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Implementing Change on the Ground:

“Landcare Community Based Coordination and Project Management”

Tom Gavel


24th October 2001

Ladies & Gentlemen

The topic I propose to speak on today is: “Landcare Community Based Coordination and Project Management” whicht encompasses the delivery of Natural Resource Management to landowners and land managers.

My name is Tom Gavel I have been a landowner in the Central West region of New South Wales all my life. I was born here in Dubbo and have held land at Dubbo, Coonabarabran and for the last twelve years at Molong. Cundumbul is between Wellington and Molong and I run it in conjunction with my wife Maryan, it is a mixed farming enterprise.

My involvement in Natural Resource Management has spanned over forty years. In the last twelve years it has intensified with my involvement in the Landcare movement.

Because of this involvement my recreational pursuit is as Chief Executive Officer for Mid Macquarie Landcare, which is a network of 46 landcare groups. These groups are situated in an area covering 880,000 ha in the Mid Macquarie region. The network involves over 800 farming and urban families. The region includes the urban areas of Dubbo, Wellington, Yeoval, Geurie, Stuart Town, Euchareena, Mumbil, Cumnock and Wongarbon. Included in the 46 Landcare groups are 5 urban groups.

One of my roles as C.E.O. is to administer three coordinators who are local people. They are all landowners within the region. In their positions as coordinators they are required to support and to coordinate the groups assigned to them. The majority of the 46 groups are serviced by two of these coordinators. The other coordinator is responsible for servicing the schools of the region plus two urban groups.

The coordinators are affectionately known as the Dwarves because there were seven original members plus Snow White. They are now down to Goldilocks and the three bears.

How we went about changing the delivery of Natural Resource Management in the Mid Macquarie area is as follows.

Changing the delivery of Natural Resource Management in the Mid Macquarie

In 1997 the management committee, of which I was Chairman at that time, and Allan Nicholson Salinity Investigation Officer DLWC Wellington, developed a project that would empower the local community with the delivery of Natural Resource Management within the Mid Macquarie region.

The project description was:

The project seeks to have strategically located Landcare personnel throughout the Wellington/Dubbo Landcare District, (now Mid Macquarie Landcare) to take over the operations of the Landcare Coordinator position. The project will provide extension, facilitation and training courses using the facilities of the DLWC Staff Training Centre to train the Landholders so they can operate on a part time basis with the ultimate goal of having six community funded part time positions. The project will have the benefit of coordination, cost effectiveness, local ownership plus the big issue of continuity of staff. The expansion of group numbers from 6 to 45 by 1998 is severely taxing the time of the Landcare Coordinator. The project aims at providing community responsibility and to provide a framework for self sufficiency and independence that removes the reliance on funding from NLP for facilitation functions.

The project seeks to train interested Landcare personnel in the necessary skills to allow them to carry out the duties of a Landcare coordinator in their own strategic location on a part time basis. The application was successful in the 1996/97 funding round. There was a major training package written into the application.

The reasons behind developing this model of delivery were; in the three years previously to 1997 Mid Macquarie Landcare had employed three different landcare coordinators. This was mainly because of the nature of the position being casual employment with limited job security. They used the position as a means of securing a career within Government Departments. Just as they were trained and becoming useful, they would be off to greener pastures. As you can imagine this gave us a very disjointed delivery and was a waste of resources.

We were also losing the knowledge that these coordinators had gained about our region and its human resources. There was no form of capacity building or empowerment occurring. It was now time that the Mid Macquarie Landcare took control of its own destiny.

In early 1997 Landholders and Landcare members who we felt maybe interested in the positions were approached to be involved in the training. A number of meetings were held to explain the project. Nineteen people started the training program, which consisted of three workshops under the guidance of Michael Kneipp of the DLWC training Centre at Wellington.

The training workshops were: Conflict Management, Effective Writing Skills and Media and Presentation Skills. With the experience and knowledge that the participants brought into the project we felt that this was enough training to give them the confidence to participate as coordinators and deliver the outcomes we required.

The positions where then advertised and seven were selected hence the nick name “the Dwarves” Of the original seven the number reduced quickly to four, this was to be expected as within the original group there was a wide range of ages from early twenties to early fifties. They all had different expectations and needs.

Four also became a more cohesive team, which allowed for enough interaction between them and their groups to develop a good working relationship. It also allowed for enough work and monetary return for the coordinators to value the job and to receive job satisfaction.

