30 Jul 2020

John Clarke's family donates 'magical' property to conservation

9:51 pm on 30 July 2020

The late satirist, John Clarke, has left another lasting legacy - this time, to conservation.

John Clarke as online news director 'Xavier Breth'

New Zealand-born John Clarke achieved fame as a satirist in Australia. Photo: screenshot

The much-loved performer, who was also an avid birdwatcher and nature-lover, died while bushwalking in Victoria in 2017, at the age of 68.

His family has donated an eight-hectare section of Ramsar-listed, globally significant wetland on Phillip Island to the conservation organisation, Trust for Nature.

John Clarke was born in New Zealand but made his name as a comedian and satirist in Australia after arriving in the 1970s.

For 27 years he appeared on Australian television conducting mock interviews and skewering politicians with his comedy partner, Bryan Dawe.

His daughter, Lorin Clarke, told ABC Radio Melbourne it was "a lovely thing to have happen, especially because it was Dad's birthday yesterday, so we feel there is a nice celebratory element to it as well".

She said her parents bought the property on the Rhyll peninsula in 1999 as a conservation project, and spent many years planting trees, weeding and birdwatching on what used to be farmland, with group tree-planting days that would often take place around this time of the year.

"We built up this area with vegetation and we wanted that to continue," she said.

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A section of the land that John Clarke and Helen McDonald regarded as a conservation project. Photo: Supplied / Trust for Nature

Property hosts migratory birds, native grasslands

"It's quite an incredible area, Western Port Bay, and my mum and dad were quite involved. They ended up learning quite a lot about that area and why it's particularly special and needs to be protected," she said.

"We spent a lot of time on the beach and walking through the bush saying 'look at that bird, no look closely, see that yellow beak, that means it's the yellow spotted whatever'," she said.

Lorin Clarke said her family would continue to visit the area, where they always felt a bit closer to her father.

"We all love it dearly, it'll always be a really important part of our family and hopefully it'll be important in a sort of grander sense now too.

"It's magical because of the work they did."

Trust for Nature Port Phillip and Westernport Manager Ben Cullen said John Clarke and his wife, Helen McDonald, had been "fantastic custodians".

"The way they've done the revegetation is fantastic," he said.

"They protected it and now it's got to the stage where it's functioning as a forest, and it's got animals there that never visited before."

The area hosts migratory birds from all over the world, including Latham's snipe, which breed in Japan and Russia during the northern hemisphere summer.

Cullen said the land would now be used for education and conservation purposes, in consultation with the Bunurong Land Council.

"There's fields of native grasses and orchids and it's magical to walk through, and it's magical because of the work they did," he said.


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