A personal contribution from Big Scrub Landcare member, Mike Delaney.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past 43 years living where the Big Scrub once stood.

I came to the North Coast of NSW with a friend to start a native plant nursery and a different life. It wasn’t until I picked up a booklet titled Rainforest at my local National Parks and Wildlife office, that I began to understand what happened to the Big Scrub. In the booklet was an article called ‘The destruction of the Big Scrub’, penned by Harry Frith from the Chief Division of Wildlife Research, CSIRO. It outlined the story of destruction that we now know all too well, with some interesting accounts of how the forest was perceived by the early settlers and how small patches managed to be saved.

In the opening paragraph, Frith explains that until 1842 no white person had set foot in the Big Scrub but by 1900 it was, tragically, all but gone. I found that fact astonishing, but it was his next comment that really had an impact on me. Harry writes, “There have been few more rapid and complete ecological disasters in Australia’s long history of thoughtless destruction of its natural resources”.

That statement set me off. Each time I would drive around the area I would imagine what the Big Scrub would have been like before its destruction. It was hard to believe what the early settlers had achieved in such a short time. Fortunately for me I was able to offset the negative feelings that Harry’s comments had brought to my attention by spending my working career in the vegetation restoration industry.

Over the past 29 years, since the formation of Big Scrub Landcare, other land and dune care groups and general community support for conservation, we have seen some outstanding achievements. The achievements have been real and tangible resulting in the good health of many of the remaining remnants in public and private ownership. On top of that millions of trees have been planted in ecological revegetation projects and sustainable cabinet timber plantings. Having seen degraded remnants brought back from the brink and pastures returned to thriving rainforest vegetation I am positive about what can be achieved when there is a will.

In a time where we have all watched as our natural environment is placed under enormous pressure with little or sometimes no regard for its worth it is refreshing to know that there has been real progress in our own backyard.

During the past 29 years a restoration industry has also evolved. When I started there was no industry just a few people carrying out bush regeneration in isolation. Today there is a thriving industry with many people fully employed to carry out vegetation restoration. It is an industry that flies under the radar. I don’t know that anyone has tried to put a figure on its monetary worth, but the industry’s worth in conservation value is enormous. During a time when government funding is at a record low and during the 2020 Covid work shutdown the restoration industry was buoyant.

It took less than 50 years to destroy the Big Scrub. The progress to bring what is left back and replant more rainforest is on track but is going to take a lot longer than 50 years.