5 April 2023

Merilyn House has been making Helensburgh's bush her home for decades

| Graeme Burrill
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Helensburgh Landcare founder Merilyn House

Helensburgh Landcare founder Merilyn House in front of the original Helensburgh Railway station and glow worm tunnel. Photo: Graeme Burrill.

Merilyn House has lived in Helensburgh for 50 years and her commitment to preserving the environment of the northern Illawarra is hard to beat.

Merilyn’s efforts to educate fellow residents about the battle against weeds led both her and her husband Allan to start a Landcare group in 1993.

The Helensburgh Landcare group meets regularly “to try and battle against the weeds that were gradually taking over the bushland that we really loved,” Merilyn said.

It’s an ongoing passion for Merilyn but she’s up against some serious odds. The environmental threat is much higher than 30 years ago and the number of volunteers willing to take it on is falling.

Merilyn says Helensburgh has the perfect climate for weeds and many are escapees from local gardens, such as arum and ginger lilies. At the same time member numbers have decreased, with many moving away or being too busy to be involved.

“Often at work days now there’s only two, three, four people who turn up whereas when we first started, we would have had 10 to 15,” Merilyn said.

“That’s one of the reasons that the weeds are taking over.”

Along with tackling the weeds, another ongoing activity of the Helensburgh Landcare group is the maintenance work at the Old Railway Station site which is also home to the glow worm tunnel.

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For many years the platform remained covered in dirt and soil. It wasn’t until the local mine decided to use the site as a water reservoir that the original platform bricks were noticed by Merilyn’s train enthusiast son.

“We contacted the mine and said you’ve got to stop before you damage the station – the old platform,” she said. “After a bit of discussion, they agreed to fund the actual excavation of the whole thing.”

The group was also able to obtain a Centenary of Federation grant to help remake the station sign.

Ownership of the site over the years passed from the Railways to Crown Land and then, in 2018, Helensburgh Landcare officially became the Crown Land managers.

For those keen to visit and take a look at the glow worms in the tunnel, Merilyn recommends going in the evening. If you’re there during the day, it would require a deeper visit into the tunnel to see them.

Looking back over her time with Landcare, Merilyn highlights cleaning up Cawley Road – once an original access point into Helensburgh from the highway more than 100 years ago – as something the group has been able to achieve.

“The road was a rubbish dumping place,” she recalled.

“Over a couple of years, we organised to completely clean up Cawley Road.”

Following the 2001 bushfires and with the combination of National Parks and the Railways, the decision was made to close off Cawley Road at both ends. This can now be enjoyed as one of the many local walking tracks.

Helensburgh Landcare is active with the annual Clean Up Australia Day event, but there are other ways you can get involved – one Sunday afternoon a month at the Old Railway station site and also at Wilson’s Creek. They also have their Bushcare site at Helensburgh Creek near the Old Mine Surgery on the corner of Parkes and Junction Streets.

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“We do that twice a month on Thursday morning.”

For Helensburgh Landcare to survive into the future, it requires more volunteers getting involved and someone to eventually step into Merilyn’s shoes down the track.

She recommends it as a pastime.

“If you love our local bushland and living in Helensburgh, there’s so much beautiful bushland around us,” Merilyn said.

“We can do lots of things in our urban area to keep that bushland safe from invasive weeds and also to make our urban area look a bit better than what it does now.

“You can have a lot more variety in what’s growing in a place if you don’t have these invasive weeds that just take over.”

Merilyn is also available for private backyard visits to help you identify those problem plants that shouldn’t be there.

More information on Helensburgh Landcare can be found Helensburgh Landcare website or on their Facebook page.

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