Patricia Schwartz - The Environment


The Environment

Interviewee: Patricia Schwartz, born 1950

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 21 Nov, 2009

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2009

 This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

Now tell me about coming to live in the Shire? When did that occur and why did you choose to live in the Shire?

We used to live at Oxford Falls on some land. It was bigger than a housing block but it was only about an acre and a half I think. It was quite bushy and we liked living there. My husband had a desire to have a bigger area of land around him. Having been born in 1944(in Germany) he had still memories of the war and how difficult things were. With food and so forth as Germany was recovering from the war. He just felt as a security really he’d just love to have a bigger block of land. So we moved out to the block that we still have. We’re not living there at the moment at Maroota in the Maroota forest. I loved it but I felt that it had nothing on it, no house nothing and its four and a half kilometre dirt road to get there. I thought it will be quite hard because we were just starting to have children then. So it’s probably going to be hard living there with young children. And having babies there and so forth and I warned him about that. He was very, very keen to get it but I also warned him that if I ever moved down there I would never want to move out again. That was really the case. The kids grew up there but he got really sick of the difficulty of life. We’re fortunate to still have it but we live in Glenorie where life is a little easier.

Was it isolated? Tell me what it was like in those days? When was this the seventies?

No, no, no it was in the eighties, early eighties yeah. It was isolated but the wildlife in the Maroota forest was just unbelievable. Still is but it was just so absorbing and interesting and wonderful that the isolation meant nothing. We used to have a lot of people come and stay with us. Kids of friends always seemed to want to come to our place. So the school holidays were really, really full with visitors. We had quite a social time despite the isolation.

What sort of wildlife did you observe in that forest, Maroota forest?

Wombats, I loved the wombats, all sorts of reptiles, goannas and snakes and so forth. Beautiful birds the king parrots that used to come round the house with their striking red. The screeching and noises at night from gliders the barking and coughing of koalas and echidnas. The life in the creeks, the water dragons around the creeks even the fish in the creek and in any ponds. Absolutely full of invertebrates of various types the magnificent dragonflies, the whole lot, just wonderful.

Young water dragon sunning himself

Did you take an interest in wildlife then?

Always have my whole life I’ve been interested in wildlife I can’t remember not being interested in it. Insects and animals and then plants come after that.

Some people go and record the number of species that they witness did you do that sort of thing?

I have done some of that but I suppose my main interest is just sitting and observing and walking and all that sort of stuff exploring yeah.

So you must know the forest pretty intimately then?

I think probably I do know it very well. Certainly my kids who used to run everywhere and they’re always amazed at the glorious freedom that they had as they were growing up. So yes they know it very well too.

It’s a great education for the kids?

I think so yeah, yeah.

Did you do a lot of walking there, did you go for bushwalks?

Oh everyday, everyday there wasn’t a day I think when we didn’t go for a walk.

What was the koala population like of that forest?

I don’t know koalas are very hard to see but we heard them all the time. I should imagine within the area around the house there were quite a few. I couldn’t guess how many, I just wouldn’t know.

Koala at Maroota by Peter Ridgeway

Tell me you sent your kids to local schools there did you?

Yes to Glenorie School.

How was that for the children?

They loved Glenorie School. Glenorie School was just wonderful they loved the teachers and they loved the head master Mr Westcott. The friends they made at school they still have. It was lovely.

At one stage you got involved with the school committee didn’t you? Tell me about that how that began?

I never thought of myself as a committee person at all but there were a few problems in the preschool. The director of the preschool left because she hadn’t been supported by her committee. That’s not exactly what happened that’s too simple. She hadn’t had the support she needed. She had asked a lot of people could they come to meetings could they join the committee. Could they do that sort of thing and they didn’t. Only because I guess everybody’s busy. I didn’t and she ended up having a lot of problems and leaving. We really felt it as a great loss when she left. She loved the kids and the kids loved her. I felt that I should have been involved and I felt very bad for not having been involved. So then I thought well I’d better do my bit with the school. That’s how I ended up joining the school auxiliary.

What was involved in that?

