Digging in for community benefit

Friday 13 August, 2021

With trowels, diggers, mallets and wheelbarrows full of native seedlings in hand, 18 TAFE students from Ballarat have been working tirelessly with Parks Victoria staff and volunteers to revegetate and beautify the landscape of Woowookarung Regional Park and its Australian-first Dementia-friendly Forest and Sensory Trail.

Ranger Vivienne Zivkow supervised the work experience group in July, where they planted around 700 seedlings from 13 native plant species just weeks before the opening of the pioneering trail. She worked with Ballarat Group Training (BGT) to recruit the students, all of whom were interested in building up their work portfolios with practical, hands-on experience. 

“I was really impressed with their work ethic,” Vivienne said. “This was the first of four planting sessions we had booked in, but it was the most important to complete, with the opening of the trail just around the corner.” 

“They received a work outline prior to their meeting with me, and when they arrived at the park, I provided them with safety training and a live demonstration of their expected tasks. We discussed which species of seedlings should be planted along the dementia-friendly trail, how far apart each seedling should be placed, why positioning is important, how deep they should dig each hole before planting, as well as how to install tree guards once their planting was complete. They took to each task quickly, and brought not just their own tools, but their enthusiasm and professionalism to this job.” 

Two students from the Gordon Institute of TAFE planting seedlings at the Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail in Woowookarung Regional Park

From left to right: Kobi Maunder and Mashayel Richardson from The Gordon Institute of TAFE.

The plant species included in the revegetation are Carex appressa, Juncus pallidus, Lomandra longifolia, Eucalyptus obliqua, Eucalyptus aromaphloria, Eucalyptus ovata, Acacia dealbata, Acacia paradoxa, Acacia verticillata, Acacia stricta, Leptospermum continentale, Hardenbergia violacea and Dianella admixta.

Volunteers from the Ballarat Field Naturalist Club collect the natural seed fall from existing plants in the Woowookarung Regional Park, or 10 per cent of the seedlings from standing plants during the summertime, which they propagate at the Ballarat Community Indigenous Nursery to prepare and strengthen the seedlings for planting. 

As they grow, each plant will add to the sensory purpose of the trail, allowing people to see, smell, touch and hear nature. 

“Located on the Traditional Lands of the Wadawurrung people, the trail was co-designed with people living with dementia and their carers - supported by Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance Ballarat - Ballarat community health groups, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dementia Australia,” Vivienne said.  

“With pathways to allow wheelchairs and carers, assistance dogs, and groups from residential aged care facilities, the trail offers park visitors an experience in nature that can be enjoyed in diverse ways as their journey through dementia progresses.” 

“The trail is also designed to allow people with dementia to take over the care of the planted seedlings, with their carers and Parks Victoria staff supporting them through required tasks, such as watering.” 

Eucalyptus seedlings planted at the Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail in Woowookarung Regional Park

Eucalyptus seedlings.

Vivienne is excited to welcome the TAFE students back to Woowookarung Regional Park in the coming months. “It is so beneficial for young people gain outdoor work experience in our beautiful parks and reserves. Parks Victoria staff are always eager to teach the next generation - from horticultural knowledge to environmental safety and care, culture and the importance of healing Country and learning from Traditional Owners, and even what it means to be a ranger and what our work entails.” 

“It was great to see these kids being active outdoors and learning how to behave in a workplace – even if it’s not in a traditional office-setting. The initial planting occurred at the entrance to the trail, the car park, Wren’s Rest and the Wetland Loop. When they return, the students will be responsible for planting and mulching, as well as watering, installing signage and path maintenance.” 

Entrance to the Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail in Woowookarung Regional Park

The entrance of the Dementia-friendly Forest and Sensory Trial at Woowookarung Regional Park.

Julie Butler, BGT Apprenticeship and Traineeship Consultant, believes this opportunity has been an invaluable intergenerational experience. “It has been a privilege and a great learning curve for our students to work on the Dementia-friendly Forest and Sensory Trial. It has been a long time in the planning stage due to COVID-19 and our students are thrilled to be part of this great community project.”

“Their teachers from The Gordon Institute of TAFE have said that the partnership with Parks Victoria has provided the students with a great opportunity to put the things that they are learning in the classroom into practice in the field. The students really enjoy being in the bush and being able to contribute to the rehabilitation of their local environment. Some of the students have enjoyed it so much that they are considering a career in the conservation and land management area.”

Parks Victoria thanks supporting partners CDC Victoria, CMV Truck & Bus and Volvo Bus Australia for sponsoring the Dementia-friendly Forest and Sensory Trail at Woowookarung Park.

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