Nestled among the trees in Australia’s oldest pine plantation forest at Bundaleer Forest Reserve, nine kilometres south of Jamestown in the state’s Mid North, is a community project called Maple & Pine.
Wrapped by windows designed to let in the beautiful surrounds year-round and capture the bold colours of autumn, the moodiness of winter, the buzz of spring and the stillness of summer, this event venue is enough to be proud of.
However, there is far more to its story, the culmination of community spirit and a core group of locals who refused to give up the picnic ground precinct at Bundaleer when the remainder of the forest reserve was sold in 2017.
Instead, rolling up their sleeves and tirelessly battling, the Bundaleer community has ensured future generations can enjoy the area, just as many have before them.
Bundaleer Forest Community Areas Association is now the custodian of the Forest Reserve, and member Mel Kitschke said when the threat arose that the picnic ground might be sold, supporters of Bundaleer stepped up to fight.
“When it looked like this beautiful place was going to be sold, people were very vocal about what Bundaleer meant to them,” said Kitschke, who is a fearless fighter of community space.
“It is different things to different people.
“For some, it is a place of peace and quiet where they can just come and walk on their own in nature.
“Bundaleer is about social connection, enjoying a picnic or barbecue with family and friends, playing tennis or cricket, or attending events such as the (former) Bundaleer Festival or Easter Bilby Hunt.
“There was just such an outpouring of appreciation for this space, it was amazing and gave us encouragement to dig in when the going was getting tough.”
The hard work brought about Maple & Pine, an indoor/outdoor function venue that opened in December 2020, funded by $660,000 in federal, state and local government grants and more than $500,000 of local community contribution.
“We are still blown away by the phenomenal generosity of individuals, families and businesses who made Maple & Pine the real treasure that it is,” Kitschke said.
It has already proven popular for weddings, parties, conferences, thanksgiving services, wellness retreats, music festivals and environmental and cultural education.
The venue provides an ongoing funding source to ensure Bundaleer Forest Reserve can remain open to the public, with a percentage of its hire fee covering insurance costs for the community space.
Alongside Maple & Pine is a new nature playground, again built through the support and work (much of it volunteer) of the local community and builders.
Forest kindy has become a regular outing for the local early childhood education centre and school groups and adults alike are tapping into cultural awareness opportunities.
“We’ve developed some beautiful friendships and partnerships with Nukunu and Ngadjuri people and Bundaleer is proving to be a really lovely space for sharing of cultures and connecting with each other,” Kitschke said.
“We are all on a learning journey and we have much to benefit from listening to each other, and working together toward a more positive future.”
One thing is for sure, despite all the hard work and the continuous battle by a core group of dedicated volunteers, the community can be proud of its hidden gem, now accessible for generations to come.
“Our community is proud they stuck up for what they knew was right, they knew this should be saved as a public space, freely accessible for people to come for a walk or a picnic or to play on the nature playground,” Mel said.
“One of the things we say here is, together we can. We’ve always known this could never be solved alone.
“We needed to do this together and different people have come and gone through the process to help get it to where it is now and that will continue into the future.
“It will always be a community effort and together we have got this far and together we till take it into the future.”
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