Now this is something special. Just off Bentons Rd in Century Drive, Mount Martha, is a 2ha property that looks like it’s out of an authentic Aussie-made fairytale. Mud-brick house, wetlands, peacocks, chickens and their rooster, possums, bats and dogs. Then there’s a dinosaur table, skateboard ramp, tool shed, vegie garden and fruit trees. And don’t forget the gorgeous guinea pigs, worm farm, sheep and an outdoor pizza oven too. What? Please explain?
Tony O’Connor loves nothing more than to wander around his neck of the woods to check what’s going on with the native flora and fauna. Graduating with an agricultural science degree from La Trobe University, then gaining a Diploma of Education and Master’s in quality systems management, this coast to country carer of the land teaches a school-based apprenticeship in parks and gardens in Frankston part-time and used to teach at Mornington Secondary College. He’s also building a guest house on his property, but it is his junior Landcare group, part of the Balcombe and Moorooduc Landcare group, that really satisfies his soul. He explains.
“Lots of home-school parents and their kids rock up on Fridays to experience a range of activities. There are also kids who find it easier to learn by doing rather than by sitting down in a classroom and reading a book. Sometimes we go on walkabout and explore whatever we find along the way, or make fossils by pressing things into clay or grow vegetables. Then there’s the worms, the soil, composting and farming. The animals are always a hit too. But it’s not just about admiring the creatures and landscape. It’s about real education. Someone has to be responsible and it’s us. Giving kids knowledge is better than anything money can buy. Giving them a voice gets them connected to and invested in nature.”
There are more than 5000 groups across Australia involved in the Landcare movement. Tony’s not-for-profit eco experience on his own home turf is all about generations coming together and working in co-operation to look after our landscapes and waterways. A $30 annual family fee is all you need to pay to join the group, which gets your kids learning about the environment from the ground up on Fridays with Tony.
“We have to pass on this knowledge to kids so they know how to look after the land and environment properly. I have different experts in their fields helping on Fridays to do just that. They are all volunteers. Whether it’s helping to build possum, bat and bird boxes, or building huts in the wetlands, or teaching different handcrafts, we all have the same aim in mind.”
As part of his passion for caring for the land and environment, Tony has also started the Balcombe Creek Habitat Project, which encourages school and kinder groups to come to his property and learn how to create homes for wildlife. He goes on. “I started this around three years ago. Each kinder or school sets up a campsite and creates homes for local wildlife like lizards, bats and frogs, or how to make a wombat habitat. They are incredibly enthusiastic.” And so is Tony. This down-to-earth eco warrior wants walking trails linking rural property to rural property across the Peninsula with the aim of sharing specific skillsets along the way. Impossible?
Never say never.