While it’s almost impossible to talk about North Byron Parklands and the profusion of festivals in Byron Shire without getting into a heated discussion, one North Coast couple decided it was the perfect backdrop to celebrate their wedding anniversary. As thousands were preparing to ring in the new year at the Falls Music and Arts Festival, Dee and Kezia Worland commemorated their love – and the end of 2014 – by helping plant 1,000 native trees and shrubs.
“We could not pass on an opportunity to be involved in an event that promotes sustainability of our environment and encourages people to become engaged and get their hands dirty while enjoying the festival atmosphere,” Dee said. “We are really enthusiastic about bush regeneration in our family, having been brought up in such an ecologically rich part of the country that suits the alternative lifestyle in which we were raised.”
Using endemic seedlings sourced locally from native nurseries, Falls music fans helped the Worlands plant a number of understory species that will reach maturity in six-to-nine months. Fully grown, this will see a canopy height of less than one metre.
“The feedback was amazing, with patrons feeling inspired to plant more than a few at a time and enjoy taking photos of their plants,” Kezia said. “I believe they were surprised to be able to be involved and expressed their joy in getting their hands dirty while at a festival.”
The community planting session was part of Parklands’ Habitat restoration program, which has seen 13,000 trees, shrubs and understory added to the sprawling 660-acre site since 2007.
“Because cattle are no longer on the land, the natural regeneration of native plants over the past few years is impressive,” said Brunswick Valley ecologist and bush regenerator Dave Rawlins. “Most of the ecological restoration work undertaken is exotic weed control to ensure the establishment of the regenerating native seedlings. The site is huge, with large areas set aside for restoration.”
While initial works focussed on plantings adjacent to the Billinudgel Wildlife Corridor, where small forest blocks had been fragmented by past clearing for agricultural activities such as sugar cane and bananas, regen crews have recently focused their attention on the replanting of Yelgun Creek.
“The previous landowner, who owned the southern portion of the site, had little regard for the environment or indigenous sites and heavily impacted significant areas of the property,” Dave explained. “A court order was placed on the landowner to stop clearing and restore these areas. He never undertook restoration works and they have now been completed by North Byron Parklands. A team of three regenerators work on the site once a week – at times up to 10 contractors work together – to do large scale plantings and regeneration projects.”
Parklands has also forged strong links with NSW National Parks to collaboratively care for the adjoining Billinudgel Nature Reserve, an important area of coastal forest wetland that provides a refuge for many important fauna species. One project involved the removal of around a kilometre of barbed wire fencing that was identified as a threat to fauna in the Billinudgel Nature Reserve under the plan of management (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, November 2000).
That an environmental scientist was appointed general manager says a lot about Parkland’s green creed. After helping the company obtain consent to operate as a world-class music and cultural event in 2012, Mat Morris developed a series of management standards that would allow it to operate in accordance with the strict approval requirements set out by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission.
“When I first pitched for this job, what I could see as one of the most important aspects of the project’s success was integrating environmental considerations into all levels of the business model,” he said. “And I think that’s just a reflection of the fact that the site is incredibly beautiful and does have significant environmental value.”
It must also be said that large parcels of the site had a long history of intensive agricultural use, which had been either cleared, farmed or grazed, so simultaneously isolating and managing those areas has become intrinsic to the company’s conservation protocols. “We want them to not only survive but prosper through nurturing and protection,” Mat said.
Regarded as the only Australian outdoor music venue that has a fully compliant ISO 14001 environmental management system, Parklands has a number of policies, procedures and monitoring programs that range from flora and fauna management through to waste mitigation.
Composting toilets may not be a sexy subject but when it comes to managing human excreta at a large-scale festival, it’s certainly a significant one. Starting with a pilot of six waterless, low-odour loos in 2013, the site now sports 246 – the largest of any outdoor event venue in Australia – alongside 192 low-flow, gas fired shower stalls.
“What gets generated on site is managed on site, so there’s no need to transport greywater or blackwater to Byron Shire Council’s water sewage treatment plants,” Mat explained. “This also takes about 160-odd truck movements off the roads, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We also found patrons preferred this system over traditional plastic portaloos, which tend to be a bit smelly and not very inviting to use.”
Parklands copped a lot of flak on social media in 2013 after photos – reportedly taken by festival cleanup workers – showed rubbish strewn across the grounds after Splendour in the Grass. While the volume of camping gear, tents, chairs and general waste abandoned on site was astonishing, what wasn’t mentioned was the fact that the photos were taken the day after 17,500 campers had left the grounds. I don’t know about you, but it takes me the better part of a day to clean up after a dinner party.
Venue organisers quickly introduced a range of new initiatives and services, which were out in full force at the 2014/2015 Falls festival. All campers were given rubbish bags on arrival and throughout the festival’s duration – clear for recyclables and black for general waste. Recycling stations were scattered across the site while a Green Army of camping volunteers made regular rubbish runs and promoted a Bin to Win competitions for campers. And to further engage ticketholders, campers were rewarded with on-the-spot prizes.
Among this year’s cleanup volunteers was Melinda Bartlett from the First Brunswick Heads Scout Group, who for the second year in a row had been invited by venue organisers to salvage discarded camping gear. “We managed to get some terrific items we’ll now sell to help fund our scouts to next year’s Jamboree, as well as upgrading some of our well-worn tents,” she said. “We would certainly be grateful for any future opportunities to do the same again as there are many scout groups in the local area who could benefit greatly from the salvage, and assist in the recycling of many items.”
Staging large-scale public events at an ecologically rich location is guaranteed to divide some members of the community. From what I’ve seen, Parklands is not only meeting those critics and challenges head on but also establishing world-class benchmarks in the process.
Writer: Veda Dante
Photographers:Kirra Pendergast and Veda Dante