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Home on the range: uniting communities across eastern Australian, the unique and diverse life of the Great Dividing Range inspires a common resolve in so many.

Stretching from the tropical rainforests of the beautiful north, through the high peaks of the Alps, to the temperate woodlands of the Grampians in Victoria, our Great Dividing Range connects thriving eastern Australia from tip to toe. Almost three-quarters of Australian people and the vast majority of our unique animal species live along or adjacent to its mountainous corridor. Its dense forests keep our air clean, its vast rivers and water catchments are our lifeblood, and it provides a critical refuge for our threatened wildlife.

Far from being a range that divides, it is a symbol of connectivity for the vital habitat corridor it offers our wildlife, the state borders it crosses and the multitude of diverse communities, from inland and the coast, coming together to restore it. Australian communities care deeply about nature but our governments are failing in their duty of care. Pollution, mining and reckless developments are damaging our air and water, our wildlife and plants, and the health of our communities.

Here are three inspiring stories of everyday Australians working on local issues, all connected by the range.

I live beneath the rainforest canopy near Mission Beach, in the Wet Tropics of northern Queensland. For such a small area, its natural beauty is extraordinarily diverse.

At Mission Beach the Walter Hill mountains run down from the Great Dividing Range all the way to the coast, creating the longest and widest rainforest corridor in Australia.

There is always the thrill of seeing cassowaries on my small rainforest block adjoining a council reserve, where I spend a lot of time observing these magnificent prehistoric birds and taking their photograph. Unfortunately too often the photos are focused on the incremental but significant destruction of their habitat, which continues unabated.

The laws that protect our threatened species are failing. And the lack of local leadership and understanding of just how special the cassowary habitat at Mission Beach is, means there is not enough pressure on state and federal governments to make change.

I started a group called Mission Beach Cassowaries to involve the whole community in sharing information to identify, track and record cassowary sightings. I intend to use whatever creative means I can to strengthen protection of Mission Beach and the Southern cassowary.

Locally, to protect the cassowary from extinction, we need to address habitat loss and fragmentation, dog attacks and road strikes urgently. Nationally we need to see independent governance enforcing the laws that protect our threatened species.

Everyone can make a difference in their local community. It doesn't take much to speak up. The more we do on a local level, the more state and federal governments are forced to listen.

I want to help create a future where governments give equal consideration to the environment and the economy. Only then can a sustainable tourism industry support the future of Mission Beach, the community and our beautiful cassowaries.

As an artist with a great love for our forests, I'm passionate about how art can be used to connect people and nature. I was initially inspired by the work of Peter Dombrovskis and his profound photograph 'Morning Mist Rock Island Bend', believed to have played a huge role in the Franklin River campaign in 1983.

I now actively campaign with the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi, a group of inspiring women using art and peaceful protest to protect the fragile forest ecosystem of the Central Highlands from clearfell logging.

I photograph and document our knit-ins, create art works and graphics using printmaking and sculpture, and use social media as a platform to spread the word about protecting the forest.

When I first walked into a logging coupe I was shocked to see just how destructive it really was. I wondered what I could do to help stop this pointless destruction. I never thought I'd end up sitting by the roadside knitting in with a group of amazing and dedicated women. There is always something that we can do, though it might not be the thing we first anticipate.

Toolangi has long been subject to intensive logging. The crazy thing is that despite these forests being the last remaining habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater's Possum, the trees are being used to make Reflex paper--shiny, white office paper for which we have recycled alternatives. If our governments permit this, when the possum is protected under national law, something is very wrong.

The knitting nannas are now focused on campaigning along with a number of other groups for the creation of the Great Forests National Park, which will protect and connect the forests of the Central Highlands along the Range.

I want to see a future where nature is valued and protected. Where our children feel deeply connected to nature and see themselves as a part of, not apart from, it--a future where our forests thrive for generations to come.

Since I was a child, I've been passionate about birds. I moved to Townsville in 2009 to start my postgraduate studies at James Cook University and in 2011, the Black-Throated Finch became the focus of my PhD.

When I was doing fieldwork, I was out in the bush five days a week, searching for the finch. It was the best part of my research--the opportunity to be out in the wild having close encounters with this beautiful and rare creature. Many times,

I spent hours and hours sitting next to a dam and waiting for finches to come for a drink and bath. It's a threatened species, so the chance of seeing a finch in the wild is very slim.

I knew the birds lived in the Galilee Basin, but I had no idea they were in such good numbers until I discovered a flock of about 400 birds in 2013. It was an amazing discovery-- other flocks seen in the past few years have numbered no more than a few dozen, and it gives hope to the conservation outlook for the southern subspecies of the bird.

It's hard to believe that with the threatened finch protected under national environmental law, and the need for action on climate change never more pressing, Adani's giant Carmichael Coal Mine was given federal approval in the Basin. Sustainable decisions will not come from mining giants like Adani who operate from afar with little connection to the environment or consideration for the future of the area.

I want to see a future Australia where the government empowers robust and diverse community-based economies to make significant decisions rather than selling land to foreign corporations. My hope is that as these communities connect with the natural places that surround them, their decision-making will be underpinned by the love and understanding they share for their local environment.
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Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 1, 2015
Words:1119
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