Part of our mission at the School for Field Studies is to “contribute to sustainable solutions in the places where we live and work,” so every Friday, our group chips in and does community service in the Atherton Tablelands community. Most of the community service that we do is related to reforestation. Much of northern Queensland’s rainforests were cleared to make room for farmland, and many organizations are working together to create rainforest corridors for wildlife and to maintain tree plantings.
Each week, we send groups of students to TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands), a community-based tree planting group, and Landcare, a group that works to reforest and maintain habitat along Peterson Creek in Yungaburra. Because it is the dry season and few tree plantings are occurring this time of year, we visit the nursery at TREAT to peel and sort seeds and to organize tree seedlings so they achieve proper sunlight. At Landcare, we maintain current plantings, pull weeds in the planted area, and pull grass out of the creek to create more habitat space for animals like platypus.
We always keep a few students at the Centre to maintain our own tree plantings, setting up frost guards, weeding, and watering, and most recently, digging lots of holes for an upcoming planting later this month. Some students have also visited tree planting sites at places with poetic names like Cloudlands and Ringtail Crossing to monitor revegetation rates. And for several weeks, students visited a tract of Mabi rainforest in search of the invasive Turbina, wading through a sea of stinging trees and being snagged by wait-a-whiles along the way. Some of these chores are not for the faint of heart, but my time pulling Japanese knotweed, honeysuckle, and purple loosestrife in Vermont last year prepared me for all of the bush-whacking I’m doing here!
A crucial component of our Friday mornings of community service is Smoko, also known as tea time. Our lovely cook, Iris, sends us off each Friday with cakes—chocolate, carrot, banana, coffee, lemon, fig—and our hosts provide us with tea, scones, biscuits (cookies), sandwiches, fresh tomatoes and basil, and other delicious treats. The morning of labor is cut in half with time to sit around picnic tables and eat, drink, and talk with community members. Our community service wouldn’t be the same without these delightful breaks.