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The Barnetts' bush memory

Published 21 Sep 2013 

A Black Saturday tragedy that unfolded in the Victorian bush has inspired a remarkable legacy, the newest addition to Bush Heritage's reserves.

Jenny and John Barnett with a native animal captured during a fauna survey.Jenny and John Barnett with a native animal captured during a fauna survey.

Jenny and John Barnett's love of nature drove their commitment to their careers, their life as a couple and the legacy they wished to leave behind. It was this shared vision for both their lives and deaths that has led to the establishment of Bush Heritage's newest addition to our suite of reserves, near Wedderburn in central Victoria.

On September 21, family and friends of the couple gathered on the reserve's low‑lying slopes of grassy woodland to celebrate its christening as the Barnett Block. The 190‑hectare property, which was purchased in May, thanks to the Barnetts' joint bequest to Bush Heritage and Trust for Nature, will be combined with our neighbouring Nardoo Hills properties to create a 1000‑hectare collection of reserves.

Doug Humann, a close friend of the couple and the executor of their estate, says it's a fitting tribute to a couple whose abiding love for the Australian bush was matched by a quiet determination and dedication to protect the environment and its creatures.

Victoria Reserves Manager Jeroen van Veen.Reserve manager Jeroen van Veen with Barnett Block in the background. Photo: Peter Morris

The Barnetts, passionate Bush Heritage supporters

"Jenny really liked the fact that through Bush Heritage they could get property into the conservation state," says Doug. "It's a wonderful thing that, thanks to the Barnetts and Bush Heritage's many other passionate supporters across Australia, there will be another bit of protected bush, which will carry their name into the future and recognise their contribution, their commitment and their passion for nature conservation."

Jenny worked for more than 25 years as a researcher for Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), where she was known for her tireless campaigning and her extensive knowledge. She was also known for her quiet but pointed way of getting her message across.

A Rufous Song Lark.During a spring visit to the Barnett Block, visitors were charmed by this rufous song lark's melodious song. Photo: Peter Morris

"Jenny dug her heels in when she needed to but had a lovely gentle side that we saw with the T‑shirts she painted with beautiful designs of plants and animals," says Amanda Martin, a former VNPA executive director.

John worked for more than 30 years at Melbourne University's Animal Welfare Science Centre, where the director, Paul Hemsworth, has lauded him for his "outstanding scientific efforts" in animal welfare.

The couple was no less dedicated on their days off. For 35 years, the two zoologists volunteered for the Mammal Survey Group of Victoria and conducted a number of mammal surveys on Nardoo Hills reserves.

Much of their spare time was also spent on their property at Steels Creek, where they planned to retire. Tragically, while the Barnetts saw their life and legacy in the Australian bush, they did not foresee that their death would be there too.

A Swamp Wallaby.Swamp wallabies frequent the woodlands and grasslands of the Barnett Block. Photo: Jeroen van Veen

On 7 February 2009, Jenny and John perished in their Steels Creek home during the Black Saturday bushfires.

It is perhaps fitting that the purchase of the Barnett Block will now allow Bush Heritage to build firebreaks that will protect the entire Nardoo Hills reserves from bushfires approaching from the west.

Rare woodlands now protected

Jeroen van Veen, Bush Heritage's Regional Reserve Manager, Victoria, says the block not only extends our conservation of threatened grassy woodland habitats at Nardoo Hills but it also provides a home for some rare plains woodland - the first of its kind in Bush Heritage's portfolio of reserves.

"Plains woodland is very rare these days, so it is officially endangered as a vegetation community under the state of Victoria legislation," says Jeroen. Buloke trees are a feature of this community and, together with a sentinel of grey box and yellow gum trees lining the Barnett Block creek, they will provide a home for declining woodland birds such as the hooded robin, painted buttonquail, the chestnut‑rumped thornbill and the endangered swift parrot.

A Tussock Moth.Tussock moth. Photo: Jeroen van Veen

According to Jeroen, the sheer size of the combined Nardoo Hills reserves will also lend greater weight to our conservation work in the area. "It means landholders pay attention to what we are doing and you can influence land management decisions that are made elsewhere in the district: on a council level and on a fire‑management level," he says.

Gerard O'Neill, Bush Heritage CEO, says the Barnetts have left behind them a legacy to the growing conservation network of Central Victoria. "Their contribution joins with the efforts of so many supporters and partners who love and help to care for the bush in this treasured part of Australia."


We gratefully acknowledge the generous contribution of the R E Ross Trust, Judith Eardley Save Wildlife Association, the Australian Government's National Reserve System Program, the Estate of John and Jenny Barnett and Trust for Nature (Victoria).