Above Harley Douglas from Djaara speaks with the audience at the Djaara woodland bird walk.
Connecting Country is a community not-for-profit group that operates at a landscape scale to increase, enhance, and restore biodiversity across the Mount Alexander Shire region of Central Victoria. Connecting Country has been operating for 15 years. Its four main action areas are supporting Landcare, restoring landscapes, engaging community, and monitoring biodiversity.
The Mount Alexander Shire region has around 30 active Landcare and environmental volunteer groups. Connecting Country supports these groups through a dedicated Landcare facilitator, made possible with funding through the Victorian Government Victorian Landcare Facilitator Program.
With so many active Landcare and environmental volunteer groups in our region, the Landcare facilitator helps to provide events, resources, and opportunities for them to connect with Connecting Country, and come together with other Landcarers to learn new skills, share experiences, exchange ideas and coordinate their efforts. Much of this interaction is supported through online tools such as Connecting Country’s website, blog, e-news, online presentations and social media.
COVID-19 restrictions had a major impact on our capacity to deliver on-ground projects, especially our traditional in-person workshops and events. We adapted to these challenges by expanding our use of various online tools. It was a steep learning curve. The results have been successful in many unexpected ways, extending our reach both locally and much further afield.
When COVID-19 restrictions were easing in late 2021, Connecting Country partnered with Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation – a Traditional Owner entity in Central Victoria) to facilitate two events funded by Djaara. These events aimed to engage the general community with Dja Dja Wurrung culture, history, and environmental management, as well as enjoy a bird walk in local bushland co-managed by Djaara.
Along with Djaara representatives, we invited bird enthusiasts from BirdLife Castlemaine to help guide participants through local native bushland and discuss the bird life as we walked. For safety and logistical reasons, we limited each walk to 30 participants. The events proved popular and were over-subscribed so we decided to live-stream them online via Facebook to reach a wider audience.
In addition to the 60 in-person participants, the live-stream reached a further 600 viewers, with people as far as Hobart and Adelaide enjoying the event.
Feedback revealed people who could not attend in-person due to health or mobility issues also appreciated the opportunity to participate.
The Djaara bird walks were a great learning experience. We better understood the effort involved in managing the camera and microphone to capture the day – and gained awareness of the perspective of the online participants. Delivering a live-streamed event such as a walk meant there were passages of silence when the presenters were not talking, although this could also be a positive for some online participants as it’s a chance to take a break.
We also wondered if our focus on the cameras and microphone impacted on the experience of the people attending the walk in-person.
The online element created additional work with preparation and planning, as well as training of staff and volunteers to make sure everything went smoothly on the day. Although we were delighted with the success of the events, there was some trial and error before we felt comfortable using the technology. We built on lessons from our previous online events.
Our first online event in 2020 saw local naturalist Geoff Park and ecologist Chris Tzaros team up to speak about the trickier birds to identify in the Mount Alexander Shire region. This attracted 450 viewers from across Australia and even overseas. This event taught us the importance of investing in quality microphones, as well as allowing plenty of time for testing the equipment.
In 2021, an entirely online event was organised to engage landholders in improving their dams to supply clean water and provide habitat for native plants and animals. The healthy dams workshop was filmed at a local landholder’s property, and was popular. It taught us about recording in windy locations and the value of good equipment.
• Invest in quality technology such as microphones, a gimbal and a spare battery for your phone when using it to film in the field.
• If you have more than one presenter in the field, give each presenter a microphone. Wireless microphones that connect to the recording device are preferable.
• Do a practice run with presenters to ensure smooth transitions between screens with hosts and presenters.
• Check you have good smart phone reception at all locations where you will be filming.
• When hosting presentations online from various locations, ensure that all presenters have reliable internet connections.
COVID-19 restrictions encouraged Connecting Country to embrace online tools for engaging our community. They have given us the opportunity to reach a much wider audience and to share our vision of the Mount Alexander Shire region as a beautiful, productive, healthy and diverse landscape. It’s been worth the effort.
Hadley Cole is the Connecting Country Mount Alexander Region Landcare Facilitator.
For more information go to www.connectingcountry.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Connecting Country - connectingcountry.org.au
Djarra - djadjawurrung.com.au
Birdlife Castlemaine - birdlife.org.au/locations/birdlife-castlemaine-district
Woodland Birds with Djarra - connectingcountry.org.au/woodland-birds-with-djaara-a-chirping-success/