Photos of Doug Ralph

We are in the process of setting up a page of photos of Doug on FOBIF’s Flickr site. So if you have any photos you would like to contribute to this page, send them to Photographers will be acknowledged.


Photo curtesy of Connecting Country

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Celebrating Doug Ralph’s Life

There will be a gathering to celebrate Doug Ralph’s life next Saturday (March 7) at the Rotunda in the Botanic Gardens, Castlemaine. The group organising the event have provided the following information:

The celebration will start at 12 noon & the more ‘official’ proceedings will begin at 1 pm.

It is hoped that it will be a relaxed & informal gathering with the opportunity for people to offer something (word or song or anecdote etc) by way of celebration of the man we all loved so well & to pay our respects & give thanks for the oh so many ways he touched our lives

There will be a blackboard at the event for those who wish to participate & an MC to keep us in check.

Bring your own picnic lunch & your memories & let’s celebrate the life of Doug Ralph

Two items on the day of particular interest to FOBIF members will be a talk by Phil Ingamells on Doug’s role in the formation of FOBIF in the 1990’s and a reading from Vagabond: the Story of Charles Sanger, which was written by Bernard Slattery, Doug Ralph and Deirdre Slattery.

For further information ring Bronwyn Silver on 5475 1o89.

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Fire review: it’s time to accept the obvious and the logical

As we reported last week, the State Government has asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) to conduct a review of performance targets for the future bushfire fuel management program on public land. The review will ‘examine a risk-based approach to bushfire fuel management against the existing hectare-based performance target program.’

Submissions to this review will be received up to 5 pm on Friday March 13. They can be sent to, or to the

Inspector-General for Emergency Management, GPO Box 4356, Melbourne 3001.

FOBIF has made a submission, the main part of which is reprinted below:


Target or Risk Strategy?

For some years we have argued that a fixed target is not a sensible approach to fire protection, that it would be damaging to biodiversity, would distract attention and resources from public safety measures, and that it would soon become an end in itself, separate from anything to do with actual bushfire risk.

From the beginning we were perplexed by the Royal Commission’s recommendation for  a fixed target of fuel reduction, arguing, with many other bodies, that it seemed to be quite detached from any precise strategy of community protection, and that it seemed to contradict the idea espoused by the Commission that local knowledge should be valued , and not straitjacketed into a preordained set of priorities.

The Commission did, however, in recommendations 57 and 58, imply that the target could be altered if monitoring of its effects showed that would improve public safety, or biodiversity, or both. Why else have a monitoring system, if you don’t think it’s going to improve your practice where necessary?

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Hot rods at Gowar: some questions, some answers…

Representatives from the FOBIF committee attended a meeting with Castlemaine Hot Rod Centre (CHRC) and planning consultant David Robb from Planit to discuss plans for a Dynamic Vehicle Testing Facility, Events and Recreation development at Gower on the Castlemaine-Maldon Rd in mid February.

A feasibility study is being developed by Planit for the CHRC in preparation for a planning permit application to be lodged in April with Mount Alexander Council.

Bushland near proposed Gowar hot rod centre: the question is, how much effect will the proposed development have on wildlife in the State Forest and Nature Conservation Reserve?  And how will it affect the enjoyment of users of this bushland?

Bushland near proposed Gowar hot rod centre: the question is, how much effect will the proposed development have on wildlife in the State Forest and Nature Conservation Reserve? And how will it affect the enjoyment of users of this bushland?

As mentioned in our earlier post plans for the site include:

—a 1.2 km tarmac test track

—parking for 500 vehicles with possibility of expansion

—facilities for movie nights, concerts and outdoor shows

—shower and toilet facilities and powered and unpowered camp sites

—fully equipped function room and catering facility

—display areas for up to 3,000 sites

—capacity for truck shows, rod runs, field days, etc

—‘potential to establish a network of mountain bike tracks combining parts of the site with existing tracks in the adjacent state forest’

A presentation of the site was given to start the meeting and CHRC chair Larry O’Toole took attendees, who included representatives from the North Central CMA and Castlemaine Historical Society, through a description of the site and its various attributes. The meeting was then opened up for comment and discussion by the various groups.

