis said Habitat Brisbane volunteers had played an important role in restoring and rehabilitating areas affected by the February floods.

“In 2021, Habitat Brisbane volunteers maintained nearly 590 hectares of waterways and key bushland across the city and planted over 72,500 plants. Their efforts are estimated to contribute 2.25 million dollars a year to our city,” said Cr Davis.

“Habitat Brisbane started in 1990 and now has over 5,800 active volunteers, which has grown by 10% over the past five years.

Flooding provides weed control benefits

At the edge of the stream, volunteer Lu Ponton plants native blue flax (Dianella caerulea), propagated from its own native garden at home.

“I walk here quite often. I saw the signup there…for the bush care group, so I joined and it was awesome,” she said.

A bucket of plants.
A bucket of blue flax lilies grown by volunteer Mrs. Ponton are set to be planted in the Chermside Hills reserve.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

While Ms. Ponton plants lilies, fellow volunteer Chloe Parker crouched next to an old, fallen tree uprooting snakeweed, a clumping weed with long roots and stalks of blue flowers.

A constant problem is that of escapees from the garden; plants sold in Brisbane hardware stores and nurseries that are tossed or discarded, quickly becoming part of bush reserves.

And for volunteers, it can be discouraging to see months of hard work undone by wild weather, with recent torrents of water dumping fresh armies of invasive plants onto carefully weeded creek banks.

But that’s not always bad news.

“One of the silver linings [of the recent floods]although small, the weeds are very easy to get rid of at the moment, which is great because some of them can get very big with very long roots,” Ms Parker said.

She looks forward to a planting project of native casuarinas and banksias for the yellow-tailed black cockatoos who regularly visit the reserve, their piercing cries an unexpected delight. It is one of more than 100 species of birds that inhabit the reserve.

A smiling young woman standing in the bush
Ms Parker lives near Chermside Hills Reserve and is passionate about caring for the bush and the birds of the area.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

“It’s really important to protect and cherish these sites because they are so unique and precious,” Ms Parker said.

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