It was the sight of some tourists admiring and smelling flowers on lantana and bitou bushes behind a Wollongong beach that did it for Vasilios Kazepidis.
The lantana flowers may have been pretty – that’s why it was introduced as a hedge plant – but when the invasive weeds were so prevalent as to distract tourists from the native species.
Since that day, three years ago, Mr Kazepidis – known as Bill – has dedicated himself to bush regeneration along the Towradgi and Puckeys duneside bush.
Retired after 35 years running the fruit shop at Corrimal East shops (and years as a steelworks electrician before that), Mr Kazepidis, 69, had found a new mission.
He hooked up with a council bushcare group and has become the scourge of lantana around Towradgi and Puckeys beaches, clearing hundreds of square metres of the weeds.
“Instead of walking, and doing nothing else … this is really active work and I love doing it,” he said.
“If you’d seen what it is and what it is, you’d be surprised.
I knew it was wrong, what was going on – these aren’t native flowers but we had nothing to show, to be proud of.'Bill' Kazepidis
“Once upon a time i was out walking, and I saw some tourists, and they started smelling the lantana and the bitou bush. I don’t know if they knew what it was, or were amazed at the aroma, or the flowers.
“And I knew it was wrong, what was going on – these aren’t native flowers but we had nothing to show, to be proud of.
“So I thought I’ll do something about it.”
Sounds simple, but it’s the kind of dedication most of us only dream of. Nigel Statham, who contacted the Mercury about Mr Kazepidis’s work, said he usually puts in three to seven hours, four to five days a week doing this work – but never on Sundays, when he helps out old folks with Greek Community Welfare.
And for Mr Kazepidis, getting outdoors brings benefits for himself as well, for both physical and mental health.
“I do suffer from depression and if I get out I feel good,” he said.
“I’m not happy being in the house watching bad news all the time.
”Getting outdoors is the ultimate thing of life. It’s even in the Bible – in Genesis it says to conquer the earth and cultivate. I don’t think they’re talking about invasive species like we have here!”