Friday, 28 September 2007

In Memory of Kirsty

OUR second and final week of volunteering for CVA has not been anywhere near as fun. On the plus side we never actually went to a swamp, and thus nobody got anything so much as a nip from a crocodile. In addition we got to play with machetes and pick axes and I got to entertain my action hero persona by swinging at a tree from a high branch in order to demolish it, which was all good fun. However it has mostly been a hot, dry and hard week.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to Kirsty. For reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture she had to leave us after work on Thursday, catch a coach back to Cairns and fly the epic 43-hour journey back to Belfast today. She is a fun, energetic and entertaining person and we all missed her horrendously the second the bus disappeared in the distance. This blog entry is dedicated to her, so that when she eventually reads it she will not feel so bad about leaving us behind.

Today has in fact been the worst day of the week. On Monday we planted around 200 trees along an irrigation channel. The land had been ploughed and the weather was cool. This and the early morning rain also made digging fairly easy. Upon arrival at our site at Mission Beach this morning we were tasked with planting 250 trees in half a day with one fewer member. A tall order in fine conditions, today was impossibly hot and the ground riddled with thick tree roots. Even with pick axes and a petrol-powered auger, work was approaching impossible. In addition, our dithering leader had forgotten to fill up the water supply back at the backpackers hostel so we had no source of hydration, and the council worker assigned to look after us, henceforth named Stoner Jim, disappeared for a cigarette and occasionally took a few tree saplings out of his trailer.

About an hour in our leader, who often errs on sexist and has singled me out as the weakest male, commented that there were a few roots about. At this stage the auger was on the brink of breaking, as were our tempers. Meanwhile Stoner Jim, who had the admiration of our leader despite having fewer muscles than even me, went and had a sit down at the creek. The management switched to more "girly" tasks the second the going got tough while we surrendered and had many morning breaks without permission, taking shelter from the tenacious and misanthropic insects. Using a pick axe can be fun, but perhaps never in Queensland.

Then, just as we had finally finished, Jeannette slipped on a rock and gashed her knee. Coupled with my blistered and badly cut fingers from Wednesday's "bush bashing", the week has not been gentle.

Despite all this we did at least get to have lunch on the beach and we were on the road to Cairns just after 1pm. At the headquarters we were presented with certificates of thanks and we reflected on our time. I have genuinely enjoyed working with CVA - last week was undoubtedly more enjoyable, but even this week has had its perks. It is a good feeling to know that you've done some important and substantial work for the environment. Perhaps, or indeed probably, the majority of the trees we planted will succumb to weed competition, or be eaten, or perhaps the soil we planted them in was too harsh or dry for the species chosen, but some will survive and every little step towards preserving and restoring the tropical Queensland rainforest is a worthy one.

None more so can this be summarised by a local man who came to chat with us during a break on Wednesday. Addressing us as 'brothers', this is what he said:

"G'day! You're not Australian? Irish? Me, I'm Australian, born and bred: a bit hot, but I like it. I like prawns too, but only with lemon. Anyway, must be off. Respect to the Australian bush y'all."

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