16 November 2023

Ian died before he could see his work finished, but he won't be forgotten

| James Coleman
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Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk

Many Canberrans will remember being taught science by Ian Loiterton in school. Photo: ACT Government.

For years, it was thought the mysterious Tarengo Leek Orchid was extinct.

The 30-cm wildflower is only known to occur in the ACT in the Hall Cemetery, and even then, there are no more than 100, which only burst into bud every five years or so.

But in 2018, Ian Loiterton managed to snap a photo of one in flower.

“He just loved nature and being outdoors,” his daughter Rachel Neihus recalls.

“He used to go for 12-km hikes out in Namadgi and discovered fungi people thought was gone, as well as some Aboriginal relics out there.”

So it’s only proper a new bushwalk be named in his honour.

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The ‘Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk’ packs in native grasslands, swamps, stony ridges, ancient trees and wildlife-rich glens over 2 km of the Aranda bush at the base of Black Mountain.

The walk was opened by ACT Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti and Ngunnawal elder Uncle Wally Bell. It’s the fulfilment of a long-time project by the Friends of Aranda Bushland group, of which Ian was a dedicated member right up to his sudden death in 2019 at the age of 73.

Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk

The Friends of Aranda Bushland group has been working on this walk since 2015. Photo: ACT Government.

Ian grew up in Cootamundra before moving to Canberra in 1964 to study science at the Australian National University (ANU). He married Sharon Parnell in 1968 and began teaching at Queanbeyan High School. Soon, his family grew to include Rachel and her sister Kim.

By 1972, the family had saved enough money to buy a block of land in the northern suburb of Macgregor, and they moved to Canberra. Ian spent the next few decades teaching at Canberra High School, Campbell High School and Dickson College before he retired in 2001.

Whenever he had a spare moment, Rachel says he always headed to one place: outside.

“He used to take us everywhere during the school holidays – up Black Mountain and out to the Cotter – probably because we were driving him crazy.”

Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk

This bench was crafted by Ian’s grandson, Samuel McDougall, based on one he “loved”. Photo: ACT Government.

After retirement and a move to Dunlop, Ian went on the hunt to join nature groups and settled on Friends of Aranda Bushwalk in 2015, led by Jenny Andrews. The suburb already had the 4.3-km ‘Frost Hollow to Forest Walk’ at the time, but the group was looking to establish another.

“They were quite excited about Dad because he had the qualifications – through his training as a science teacher in geology and botany,” Rachel says.

The walk began as a nameless circle on a map, but Ian was soon applying for government grants and zoning permissions to formalise the route.

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The work was also championed federally by ALP Member for Canberra Alicia Payne, who “had the pleasure to meet with Ian several times and see first-hand his passion and dedication to our environment and in particular that special Aranda bushland spot and the group of tight-knit volunteers who have been working together for years to protect and care for it”.

However, Ian died before the $10,326 of funding came through from the ACT Government’s 2022-23 ‘ACT Environmental Grants’. After the funeral, the Friends of Aranda Bushwalk group decided his legacy should be forever attached to his work.

A plaque was provided by the ACT Government, explaining this back story to the walk, while Ian’s grandson (and Rachel’s son) Samuel McDougall crafted a wooden bench inspired by one “Dad loved”.

Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk

The 2-km walk takes in a variety of landscapes. Photo: ACT Government.

Around 80 people turned out for the official opening, many of them former students of Ian’s.

“There were a lot of people walking up to me and saying, ‘I used to babysit you’,” Rachel says.

“It was pretty emotional … It was a real honour to be there, happy but sad at the same time because if it wasn’t named after him, it would have meant he would still be here, looking at all this hard work.”

Ian is survived by his wife Sharon in Dunlop, daughters Rachel and Kim, and grandchildren Joshua, Samuel and Emma.

“I’ve always enjoyed nature, probably similar to my dad,” Rachel says.

“I go out to Tidbinbilla for walks all the time and bring the dogs to places we can.”

Visit the Friends of Aranda Bushland website for more information on the Ian Loiterton South Aranda Woodland Walk.

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