Jul 8, 2020, 02:00 AM

The COVID-19 lockdown may have presented deep personal challenges for millions of people, but it has also delivered cathartic realisations: about spending more time with our families, supporting the poor and marginalised, and reducing our impact on a rapidly warming planet.

For young Melburnian Byron Richardson, COVID-19 initially cost him his job – but ultimately, he says, it may have given him back his life.

After starting a new role with Citywide and the City of Melbourne’s ‘Greening the City’ program, the articulate 23-year old sees his new job planting trees and shrubs across inner Melbourne as a metaphor for personal growth.

“I think I may have found something that I’ve been missing,” said Byron, as he joined one of the first teams learning to mulch, weed and prepare the ground for hundreds of new trees, shrubs and native grasses at Royal Park.

Broader prospects

Byron is typical of the 64 people who’ve been employed by Citywide through the State Government-funded ‘greening’ program – many of whom lost their jobs as a direct result of COVID-19.

He was working at a popular bicycle shop north of the city, where his hours started to wane after the pandemic hit. “It wasn’t so much business disappearing, as the owners seizing an opportunity to slim down their staff,” he laments.

As well as losing his job, Byron lost the opportunity to complete his clinical practice hours for a three-year Bachelor in Physical Activity and Health Science. However, like bike mechanics, he says the degree probably presented only limited career prospects.

“I’ll definitely try to finish my degree, but it’s been dawning on me that both bike mechanics and exercise science offer pretty limited job prospects,” he says. “I would have had to go on and do a post-graduate qualification to specialise in exercise physiology or physiotherapy.

“To be honest, I think the COVID pandemic has actually done me a favour by waking me up to a new possibility.”

Green shoots

That possibility is a six-month program that will see 4,000 indigenous trees, 30,000 shrubs and 116,000 tubes of native grasses planted in the single largest revegetation project ever undertaken by Melbourne City Council.

After Royal Park, the project will fan out along the Inner Circle Railway Corridor, the Dynon Road canal, and other city-fringe reserves. It will ultimately create 24,000m² of understorey vegetation, increasing ground cover in the city by 6% – a significant step towards the council’s 20% goal by 2027.

The work will see 54 employees involved in planting, mulching, and protecting the new plants from pests and diseases, with a further 10 involved in data collection to inform the council’s urban forest planning.

Greening the City is funded through the $500 million Working for Victoria fund, which has already provided cleaning and sanitation jobs to hundreds of unemployed Victorians – including 1,700 through Citywide.

“This work is more complex than the sanitation work,” says Heath Gifford, who’s overseeing the Citywide planting teams. “It’s part of a master plan that’s been in operation for years, so our leaders have to have an understanding of environmental plant communities, and a deep passion for the work.

“In fact, several of our new recruits have already shown a lot of potential – and perhaps this may become a career for them.”

For his part, Byron Richardson would welcome a career that could breathe new life into Melbourne’s open spaces – and his own long-term job prospects.

“I see this as an opportunity to do something different and something that’s going to be really important for our community in the long run,” he says.

“Citywide seems like a great company to work for, so I’m definitely interested in pursuing other opportunities with them when this project comes to an end.”

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Media Contact:
Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications 
M 0427 307 216