Initially when I went to the first meeting I got conned into being the secretary. Which I was absolutely terrified of. I was shy and awkward and with all these people that had worked together before I felt very new and very nervous. That was just taking notes at the meetings like Minutes Secretary so it wasn’t a very hard job but it made me very nervous initially.

So you started out as Minutes Secretary? What were some of the internal issues that they were having, the school committee? What sort of things were they fighting for?

Fundraising to just get more and better things for the school just to provide more for the kids Mums would come and volunteer and help with the kids. I did that too. I helped them in an area called gross motor which is helping kids do exercises. I suppose it was a group of people who just wanted their kids to have as much benefit from the school as they could in various ways. Also there was a lot of catering done. The school was a very, very hospitable place back then. When I came with my first child for the initial enrolment we were met with a magnificent afternoon tea that had been provided by the Mums. It was just wonderful hospitality and friendliness. So we tried to carry that on.

So did you get higher up in the committee of the school?

I became President, I guess I got more confident through the years and I became President. I remember Col Westcott who was the headmaster said to me when I was elected as Minutes Secretary in great nervousness. He said “you will not regret this and you’ll learn and it will be very valuable for the rest of your life”. He was right it was.

Sand mining at Maroota c1993

What was the communal spirit like at Maroota, between the people there?

Well we mixed between Maroota and Glenorie with the kids going to school in Glenorie. I think in areas like Glenorie and Maroota people come out to live there for various reasons. These days you get a lot of rural residential, it’s just not farming. You also get a lot of people coming into the area because they want to use the land for other things. For example sand mining. Before I lived there, there was timber harvesting. So there is a lot of reasons why people want to live there. Sometimes these people have different views about what they want to achieve locally and what should be allowed by Council. There can be differences of opinion and different groups form and each group will share the same sort of opinion. However in Maroota which is quite isolated, things like bushfires happen which are pretty frightening and people will help each other and work together. When there is something like a bushfire in the district, everybody just works together and you really get close to people. You’re close to your neighbours because you know you depend on them and you also know they’ll help you if you need help. That’s good.

Where was Maroota on the radar map so to speak did other people in Sydney know about where it was?

No, not that many people would know about it and even today people will…”oh where’s that’? And I’ll say “do you know Wisemans Ferry”? They’ll know Wisemans Ferry and people know Dural and if they don’t know Dural they do know Castle Hill. So I’ll say “oh it’s about half way between Castle Hill and Wisemans Ferry. Everybody seems to know Wisemans Ferry.

You said there was timber harvesting going on? Had that been happening for a long time?

Timber harvesting was finished in the seventies so it finished before we moved into the area. The relics of timber harvesting are still there. The old chains where they used to drag the logs out of the valleys, the cut logs and there were remnants of old tracks when I first moved in there. These have now been well and truly overgrown. There were also piles of timber that I guess were collected and pushed together. There were the remains of an old charcoal pit which I discovered which I can’t find anymore. I’m sure I could if I really tried to and spent a lot time at it. That seems to be so completely overgrown that I can’t find it.

Did they move the trees with bullocks?

Yeah, yeah they did there were bullock teams. Maroota forest when it was logged it was logged… different valleys were logged at different times. There was never any whole scale logging. They just go for certain trees or certain areas. The whole place was never disturbed tremendously by logging. The only thing is that there aren’t too many of the old forest giants left. Like really, really big trees there are still some but most of those are gone because they’ve been cut down and taken out.

Giant tree at Maroota 2009 by Peter Ridgeway

Take a couple of hundred years to grow back?

Yeah possibly even a bit more. The forest is regenerating at a great rate.

Are there many scars or damage from those years of logging?

No, no it’s just that the valleys would have been dominated by the forest monsters and most of these are gone. Because of that the blue gums which have regrown now just aren’t as big and probably more numerous. You’d have had very, very big trees that provided the canopy with probably bracken underneath them rather than the sort of forest that is there now.

They would have been blue gum would they?

Yes blue gum, Eucalyptus Deanii.

How high can they grow?

I can’t tell you that in metres, I’m sorry I’d have to bring my botany book for that, but big. They’re very big tall trees, massive trees.

What were the main issues for the people living at Maroota in those years?

