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Meet: Geoffrey Head, Nielsen Park bush regenerator

Photo - Robin Powell

Geoffrey Head has spent the last 12 years tending to the Eastern Suburbs jewel-in-the-crown Nielsen Park. Today we catch up with him.

You’ve been weeding the main area of Nielsen Park every week for the past 12 years. What drew you to do that?

I have an interest in the environment, and a particular interest in Nielsen Park because I swim there regularly. I’d retired and bush regeneration was something worthwhile to do, and which brings me into contact with people, which is important I think when you are retired.


You must have seen significant changes in the site over that time.

Yes, it’s very rewarding. We’ve substantially eradicated the asparagus fern, and subsequently the natural vegetation has really flourished. We don’t plant anything; we simply remove the bad stuff and that gives the seedbank that exists in the soil a chance to germinate. It’s amazing what comes up. In some areas it’s back to its original state, going back hundreds of years. There’s such a wide range of different species, all in balance, with no foreign invaders left.


The beach at Nielsen Park. Photo - Robin Powell


Do you have a favourite time of year to be working in the bush?

There are not many times of year when there’s not something in bloom. In August there’s wattle, in late summer the crowea is abundant and then a bit later the red kennedia is very showy. The little greenhead orchids come up too, which are delightful.


What are the indispensable skills for a bush regenerator?

I think patience is the one. When it comes to weeding you have to have a preparedness to keep at it, and not give up. I talk about getting rid of the asparagus fern, but there are always new ones coming up. But having said that, you don’t need to commit long-term if that doesn’t suit you. You could just do a few weeks if that’s all the time you have. People can simply contribute what they can. You could turn up tomorrow and within half an hour be making a positive contribution.


The flowers of Allocasuarina portuensis, the Nielsen Park She-Oak, which grows only at Nielsen Park. Protecting this rare species is part of the work of the group. Photo - Robin Powell


How many people work together?

The minimum in the group would be three, and the maximum about eight. We usually work from about 8.30 til 12.30 or so and break for morning tea. We take turns bringing something to eat and sit down in the grounds of Greycliffe House and have a chat.


Which weed is public enemy number one at Nielsen Park?

It would be asparagus fern, though there are lots of others: African olive; ochna [also called mickey mouse plant]. That’s a terrible one. I hate it, it has a nasty root system. Spider plant too is a problem. And a grass we dislike is Ehrharta erecta, [panic veldt grass] which is very strong, spreads very readily and tends to take over from native grasses.


Birds eat the berries on asparagus fern and ochna and then spread the seed. Is that the problem?

That’s part of it, but if local gardeners didn’t grow these plants, that wouldn’t be such a problem. I think asparagus fern and ochna should be scheduled. People shouldn’t be allowed to buy and sell them. A bit more awareness in the community would be good.



The bush regeneration group meets every Tuesday morning at Nielsen Park. No experience is required and all tools are provided. Call 02 9337 5511 for more details.


Text: Robin Powell  

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Author: Robin Powell