Introducing your John Colahan Griffin Nature Reserve

Wednesday 21 December, 2011

One man's legacy to future generations

Reserve Manager Jeroen van Veen at the John Colohan Griffin Nature ReserveReserve Manager Jeroen van Veen at the John Colohan Griffin Nature Reserve. Photo by Matthew Newton

A crossroad in the tiny town of Stuart Mill, Victoria, (population 241) might seem an unlikely place for eight people from as far and wide as New Zealand, Ballarat and Melbourne to meet. But on October 16, a convoy of vehicles lined up near the central Victorian town on their way to a unique and special place – Bush Heritage's newest property, the John Colahan Griffin Nature Reserve.

The group had gathered to honour the life of John Colahan Griffin – their father, uncle and friend – and to experience the gift he had given to the reserve's wildlife and to future generations of Australians. As the group entered the property, kilometres of wind farms, agricultural land and canola crop gave way to beautiful woodland.

Finding the perfect way to honour John

After two years of discussions and meticulous planning, the family had finally found just the right way to honour the wishes of the man that brought them together: 96 hectares of precious habitat for Australian wildlife was now protected forever in his memory.

Brown stringy-bark treesBrown stringy-bark. Photo: Matthew Newton

"It was just terrific for us to see the reserve," says John's daughter Sally.

“The birdsong was melodious and noisy in that marvellous raucous way... we had birds – cockatoos and galahs – flying overhead.” 

As they walked through the big stands of box and stringybark eucalypts, and heathy forest, reserve manager Jeroen van Veen pointed out yam daisies and rare spider orchids.

"The property is in excellent condition," says Jeroen, "and the vegetation under the trees is very healthy". This vegetation provides plenty of shelter for diamond firetails, hooded robins and other woodland birds that are declining dramatically throughout the region.

The reserve can also serve as a resting spot for the nationally endangered swift parrot as it migrates up north from Tasmania every year.

Red-cross spider orchidRed-cross spider orchids are one of the species of rare plants that are protected on the John Colahan Griffin Nature Reserve. Photo: Jeroen van Veen.

"This property connects other sections of bush to make this important landscape more robust – it provides corridors of habitat for wildlife to move through." says Jeroen. The reserve is just the start of a plan to protect the remaining bush in the grassy box woodlands area by buying more properties, revegetating land and working with the local community.

A gift that will last forever

John's children are delighted that their father's gift will have such far-reaching effects, not just for the wildlife on the reserve, but for wildlife all over the region. Throughout his life John loved animals and they were always part of his life. He was especially fond of birds – when he found one wounded, he'd put it into a cage to recover. When a bird needed extra warmth and protection, he'd place it in a box and bring it into the house.

“We chose Bush Heritage because they are very ambitious and they have a specific plan. They're active and not prepared to watch from the sidelines.”

Jeroen van Veen with old-growth stringy-bark eucalyptBush Heritage Reserve Manager Jeroen van Veen inspects an old-growth stringy-bark eucalypt. Photo: Matthew Newton

"In our family house, animals like birds and possums were as commonplace as the visitors," remembers Sally. "When Dad was growing up, he had a relationship with nature without being conscious of it as we might be. He swam all year round in the St Kilda Sea Baths and had a large overgrown garden full of birds and pets. Sometimes he witnessed people being cruel to animals and would always challenge the perpetrator."

John wove these events into morality tales for his children, so it came as no surprise to Sally, Michael and Ric, that their father wanted to leave part of his estate to animals and nature. The gift that John left in his Will was so generous that it allowed not only for the purchase of the land, but will also contribute to its ongoing management.

Grass treesAustral grass trees, which occur on the reserve, are rare in central Victoria. Photo: Matthew Newton

"We were very happy about the decision because we share his love of all those things," says Sally. "Certainly it's an example for the rest of us to think along those lines – to leave money to causes that wouldn't get the funding any other way."

It was up to the children to decide where the money should go. "We chose Bush Heritage," says Sally, "because they are very ambitious and they have a specific plan. They're active and not prepared to watch from the sidelines. I know my father would have approved of that."

While visiting the reserve, the Griffin family found a position for the plaque that will commemorate John. The plaque will stand between some trees overlooking a natural amphitheatre of red stringybarks and a waterhole, where family and friends gathered to remember John. Sally imagines it's a spot her father would have liked very much. "He'd put his chair there, and love to just sit and think and enjoy."

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