CLOSE TO THE EARTH: Landcare member and property owner Stephanie Lymburner works to bring back original flora.
CLOSE TO THE EARTH: Landcare member and property owner Stephanie Lymburner works to bring back original flora.

Supporting the rejuvenation of Big Scrub rainforest

FOR Stephanie Lymburner her work to preserve and care for what is left of the legendary Big Scrub is as much about the past as the future.

Stephanie and her husband Julian, then in their late 40s, swapped their life as picture framers in Sydney to continue her mother's dream of helping preserve the region's rainforest.

The Big Scrub once covered an area of some 75,000 hectares from the Coastal plain inland from Ballina to Lismore out to the edge of Meerscaum Vale in the south up to Nightcap, Goonengerry and Byron in the North.

Now less than one per cent remains in small scattered remnants of rainforest with a total area of less than 700ha.

Julian and Stephanie, now in their 70s, are still working on their property finding pockets of introduced species to dig out - that's when they aren't off around the Pacific taking part in Ocean swims, their hobby away from the weeds.

Steph is a long-time Big Scrub Landcare member, one of the largest and most successful Landcare groups in the country, and is on the organising committee for the Big Scrub Rainforest Day.

Now in it's 21st year the one day has been extended across four days from September 19-22 and features 15 activities across idyllic locations learning about the critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest.

Stephanie's love of the forest came from her mother Di Mercer who, she says, was "ahead of her time".

Di drove her trusty Mini-Moke up the "rutted Coolgardie Road" in February 1968, parking and scrambling through a barbed wire fence and a tangle of kikuyu and lantana to the crest of the hill where she was treated to a vista of sweeping cane fields, the Richmond River, Pimlico Island and the ocean.

Four years later she bought 8.2 hectares of land near Ballina, built a small house and moved her teen-aged daughters to the area to begin her stewardship and preservation of the land.

"Once her daughters left home she sold the Moke, happily riding the 14 kilometres into Ballina for provisions, to see friends, barter herbs, and visit the library," Stephanie said.

"She spent her days planting trees, pulling weeds, and writing articles for magazines such as Earth Garden.

"She was the land's steward, she was fulfilling her dream.

"Unfortunately, this all ended abruptly after only six years.

"In 1978 as she was cycling along the Pacific Highway she was struck from behind, dying instantly."

However that wasn't the end of the story - just the beginning - because 15 years later, Steph and Julian bought the land from the rest of the family and continued the journey Di had started.

The couple went to work learning bush regeneration at Wollongbar TAFE and, slowly but surely, bringing the forest back to life both on their property and around the area.

In 1998 they entered into a Voluntary Conservation Agreement with NSW National Parks which protects 7.3 hectares of the property in perpetuity and fulfils Di's dream of enduring stewardship.

For more information on the Big Scrub and Rainforest Day head to bigscrubrainforest.org.