Wikipedia article on Doug Ralph

James McArdle has contributed the following item on the new Wikipedia article on Doug.

A large number of Doug Ralph’s friends gathered to remember him on 7 March at the Botanical Gardens, Castlemaine, and their diversity was a remarkable tribute the energy that radiated from this gentle man. 

Many of us felt that some lasting memorial to his passion for the bush, and the way that he inspired it in others, should be constructed. Doug liked to communicate in person, and though he left a little of his intimate knowledge of the Box-Ironbark forests and local history in his own writings, some, especially his emails, may not last. However he generously shared a lifetime of experience and understanding with others, who in turn used his insights in their papers, books, submissions and pamphlets.  

To preserve all of this, there is now an article on Wikipedia devoted to Doug’s legacy at

The Wikipedia article is a live document, visible worldwide, and awaits any improvements you may have with extra information on Doug,  and in particular verifiable references to instances where his research contributions have been recorded.

Anyone may easily contribute to Wikipedia articles, even anonymously, without registering; you need only follow the format and conventions of an encyclopaedia. Please help. 

While you are there, you might also look to see if articles on the Box-Ironbark Forest and more particularly the Bendigo Box-Ironbark Region, as well as the many entries on individual species found there, can be helpfully expanded.

Contact details for James are included here for anyone who has information on Doug who would prefer someone else entered it on Wikipedia. James is also interested in suggestions of existing articles on Wikipedia which might appropriately link to Doug’s entry.

James McArdle   0459690707

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A very small, good thing

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is ‘committed to delivering an increased planned burning program as a key means of managing bushfire risk,’  according to a letter to stakeholders last week.

In other words, it’s business as usual, despite the fact that there’s an enquiry currently in progress to find out if this ‘business as usual’ is really making anyone safer.

This means that there’s no reason for residents to relax their vigilance on the Department’s fire practices.  The good news is that it’s become easier to get advance news of when burns are going to happen. The same letter reads:

‘I am pleased to advise you that we have recently developed a new opt-in tool that allows you to create a customised account for receiving automated notifications about upcoming planned burns on public land.  You can now select any areas or specific planned burns you wish to be notified about, when you want to be notified (within 10 days, next 24 hrs or in progress) and how you want to be notified (SMS and/or email). There is no charge to register or to receive messages’.

Here’s how to register to get notification of burns:

‘Visit Advice on Planned Burning or the Fire Operations Plans webpages on the DELWP website. A link on these pages goes to a dedicated page

‘There are two options:

‘1. Users can type the name of a town, suburb, address or postcode in the location search bar. Once people have subscribed to a location they will automatically be registered for all burns within 10 km of the location, from all three years of the FOP;

‘2. AND/OR – Users can subscribe to a specific burn by selecting from the list of burns – you

can filter the list by District, burn name, burn year or burn number, if known.’

FOBIF recommends that members put themselves in the system. The Department is opening itself to scrutiny: and it’s up to us to oblige by scrutinising their practices.


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Cactus warriors spreading the word


The TCCG ready to set out one of their regular Sunday morning battle with local Wheel Cactus.

The Tarrangower Cactus Control Group  (TCCG) in conjunction with Landcare Victoria and the Northern Catchment CMA is holding a major all-day workshop in Baringhup on 14 May. Lunch is provided and there will be field trips as part of the day. RSVPs are required. Click here to see the flyer.

It has been estimated that 10,000 hectares of land across the Maldon, Baringhup, Nuggetty and Sandy Creek districts, including the Maldon Historic Reserve, is infected with Wheel Cactus Opuntia robusta. The TCCG assisted by Parks Victoria has been engaged in a lengthy and vigorous battle with this Weed of National Significance. Their comprehensive website documents much of this activity as well giving a history of the problem and a rundown on eradication methods.

Spread largely by Australian Ravens, small pockets of wheel cactus can now be seen across other areas in our Region. The Cactus Warriors are active in providing advice and practical assistance to landcare groups and landowners to control its spread. In March for example they held an information session in Gravel Reserve for the Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group.


Wheel Cactus along the Muckleford-Walmer Road

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Long-leaved Box blossoming

Long-leaved Box E. Goniocalyx is now in flower in our region. It generally flowers from March to May. The following photos of the buds, blossom and fruit of a Long-leaved Box at the summit of Mount Tarrengower were taken on 31 March.  (click to enlarge)

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‘Doug’s Bend’

At the farewell event for Doug Ralph in the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens early last month Phil Ingamells gave a speech about Doug’s contribution to the environment movement in this region. Phil who lived in Castlemaine in the late 1990s was a good friend of Doug’s and one of the founding members of FOBIF. Phil now resides in Melbourne and works for the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) on their Park Protection Project. One of his memories was about Doug’s part in the re-routing of the Calder Freeway:

There are many stories that could be told about Doug’s endeavours, but I’d like to tell just one. When the Calder freeway’s Taradale bypass was being planned, Doug got wind that it would plough through a small but valuable native woodland on private land. He quickly got a few people together to speak at the planners’ public hearings.

Now, as you drive towards Melbourne, you’ll come to a point where the freeway flies over the Taradale Metcalfe road. Shortly after that, as it starts to bend to the left, you can see eucalypts poking up between the two sides of the freeway. They mark a wildlife corridor between that private land on the western side and another woodland to the east. The freeway then follows a long swooping curve, leaving the threatened woodland very much intact.

