Mount Alexander in history

It was an important place to the Jaara people; grazed by sheep for nearly 100 years; listed as having been entirely denuded of useful trees by 1876; burned out by bushfire in 1901, and then washed out by a heavy thunderstorm which stripped the bare slopes of soil and dumped it into the Bendigo water channel: now it’s a State Park much loved by walkers, picnickers and cyclists who regularly grind their way over Joseph Young Drive.

FOBIF walkers passing a giant stringybark on Mount Alexander, August 2013: by 1876 the Mount had been 'denuded' of useful trees.

FOBIF walkers passing a giant stringybark on Mount Alexander, August 2013: by 1876 the Mount had been ‘denuded’ of useful trees. The chequered history of the Mount will be the subject of George Milford’s talk at the FOBIF AGM.

Through all this it remains the biggest landmark in our district, and its history is the subject of a talk to be given by George Milford at the FOBIF AGM at 7.30 on Monday August 11 at the Castlemaine Continuing Education Building. Put it in your diary.

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Is a historic place a relic?

What’s a historic place?

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council is conducting an ‘Historic Places Investigation’, submissions for which are due to VEAC by September 12.

FOBIF is making a submission to this process, arguing that a historic place is not simply something old you can look at and have thoughts about the past. It’s a place in which you can see change happening, as the practices of the past are changed to suit new community needs.

Sebastopol Creek, in the Castlemaine Diggings NHP: ruined waterways on the slow path to recovery are a dramatic historic reality.

Sebastopol Creek, in the Castlemaine Diggings NHP: ruined waterways on the slow path to recovery are a dramatic historic reality.

Specifically, we are arguing that the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park should be valued not simply for its evidence of gold workings, but more especially for the way it shows the spectacular environmental damage wrought in the past, and the way this damage is gradually being repaired over time.

FOBIF’s submission runs as follows:

“We wish to make a submission to this enquiry, focusing on the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park as a Historic Landscape.

“The Diggings Park was given National Heritage status in 2005. The declaration statement  goes into great detail about evidence of mining practices in this landscape. This is fully justified. What is less understandable is that the statement completely overlooked what is perhaps the most striking single feature of this landscape: that is, the ruined waterways. The environmental devastation wrought by gold fever is mentioned blandly in one sentence: ‘The degree of alteration of, and intervention in, the natural landscape makes a strong impression on visitors.’

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A stroll into the Gorge

Twenty two walkers enjoyed a fine winter’s day for the July FOBIF walk into Muckleford Gorge on Sunday the 20th. The walk was led by Deirdre and Bernard Slattery, and the group heard an informative talk from farmer Ian Garsed before descending into the spectacular valley. Ian and his family manage the Gorge largely for conservation, and he gave an engaging account of the difficulties and rewards of having responsiblity for such an important part of the landscape.

Walkers look across the gorge to the edge of the lava flow, before making the descent. Mount Franklin is in the distance.

Walkers look across the gorge to the edge of the lava flow, before making the descent. Mount Franklin is in the distance.

Although the Muckleford Creek is not flowing at this point, there are enough substantial pools to preserve the picturesqueness of the situation; and the dry sections allowed the group to criss cross the creek for easier walking–though it has to be said that some of the crossings were easier than others. Once again our thanks go to Ian for his unfailing generosity to our walking groups. Thanks also to Barb Guerin for her lucid explanations of the geological formations along the Creek. The August walk will be in the Fryers Ranges. Check the program for details.

FOBIF walkers checking out the cliffs at the bottom of the Muckleford Gorge.

FOBIF walkers checking out the cliffs at the bottom of the Muckleford Gorge.

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Have another look at the Mount

It’s a special place to the Jaara people, has been exploited for its timber and heavily grazed; and now its role is primarily for conservation and recreation. It’s the biggest place in our region: Mount Alexander.

Mount Alexander faces winter, July 17 2014: the Mount has many moods, and an interesting history, which will be the subject of George Milford's talk at the FOBIF AGM on July 11.

