Alena Schulz, Assistant Farm Hand at Bundoora Park Farm
I have always been at home in the bush. I spent my young, formative years growing up in suburban Western Australia, but with a simple jump of the back fence I was in bushland for as far as I could see. Or walk. I remember being surrounded by birdcall, kangaroos, enormous spider webs, insect chatter, leaf litter, smells and occasionally coming home with stowaway ticks much to my mother’s horror. I would always make sure to stop and feed my pet crocodile (a large fallen tree with an exposed and gaping, mouthlike root system) a handful of rigid grass like leaves, torn from one of many native grasstrees. A memory steeped in horror and guilt, now I know better, but still a fond one. A favourite one.
Fast track years later, and I had completed a film and arts degree at Murdoch University. Films can always transport me to a place of wonder and mystery, feelings I missed from the bush. I became a cinema projectionist, an occupation I kept and grew with until 2019. I had become Chief Projectionist at Luna Cinemas in WA. I then moved to Victoria and worked at the beautiful Rivoli Cinemas in Camberwell, before making my home at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square.
Over the last decade or so, digitisation began to creep into the trade. Cinema chains retrenched their projectionists as the industry embraced large scale automation. I was lucky to be at ACMI; I had the knowledge and skillset to screen archival film. But doubts about just how long this too, will last, began to take seed. Apart from some public facing duties, my skillset was so niche as to be untransferable. It was time to jump the fence again and return to my roots. So, I went back to study.
I completed my Certificate 111 in Horticulture in 2020. I was a mature age student, and I was one of only three women in our class that year – the anxiety was great. I began to volunteer at the Bundoora Park and Farm while studying. Not only do we grow our own feed for the animals, and sow our paddocks, but we also have a large native wildlife reserve – home to kangaroos and emus, and a small Wurundjeri garden. Working on the farm with its diverse flora allowed my worries to disperse like so many cypselae on the wind. Then like an invasive environmental weed COVID popped its head up and threw its root system wide.
As disruption took hold, my – now online – student companions began to drop out or defer. Volunteer programs halted. My offline classes moved to research books and online portals. My two-hour exercise allowance granted me the opportunity to study plants within a 5km lock-down radius. All these hindrances and I still loved it. I adored it.
My volunteer work and study has now led me to employment on the farm. I am working on our weed eradication plan in the nature reserve. I am always accompanied by three curious and over friendly emus, while the kangaroos keep an eye out from a distance. We are beginning to re-vegetate and re-establish the Wurundjeri gardens. There is always work to be done in the produce plots.
With paid work coming in I decided to volunteer again. I am now on the committee for Friends of the Yarra Valley Parks. A non-profit organisation now in its 30th year of advocating for the environmental protection of the Yarra River. We organise monthly plantings, maintenance of prior work, and weeding from Warrandyte State Park through to Bulleen Park. Based at Westerfolds Park we work closely with Parks Victoria. I have learned so much from long-standing members, it led me to join other organisations. Like Encouraging Women in Horticulture. Because who doesn’t need some encouragement when faced with the weeds of life?
The only time I have been happier is riding my pet crocodile with the kookaburras laughing above.