Rita de Heer (left) and Alyssa Garnett, with bat box and innovative frog pond, and Brunswick Valley Landcare trainer Brendan Taylor at a Biodiversity in the Backyard workshop in Rita’s Mullumbimby garden.
Rita de Heer (left) and Alyssa Garnett, with bat box and innovative frog pond, and Brunswick Valley Landcare trainer Brendan Taylor at a Biodiversity in the Backyard workshop in Rita’s Mullumbimby garden.

It’s all there in Rita’s backyard

Most people love birds, with their pretty songs and often colourful plumage, and we all love our cuddly koalas, but it’s a different matter when it comes to insects and creepy crawlies, and the traditional Aussie backyard with its manicured lawns and neat flowerbeds is a reflection of this ugh factor.


But Mullumbimby resident Rita de Heer has spent the last 10 or so years making her garden, right in the centre of town, attractive to all manner of creatures that creep and crawl, wriggle and burrow, and recently Brunswick Valley Landcare (BVL) ran a workshop in her backyard for all those interested in turning their own quarter-acre block into a similar wonderland for native wildlife, and to find out why it is important to do so.


“At a certain point in time I made the decision to favour creepy crawlies,” said Rita, “because not many people do.


“If people don’t favour the little creatures, you can’t have the big ones – for example, if there are no caterpillars on trees, there are no birds.


“We need all of life, and we humans at the end of the food chain need the whole pyramid under us.”


The workshop, Biodiversity in the Backyard, was a first for BVL, and run by trainer Brendan Taylor, who has just completed his doctorate, and who is a font of much local fauna knowledge.


Brendan had all kinds of tips on how to entice the good guys of the native animal world to take up residence in the backyard – spiced up with some lively anecdotes such as the one about his English father-in-law pulling out a bag from the freezer with what he thought were chops, but which he discovered to his horror beside the barbecue were in fact humanely killed cane toads.


Participants were advised to design different ‘layers’ within gardens, to include rocks, leaf litter and logs, to plant a variety of natives, to enhance the environment with nest boxes and frog ponds, and to create pet-free areas.


Afterwards everyone got a guided tour of Rita’s garden, to look at the old bath, now a frog habitat (cane toads don’t get in as they don’t like climbing, and Pacific Blue-Eyes keep the wrigglers from hatching into mosquitoes), the logs where native cockroaches hang out, the nectar flowers she has planted to attract butterflies, and the gap in the fence to allow the echidna to pass through on his travels.


Rita was asked to host the workshop, after she had talked about the ‘amazing visits from animals’ that she was experiencing in suburban Mullumbimby – from a mother Pacific bazza teaching her baby to fly who flew on to her mandarin tree, to the owl that regularly uses her rain gauge as a perch, the skinks for whom her grass cut not too short is ‘like a highway’ for them to travel through, the green tree frog who likes the watering can, and a cast of a thousand others.


“You’ve got to have stuff lying around,” said Rita – though beware the snake and the cane toad.


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