Mount Alexander faces winter, July 17 2014: the Mount has many moods, and an interesting history, which will be the subject of George Milford’s talk at the FOBIF AGM on July 11. Photo: John Ellis

At the FOBIF AGM on August 11 George Milford will talk about the history of  Mount Alexander–more details later.

Members are reminded that nominations to the FOBIF committee are open now. Nominations should be signed by the nominee and two other FOBIF members.

For more pictures of Mount Alexander during that winter blast on the 17th, have a look at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chewtonnet/288889464550308

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Can we reduce fire risk without trashing the joint?

Management of fire risk doesn’t only concern public land managers. That’s why last Sunday’s Connecting Country Living with fire and wildlife workshop for property holders was a welcome addition to community knowledge.

The purpose of the day was
• to use a local property as an example
• to improve participants’ general understanding of managing vegetation to maximise biodiversity and minimise fire risk AND
• to enhance their ability to interpret the landscape with the aim of balancing ecological asset and fire risk at the property and landscape level.
A big ask – but judging by the evaluations made at the end of the workshop there was a feeling that people would be able to return to their properties and use the skills and ideas gained to re-assess how they would manage in the future.
The speakers were refreshingly candid and very knowledgeable – Field Ecologist Julie Whitfield and Fire Ecologist David Cheal (both ex-DEPI) and Owen Goodings, CFAs Statewide Team Leader Vegetation Management. Added to this mix was the excellent facilitation by Chris Johnson, the organisation of Janet Barker and her team and the generous Taradale hosts Christine and Team Henderson.

The over arching message of the day was: know your property and its values, and the landscape it’s sitting in: there are no simple solutions to this problem.

A further report and resource information will be posted on www.connectingcountry.org.au

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Fire planning starts again

Along with other interested parties, FOBIF has been invited by DEPI to express its ‘fire management priorities, issues or concerns as they relate to DEPI’s strategic fire management priorities, and also about fire prevention works’ in our area.
This is a standard annual consultation about the Fire Operations Plan and its implementation. It’s both a sensible method of consultation and an intensely frustrating merry go round: the important features of the burning program have already been set by

Highly flammable weeds, mainly gorse, on the northern edge of Chewton: FOBIF believes that public safety is best served by careful management of fuel close to settlements, not indiscriminate burning of large areas of remote bushland.

Highly flammable weeds, mainly gorse, on the northern edge of Chewton: FOBIF believes that public safety is best served by careful management of fuel close to settlements, not indiscriminate burning of large areas of remote bushland.

the State Government, and any submissions will necessarily be picking at details of  the Plan. Nevertheless, FOBIF believes that fire managers are generally prepared to listen to community input, and for that reason we will be making a submission to the process. Our emphases will be essentially consistent with past submissions: we believe that dangerous areas close to settlement should be DEPI’s priority, and that where these include high quality bushland, especial care should be taken to protect biodiversity in any operation. Our most recent detailed submission on the Fire Protection Plan can be found here, and DEPI’s response to that submission here. Member suggestions about any aspect of the local fire plan are welcomed.

 

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Why we should like ants

‘I like ants and this talk is about why you should like ants.’ That’s how entomologist Alex Wild started his talk to his audience of 140 at the Newstead Landcare event on Sunday.
In a hugely entertaining talk, peppered with questions from the audience, Alex ranged widely over matters to do with ants, structured around the ‘three reasons why ants are important, and why they run everything in Australia’.

Bullant [genus Myrmecia] exploring a DSE 'control burn' in the Diggings Park, 2010: ants are not only intriguing, they're good for the soil. Photo: John Ellis

Bullant [genus Myrmecia] exploring a DSE ‘control burn’ in the Diggings Park, 2010: ants are not only intriguing, they’re good for the soil. Almost all bullant species are endemic to Australia. Photo: John Ellis


First, they eat practically anything, and therefore channel biomass around; second, they dig down sometimes to surprising depths, aerating soil and allowing water penetration: in a dry climate they are more important than earthworms, and there’s strong experimental evidence to show that they increase crop yields; and third, they are so numerous that many other organisms are dependent on them for survival, for one reason or another.