Isolation is something that was brought up a lot. Maroota is still quite an isolated area because there’s no centre at Maroota. You go to Glenorie or you go to Pitt Town. Bushfires of course. It’s a great citrus growing area so there was a very, very strong farming community there with a strong history. I think probably the main issue that was going on at Maroota was the up scaling of the sand mining. That was a big issue then.

Tell me more about that?

Well there’s an alluvial sand mass at Maroota that has very, very good quality sand in it that can be used for the building industry. That has been identified as a very significant resource for Sydney. This is being sand mined and as the sand runs out at Penrith Maroota will be mined more and more. The beginning of the large sand mining was occurring in the late seventies and early eighties. There were a number of people worried about the damage being done to the environment ultimately by sand mining and also taking away the sand mass.

Natural spring waterhole at Maroota

So were they different camps that were protesting? Were they opposite each other?

I think that everybody was worried. The farmers were worried about the dust created by sand mining. If the dust coats the leaves of the trees they don’t grow as well. So that was a problem. People who lived round Maroota for its wonderful environment were worried about the damage that was going to be done. There are a lot of springs around Maroota particularly as you go into the valleys. It’s extremely well watered and has permanent water. The removal of the sand mass will ultimately affect this because the water goes down through the sand and collects on clay lenses then dissipates throughout the forest areas. There are a lot of springs in the area and of course this is a long term worry.

So what would happen if the sand were actually removed? What would happen to the ecology of the forest?

Well I guess all these things are very hard to predict. The environment is a very, very complex area so it is hard for anybody to know. I guess once the sand is removed then the water will run off more readily. It won’t collect in the aquifers because they’ll be gone. They will probably dry up more in dry times because there won’t be the area where the water is retained. That’s certainly what the fear is. We won’t know till the end of extraction what the full impact will be.

Which side of the equation are you as far as sand mining is concerned?

These are all very hard things to answer because I think life is never black and white. It’s very, very hard to oppose things that are of economic benefit and that are valuable to our society. That doesn’t mean that I’m in favour of it means that in a complex society one has to be aware that people need houses they need roads. They also need employment. As a country we need to be economically viable. All those things are issues. But the incredible and wonderful environment around Maroota that I love so much is certainly being damaged I would imagine by sand mining too. I don’t like to see it but I do understand that the government and the sand miners aren’t just being wilful or deliberately destructive either. There are reasons why the sand is being used. I think if we can all work together to make sure that it’s extracted with as minimal damage to the environment as possible. That is the way to go and I’m sure everyone is trying to do that now. Certainly I would like to see the sand mining come to an end of course. But then there are other issues associated with that.

Aerial view of bushland in Maroota 2003

Is there a very strong hardcore green group that wants to stop it at all costs?

I think there was but people have become used to it now. A lot of people who would have agitated more strongly have left the area. There are other things involved too. That is that the land that is in the sand mining area is being bought up by the sand miners. So farms aren’t as viable anymore as they used to be. People are selling to the sand miners. If the sand mining improves the value of your land then people seem to be happy with that as well. They’ll take the money. I think a number of people who were very upset by the sand mining have just sold to the sand miners. That’s been their way out.

There’s also an issue regarding Aboriginal land rights in Maroota give me the back ground to that if you can?

A number of claims have been made over the rural lands in Maroota and these have been granted now by the courts. So the Land Council owns a lot of land in the Maroota area, thousands of hectares.

It’s on the basis of traditional tribal land is it?

No this has been claimed through the Land Rights Act. They received the land as freehold land. It’s still in the process of being handed over to them. They will receive freehold title that means that they will have opportunities to develop it economically.

Do they give any plans about what they’re going to do with it, once they’ve got it?

There are some draft plans, business plans that have been created. They’re a draft of course these might change.

What sort of use are they envisaging for that land?

Well I couldn’t comment on that because until the Land Council actually says what it is going to do I would be second guessing them and I don’t want to do that. I know what my fears are but I would be afraid of the land being developed and therefore losing some of its wonderful biodiversity. They will have that opportunity and I know they have economic needs and they require money. So again just like sand mining it becomes another one of those problems which is really hard to solve.

A little place like Maroota has a lot of issues like that?

A lot of issues, that’s right a lot of issues.

