Guerilla gardener could score council job

Brent Kelly, or "Big Red", says "council wants me to work with it rather than against it". Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Brent Kelly, or "Big Red", says "council wants me to work with it rather than against it". Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

A guerilla tree planter who has planted native saplings across Wollongong without permission could be about to go straight, after capturing the imagination of a council headhunter.

Brent Kelly, known as "Big Red", has been on the disability pension since late 2002, when he suffered a brain injury in a car accident at Keiraville.

After emerging from a coma, he became a volunteer with the Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association and Port Kembla's Laneway Permaculture Garden, picking up a love for native plants and learning their botanical names as he worked.

Later, he started buying saplings and planting them around Port Kembla as he pleased.

During a recent planting session on Wollongong's Kembla Street, he left behind a large sign wishing passers-by a happy spring and "please plant lots of native plants + trees ... have fun + be happy + share the love".

Mr Kelly was caught in the act of planting by three off-duty employees of Wollongong City Council. One of them later returned with a blank application form for a horticulture apprenticeship with the council.

Mr Kelly was encouraged to apply.

"Council wants me to work with them rather than against them," said Mr Kelly, who has filled in the paperwork and is awaiting an interview.

"I love the Illawarra dearly, it's always been very close to my heart and I want to help maintain its beauty naturally and natively."

A spokesman for Wollongong City Council confirmed Mr Kelly had been approached to apply for a position, and said he had been asked to consult council workers before going guerilla again.

One of his planting sprees came unstuck when he placed several saplings at Osborne Park, where food and other stalls are regularly set up for community events such as Australia Day.

Council workers moved the trees elsewhere in the park after phoning Mr Kelly and explaining the dilemma.

"A council officer is working with Mr Kelly to ensure that future plantings are appropriate and he works in conjunction with plans for the overall benefit of the city centre," the council spokesman said.

For another recent planting, on the walkway leading to Belmore Basin, Mr Kelly chose natives with red and white flowers as a homage to the St George Illawarra Dragons.


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