The Fort Bushland Reserve
By Susan Prior
Following on from my article ‘Tracing the history of The Fort’, is this article about the Fort Bushcare Reserve and the dedicated group that tends it.
From the time the Passionist Order took over The Fort and its land in 1956 to when it was sold little had been done apart from in the area immediately around the building. The site had become heavily infested with weeds. In about 2004, they put their surplus land on the market with a proposal that 68 homes could be built on the site.
At this point local residents rallied and complained vigorously to council. It was suggested that if the site was stripped of vegetation it would become unstable, as had occurred after the 1974 floods on the other side of Blackheath Road – 30 or more houses had to be demolished or relocated because of instability. The result was that council undertook soil testing, and a couple of months later announced it would be purchasing the 26 acres of land for green space.
When the council purchased the land in 2005, it was – according to John Lahey, one of the founding members of the Fort Bushland Bushcare Group, and a retired electrical engineer – ‘in a severely degraded condition, with the rampant growth of invasive weed species’. The Fort Bushland Reserve Bushcare Group first met at the end of 2006.
John Lahey is a great grandson of David Lahey of the Sherwood Timber Mill featured in Secret Brisbane. He may be retired but he works tirelessly in the reserve. Once a month he sends out a comprehensive newsletter packed full of amazing photographs and facts about the flora and fauna sighted in the reserve. I can highly recommend signing up for this educational newsletter.
John tells me the cat’s claw and ochna, in particular, were so bad that ‘botanists said you couldn’t restore it. It had gone past the point of no return. The best thing was to get a bulldozer in and flatten it and start all over again. We wanted to prove them wrong.’
In the nine years since then, the bushcare group of volunteers has worked assiduously to remove the weeds, but has deliberately undertaken limited planting, instead allowing the native species to re-establish themselves. A group of about six volunteers meets every Thursday morning for two hours. In addition, on the first Sunday of each month another dozen volunteers turn up for a working bee. Meanwhile, John is in the reserve working for a couple of hours almost every day.
As an engineer who loves maths and is well-used to precision in all things, he has set himself a target of 21.12.21 – an auspicious set of numbers for a date – as the target date by which he will have eradicated all the weeds! As he says, ‘You have to have a target!’
The Fort Bushland Reserve is one of the few remaining lowland dry vine forests left in Brisbane, which gives it a special botanical significance. It is home to swamp wallabies, bandicoots, echidnas and squirrel gliders, and there has been a proliferation of native bees and butterflies, and other insects. There are, of course, some feral species as well, which are a real menace, such as foxes and deer. Dogs can be taken into the reserve as long as they are on a lead.
In his July 2016 newsletter, John said this: ‘In the 2015–2016 financial year our bushcare group contributed 1246.5 manhours to the bushland restoration which at $25 per hour has a value in excess of $31,000.’
That is a very considerable contribution on the part of these few bushcare volunteers for the benefit of our community. If anyone is interested in joining them, they would be delighted to welcome you. The Fort Bushland Reserve Bush Care Group meets at the picnic ground in Fort Road on the first Sunday of every month from 8 am to 10 am. The weekday weeders group meets every Thursday from 8 am to 10 am. All are welcome.