 Parrot in a Eucalypt tree

Is that land in question, the Aboriginal land claims - is forest part of that, Maroota forest?

Yes it’s all been claimed so they own the lot of it.

Right and your worry is that it might kill some of the wildlife in the forest I suppose?

Well not like that but of course development means that it compromises the land. You have to clear land you have to put in roads, all that sort of thing.

So what do you think is going to happen to that particular issue in the future? At what stage is it at now?

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, the future will reveal that.

Are there any environmental sustainability issues at Maroota and for that matter where you are living now at Glenorie as well?

There are problems with onsite sewage disposal - high nutrient going into creeks and that means that there are weeds. In Maroota forest there are very few issues because it is such a large area of land. The ridge tops are not developed so all the rain and water that runs into the creeks is not going over any areas that have extra nutrient in them. Once you clear some land and you put a house there. Then you bring in some fertiliser to grow a garden and if you’re disposing of sewage on site this ultimately washes down into the creeks. It changes your water quality it changes your soils around the creeks. They have high nutrients and a lot of introduced species will be able to grow that aren’t able to grow now. So then you get a lot of problems. At the moment in Maroota it’s in exceptionally good condition in its natural state.

Tell me what Streamwatch does and can you describe your role in it?

Streamwatch is a part of Sydney Water. Streamwatch encourages communities to get involved in water testing and Sydney Water provides the support for this. They provide the chemicals. Some groups purchase the chemicals other groups have the chemicals given to them. The community can go out and test the water and find out what the local water quality is like. If they find a problem through the testing of water then they have opportunities to communicate with Sydney Water, to local councils to try and solve the problems that might be causing a decrease in water quality if that’s what they find.

You monitor this regularly?

Yes I and other people work with Glenorie School as a community group. We take kids down to the creek once a week to monitor the water quality.

So the children do it at the school?

The children do it.

Who looks at the results is it sent to a laboratory?

No we do the water testing ourselves. It’s a wonderful, wonderful programme Streamwatch. It teaches kids science in a very hands-on way. As well as just involving the community and empowering the community it is also a great way to teach kids science in a very meaningful way. I’m a great supporter of Streamwatch.

What is your position in Streamwatch?

I’m part of a Streamwatch group but Gaynor Derriman and myself coordinate the Glenorie Streamwatch group. We operate from what used to be the old fire brigade building. We’re very lucky to have premises and in that we have a small museum. The kids can come in and have science days or we can have open days. It’s just a centre to think about the environment, to collect bits and pieces that give examples of the local environment.

Is it a phenomena that is all over Sydney, Streamwatch?

Yes it’s all over New South Wales. There are different groups. There are Water Watch groups throughout Australia.

Has the water quality actually improved since you’ve been monitoring it?

Greatly yes in Glenorie Creek, in Maroota forest the water quality has always been good. We used to monitor that quite regularly but we don’t monitor it as regularly as we used to. There haven’t been any major changes. We keep monitoring it to make sure that there aren’t major changes. With Glenorie Creek we found very high faecal coliform readings and phosphate readings. Over the years mainly through education people have been improving what they do with their onsite sewage. Whilst it's far from perfect it’s improved greatly.

Is there any scientific information that Streamwatch has been able to add to the existing knowledge base.

Yes all the data collected by Streamwatch groups goes onto the internet. So all this information is available for whoever wants to use it.

Have there been any strange readings I mean things you couldn’t explain?

There have been strange readings. Extremely high levels of phosphate and so forth at times but these have probably been related to illegal sewage disposal in creek systems. Whilst we don’t necessarily have direct explanations we know the sort of things that go on in an area that doesn’t have reticulated sewage. It can be explained probably by these sorts of events.

Do you ever catch any of the culprits?

It’s quite easy in a way to find out what’s happening with properties. Where the water quality changes it can be quite easily found out you can see that in the water by testing it. But our aim has never been to catch culprits as such. It’s nice if we can all work together. I think that’s where the future lies in overcoming these problems. Whilst we work with Council we try to get Council to help us solve problems. We really discourage punishment of people. It’s all education, education, education and working together. Certain people have been fined over the years but it’s never had anything to do with us.

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