If you travel to the deserts of South Australia and notice the land has not been absolutely destroyed by rabbits, there is one man in particular to thank.
After a lifetime of conservation efforts that have helped turn Australia into the place it is today Bruce Leaver has received the prestigious appointment of a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) as part of the Australia Day Honours.
“They are just what other people get, you never think about it,” laughed Mr Leaver at his home in Coolagolite.
“I always had a good relationship with people. My line of work invariably attracts good sorts of people, into conservation and heritage, so you’re always operating off the backs of others.
“So if they saw my name up there I’d like them to think this was for them as well, as you can’t do these sorts of things on your own, not by a long, long shot.”
Mr Leaver has had so many esteemed positions it is difficult to list them all, but they include executive director of the Australian Heritage Commission from 1999-2005, executive commissioner of the-then Tasmanian Public Land Use Commission from 1994-1999, director of National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in South Australia from 1986-1994 and regional director (South East Region) of NSW NPWS from 1979-1986.
In addition, he has been the chair of Sapphire Coast Tourism since 2008.
If you ask him his major achievements there are a few that come to mind, including his desert conservation work.
When he became the parks director in South Australia he was “gobsmacked” to see the damage rabbits had done to the region’s deserts. Vegetation was disappearing and the deserts “looked like a World War 1 battlefield”.
Mr Leaver learnt about the impact the calicivirus was having on rabbit populations in Europe and China, so in meetings with environment ministers of the time he proposed the idea of bringing the virus to the Australian desert.
The idea got support from the agriculture sector, was tested, cleared, released and “the impact on the Australian desert was spectacular”.
“The recovery was just unbelievable,” he said.
“It was the best idea I’ve ever had. Others may say they had the idea, but I did!
“Due to the desertification it would have become like the Sahara because the seedbank was almost gone. Australian deserts were almost irreversibly, catastrophically damaged.”
Early on in his career when working for NSW NPWS he managed to set up an agreement between NSW, ACT and Victoria to manage the Australian Alps, where each side would assist each other. During this time, he also helped set up the Skitube into Kosciuszko National Park, which was “such a bizarre idea it worked”, he said.
When working in Tasmania, he and his team convinced the government to create the Savage River National Park, the only national park in the Tarkine.
Finally, while heading up the National Heritage Commission he established the National Heritage List, which is Australia’s list of natural, historic and Indigenous Australian places of outstanding significance to the nation.
Mr Leaver’s citation for his AM reads “For significant service to conservation and heritage preservation, to public administration, and to the community”.