Among many other fascinating observations about ants, their social organisation and their territorial wars, Alex pointed out that feral scourges like the Argentine and Fire Ants flourish in disturbed situations: the implication being that looking after the environment is a sensible preventive measure against foreign invasions. And he finished by showing a common enough picture of a bush track, with the comment: ‘There are probably 100 species of ants in this picture.’ Enough reason for us all to pay more attention to the detail: and one way to do this is by checking out the CSIRO’s Ants Down Under website.

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Anonymous mound of dirt tells a story

The photo below shows a barely noticeable mound of dirt, covered with grass, next to the Limestone Track near the Tarilta Creek crossing. Passers by might not give it a glance: a pity, because this mound of dirt should be a provocative reminder of DSE’s 2012 ‘ecological’ burn, and of the dangers of large scale burning operations

You could pass by and not notice it: but this mound of dirt is a relic of DSE's disastrous 2011 'ecological' burn.

You could pass by and not notice it: but this mound of dirt is a relic of DSE’s disastrous 2011 ‘ecological’ burn.

The mound of dirt is part of the huge quantity of soil washed off the slopes of the Tarilta valley after the burn off. Tarilta Creek was choked with silt, and some of it ended up choking the Limestone Track bridge underpass:

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Floods: here’s why

Floods can be complicated, but the fundamental cause isn’t: water falls from the sky in volumes too big to be confined within watercourses. These overflow onto flood plains. That’s it.

There can be additional factors, of course: if vegetation in the catchments has been stripped—say, by fire, or unwise clearing—then violent rain can cause massive washaways and erosion. And the disaster is compounded when people have built homes on the flood plain, something Australians have been prone to do for 200 years [see our Post].

This is what happened in the floods which devastated Castlemaine in 1889. Doug Ralph, presenter of the Tuesday history program on Main FM [94.9], has unearthed an interesting contemporary discussion of the event from the Argus newspaper [26/1/89]. The journalist, writing under the name Telemachus, is travelling in this region with George Perrin, Conservator of Forests in Victoria:

Forest Ck-Barkers Ck junction, January 2011: native vegetation along creeks does not increase flood levels. Discussion of the disastrous 1889 floods centred around three factors: the huge dumps of rain; stripping of hillsides of vegetation, which worsened runoff; and degradation of creeks in mining works.

Forest Ck-Barkers Ck junction, January 2011: native vegetation along creeks does not increase flood levels. Discussion of the disastrous 1889 floods centred around three factors: the huge dumps of rain; stripping of hillsides of vegetation, which worsened runoff; and degradation of creeks in mining works.

‘”I could make a fine forest there.” Thus Mr. Perrin, as we ran along beyond Taradale towards Castlemaine, through the hills which the diggers tunnelled and honey-combed, and stripped, and left desolate and hideous, over so many Australian leagues…

‘…”Killing out the forest caused all that.” Thus, again, Mr Perrin, as we look down the long valley of Castlemaine, strewn with the wreckage of the late disastrous flood. “Silting up our creek caused all that,” said the townsfolk, sitting in sack cloth and ashes amongst the ruins, and probably the one statement was as near the truth as the other, and both a good way off. I believe still that flood was one of the few incidents which may fairly be described as an act of God. The powers of nature gathered those clouds together, and the

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Petition about the Wellsford Forest

Several weeks ago we wrote a post about the Wellsford Forest Conservation Alliance efforts to upgrade the Wellsford Forest to national park status. The group is concerned that at present the forest, with nine 500-year-old ironbark trees, is vulnerable to logging and firewood collection.

The group have created a petition on Community Run (part of GetUp) called Protect the Wellsford Forest. They aim to present the petition to parliament in September.

Click here for the petition. The page also has links to several articles about the Wellsford Forest.

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