Though we may not realise it, common ground is still to be found in our towns. It’s just not called that anymore. And utilizing common land as the community resource it is makes good sense. Especially when you can turn brambles into cheese.
Down the side and out the back – the gully behind the hill, the scrap of land between the train line and the first part of the housing estate, the drainway that used to be a creek, the bit of forest around the back of the football oval.
For most communities, these spaces are no longer ‘used’. They’re just another scrap of land that the local council has to manage and periodically clear of weeds and rubbish. Definitely not the first thing you think of when ‘community resources’ are mentioned.
And yet. They can be.
The Spring Creek Community Forest in Hepburn, Victoria, is a community-proclaimed resource that runs along a section of the main gully of Spring Creek and its smaller tributaries. It’s a steep gully inbetween house lots, that line the ridges on either side.
In times gone by, this gully was mined for gold, and then transitioned to well-established community ground. Various residents that backed onto it would graze their house cows there, to supplement the cow’s diet and support high quality milk supply for their families. The gully also provided ample stickwood for cooking, occasional timber, and a valuable deep green space in hot Summertime.
Maintaining this gully is important for fire risk – this is Central Victoria after all – the bushfires in this region can be devastating, and no-one wants a ton of dry fuel over their back fence.
And so this community forest is actively managed in a various ways – from blackberry management to planting fire-retardant tree species, that are also useful to current and future community members.
Some of the blackberry management is done in the form of working bees that seek not to remove the blackberry, but turn it from a fire risk into a fire retardant, living mulch for tree establishment, that is then slowly shaded out entirely.
Another method of maintenance for fire risk, as well as making the most of the resources this common ground contains, is the judicious use of goats.
Goats love to eat many plants that not much else does – from blackberry brambles onwards. They’re a great method of maintaining productive landscapes and reducing unwanted plants, if used properly.
And if you combine their browsing capabilities with their milking capabilities, then you have a staple food from the commons for all the family – brambles transformed (via goat) into nourishing milk and cheese.
Su Dennett walks her milking goats down to the gully from her home at Melliodora, which backs on to the community forest.
The mother goats are walked down on leads, and the kids (the goaty ones, I mean) follow behind – they won’t go far from Mum.
Then, the milking goats get tethered down the gully for the day – under shady trees, with delicious leaves, a bucket of water and their family all around them.
Come evening time, it’s back up the hill to the homestead, for the evening milking, and a sleep.
From this point, Su takes the goats milk into the house and leaves some of it out to set in a bucket (with a bit of added rennet) into curd, while the rest is bottled for the family’s milk.
Later, the curd is scooped out into cheese forms and left to cure in the house’s cool cupboard into delicious goats cheese.
Brambles into goats cheese. A great example of closed loop living, at its most delicious.