Whenever I go that way, I think of it as Doug’s bend.

If you missed Doug’s farewell you can now read the full text of the speech that Phil made here.

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Andrew Skeoch on birdsong, music and the evolution of listening

AndrewS 500The sounds of our natural environment are comprised of many voices; birdsong, frog choruses, seasonal insect choirs, mammal calls… But how have all these varied animal repertoires evolved? What can we learn from studying, or simply listening, to nature’s sounds around us? How may the noise of our modern world be impacting upon this delicate sonic balance, and conversely, how have the songs of nature influenced our own species?

Andrew Skeoch is a bioacoustic researcher, musician and Australia’s best-known nature sound recordist. His nature albums ‘A Morning in the Australian Bush’ and ‘Favourite Australian Birdsong’ have each sold over 50,000 copies. Over the last twenty years, he has journeyed to remote locations in Asia, India, Africa and the Americas in search of some of our planet’s most beautiful and fascinating sounds. 

“I feel that we need to listen to the natural world afresh, and hear ourselves as part of it. Perhaps then we can find more organic ways to express ourselves, and celebrate our natural place in the biosphere”, he says. 

Andrew will be giving a presentation on his work and research at the Castlemaine Library on Thursday the 23rd of April. Featuring his recordings accompanied with sonograms, he will have you hearing birdsong and natural sounds from an entirely fresh perspective. Click here to download a flyer. Bookings are required.

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Bushfire review report postponed

FOBIF has been informed that the Inspector General for Emergency Management has postponed his report on fuel reduction programs, which was due this month. It will now be released at the end of April.

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The storm which made local headlines by bringing down a tree on the Loddon River bridge in late February was only one of a series of what seem to be mini tornadoes throughout Central Victoria, and specifically in our own shire, judging from feedback from readers. James McArdle has reported the felling of another mighty redgum at Glenluce. And below is the scene on the Crocodile Reservoir Track near Fryerstown. The track is covered over 200 metres by trees large and small, snapped off at the base or higher up, or simply uprooted:

Crocodile Reservoir Track,  March 2015: Trees big and small tossed almost neatly across the road.

Crocodile Reservoir Track, March 2015: Trees big and small tossed almost neatly across the road.

Tornadoes aren’t so rare in Victoria—there have been 160 severe ones since 1918, plus many others not big enough to figure on the Bureau of Meteorology data base. The most spectacular local one wrought havoc in Castlemaine town in 1901. A tornado in Sandon in 1976 killed two people whose care was lifted nearly 10 metres off the ground and tossed into a gully. And in 2003 winds between 100-200 kph ripped through Maiden Gully Bendigo

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A giant crash

Wild winds brought down numerous trees in the region on the last Saturday in February, including a giant poplar which fell onto the Midland Highway bridge, writing off a car and injuring its driver.

The same storm caused massive limb damage to the nearby Guildford Big Tree, a giant River Red Gum estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 1000 years old.

The Guildford Big Tree, March 2015: the tree has lost maybe a quarter of its bulk in one go, but the resultant hollows offer new wildlife opportunities.

The Guildford Big Tree, March 2015: the tree has lost maybe a quarter of its bulk in one go, but the resultant hollows offer new wildlife opportunities.

Giant trees like this are monuments to a former time, and a reminder that the relatively small trees in the regrowth bushland which dominates the region are not ‘normal’, historically speaking.

Damage to the tree in this manner is of course toguildford 23 3 15 (4) (1024x575) be regretted. On the other hand it’s part of the process of change. Loss of limbs
creates hollows quickly colonised by wildlife–and by mid March a pair of Corellas had already taken possession of one of the new hollows [see photo at right].

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Fire and the five per cent: some background

Where did the policy of burning [at least] five per cent of public land every year come from? The material below is taken from the submission by the Victorian National Parks Association to the current enquiry. As readers will remember, the enquiry is being held to decide whether a blanket five per cent policy, or a policy based more precisely on risks and benefits should be implemented.

The full text of the VNPA’s submission can be found here.  A submission more locally focused on box ironbark woodlands can be found on the Living with ecology and fire website, together with much other useful information on fire in our environments.

The VNPA’s background to the policy runs as follows:

A brief history of the 5% burn target

The 5% annual burn target has been recommended by two fire inquiries in Victoria: a 2008 Parliamentary inquiry, and the 2010 Bushfires Royal Commission. However, perhaps because of the often contradictory advice those inquiries received, and the lack of clear evidence that the target would work in a Victorian context, both inquiries recommended monitoring and reporting on a hectare-based target’s effectiveness and impacts. Both inquiries effectively asked for this current review.

1/ The Victorian Parliamentary Environment and Natural Resources C’ttee (ENRC) 2008 inquiry

A 5% state-wide annual burn target (c.390,000 ha) of public land was first formally recommended in the ENRC inquiry into The Impact of Public Land Management Practices on Bushfires in Victoria. However that recommendation (Rec 2.2) was largely based on flawed evidence supplied to the inquiry:

–The evidence misquoted a reference for burning in some forests in the USA, which actually recommended an annual strategically applied burn target of 1-2% of the landscape if strategically applied, or 2-5% if burns are random. (In any case, applying any target from a totally different forest type on the other side of the world has questionable value.)
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