Tumby Bay couple leaves an environmental legacy for future generations

We regularly highlight the great work our volunteer growers do year-in, year-out. But we don’t often get a true understanding of just how much time and effort our amazing landholders put in to revegetate their properties.

The initial ripping, spraying, planting, watering, mulching, tree guards and stakes, fencing … and then facing challenges which can break their hearts and sap their will. Either by Mother Nature’s hands or mischievous livestock.

But still they persevere.

One such couple is Graeme and Judy Stirling, who joined Trees For Life in early 1988.

The Stirlings started planting on their 750-acre Tumby Bay dairy farm, ‘Yadnarie’, in 1975 when they were in their mid-30s. In 1990 they also bought the adjoining 1200-acre farm which, according to Judy, had no trees at all.

They immediately decided they wanted to plant up to 20,000 trees on the property – “plantation-style’. According to Judy the soldier settler blocks that had opened up in the area after WW2 were sparsely vegetated and they wanted to establish shade and protection around their farm.

Adelaide couple George and Frances Daniels grew for the Stirlings for several years and sometimes stayed on the property to see their ‘babies’. Sadly the Daniels have passed away, but in a letter to TFL in 1991, they explained just what motivated them to help.

“There’s such a lot of destruction – we feel that by doing this (raising seedlings), we can put something back into the environment.

“Their (Graeme’s and Judy’s) land has very few trees and very little native scrub nearby, so they need all the tree cover they can get. We’ve learnt a lot about farm life from our contact with Judy and Graeme. Planting is hard work and just to erect fencing to protect the trees from sheep costs $1500 per kilometre.

“They are also planning to join with other landholders to revegetate the creek which runs through their farm, as part of a Landcare project. This should be a great haven for wildlife.”

In June 1990 the Stirlings planted their first plantation of 1000 trees. They did the same in 1991, but planted three rows and 1500 trees.

The following years they tried to plant 500 trees each year, facing several challenges and lots of hard work, time and money.

In 2010 they sold much of the property to another neighbour.

“It was a very emotional time after all the effort we had put into the property over 40 years, but the time was right to scale back,” Judy said.

They have kept their house and sheds and now live sustainably.

“We have 32 solar panels on the roof and 100,000 gallons of rain water storage (which we use to water all the vegetables and fruit trees we grow), and Graeme can still sow 200 acres of crops each year. We don’t have stock any more.”

George and Frances stopped growing for the Stirlings in 1994 and the following year former Premier John Bannon and his wife Angela took on the role of volunteer growers.

Such was Judy’s passion for their revegetation work, she meticulously documented all their plantings from 1991-1994.

The following are excerpts from her diary, which give a great insight into the life of caring landholders. Enjoy.

  • May, 1991 – Darian bought over 771 trees from George and Frances Daniels in SES trailer. Wonderful trees and lovely and healthy.
  • June, 1991 – Ripped three long tree rows across (blocks) 7,8,9. 2km each row, 10-metre wide plantation. Grant from Greening Australia for fencing $2000.
  • July, 1991 – Hired council tree planter $50. Planted out 1500 tube seedlings and watered in. Very busy two days. Good to get them all planted. Soil preparation wonderful. Sprayed for weeds and soil very wet. I had 750 big trees and G&F Daniels 750 from TFL.
  • Aug-Sept, 1991 – Galahs are having a field day ripping off trees almost at ground level. Rabbits at either side of the creek are also a menace. Season started to dry off. Very disappointing and frustrating after all that work.
  • Jan-Feb, 1992 – Watered all trees still alive in new plantation. Found approximately 500 still alive. We were very disappointed. Vowed to water more frequently during summer. Trees that were alive looked good.
  • Jan, 1992 – After a very dry 1991 winter we watered tree plantation of 1500 trees only to find nearly all had perished. This was a big disappointment as they were planted in ideal soil and weather conditions in late June. I roughly estimate we have lost 60-70% of this year’s plantings. Not to be daunted and with a new fence already erected we again had the Daniels as our tree growers.
  • April 30, 1992 – the Stirlings picked up 926 trees from the Daniels and Gael, a family member
  • Throughout May and June Judy and Graeme planted 816 native seedlings in their first plantation, fencing the area, mulching and watering them in. This included replacing 326 seedlings that hadn’t survived.

  • June 13, 1992 – Planted 132 trees - 2nd plantation.
  • July 3, 1992 – 15mm RAIN
  • July 4, 1992 – Planted 157 trees. Finished 2nd plantation. Total 289 trees replaced here.   
  • 1993 – In April school holidays we collected 616 trees from George and Frances and 300 from Gael. All natives and very well grown.
  • May 18, 1993 – Sheep in No. 4 broke fence down and ate off all 120 trees I planted by hand in salty patch. Dug around and found them all, just sticks – watered and hope they reshoot.
  • May 26, 1993 – Still waiting for rain to start planting.
  • August, 1993 – Had Landcare working bee here to plant TFL trees – 760 all together.
  • During August Graeme and Judy planted another 117 seedlings.

  • This season we had a huge mice plague.
  • January 16, 1994 – Pruned 81 native trees along road by No.6 to try and make them stronger and stop flopping over.
  • March 31, 1994 – No rain for 38 days. Driest March for 120 years.
  • May 1, 1994 – Went to George and Frances Daniels to collect our trees. Left with 700 all beautifully grown.
  • June, 1994 – LEAP students from Tumby and Lincoln TAFE colleges helped plant 1040 trees.
  • September 14, 1994 – George and Frances sent us book ‘What Seed is That’ autographed by author Neville Bonney. Can’t go on growing for us.
  • December 9, 1994 – New TFL growers John and Angela Bannon.
  • March 1995 – (update from 1990 planting of 381 River, Peppermint and Sugar gums). Most trees have survived and are growing really well. Up to 10ft high!
  • March 1995 – (update from August 15, 1992. Planted 60 sheoaks in crossing. These have grown extremely well; are now 10ft high and all survived).

Thanks to the efforts of the Stirlings, and volunteer growers the Daniels and Bannons, the Yadnarie property is hardly recognisable from the barren land of 1975. It is now not only a haven for many birds (such as firetail finches and blue wrens) and animals, it is an environmental legacy left for future Tumby Bay generations.


Image 1: The new block plantation prepared for the planting of 1,500 trees in three rows, 2km each row.
Image 2: Setting up the Shelterbelter planting machine in June, 1991.
Image 3: Corner triangle patch on Mine Hill - Stirling roads corner. Has been sold and now has a house on it.
Image 4: Stirling’s Road, just before Judy and Graeme’s driveway, was initially bare on both sides. They planted Sheoaks on the left and Platypus gums on the right. They were hand-pruned when they were young.