Ben Simon is a little different to the stereotype workaholics in the sense that he doesn’t take his work home with him because his work is also all around his home at Goolwa Beach.
As a senior project officer with the Goolwa-Wellington Land Action Association, based in Strathalbyn, his passion is implementing restoration projects like sand dune revegetation and coast-care issues in catchments that terminate into Lake Alexandrina.
And as Mr Citizen, he’s either in the dunes near the Murray Mouth or other coastal vegetation spots from Goolwa-Middleton alongside other passionate Goolwa Coast Care volunteers every second Sunday morning from 9-11, including his children Ella, 11, and William, eight – with the support of his wife, Maria. Ben calls it quality time.
Another point of difference is that Ben (pictured) believes the community deserves praise for its effort in helping to improve the coastal region in the environmental stakes. It’s much in the vein of ‘man bites dog’, a phrase coined by British newspaper magnate Alfred Harmsworth (1865-1922); normally the public only cops criticism.
However, before we become self-congratulatory, Ben also wouldn’t be an environmentalist if he didn’t add caution that a lot more needed to be done to care for our local dunes and general coastal vegetation.
Ben has worked for the Goolwa-Wellington LAP for seven years, focusing on coastal environment that embraces a gamut of restoration works, particularly the restoration of water courses and remnant vegetation relating to dune and coast care issues, and components of the Coorong lower lakes Murray Mouth program.
And, if you can imagine the enormity of the program, you can see Ben and the other 10 full-time staff scratching their heads every Monday morning wondering where to start to tackle the issues.
“It’s not something that only a few people can do,” Ben explained. “The good thing is that we work with about 40 different community groups within the area, and generally we are getting more support from the public.
“It is hard to know sometimes where to start, and that is why it is important to have these volunteer groups,” Ben said.
The Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association was formed in 1998 as an initiative of the Murray Darling Basin Association, which involved 10 action groups. It is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation with a 14-member board representing 12 community groups and two local councils.
Ben said the association received funding from the federal and state governments, plus the corporate sector.
“Much of the state funding for the Coorong Lower Lakes Murray Mouth project is put back into the community,” he added. “We contract community groups, especially sporting clubs, to plant a nominated amount of seedlings.
“Any ongoing works we use local contractors and use local; materials from catering to uniforms; everything. We also get a lot of in-kind support from the community.
“The Federal Government loves it as a model, and is something that may be rolled out elsewhere. We have done presentations into other regions and they have been quite interested in how they can get on board and do something themselves.”
Wearing his Goolwa Coast Care hat, and speaking personally, Ben added the coast was in a better shape than a decade ago. “We get a lot of encouragement from a lot of comment that the Goolwa dunes are looking a lot better on account of the work we do,” he said.
“The public deserves some credit. Sometimes people do not understand how fragile the dune environment is, but if they are informed they generally take note. Putting signs up like ‘keep off the dunes’ and taking a multi-lingual approach with diagrams works well.”
After years in recession, the Goolwa Coast Care group reignited in 2007, and the efforts of the original members, especially the Ngarrinderi people with drift fencing and other key works, remains noted. If you would like to be part of the new team Ben has a welcoming mat, because one session might attract three volunteers and the next almost 20.
“It’s about doing something worthwhile for the community and the environment while having fun and meeting people in sensational surrounds like Goolwa Beach,” Ben said.
“We would like more volunteers; no question. We have trouble getting them, and those we do have the consistency is not all that great. The vast majority of the membership is semi-retired or retired, and they all do a wonderful job, whether it be working on a restoration sites around the town that are quite degraded, hand weeding, or community awareness opportunities.
“I used to live at Kanmantoo in the Adelaide Hills and worked on land care, and when I moved here to Goolwa it struck me there were some obvious similarities that could be done to address some of the erosion issues including even simple things like fencing the dune part so it is just clearer for people to understand where they should be going. Most people appreciate a bit or corralling, I guess – they also worry about getting lost.
“Seeing the results is a big thing for us; we really do see them. We just chip away, and we’re constantly encouraged by the community.
“We are working closely with the Alexandrina Council, and especially the Ngarrinderi people… we have contracted them – more through Goolwa-Wellington LAP – to do planting, weed control and fencing along the dunes, and they are doing some amazing work.”
Ben believes we have lost huge amounts of diverse vegetation to housing development, especially in recent years. “The owners are well within their rights to clear it to put their house up, but it is sad to see some of the beautiful natural vegetation lost,” he said. “It is a shame when people do not think of a more urban sensitive design and maybe keep some of that vegetation.
“The use of four-wheel drives at the Murray Mouth remains a big issue, and I have no doubt a majority of locals do the right thing; it’s the out-of-towners that I believe tend to do the incursions up the dunes and the vandalism. There is an incredible amount of damage being done down there; it is still a serious issue and one that Goolwa Coast Care has not entered in too much other than informal discussions. There have been suggestions of a fee system, which could work well, but that’s another matter.”
Some people struggle to combine work and home life, but Ben keeps it simple. “I think about the catch cry from the Surfrider Foundation… Like it. Love it. Look after it. I like that because we all enjoy coming to the beach, and it would be nice if people considered putting something back whether it be volunteering or simply sticking to the paths and taking note of what the signs say.
“A lot of people have been playing their part, but more needs to be done.”
If you would like to become involved in the Goolwa Land Care group, please contact Ben on 0418 828 949.