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From little things big things grow - CCWA's weekend planting trees in the Wheatbelt

Author: Steph Murphey

What do you get when you combine 200 volunteers, 100,000 seedlings, a 65-hectare property on Ballardong Noongar country in the Wheatbelt, and a weekend of endless sunshine? 

You get this an Activate Tree Planting Festival at Nembudding – a three-day planting festival full to the brim with planting, dancing, camping, live music, great food, and amazing people!

It was an absolutely incredible weekend that the CCWA team was lucky enough to attend - the biggest Activate event yet! Our heartfelt thanks go to the crew at Activate Tree Planting Limited for having us, to Elders Viv and Mort Hansen for welcoming us to such beautiful country, and to Chelsea McDonald and her family for hosting us on their beautiful property!

Photos: Steph Murphey

The weekend began on Friday, with team members rolling into camp after a 2.5 hour drive from Perth. It was a beautiful drive through the Wheatbelt at golden hour (keeping a sharp lookout for kangaroos!) and for some of our team it was full circle.

As a kid I remember going on hours-long car trips in regional WA and seeing the masses of cleared land, the dried, dead grass and sheep huddling in paddocks under a remaining tree or two, which were usually dead.

It inspired me to want to be part of the solution and save our beautiful bushland.”

– Emma Barrett, Community Campaigner

Upon arrival at the McDonald’s farm (our home for the weekend!) we were welcomed by a lovely bunch of Activate crew members at several small welcome fires, each giving us information about various aspects of the stay. It was such a warm and seamless welcome process – and set the tone for the rest of the weekend! We pitched our tents, set up our swags, and headed to the main area for the welcome ceremony and a bite to eat (even for those of us who had perhaps too many oreos on the trip there…).

After a delightfully nourishing hot bowl of dinner made by the incredible ‘Kitchen Witches’, eaten around one of several campfires, the official welcome ceremony began. It was so special to begin with Ballardong Noongar Elders Viv and Mort welcoming us to their country, and sharing their experiences from previous Activate events. The Activate crew welcomed us all with an overview of the weekend and the important things to know! Then it was live music, chats around the campfire, and bedtime (thanking Sara our Event Coordinator multiple times for the reminders to bring a hot water bottle – it was FREEZING!!).

Sunrise on Ballardong country
Photo: Steph Murphey

Saturday morning we woke to a beautiful sunrise over campsite. Some of us braved the cold to join the morning yoga, others stumbled into camp a bit later bleary-eyed but eager for breakfast and the day ahead! As more and more people joined the sense of anticipation grew, and when the group had assembled Elders Mort and Viv held a special smoking ceremony for the nearly 200 volunteers that had come together to plant all weekend long. It was such a powerful moment for all of us, a grounding and connecting to country, to purpose, to intention, and to community – and such a privilege to be welcomed to Ballardong country, that always was and always will be Aboriginal land.  

Welcome smoking ceremony with Ballardong Elders Mort and Viv
Photo: Steph Murphey

It was a wonderful first day planting – there was a cold wind but plenty of sunshine! After filling up our buckets with seedlings, we were transported as teams to the fields (in trailers, which was such fun in itself!) and set to work planting.

Across the weekend, we planted a massive 100,000 seedlings (56 different native species!), donated by Trillion Trees Australia, across the 65ha property that was once used for grazing and is now being restored and revegetated as much as possible.

Since learning about the devastating impact of industrial agriculture on our soils, climate and biodiversity, I have often felt despair driving through the heavily tilled and dried up fields of WA's wheatbelt. It was so heartening to be a part of the solution with Activate Tree Planting Ltd.”

- Rhiannon Hardwick, CCWA Community Campaigner

Some of the 100,000 seedlings (56 different native species!) we planted across the weekend, funded by Trillion Trees Australia
Photos: Steph Murphey

In the fields, we were played live music by the DJs on a special music truck, and soon got the hang of planting trees with the Potti Putkis! Working in pairs or solo, we found our rhythm – and before we knew it, it was already time for morning tea, and then lunch!

The afternoon passed in a delightful golden haze, meeting new people, settling into conversation and getting to know each other better with every passing hour.

Out on the fields, I had beautiful chats with my co-workers and strangers who quickly became new friends and when I'd lift my head up, it was a beautiful feeling to see the dozens of other volunteers chatting, smiling and laughing while planting trees as well for the common cause of making a change on the ground with our own hands.”

– Emma Barrett, CCWA Community Campaigner

Beautiful Wheatbelt sunsets on the McDonald’s property
Photos: Emma Barrett and Steph Murphey

At sunset we headed into camp for dinner around the fire and live music – there was so many talented crew members and fellow tree-planters! The stars were bright, spirits were high, and we danced long into the night.

Sunday passed in a bliss. Planting all day, meeting new people and having so many inspiring conversations, feeling closer and closer as a community. At night we were treated to a poetry reading by more talented attendees, and special screenings of the short films Regenerating Australia and Activate Tree Planting.

I loved seeing my teenagers slowly thaw, let loose and become known as the tree planting “dream team”. Spending time with awesome co-workers, getting our hands dirty, meaningful conversations, boogies, laughs and even tears. I loved every moment”

- Sara Boranga, CCWA Events Coordinator

Photos: Steph Murphey and Sara Boranga

Then all too soon it was Monday! After one last morning of planting, we came together as a group for a moving closing ceremony. In one big circle, surrounded by friends old and new, we each planted one last tree. It was a moment that cannot be put fully into words, the sense of achievement and connection, of community and togetherness, of love and gratitude. Of feeling the ground beneath us and knowing we would be connected to this land forever, to the generations who had come before us and to all those who would come after.

It was a privilege and a joy to be part of this year’s Activate Tree Planting, and we are so thankful to everyone that made the weekend so special.

This weekend was like all the best things in life colliding in perfect synchronicity. It was poetry and breakfast in bed, campfires and shooting stars, trailer rides and shoulder rides and days that started sweet and slow and just filled and filled with sunshine until it was all you could see and all that you could ever possibly be. It was planting a tree for every loved one. It was the kindness of friends, the insights of strangers, being one among many and yet so deeply seen. Like being wrapped in a hug, wrapped in love, being held by one and by two and by many, held so tightly I could finally be free.”

- Steph Murphey, CCWA Communications & Engagement Officer

Photos: Steph Murphey

Thank you so much Activate Tree Planting Limited. We can’t wait to return next year!

Want to know more about the weekend? Read more on the ABC !

Activate Tree Planting is a fully volunteer-run organisation – donate now to support their work to continue.

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