LANDCARE VETERAN: John Webber with the Jim Knight Memorial Award.
LANDCARE VETERAN: John Webber with the Jim Knight Memorial Award.

An ‘embarrassing’ moment helped shore up Coastcare

FROM those first few trips to Angourie, John Webber knew how special the place was – and couldn’t watch it be destroyed.

When Angourie Dunecare was formed in 1989, John Webber was there, determined to ensure the pristine coastline he had visited with his teenage brothers a decade before was returned to its former glory.

“We saw how beautiful the place was and then over the next decade or so weeds invaded the area,” he said.

“I couldn’t sit back and watch the beauty of the place and the vitality of the flora and fauna become so degraded.”

Fast forward 30 years and Mr Webber has been awarded the Jim Knight Memorial Landcare award in recognition for the decades of work he has put into restoring the natural beauty of Angourie.

Looking at a photo from the early days of Dunecare showing “a bunch of hippies and motley surfers – all with a lot more hair than we have today”, he reflects on just how important the people around him have been.

“We have been hugely blessed with such good people for 30 years,” he said.

“Of course I appreciate it hugely (winning the award) but it is only because I have had such a great team working with me.”

He was particularly thankful to the group for “picking me up when I had the sh--s” and keeping him motivated during times there might have been “only three or four” people at a working bee.

“I’d be thinking ‘What the hell are we doing this for – no one cares’ and then all of a sudden we will have 25 or 30 people again and it’s all fine.”

EARLY DAYS: A photo of the 1993 Angourie Dunecare group.
EARLY DAYS: A photo of the 1993 Angourie Dunecare group.

Imelda Jennings, fellow member of the group, now known as Angourie Community Coastcare nominated the founding member after he approached her to nominate the whole group for the award.

Ms Jennings said she thought it was time “he got some recognition” for the hard work he put in on the ground and for all the “boring stuff”, the tireless work behind the scenes that was pivotal to its ongoing success.

“John’s personal demeanour, leadership skills and clarity of purpose have held the group together during what seemed like insurmountable challenges,” she said.

“Most importantly, he has encouraged children to participate in Coastcare projects so they see the value of community engagement and respect for the environment.”

In particular, Ms Jennings praised his vision of bringing the area back to life ecologically and opening it up so the public could appreciate its beauty.

One of the key ways the public could share in its beauty was through the Angourie Heritage walk.

“Even back in those early days he was considering disabled access and providing space for community activities,” she said.

The Heritage Walk is a 2.5km walkway – complete with interpretative signs and two boardwalks – through the heart of Angourie and was the result of Mr Webber’s vision and more than 800 hours of volunteer work from the group.

When the walk was officially opened to a group of over 40 people including representatives of the Yaegl nation, Envite, council and NPWS, Mr Webber said it made him proud to be part of the community.

“I guess my most proud moment was the opening day of the Heritage Walk,” he said.

“We, as a group had spent so much time refining the content of the signs. We’d sprayed hectares of weeds and repaired the eroded sections of Spooky Gully Nature Walk.

“We had all contributed to the success of the project.”

However, well before the opening of the walk an encounter with an “excited” university student from outside the region left a lasting impression on Mr Webber

“About 20 years ago someone came up and said, ‘Oh you’re John Webber and have been doing Coastcare’.”

“He was so effusive, he just started praising like crazy – it was embarrassing.”

While Mr Webber initially found it a touch strange, he began to realise there were people in the scientific world who saw the value in the group’s work.

“I thought to myself – here is someone with a trained eye, who knows what weeds are, who has noticed.”

“That was a moment where I thought – ‘OK we we’re having an impact’.

Mr Webber said that impact was increased by the relationship they built with National Parks and Wildlife Services and he was extremely thankful to the organisation – which recognised the energy of the group in those early days.

“Their help, along with Clarence Valley Council and Clarence Valley Landcare, ensured our effort yielded results.”

The Jim Knight Memorial Landcare award recognises the contribution by an individual or group to Landcare in the Clarence Valley and is named in honour of the late Jim Knight, founding chair of Clarence Landcare.