Randwick gardeners greeted with a slithering surprise

Story by Russ Grayson, May 2016

THE ORGANIC GARDENING COURSE at Randwick Sustainability Hub might be a little different to some, but this different?

Most organic gardening courses come with wildlife — bugs, bees, lizards, maybe a bird or two. They are included because of their valuable role in insect pest management and pollination. But Randwick's Organic Gardening course wildlife had to be just that little bit different.

That difference was discovered when the students left the classroom and walked over to the training garden near the ephemeral wetland. The garden is not used between courses so that the next batch of students have the opportunity of remaking it from its unmaintained condition.

At the end of the previous course a large sheet of plastic had been laid to cover the garden and kill off the nutgrass — a tough, difficult-to-remove grass that easily reproduces from bulbuls left in the ground when it is pulled up rather than being laboriously and carefully dug up.

First task

The first task task for the current class was to remove the plastic. Under the guidance of horticultural educator, Jon Kingston, this they started to do — then stopped. Quickly.

The reason for the abrupt stop was another wildlife item — a black snake. Sure, it was only a small one but it was a surprise find, none-the-less. According to Jon, the creature sniffed the air then nonchalantly slithered off into the adjacent bushland.

Dangerous reptile?

No, not this one, not so much anyway. It wasn't the common red-bellied black that is familiar to many. According to the What Snake Is That? website, Hemiaspis signata, the black-bellied swamp snake or marsh snake is only mildly venomous. Still, it pays to keep the recommended minimum three metres between you and any kind of snake.

You can see the difference between the marsh snake, which grows to an average 60cm, and the red-bellied black because — according to the Atlas of Living Australia — the marsh displays distinctive white markings on the side of the head and a dark colour to the under-belly, not that you would want to turn the thing over to check that out.

The snake is found along the Australian east coast and likes living in moist habitats in the forest, along creeks and adjacent to swamps just like the one close to the organic gardening courses's training garden.

Lone species

The march snake is the only snake species recorded in the bushland reserve adjacent to the Randwick Sustainability Hub, a 13ha patch of remnant Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub, a pocket of the three percent of the ecosystem remaining in existence.

The patch regenerated following sand mining in the area in the 1950s and 1960s, demonstrating that nature is less the 'fragile' thing environmentalists paint it and more a tough, resilient entity that wants to coat large areas of the surface of the Earth with a green fuzz.

A popular course

Organic Gardening has proven a popular course at the Sustainability Hub. For its eleven years, two or three times a year, it has continued to attract people mainly from Sydney's eastern coastal suburbs as well as others from places more distant.

…Resilience is the ability to adapt to and recover from environmental and social pressures affecting a system…

The purpose of the course is to offer training in a skill important to personal and community resiliency. Resilience is the ability to adapt to and recover from environmental and social pressures affecting a system. The course complements others in forest gardening and community leadership.

The Organic Gardening course caters to the popularity of home-grown food and the demand to learn about it. The focus is on compact gardens and container growing in the small spaces characteristic of the region as well as on balconies. Instructors are Jon Kingston, a professional horticulturist who is also the garden educator at James Street Reserve Community Garden in inner Sydney, and Fiona Campbell, who works with the council and has food production experience in her own gardens, community gardens and through the Kastom Gaden Program in the Solomon Islands.

The Randwick Sustainability Hub is the name given the community resilience education program based at Randwick Community Centre. It is a Randwick City Council initiative led by Fiona, the council sustainability educator.

Here's hoping there aren't anymore reptilian surprises awaiting next week's class.

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