“IT’S an old Aboriginal trick. A cool burn,” Awabakal man David Ahoy smiled.
“You do it at the right time. The right season. And it’s a fire that just trickles along.
“You can walk behind it. It doesn’t go up trees. And the insects and animals have a chance to move out of its way.”
Importantly, it provides just the right heat and smoke triggers for certain native plants to drop their seeds or open their seed pods – without destroying the plant that the seeds came from.
And unlike a hot fire – a bushfire – it doesn’t get up into the tree canopy or destroy every living thing at ground level.
It was just one of the fascinating insights provided by Mr Ahoy and his new trainees, Dakoda Riley and John Wegener - Aboriginal men from the Wiradjuri tribe - as the Lakes Mail toured the plant nursery at Eraring Power Station on Wednesday.
Origin recently employed the young men as part of a two-year traineeship as they work towards a Certificate 2 in Conservation Land Management.
While the men are learning modern methods in their studies, it is underpinned by their knowledge of traditional Aboriginal land management practices.
And it’s proving a winning combination.
In 2016: Power station fish relocated in lake
Mr Ahoy and his team have been tasked with growing plants from seed harvested locally, and using them to regenerate sections of the 1100 hectares occupied by the power station.
“The team is committed to developing a healthy ecosystem through the protection and reintroduction of native plant species indigenous to the area,” Origin’s external affairs manager, Paul Duboudin, said.
Their work involves collective native plant seeds, propagating seedlings, and raising tube stock for planting.
Weed and pest control, clearing of nominated areas, and bushfire management are also part of the gig.
There are about 110 plant species on site, including vulnerable species such as tetratheca juncea (black-eyed Susan) and angophora inopina (Charmhaven apple).
Mr Ahoy said native plants had different life cycles, with some seed pods requiring fire or cold weather to release seeds, and others needing to be scarified.
“To trick the pod we have a number of different techniques such as smoking to replicate a bushfire, or using a fridge to make them cool,” Mr Ahoy said.
“When the pods have released seed we label and store seeds in our seed bank in the fridge for longevity.”
The team will leave some seeds in hot water overnight, and will crack open some seed pods with sandpaper.
Everything the team uses in the nursery was recycled, Mr Ahoy said.
So fly ash from the power generation process is used for drainage on the greenhouse floors, and even seaweed harvested from the power station’s inlet canal screens is used as fertilizer, to make potting mix, and improve soil.
It’s a small team, but they’re thinking big.
“Over the next 12 months the team estimate they’ll propagate and plant 10,000 seedlings,” Mr Duboudin said.
“In the coming years the team aim to build up stock and capacity to enable the nursery to develop as a viable business that can service other regeneration and revegetation projects in the Hunter region – particularly mine rehabilitation works.”