MOTHER Nature has had a pull on Gib Wettenhall for some time.
Twenty years ago, he gave up the fast-paced city living of Melbourne in exchange for the forest-flanked surrounds of Mollongghip.
During that time, he has spearheaded community landcare projects, worked with farmers to create nature corridors and written and published a number of environmental titles.
This Australia Day, Mr Wettenhall’s dedication was rewarded with the “great honour” of an Order of Australia medal, which he said was reflective of a “group effort”.
“I’m interested in how you work with landholders and farmers, rather than imposing solutions from the top down, which have been shown to historically almost always fail, no matter how bright an idea is. If people don’t own it and aren’t committed to implementing it, it’s going to fail,” he said.
“These things don’t happen by magic - it requires a lot of groundwork and a lot of effort to bring communtiies together.”
Mr Wettenhall is the chair of an environmental organisation originally set up by his now-deceased father.
The Norman Wettenhall Foundation’s oldest project is for the Regent Honeyeater, working with farmers to create planting corridors, allowing the critically endangered bird to move through its migration patterns.
Mr Wettenhall has also worked as secretary of Ballarat Region Treegrowers since 2000.
His philosophy is to work alongside farmers rather than be subject to the traditional division between landowners and environmentalists. They have set up a 15-hectare biorich plantation with a mineral-rich buffer zone at Lal Lal as a demonstration project.
In 2012, Mr Wettenhall, as part of a team now totalling 14, managed to help attract $20,000 in state government funding for the Mollongghip Community Hall.
Mr Wettenhall said the secret to making change was enabling people to take ownership of projects affecting them.
“I’m very interested in the concept of custodianship. It’s easy to say to people you should look after your land better, but the fact is people need knowledge and they need resources,” he said.