Having led a life which has taken her across the globe and into some of the most remote parts of WA, Dr Susan Downes is now putting down roots in the Wheatbelt – both literally and figuratively!
Eight years ago, Dr Downes purchased a rural property between Northam and York for her retirement; however, she seems to show no signs of slowing down.
“After purchasing the property I discovered two things about ‘my magic hill’,” Dr Downes said.
“Firstly, I found a plaque on a rock with the inscription informing that from Mt Mackie, on 7 August 1830, was the first sighting of the Avon Valley by Europeans, making it a unique historic point within this general heritage area of The Shire of York.
“Secondly, following contact with The Aboriginal Heritage Inquiry System, I learned that parts of Mt Mackie are listed as areas of Aboriginal heritage interest.
“This discovery confirmed my innate feelings for the place, and I felt compelled to protect this place from further damage by farm stock by attempting to restore it.”
Dr Downes’ first task was to fence off 100 acres of dying woodland, which she started in March last year and finally completed last month.
In August, Dr Downes and volunteers took to planting 24,000 seedlings in Mt Mackie to bring the area back to its former glory.
“I am a really happy gardener and can grow things easily from ‘slips’ and cuttings, but I have never done a revegetation project before and it has been a huge learning process for me,” she said.
“The preparation of the site with weed control, selection of species, purchasing equipment, planting and post-planting weeding.
“It seems endless and I admit there have been times of being overwhelmed and doubting my sanity in attempting this project. It is not a 100 square metre garden, it is 100 acres!”
Dr Downes and her volunteers, who ranged from as young as four to 84 years of age, have planted York gum, wandoo, Drummonds eucalypt and jam wattle, with a variety of shrubs and ground
“One of the most unexpected and uplifting aspects of the Mt Mackie reforestation project has been the generosity and enthusiasm of family, friends and colleagues,” she said.
“I’ve had medical students, my grandchildren, colleagues and everyone do their bit.
“One day, after a brilliant full day of work and fun, we even finished off with a beautiful picnic lunch and shifted a mob of sheep too.
“To share this enthusiasm and enjoyment with so many gives me encouragement and hope for the years to follow. I know I need everyone’s help and am indebted.”
Dr Downes says the project will keep her busy for the next eight years, hoping to have it completed in time for the bicentennial anniversary of the first European explorers coming to Mt Mackie.
“I will be almost 81 when the time comes around,” she said.
“By then I would like to have the whole area at least planted.
“This will entail yearly preparation and planting of smallish manageable sites within the reserved area. I have already made walking tracks including one along the ridge to the summit and the
magnificent 270 degree views of the Avon Valley.
“I am hoping that I can, by 7 August 2030, offer some sort of public access to share the beauty and spirit of Mt Mackie.
In partnership with the Aboriginal Elders, I want this place to be part of reconciliation and healing.”
As well as her reforestation project, Dr Downes will keep herself busy as the lone obstetric DMO at Northam Hospital, supporting the Avon Valley Midwifery Group Practice, holding ‘women’s
business clinics’ in remote east Pilbara Aboriginal communities, hay and sheep farming and spending time with her four grandchildren.
“I really must stretch time and sleep a little more,” she said.
“I have just turned 73 and I think I need to plan for complete retirement from medicine in the next two years, conjure up some form of smart primary production on the farm and concentrate on my Mt Mackie project.
“I have lived, worked and visited many countries over the years, but am now happy here in this caring rural community, amongst nature.”