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In 1977, Wal Mayr said he was your average 19-year-old living on the Gold Coast.

“I liked partying, I liked surfing,” he said.

But even as a carefree teenager, Mr Mayr said he could see the tourist city was changing as high-rise buildings emerged from the sand dunes and urban sprawl took hold.

“I did on weekends go up every valley, Tallebudgera, Murwillumbah, just looking for land,” he said.

“I wanted a creek. I wanted it at the top of a valley.”

Eventually, he found an old banana plantation at Austinville and bought the 10 hectares farm for $7,000.

The property was originally covered in the rainforest but had now almost been entirely cleared for banana trees.

Mr Mayr said he and his wife Heather wanted to return the land to its original habitat.

“We didn’t know what we were doing. We just knew that we wanted to do something with the bush … and we had to preserve it,” he said.

“There were no skills, no knowledge … we made big mistakes, we started whipper snippering and all sorts of weird things.”

Gradually the couple, in collaboration with Gold Coast City Council Land for Wildlife officers, increased their knowledge about restoring a rainforest habitat.

Heather Mayr said she, and the couple’s three children, had shared the workload in rehabilitating the hinterland property.

“It’s a labour of love, and it’s so rewarding,” she said.

“In the beginning, you have to be careful you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

“We probably got a bit too ambitious in the beginning, and you get worn out, but you break it up into zones and tackle it one zone at a time.”

The former chartered accountant said continually removing invasive weeds allowed native plants to grow and form a canopy, which then reduced light and helped control unwanted vegetation.

Over the past four decades, the couple has bought out neighbouring properties and now have more than 60 acres of land, which borders a council reserve and the Springbrook National Park.

Mr Mayr said they were also heavily involved in their local Landcare group.

“The upper Austinville area is unique in that there is so much activity and so much preserved land,” he said.

“Seventeen years ago, we started a local Landcare group because we had a big weed problem at the lower reaches of the valley.

“Every month for 17 years, we’ve had our volunteer group, and in conjunction with that we’ve got grants, and I think we’ve made a big impact.”

Landcare award for work
Last month, Mr Mayr was recognised with the Australian Government’s Individual Landcarer Award at the National Landcare Awards gala dinner in Sydney.

“It was the highlight of my life,” he said.

Ms Mayr said her husband had been tireless in his quest to improve the local environment and the award was well earned.

“I’m really happy for him,” she said.

“He puts so much work in, and it’s really nice to see he was recognised for that.”

Property future secured with will
It’s taken more than 40 years, but Mr Mayr said his property has almost been returned to its original habitat, and he wanted their legacy to be continued after he was gone.

“Heather and I, in our will, have tried to keep it in perpetuity, keep enough dollars for ongoing management,” he said.

“Hopefully, there’s someone in the family that’d be ideal, but if not, we’ll find a landowner who will keep up the legacy.”