20 Feb 2015


Tony Bugeja is a sugar cane farmer from Mackay in North Queensland. For over five years Tony and his family have been a part of Project Catalyst, partnering with WWF-Australia, industry and scientists to reduce the fertiliser and sediment run-off that is killing the Great Barrier Reef. Recently, Tony travelled to Bowen to meet Birri Gubba Juru Elder Jim Gaston, member of the Gudjuda Reference Group, to see how his actions can affect the Reef.

This is his story.

When travelling up to Bowen, I really didn’t know what to expect meeting somebody new for the first time.

When I was first asked to see Jim in Bowen I thought, ‘what am I going to learn from that?’ But I’m glad I went, because it gave me a real look at how my actions on my farm can affect the Great Barrier Reef. We went out on Jim’s research boat, where he told me about how they’re working to conserve the marine life in this area. It was enlightening. While we were out on the water, Jim handed me a turtle to hang on to as he did his job, measuring and inspecting it for health.

Then, when he had to tag it, he actually gave me the privilege of naming the turtle. Next to my name he wrote down ‘Tommy the Turtle,’ and I thought that was awesome.

Tony Bugeja= cane farmer and Jim Gaston= Birri Gubba Juru Elder= turtle tagging= Bowen= North Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

To be able to release Tommy back into the water, it was pretty inspiring. Seeing the conservation work of Jim and his team really opened my eyes. It made me realise that by introducing sustainable agricultural practices, like reducing chemical and fertiliser run-off from my land, I really can make a difference. The Traditional Owners of this country are a very smart and astute people. They had to look after the land because they lived off the land. They loved the land and I think farmers have got to think along the same lines. After listening to Jim’s stories, it’s changed the way I think about my farm.

Now when I look out onto the meandering McLennan Creek, I’m reminded of Jim’s dreamtime story of the big carpet snake and how it represents the connection between the land and the sea. It gives me the feeling that what I’m doing on my patch of dirt does affect Tommy the Turtle. I feel that all farmers need to do their bit to help the Reef. I’m proud I can leave my farm to my son in a better condition than when it was left to me, and the improvements are also helping the Reef.