By Brian Fitzpatrick
I know several people who have won Olympic Gold medals. I know others who have saved lives, been federal or state parliamentarians, or been members of United Nations Humanitarian Relief teams. I see the media stories of people who have succeeded in researching medical breakthroughs that could save millions of lives worldwide. What amazing achievements!
Our history is filled with outstanding people who made tremendous personal sacrifices to make things better. Look at the response that the Anzacs can generate a century after the Gallipoli landing. I stand in awe of their achievements and feel somewhat unworthy when I look at my ordinary life. But this month I want to share the story of an ordinary man, doing ordinary things, in an ordinary life but leaving an extraordinary legacy.
Bruce Chick was born in the 1920’s. He became an English/History teacher. A kind, knowledgeable teacher who gave every kid a chance. He finished his working life as the school librarian at Murwillumbah High School in northern NSW. He had already been involved in small reafforestation projects at the school, but on retirement he began a life of extraordinary service to the planet.
Bruce would drive around the Tweed Valley collecting seeds from rare and endangered trees. He would propagate them and when they had grown big enough, he would take them back into the bush and plant them. All across the valley he could be seen working in his determined manner, rebuilding what had been known as the Big Scrub before the cedar cutters moved in. He was well known for hugging trees. He would put his arms around the trunk to measure its growth rate. I have even seen him kiss a tree as he planted it. He loved trees.
Single-handedly Bruce built a rainforest on the banks of the Tweed River. It is the only man-made rainforest on the national heritage list. He also inspired others to form the Richmond-Tweed Reafforestation Society, and this group spreads his message to wider circles.
We were able to convince Bruce to be the patron of Wollumbin High School. The school was built on the site of a degraded banana plantation. His vision for the school was to transform this barren land. For the first five years, every student that went to the school planted a tree. Bruce charged every student with caring for their own tree. Every teacher was given the same gift. And Bruce provided every tree from seeds he had collected and nurtured in his back yard.
There was never any fanfare, never any need for fame or recognition. It was as if his work was payment enough. At any time of day, Bruce who was then in his mid-eighties could be seen tending, watering and loving the trees – humble and committed to doing what he loved to do. He so inspired the kids by his actions that they set up an Environment group. These students then set about building gardens, solar powered water features and raised the money to establish a bush tucker orchard of over five hundred native trees.
Twenty years later, I visited the patch of first planting. Where once was a bare hillside, there is a true forest, a rich eco-system full of birds, animals and insects. The trees are over five metres high.
Bruce did not chase accolades, but he was an adviser to Prime Ministers and premiers. He was awarded the SAGE Award as the Senior Australian for the Generation of the Environment. He was awarded the OAM medal. He died at the age of 97, having lived a life of small daily achievement. His legacy throughout the valley that he loved is un-missable.
Sometimes we achieve great things by single actions. But most of the time greatness is achieved by thousands of small ones. What seeds can you plant daily that will amount to something special?
‘Continuous, unflagging effort, persistence and determination will win. Let not the man be discouraged who has these.’ – James Whitcomb Riley
It’s a wonderful life!