History of Yungaburra Landcare Group

Yungaburra Landcare Group Inc. (formerly The Eastern Tinaroo Catchment Landcare Group Inc.) managers of the

Lower Peterson Creek Revegetation Project

(Restoration of Peterson’s Creek’s riparian zone on the fringe of urban land in Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands, funded initially by the Natural Heritage Trust’s Envirofund)

The Yungaburra Landcare Group Inc. is a community-based, non-profit organisation which aims to enhance the productive and environmental resources of the south-eastern Tinaroo Dam catchment to preserve and conserve its natural heritage for the educational and recreational benefit of present and future generations by fostering co-ordination and co-operation between landholders, the community and government agencies in the management of land, water, vegetation and related biological resources. The group began in 1998 as The Eastern Tinaroo Catchment Landcare Group Inc. and changed its name in 2007 to better identify its main area of activity and its membership base.

THE Lower Peterson’s Creek Revegetation Project had its beginnings in late 1997 when a group of Yungaburra residents, under the leadership of David Leech, met to discuss concerns about the degraded state of Peterson’s Creek which skirts the township’s western boundary.

At the time, problems in upper reaches of the creek were being addressed by TREAT (Trees for Evelyn and Atherton Tableland), which is community-based tree-planting organisation linked to Queensland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service. But the section skirting Yungaburra’s urban area was grossly neglected and in desperate need for care and attention.

Some stretches of the creek were completely clogged with grasses and the banks were an almost impenetrable mass of lantana and other rampant weeds and trees, including camphor laurels and large-leafed privets. Concerns were held for the creek’s water quality, especially as the town’s reticulated water supply was drawn from Lake Tinaroo at the mouth of the creek.

The TREAT programs, to replant a wildlife corridor linking remnant patches of endangered Mabi (Type 5b) forest in the upper catchment of the creek, inspired the Yungaburra group to look at something similar, but on a smaller scale, aiming to improve water and habitat quality and increase the area’s educational and recreational value.

Under the sponsorship of The Eastern Tinaroo Catchment Landcare Group Inc (now the Yungaburra Landcare Group Inc), the project received funding from the Federal Government’s Natural Heritage Trust and work began in 1998, starting from the road bridge on the township’s western entry and continuing downstream about 2km to link patches of remnant rainforest which were known to host a small population of tree-kangaroos.

In consultation with TREAT and local officers of Wet Tropics, Bushcare and NHT, the project was planned to be completed in stages within the capacity of the small force of volunteers. Selection of tree species was dictated by a range of soil types within the project boundaries, but the main emphasis has been on the threatened Mabi forest, also known as Complex Notophyll Vine Forest, which once covered the Atherton Tablelands north and west of nearby Malanda. Because less than 2% of the original Mabi forest remains it has been classified as an “endangered” plant community by the Environmental Protection Agency and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (see https://www.dcceew.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/mabi-forest.pdf).

Tree species were selected by the group’s honorary advisor, former CSIRO botanist and author Geoff Tracey, with preference given to maintaining the Mabi rainforest theme wherever possible. Sadly, Geoff died after a long battle with cancer in July 2004. In a mark of respect for the passion, time and effort he devoted to the project, a section of the pathway has been called the Geoff Tracey Botanical Track and the group has an on-going program to name and identify various species of rainforest trees along this section.

Work has now been completed on nine separate stages and despite setbacks brought about by frosts, flooding and more recently drought, the project has been hailed as an outstanding success.

An unexpected side benefit has been the public’s embracing of the project. Rough accesses constructed to allow machinery and volunteers to reach the planting areas have become well-worn walking tracks for locals and visitors keen to see the creek’s platypuses and other wildlife.

The project received an Eacham Shire Council Australia Day award in 2001 and in 2003 was instrumental in helping Yungaburra win the Thiess Services Community Action Award in the Tidy Towns judging. This award recognised outstanding community organisation and pride, expressed through civic, cultural and environmental activities. The Tidy Towns judges’ citation included: “The Lower Peterson’s Creek Revegetation Project has converted a 2.5 kilometre, weed-infested area along the creek bank into an attractive, tree planted space with an increasingly popular, meandering walking track. Yungaburra is an outstanding example of the results a community can achieve with a sustained and focused effort.” In 2007, project leader David Leech and the group were awarded certificates of merit by the Barron River Catchment Management Association Inc. in recognition of the group’s activities in improving the health of the Barron catchment. In November the same year, David Leech and group secretary Wally Coutts won Wet Tropics Management Authority Cassowary Awards for community conservation.

