Blackboy man

FOR 16 years Bruce Abbott has been saving grass trees from developers’ bulldozers.

Along the way the Freo businessman’s won sustainability awards, made strange bedfellows with those ripping out swathes of native vegetation – and been given the title Balga Marmon, literally Blackboy Man, by the Noongar people.

Grass trees are spiritually significant to Aboriginal people and he earned the name for the more than 20,000 replanted across the metropolitan area to date.

After initial reservations, developers welcomed his proposal to replant rather than bulldoze back in 2000, recognising its public relations potential, and these days when the bulldozers are set to roll the pragmatic Mr Abbott is there first.

• Bruce Abbott (third from left) with his team Lenny, Dekka, Pete and Nige at his first grass tree recovery at St Paul’s estate. Photo by Tim Burns

• Bruce Abbott (third from left) with his team Lenny, Dekka, Pete and Nige at his first grass tree recovery at St Paul’s estate. Photo by Tim Burns

An environmentalist from way back his journey over recent years has seen a greater focus on Aboriginal connection to country.

He runs indigenous workshops with respected Aboriginal elder and friend Dr Noel Nannup around the massive fire pit that’s the hub of his Wray Avenue business Replants.

Having purchased an old quarry in the hills he and Dr Nannup plan to extend the scope of what they do with leadership programs for youths, art and music programs/festivals – and raising environmental concerns.

Around 10 cricket pitches of urban bushland is bulldozed a week, something that goes virtually unnoticed, Mr Abbott says.

• These days Mr Abbott helps bridge cultures with Noongar ‘sharing’ days around the fire pit at his Wray Avenue business. Photo by Jenny D’Anger

• These days Mr Abbott helps bridge cultures with Noongar ‘sharing’ days around the fire pit at his Wray Avenue business. Photo by Jenny D’Anger

“[Back in the day] people would get out and protest, but now they are so inured to it.”

Big houses full of must-have nicknacks but with piddly gardens are taking their toll: “That level of materialism has numbed us to the environment,” Mr Abbott says.

His business model works to counter some of that and when someone wants to buy a grass tree they go out to the site to select and help with the removal.

“My agenda is to get people out to see it, and get involved with the process.”

Caring about the environment doesn’t mean you can’t make a go of a business, Mr Abbott says: “I call myself a free market socialist. I’m challenging the notion you can’t do something that’s good for the environment and make money.”

His reputation for combining nature and art has also grown. He was recently commissioned to do an installation at Elizabeth Quay of a bush pole version of Stonehenge.

“It was an exciting project working with Whajuk (Noongar) elders to tell the story of the place,” Mr Abbott says.

A fresh round of Dr Nannup’s Fireside Noongar Sharing kicks off next Wednesday (July, 27) for four weeks, with a second round August 31.

For more information go to replants.com or call Bruce on 0430 116 488.

by JENNY D’ANGER

30 Leopold Hotel 20x3

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