Working with wildlife

Green Lifestyle Magazine

Recognising that our land is not owned by us, but by all species, author Jackie French shares her land and fresh bounty with a wealth of wildlife.

Jackie French

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The productive four hectares of garden and orchard around the stone house Jackie French and her husband built, has more wombats, wallabys, echidnas and birds than the surrounding wilderness area.

Living deep in NSW’s Araluen Valley, on the edge of the Deua wilderness area, French – one of Australia’s most loved children’s authors – draws much of the inspiration for her books from the wildlife she lives with. She sees an unlikely harmony between writing fiction and growing food. “Both rely heavily on close observation of the natural world and drawing data together into theories and patterns. Once you’ve made impossible fantasy assumptions like the wombat who writes a diary or a kangaroo who wants to be a ballet dancer, the rest has got to be as accurate as possible.”

French has spent the past 40 years working out ways that their property, with more than 800 fruit trees growing 272 different sorts of fruit, can truly incorporate wildlife. “We’ve got more wildlife here per hectare than the rest of the bush around us – we’ve actually intensified not just the agriculture, but the amount of wildlife.”

There is no need for chemical pest control because the right conditions are provided to attract predators to keep pests under control. “Decoy crops are grown for birds, because they prefer fruit that is more sour than we do, and then the birds help with our pest control. We still get, I’d say, nine tenths for us.”

“To the animals, it is paying rent. This is their land as much as it is my land, so if I want to fill it up with orchard trees, then I need to pay rent to the wildlife.” Even taking a shower, French says, “I’m not using water, I’m borrowing water before it’s returned to the creek.”

French argues because we evolved with other species around, that is when we are most happy. She encourages more people to spend time with wild animals because “wildlife makes us happy”.

“It’s impossible to watch a wombat without laughing. You just have to look at the joy of a child’s face when they see a wild animal. These days it is a privilege to share your life with wildlife, but it’s also one of humanity’s greatest joys.”

French is acting as an ambassador for The Carbon Challenge, for people of the ACT and the south east region to share ideas on how they’ve reduced their impact. www.jackiefrench.com