Despite floods, frosts and droughts the corridor has gradually grown and canopies are being achieved. The project’s success can be attributed to the group’s unwavering commitment to follow-up maintenance. In the early days, volunteers (numbering between four and eight) met regularly each Friday morning for four hours to keep on top of the maintenance program. The overall project is surveyed periodically by group leaders to formulate a work plan to target critical areas. Weeds are controlled by slashing, mowing and systematic spraying routines and during sustained dry spells, watering thirsty saplings becomes a major focus.

Because the Natural Heritage Trust does not fund maintenance programs, the group successfully rallied help from the Eacham and Atherton Shire Councils (now merged as the Tablelands Regional Council), the Yungaburra Business and Citizens Association and the general community to meet on-going maintenance expenses. As a result, the group has been able to meet the financial burden of continued maintenance, which includes machinery repairs, provision of fuel, mulch and chemicals as well as gravel for the walking tracks.

Members of the local Aboriginal group, the Dulguburra Yidinji clan, have been consulted at various stages of the project and subsequently have taken interest in its achievements. A clan elder has provided information for NHT-funded interpretative signage which is now located in a purpose-built interpretative shelter at Frawley’s Pool.

The project also formed a liaison with the School for Field Studies, a US tertiary education facility based on the Atherton Tablelands to study rainforest restoration and ecology. The involvement of these American students, up to 32 at a time in the early stages, has been a major factor in most of the project’s success stories. Not only did the campus provide many valuable hours of voluntary toil, but the school also propagated thousands of the seedlings planted and students also used the project as a work site for study assignments. As well, SFS initiated the involvement of senior classes from the Yungaburra State Primary School in several of the plantings.

The group also has combined with the Yungaburra Business and Citizens Association (now Yungaburra Association Inc.) in a number of initiatives, including improvements to Maud Kehoe Park in Yungaburra’s village precinct, maintenance of the Platypus Viewing Platform at the Main Road bridge crossing and a walking track to the nearby tourist attraction, the Curtain Fig Tree.

Students from the local primary school and a Cairns-based private high school, Trinity Anglican School, were also involved in early planting programs. The Atherton and Malanda state high schools regularly use the creek for nature-based projects.

Thousands of trees have been planted and nurtured to link isolated wildlife habitats. As the project progressed, historical and natural features of the creek were uncovered and have been identified with appropriate interpretative signage. Shelters and picnic tables, tracks, bridges and creek crossings have been constructed and meticulously maintained by the volunteers who are mostly retirees wanting to do something positive for their community. An area once impossible to traverse is now a regular walking circuit for young and old, locals and visitors.

Work on a missing link in the 2.5 km fence on the western side of the creek was completed in late 2006. With the other projects completed earlier, this means that the entire western bank of the creek has been fenced from the Main Road bridge to below the Railway Bridge. The fence excludes stock from remnant rainforest and a new planting fills in the last gap of the Peterson’s Creek wildlife corridor.

Since the collapse of the timber industry in the 1980s and severe downturn recently in dairying after deregulation, Yungaburra had turned to tourism for its economic survival and  became a busy dormitory for visitors to the Tableland. The village, with its many heritage listed buildings, boasts a full range of accommodation options from five-star to backpackers hostels and B&Bs, while award winning restaurants and the famous Lake Eacham Hotel cater for and entertain visitors and locals alike.

A suspension bridge across the creek at Allumbah Pocket, thanks to the generosity of veteran group member Lloyd Abell who donated its entire cost, was completed in late July 2008.  This bridge links Allumbah Pocket with new plantings on an old road easement and provides walkers with all-weather access to the entire track circuit. Lloyd has also funded a picnic shelter amidst the plantings.

Over the years, group numbers have grown and now 10 or 12 volunteers often turn out for the Friday working bee.

Yungaburra, thanks to the cumulative efforts of members of the Yungaburra Landcare Group, now has something more tangible to offer its visitors. The Geoff Tracey Botanical Track, from Allumbah Pocket to Frawley’s Pool and beyond, has become a haven for nature lovers and bushwalkers, offering close-up encounters with platypuses, tree-climbing kangaroos, wallabies and a wide range of birdlife. And the overall walking circuit, which traverses riparian rainforest, open bushland and carpeted stands of casuarinas, allows people of all ages to walk, jog or cycle and experience all nature has to offer in this previously inaccessible tropical nature habitat.

David Leech died in April, 2022, and was buried in Yungaburra Cemetery.

The section of track between the Main Road (Gillies Highway) and Allumbah Pocket is currently closed. Access to the remainder of the track circuit is possible at Allumbah Pocket (at the bottom of Penda Street) and via the Railway Cutting on Mulgrave Road.