19 April 2023

Husband and wife spend decades restoring Rocky Hill

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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David Dunn and Milena Dunn

South Wagga Rotary Rocky Hill Reserve Restoration Project volunteers David and Milena Dunn. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Husband and wife David and Milena Dunn have dedicated most of their lives to volunteer work.

David started volunteering in 1971 with football, while Milena began her volunteering in 1981 with the Nursing Mothers.

“We’ve done our share of volunteering in many different facets,” Milena said.

Prior to starting the South Wagga Rotary’s Rocky Hill Reserve Regeneration Project, the couple had been involved with the regeneration of the hill for nearly three decades.

“We started the hill regeneration about 27 years ago,” Milena said.

“We noticed these kurrajong popping up near our place and we thought they needed a spot. So we put them on the hill along with white boxes.

“Kurrajongs are very slow growers but they will tolerate bad drought conditions … there are some of them on the hill.”

The regeneration project was started in May 2020 and received funding from Wagga Wagga City Council (WWCC) for vegetation, while all the volunteers used their own equipment.

The restoration of 51 hectares started with the removal of woody weeds.

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“We are trying to get it back to the native vegetation because for years, it (Rocky Hill) had been in the hands of a private owner,” Milena said.

“There’s about 51 per cent of the weed still on the hill … apart from the woody weeds, we have Johnson grass and fountain grass, which are invasive and spreading.”

The regeneration process involves planting trees and shrubs.

Various organisms call Rocky Hill home, including eastern grey kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, blue tongue lizards, legless lizards and myriad bird species.

The woodland community is also home to white box, Blakely’s red gum, kurrajongs and white cypresses.

The volunteering group has planted around 600 plants.

Milena said botanist Geoff Burrows had been helping with the restoration project by telling the volunteering group what to plant and warning them about certain weeds.

Milena said WWCC had been ‘generous’ with the restoration project.

“The council has given us more money for brochures and equipment because there are only so many times the volunteers can use their own equipment,” she said.

“We’ve applied for two grants and two lots of waste reduction from Wagga Council and got two grants from Charles Sturt University.

“We’ve used the CSU grants to put up kangaroo-proof guards,” Milena said.

Milena said Rotary also received funding ($5965.94) from Riverina Water for water and equipment.

“We received our biggest funding from Riverina Water … when we started, we used to get just a little dribble.

“We’re appreciative of Riverina Water for the funding and they’ve got a very user-friendly app to apply for the funding.”

Rocky Hill also received funding from Transgrid, allowing the volunteer group to replace plants and fund a medical kit and equipment.

On top of that, they will soon receive funding from the NSW Community Building Partnership for a container and it is currently being reviewed.

Milena said South Wagga Rotary is supported by volunteers whose ages range from preschool through to the 32-year-old current Rotary District Governor Geraldine Rurenga and many stalwarts.

Milena said the hill was a great location for restoring people’s mental health.

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Her vision is it to keep the hill as a place where people can regain their sense of normality and sense of calm.

In 2022, Rocky Hill Reserve Regeneration Project was awarded the Wagga Environmental Citizen of the Year title and was the runner-up for the NSW Environmental Citizen of the Year award.

David and Milena also undertake other volunteer work with Rotary and support Circus Quirkus (a circus for children with disability).

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