Passion shines through at Toora

Fifteen hectares of denuded coastal country near Toora in South Gippsland might not be a good starting point. But the journey that Diana Droog and her husband Hugh have taken over the last 10 years is one marked by vision, openness and a sense of wanting to leave the world a slightly better place.

Born and raised in Moe, Diana headed to the city to continue her education. There she embarked on a career in both medicine and business with skills based around observation, assessment and a science-based approach to solving problems.

As that career wound down and with time to think about what her legacy might be, Diana purchased a former dairy and beef property on Corner Inlet that had been cleared and worked hard since the 1900s.

“We weren’t able to build a home on the property but decided that we didn’t need to build a home for us to do what we wanted,” says Diana.

Initially the property was leased out for a couple of years while Diana worked out what was needed to restore the place.

“I was curious about the local landscape, how it might have been and how it interacted with Corner Inlet. The key was to work out what to do first.”

That first step was to do some initial plantings to determine what how fast they responded, and survived without watering and how water flowed through the property. “We were fortunate to have local plant grower and contractor, Frank Smolders, providing advice and help in planting over 20,000 indigenous hyco plants over four years”

That next step was to create some wetlands on the property to both catch and filter nutrient heavy rainwater before it flowed into Corner Inlet and provide an environment for frogs and other fauna to call home.

“I was put in touch with Pat Condina from the then Department of Agriculture who very promptly gave me some advice on the best sites for the wetlands. I remember it as a very easy discussion and one that has been replicated time and again as I’ve worked with people from a range of organisations over the years – working with others tends to bring the best outcomes.”

Diana is a firm believer in the idea of transferring knowledge. The property has become something of a haven, not only for wildlife but also researchers, bird watchers and others interested in improving the environment.

“Just spending time with like-minded people, whether that be from the local Landcare group, people from the Trust for Nature or the Catchment Management Authority staff; discussing ideas and sharing is such a powerful tool that we have – it’s certainly been one of the main ingredients in the development of the property.”

One of the firm goals that Diana has brought to the project is the desire to ensure that at least this little piece of Victoria is left in an improved condition for future generations to enjoy.

“We have to protect the natural environment,” says Diana who apart from plantings and development of wetlands has also worked with the Trust for Nature in placing a conservation Covenant over the property to permanently protect the remnant and revegetated habitats.

“Living in the city most of the time and seeing what’s happening there in terms of development, it can be a bit overwhelming in terms of trying to protect the environment. At Toora, we’ve been able to work with others and I hope make a real difference.”

John Hick from the Trust for Nature says that in addition to the impressive revegetation work that Diana has done on the property, her interest and engagement with Trust for Nature during the past five years has been inspiring.

“What’s notable about Diana is her absolute openness to new ideas, working with other parties and the desire to see the property become a research hub of sorts for future generations.”

“It’s been clearly visible in the work that Trust for Nature has done with Diana that she is respectful of what other people can bring to the process and that if you were to remove the input of any individual or group then the overall outcome would be diminished.”

One of the developing relationships that Diana is keen to explore further is in embracing the idea of increasing indigenous land management onto the property.

“We’ve had teams from the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) work on the property and this is certainly something I’d like to see develop,” says Diana who sees indigenous involvement in the property as a natural next step.

“I think it’s important to work with indigenous groups as a mark of respect for their heritage but also to improve the landscape using some of those traditional methods.”

Over recent months the property has hosted training days for GLaWAC staff looking at weed identification and saltmarsh management.

These training days reflect Diana’s openness to the idea of partnerships, knowledge transfer and seeing the property as a site for research.

The training events were delivered by staff from the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s Corner Inlet Connections program and included training by staff from the Trust for Nature aimed at improving knowledge among the GLaWAC teams.

“Seeing the property used like this gives me a real buzz,” says Diana, “It’s about bringing people together, improving knowledge and in turn improving our environment.”

In looking towards the future, Diana maintains her desire that the property become both a research site for others as well as a landmark site which others might see as inspiration for their own efforts in improving the environment.

“There is another generation coming through now who will need to continue this type of work. Hugh and I have been fortunate in our lives and careers. We’ve loved every minute of our time on the Toora property and the emotional, physical and monetary investment that we’ve made. However, this type of work needs to continue. We’re just custodians of the land, temporary owners. It’s our job to leave the place in a better condition than we found it. Hopefully we’ve started something here that others will want to continue for many years to come.”

This partnership is supported by funding from the Victorian State Government’s Our Catchments, Our Communities program.

Published Thursday June 27th 2019

Some of the many plantings undertaken by Diana Droog and partner Hugh at their Toora property