Wildlife is welcome here but not cats or dogs….
It was twenty years ago that I made the momentous decision to take on a 5 acre degraded cow pasture and restore it to biodiversity and abundance as a permaculture education centre and wildlife sanctuary.

I remember sitting in the middle of that barren landscape in 1993, noting the conspicuous absence of life, feeling deep into the spirit of this place and the land’s yearning to be repopulated with plants and animals. I called out to the land and any hidden or distant wildlife that might hear, that I wanted to coexist with them in harmony; that I was inviting their return and would restore habitats for their safety and wellbeing, and promised to ensure that no threatening creatures would be welcome here – there’d be no domestic cats or dogs to disturb or impact on their sanctuary.

I requested the wallabies to minimise damage to my gardens and pledged that I would ensure they had plenty of ‘marsupial meadows’ to feed and forest to feel safe and not be endangered or frightened by the presence or smells of canine carnivores.

To the birds, lizards and small mammals, I promised they would never fear being hunted by domestic cats and that I would endeavour to remove any feral felines that infiltrated the land or put their sanctuary in jeopardy. I assured the land and wildlife that there would be no toxic or dangerous substances used that might impact on their health and wellbeing. I welcomed the return of insects and fungi to find their balance in the web of life being restored here.

It took some years for the trees and shrubs to grow and for habitats to establish but I was soon rewarded with an increasing diversity and abundance of wildlife as the systems matured. In 2002, I acquired an adjoining 2 acres with a small permanent waterhole in the gully with evidence of platypus habitat. This area I call Lands End as it forms a peninsular between the meeting place of two major gullies and wildlife corridors. I regard Land End as the most significant area under my custodianship for riparian restoration and wildlife sanctuary.

After the initial 11 years of ecological restoration, a wildlife inventory revealed that Djanbung Gardens was home to Echidnas, Bandicoots, Pretty-face Wallabies, Fruit Bats, Microbats, Possums, Platypus, Goannas, Water Dragons, Garden and Major Skinks, Blue Tongue and Land Mullet lizards, Carpet Snakes, Green Tree Snakes, Red-belly Black Snakes, freshwater turtles and diverse species of native frogs.

Bird life observed at Djanbung include Azure Kingfisher, Buttonquail, Grey Butcherbird, Common Koel, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Little Shrike-thrush, Eastern Whipbird, Kookaburra, Tawny Frogmouth, Australian Black-backed Magpie, Australian Raven, Cuckooshrike, Grey Shrike-Thrush, Pied Woodlarks, Swamp Hens, Banded Rails, Willy Wagtail, Scissors Grinder (Restless Flycatcher), Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Dollarbird, Honeyeaters, Thornbills, Blue Wrens, Red-backed Wrens, Butcherbirds, King Parrots, Black Cockatoos, Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, Welcome Swallows, Red-browed finch, Black-shouldered Kite, Brown Goshawk, Egret, Royal Spoonbill, Blue Cranes (White-faced Heron), Pied Cormorants, Brown Teals, Wood Ducks, Pheasant Coucal, Sacred Ibis and Wood Pigeons.

Naturally, some of the wildlife do share a bit of the garden produce, fruit bats and possums raid fruit trees at night, bandicoots dig up young seedlings in search of juicy fat worms in the soil, and occasionally the wallabies might develop a taste for a particular type of succulent lettuce, however overall wildlife damage is not too great. At times I’ve seen a wallaby hop right into the middle of a garden bed just meters away from where I sit and work on the veranda, ignoring my vegies and grazing contentedly on the couch grass pushing up through the mulch. Compared to previous experiences living in the bush, the wildlife here creates very little damage to my food producing systems.

Human impact on wildlife has been devastating in Australia – clearing habitat for farming, mining, forestry and urban development. The toll on wild creatures is huge including from agricultural machinery – ploughing and harvesting crops, slashing and mowing, plus all the toxins in agricultural chemicals. Grain cropping in Australia is responsible for billions of dead and maimed small animals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates a year from mechanical injury alone, plus the impact of agricultural biocides up the food chain (Mike Archer, University of NSW). Then there’s the devastating impact of domestic cats and dogs plus their feral kind. In the state of Victoria alone pet domestic cats kill 12.5 million creatures a year and feral cats an estimated 70 million. (http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/plants-and-animals/native-plants-and-animals/caring-for-wildlife/protect-your-cat-protect-your-wildlife). One cannot help but wonder what the national toll might be.

One of my core missions at Djanbung Gardens is to demonstrate that we can live in harmony with the wildlife and create an abundant landscape that feeds and houses them as well as ourselves, and we can live quite happily without pet cats and dogs.  The video below was filmed from my hammock on the veranda, where i prefer to do most of my computer work on my laptop. As I work, I look onto my garden and the wildlife that visits and shares my space – my habitat is also their habitat.  Wildlife in our immediate environment can be such an amazingly beautiful experience and enrich our quality of life in a way that is simply not possible with the presence free ranging domestic carnivores.

Robyn Francis