By the end of the first funding period of three years the four had developed a strong network of Landcare groups and had developed a strong team that supported each other. This cross interaction and support is vital when dealing with the community particularly landholders who are individuals by nature. We had achieved the majority of the objectives set down in the initial funding for this project. The only objective not achieved was; “the independence that removes the reliance on funding from NLP for facilitation functions”. I have found that to generate outside funds for Natural Resource Management is difficult enough, but to ask private enterprise to sponsor employment is near impossible. However through the Natural Heritage Trust we did have major on ground projects in place.

The projects were: Mid Macquarie Regional Plan Stages

1. Data collection,

2. Developing best management practices,

3. Economic and social environment,

4. Determine new industry and incentives,

5. Implementation.

6. Mid Macquarie Community Salinity Prioritisation and Strategic Direction Project

7. Salt Load and Sources in Wellington

Due to the structure of our archaic funding terms it was again time that we applied for support from the Natural Heritage Trust to continue the delivery of Natural Resource Management in our region. By this time because of the projects in place and the coordination structure we needed to add a position of CEO to encompassed administration, promotion of the region and the Landcare ethic and project management for major projects as listed above

The title of the new project was; ”Capacity Building and Empowerment of Wellington/ Dubbo Community”.

Project description

The project description was:

The Wellington / Dubbo Landcare Management Group (Mid Macquarie Landcare) has instigated an innovative approach to delivering change through a Landcare network of part time landholder coordinators (coined the DWARF project due to the 7 sub catchments part time Landcare coordinators). This project seeks to empower the community with an established network of landholders who will influence change at the “grass roots” level. Operating within a strategic framework the coordinators will assist in developing healthy ecosystems, sustainable land management systems, facilitating innovative change, with knowledge of the social and economic issues.

The project will fund a Landcare CEO for 4 days per week, and support 5 area Landcare Coordinators employed for 1.20 days per week.

This has actually developed to the position I stated at the start of my talk. That is a Chief Executive Officer, two coordinators that service the majority of groups and one coordinator that concentrates on the schools of the region and edits our newsletter

What has now occurred is that of the original seven part-time coordinators that started in 1997 we have two left and one new recruit this year. But what has happened of those original seven, five have remained in the region and are still actively involved in landcare and the network.

The maturity and experience issue has been our greatest opening. This is one of the major faults with the majority of models we are running with today. We ask young people straight out of University with little experience of the world, with little communication skills and virtually no conflict management skills to deliver NRM coordination. I ask the question: “Do we really value NRM or are we just giving lip service to it?” They are asked to convince landowners and managers who the majority could be their mothers or fathers (59 years is the average age of landholders in this region) to deliver NRM. Don’t get me wrong, these young people have the enthusiasm and determination to do it, but we have placed them in an intolerable position through our lack of foresight and priority for the delivery of NRM.

The other plusses of this model are that we are delivering NRM coordination and support with people who have a track record in the region. They have the trust, respect and confidence of the groups and the members within those groups. They have the maturity and experience to handle the majority of the major issues that occur. They also have a local support structure that is independently owned and operated by the local community and is not managed by a Government Department, empowerment I believe it is called. I do acknowledge and am grateful that the DLWC do provide me with office space and secretarial support. This is supplied as a partner and not as the master.

Independence negates the all too familiar situation of Government Departments accessing external funds through NHT to support core business employment.

Independence has unfortunately created conflict with government institutions. However we do have a very good working relationship with both DLWC and NSW Agriculture in Wellington.

Independence has allowed us to develop at a greater pace and to be able to keep ahead of the pack. This in turn has some negatives namely the Australian attitude of bringing or trying to bring you back to the average. A number of innovative programmes or projects we put forward are met with resentment and suspicion. We have to keep resubmitting them until they are accepted. This means that time and resources are lost and we do not have time on our hands.

Independence has allowed us to lobby all forms of government and business successfully.

Independence has allowed us to develop partnerships with both the private and public sector to assist in value adding to the Natural Resource Management projects in our region

Natural Resource Management Extension has become a dirty word with the government departments of New South Wales. A service that they were so renowned for has been, through ineptness and changes in policy over the past 10 years run down to a stage where it is now virtually non existent. The whole community will pay for this in the future if they aren’t paying already. As Landholders and Land managers we need an independent extension service that has sound technical advice with scientific backing that is innovative and has the respect of its clientele.

As we have shown in my region and within our communities there is an untapped wealth of experience and knowledge that is a resource that needs to be used.

If we intend to proceed along the line of throwing young graduates to the wolves at least develop a career structure that has job security, advancement and a tenure that is longer than two to three years and that isn’t subject to the whim of some external political funding bucket and pay them accordingly.

Thank you

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