Ding ding ding

The smoko bell at TREAT goes off at 9:30 every Friday morning. Everyone stops working and comes together to enjoy tea and conversation (there are also always a lot of delicious cakes at TREAT). TREAT is a community organization, Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands, focused on restoring rainforests in partnership with the Parks and Wildlife Service, and it is one of the groups that our class has been volunteering with every week. We’ve also been working with Landcare, an organization working to restore the Peterson Creek corridor in Yungaburra, and a group of government employees clearing the Turbina weed in rainforest fragments (which also involved maneuvering around hordes of stinging trees, from which we all escaped unscathed). We’ve also worked on a rainforest revegetation monitoring project and site maintenance at the Centre.

These community service projects give us more opportunities to explore the Tablelands and involve ourselves in what we’ve been studying (all of those ecology terms that seem so distant in the classroom are so much more accessible when you’re wandering through rainforest brush). Most importantly, they allow us to talk to locals and see the area from their perspective. It is clear that all of the people we meet, whether they are volunteering or being paid, are passionate about maintaining and improving their environment. Back home, these people would most likely be labeled as “environmentalists,” but this label doesn’t seem necessary here—these people merely understand the importance of protecting the rare and beautiful rainforests that they call home.

I’ve met so many interesting people while volunteering, and after every Friday morning I feel like more and more a part of the community. We’ve run into people that we’ve worked with while walking around Atherton during a free afternoon, at a Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group meeting, and at the Yungaburra Folk Festival, where we also volunteered. My host mom during homestay was even the former president of TREAT. Everyone that we have met while volunteering has been kind and open and as excited to talk to us as we are to talk to them; this has made the experiences even better and we come back from every project with laughs and stories to share.

All of our service projects are culminating in a tree planting on site in a few weeks. We’ve invited all of the community members we’ve been working with and TREAT is supplying trees, some of which we’ve helped prune and sort. A couple of weeks ago we spent a day talking with a local Aboriginal family.  The woman, Sib, spoke about how planting a tree here is like leaving a part of yourself in Australia, and she told us that she and the other locals would watch out and care for the trees after we leave. This idea, along with the fact that we’ve been involved with these trees through almost every step of the process, makes a tree planting the perfect way to end the semester and our community service projects. These trees represent to me everything this semester has been about: caring for the land and coming together as a community, both in our tight SFS group and as a part of the Tablelands.