Far from the places where mad egos rule, let us retreat this week to a place where modest people from both ancient and modern worlds have joined to recreate a woodland lush enough to welcome back a fierce and beautiful little animal that hovers near the edge of no return.
Far, too, from the terror of wars large and small, little planes are being used to “bomb” 400 hectares of Aboriginal land that sits on a volcanic lava flow known as Budj Bim, in remote south-west Victoria.
The “bombs”, hundreds of thousands of them, are clay balls containing the seeds of native manna gum trees, which have all but disappeared from the tough volcanic landscape. Many of the manna gums that survived European farming practices in this area were swept away by a savage bushfire 12 years ago.
In these parts, outside the village of Tyrendarra, there once roamed and hunted - mostly at night, mostly in manna forests - a handsome creature known as the spotted-tail quoll, or tiger quoll.
Armed with teeth designed for stripping meat from a carcass and a bite strong enough to crush the skull of prey, the tiger quoll is about the size of a large domestic cat but much more ferocious.
They are the largest surviving carnivorous marsupials on mainland Australia.
Survival is in their nature: they are related to the Tasmanian tiger, or Thylacine, but have clung on while the Thylacine was driven to extinction.
The tiger quoll, however, has been in retreat in western Victoria for many years now, its habitat and prey massively disturbed and fragmented since European settlement.
Occasionally the fur or the scat of a tiger quoll is detected in the forests of the Otways or in the far south-west of the state, but it is half a decade since a photo has captured such a creature in the area.
The traditional owners of Budj Bim – several hundred square kilometres of lava fields and basalt stones – can’t recall seeing a tiger quoll on their land since the middle of last century.
“As a community, we get together to talk about country and to tell the old stories, and only a few weeks ago we came across a story about one of the old uncles shooting the last tiger quoll in the 1950s,” says Damein Bell, the CEO of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.
“We always talk about the impact on country that has happened since white settlement and forget about the impact our own people have had.
“So we’re taking the opportunity to heal and restore country. It’s a privilege.”
The opportunity has come their way through Greening Australia, a national organisation dedicated to “working to develop practical solutions to some of Australia’s biggest environmental challenges so that people and nature can thrive”.
With $1 million from the Australian government’s 20 Million Trees Program, which aims to help individuals and organisations to plant 20 million trees by 2020 to re-establish green corridors and urban forests, Greening Australia hit on the aerial seedball bombing idea.
It is the largest project of its type in Australia, according to Greening Australia’s project manager, David Warne of Port Fairy. Innovation was required. Budj Bim’s volcanic landscape is so rough and stone-strewn that regular ground-based tree planting was too difficult.
Over many months, seed of manna gums and other species has been rolled with nutritious compost into hundreds of thousands of clay balls and dried, ready for launching from a plane.
“Restoring Budj Bim”, they’re calling the effort.
And it’s not all high-tech. Greening Australia is learning ancient techniques from the Gunditjmara, including the use of fire to prepare the ground.
“Yes, we’ll be using fire,” said Warne. Many native Australian trees require fire to germinate. Indigenous Australians knew that, and judiciously burnt their country to encourage new growth. Now it will happen again.
Budj Bim, previously known as Mount Eccles, means “high head”. It is named for a volcano that rises - just like the forehead of a man - above the plains near Macarthur. Around 30 million years ago, it spewed a river of lava that ran south-west, all the way to the sea between Portland and Port Fairy.
The stony country that was the result when the lava cooled became a citadel for the Gunditjmara people, who built circular stone-based houses and farmed eels for at least 7000 years. Their aquaculture industry was the world’s oldest when Europeans arrived, bringing disease, arsenic, guns and horror.
It is only in recent times that the surviving Gunditjmara have had some of their land returned. The Indigenous Protected Areas managed by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation stretch from Tyrendarra, east of Portland, north to the old Lake Condah Mission.
All of the stone country is now called Budj Bim, and is so important to history it is earmarked as Australia’s next World Heritage Site.
And now part of it - three separate properties totalling 400 hectares - is on its way back 200 years, when animals like the tiger quoll and the brown bandicoot hunted within deep manna forests.
“This project will provide healing for us, and for country, through old methods and new,” said Bell.
“It will be good to learn how the country was, and how it can be again.
“And yes, when the trees have grown, we hope to re-introduce tiger quolls.
“They belong here.”