A project which aims to heighten the awareness of the large number of visitors each year (over 5000) to the conference centre, of the beauty and diversity of this environment, and to encourage them to develop environment-oriented interests and activities while staying at Greenhills (and afterwards); and to minimize ecological footprint on the site.
Greenhills Conference Centre is situated on a 5-hecare site, 18 km west of Canberra, as the terrain drops down towards the Murrumbidgee River just south of the point where the Cotter River flows into the Murrumbidgee.
It was a farm-site from the late 19th century, but was developed into a Conference and Camp Centre in 1963 through the co-operative efforts of many Presbyterian and (later) Uniting Church people of the Canberra Region Presbytery, supported by several co-operating Canberra Rotary groups. The site offers buildings to accommodate up to 150 persons, in two main dormitory-block locations, four cottages, an auditorium, dining room and several meeting rooms. There are two playing fields. Natural vegetation occupies most of the rest of the terrain. The surrounding terrain on the upper side is farmland; on the lower, is natural bushland extending down to the Murrumbidgee River, densely vegetated with eucalypts, acacias and other natural trees and shrubs.
Particularly since the bushfires of January 2003 swept through the site, destroying half of the accommodation blocks, meeting hall and on-site vegetation, efforts were made to re-vegetate and to recognize and celebrate the substantial biodiversity that the site and surroundings offer.
An ANU Greensteps student, Jessica Morthope, carried out a consultancy in early 2007, and again in the first trimester 2008, with an emphasis on developing environmental conservation and education efforts. A raft of suggestions was put forward, many of which are being gradually implemented, as indicated briefly below. The aim is to heighten the awareness of the large number of visitors each year (approximately 10,000) to the Centre, of the beauty and diversity of this environment, and to encourage them to develop environment-oriented interests and activities while staying at Greenhills (and afterwards); and to minimize ecological footprint on the site.
- Installing rainwater tanks adjacent to each of the new dormitory blocks constructed to replace (on a different part of the site) the burned-down dormitories; water used for flushing toilets and watering adjacent gardens, when rainfall is sufficient.
- E-film placed on the west-facing windows on the large dining room, to reduce heating on summer afternoons and thus reduce use of air-conditioners.
- Walking tracks are being developed, both on-site (amongst significant small beautiful sites) and in the neighbouring bush – the latter, in conjunction with rangers of the Murrumbidgee Corridor reserve; including a short walk to a spectacular ridge outlook down the Murrumbidgee River valley.
- Bird-list for the site (55 bird species) and surroundings (another 55), and a booklet compiled with a picture of each bird and short descriptive text.
- A plant-list of on-site and nearby bushland vegetation; labels for these are being compiled, including reference to plant uses by Indigenous peoples of the area.
- Eco-room and library, with books, pamphlets and exhibits highlighting local biodiversity, ecological considerations and concerns, suggestions of things to do.
- A 12-page pamphlet – Appreciating the Greenhills Environment – with things to reflect on and to do, relating to nature and various school subjects (geography, history, environmental science, performing arts, English, mathematics, technology etc) – for use by visiting groups.
- Removal of invading weed – both woody and herbaceous – that have been there for decades.
- Replanting after the bushfires of 2003.
Greenhills Conference Centre: http://www.greenhillscentre.com/