“I was in Parliament when I got the call. My friend and agent Alan Cordell was on the line and he said ‘you’ve got the two blocks for $250,000’. The rest is history.”
In the very early days of Bush Heritage Australia, I remember buying a black and white strip advertisement in the Business Review Weekly. I had just bought the two properties in the Liffey Valley and our very small team was helping me raise money to meet the loan repayments.
The advertisement didn’t generate a single response. Meanwhile, our official launch in the forest at the picturesque Liffey Valley properties attracted a solitary ABC journalist.
To say that paying back that debt sent a few jitters through our small yet committed group would be an understatement.
Thankfully however, people’s love for the Australian bush came to the fore. Word about our mission slowly spread and people offered anything they could spare to help get Bush Heritage Australia off the ground. Donations and interest-free loans of just a few tens or hundreds of dollars helped us make ends meet in those precarious early years.
By 1993 we appointed a part-time fundraising coordinator and, soon after, purchased the Fan Palm Reserve in Queensland – a tiny eight-hectare property next to the Wet Tropic World Heritage Area. The feeling that we were a true national organisation was gradually building.
From those humble beginnings I could only dream that Bush Heritage Australia would grow to the scale we know today. Bush Heritage currently owns more than 1.2 million hectares of lands and is contracted to help in the protection of another 5.6 million hectares of Aboriginal lands and seas.
Over the years, as I moved from the tiller to become its patron, Bush Heritage has been blessed with talented Directors, CEOs and staff, a committed Board and an army of volunteers and donors who have put us at the forefront of environmental science and practical conservation.
Buying and protecting private land of high conservation value and collaborating with Traditional Owners is the trademark of our successful conservation model.
Yet some of our benefits have been unintended. As our population swells, it will become harder for people to find natural experiences. For some, the simple act of being in nature will become foreign. Our work will find even greater value, and will allow future generations to experience the plants, animals and intact ecosystems of our island home.
Bush Heritage Australia is a wonderful success story built on the blood, sweat, occasional tear – and great generosity – of innovative professionals along with thousands of people who have become involved in our work. To them all I say congratulations and a heartfelt thank you. This success is yours.
Here’s to the next 25 years.