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Vale Doug Ralph

FOBIF members and people in the wider community have been saddened by the news that Doug Ralph, founding President of the Friends, has died of a heart attack at his home in Little Bendigo.

On his retirement from the FOBIF committee Doug was rightly described by Marie Jones as an Elder of the environment movement. He knew this country better than anyone else, and was generous in sharing his knowledge of it: hundreds of people have been introduced to its secrets on the guided walks he ran for many years, or via the contributions he made in innumerable forums.

Doug was tireless in his efforts to get better management for our natural heritage, but he was also insatiable in his curiosity about cultural history. Although he was sceptical about the value of gold mining, and relentlessly critical of its destructive effect on the environment, he had enormous sympathy for the miners and huge interest in the detail of their lives.

One of Doug’s most striking qualities was his inclusiveness. He kept his eye on the important issues, and was impatient of efforts to divide this community into ‘old’ and ‘new’ residents. What counted for him was getting things right, not where someone came from. A fifth generation local, he welcomed anyone who had something to offer the community.

Doug wasn’t scared of labels. He had a terrific sense of irony, but wasn’t ashamed to put himself on the line: ‘I’m a tree hugger. I’m proud of it.’ He gave as his religion, Bush Baptist.

There was no one like him.


Chris Johnston sent us this photo of Doug hugging a tree at Columbine Creek in July 2013. He took a small group to walk there.



For more tributes to Doug, see

Natural Newstead February 26 post

Connecting Country February 25 post

Muckleford Forest February 25 post

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Fire stoushes: do we need them?

Readers of the Midland Express on Tuesday February 17 will have noticed a letter from the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Brad Battin, as follows:


‘The 2009 Royal Commission into Black Saturday recommended the State Government adopt a five per cent fuel reduction target.

‘Considering the Andrews Government has not publically stated their prescribed burning targets, a question was directed to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water requesting the Government’s target.

‘The response “normally those figures are articulated through budget papers”. (Hansard, February 10, 2015)

‘The response will raise anxiety in the communities affected by fires in the past as we see a government not willing to commit to prescribed burning to protect Victoria.

‘The Andrews Government must come out and explain why they have no target for Victoria; is it they don’t understand the impact, or don’t care?’


This ‘letter’ is actually a press release, distributed presumably to all regional newspapers, and appearing in more than one. They all reproduce Mr Battin’s misspelling of ‘publicly’, though the Express did clean up his punctuation.

Unfortunately for Mr Battin, a  quick reference to Hansard of February 10 shows Minister Neville’s reply as follows:

‘I thank the member for his question. Normally these figures are articulated through budget papers, but I am happy to indicate to the member that there is no intention to make any changes.’ [Our emphasis].

In other words, Labor is persisting with Coalition policy, for the moment. What all this suggests is that Mr Battin doesn’t listen, or doesn’t read, or he’s deliberately misrepresenting the Minister’s reply. None of these options are great news for those hoping the Coalition might show some ability to rethink burning policies.

They’re not great news for the public, either. What the state needs right now is a sensible bipartisan attitude to public safety and the environment: not cheap point scoring and fear mongering. The Coalition showed last year that it was prepared to look into risk management of the fire problem: it just wasn’t prepared to go a step further and critically examine whether its five per cent target policy really is making us safer.

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Fire review, but the old order remains for now

The Labor Government is persisting with Coalition policy on fire in the short term. This is confirmed in a statement released yesterday, announcing an independent review of the fuel reduction program. The statement, from the Environment Minister’s office, goes partly as follows:


‘The review meets the call for action from Neil Comrie, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Dr Gillian Sparkes and others. It will consider the views of experts, current research and the work undertaken by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) since the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

One of several risk management documents released last year: at last we're going to find out whether this approach is compatible with a rigid five per cent target for burning public land.

One of several risk management documents released last year: at last we’re going to find out whether this approach is compatible with a rigid five per cent target for burning public land.

‘Planned burning is an important part of a broader approach to community safety. Land management agencies and emergency services work together with communities, to prepare for, respond to, and recover from, natural disasters and other emergencies.

‘The review will examine a risk-based approach to bushfire fuel management against the existing hectare-based performance target program. The Inspector-General for Emergency Management has been asked to deliver his report by the end of March 2015…

‘Key points

  • ‘The scope of the IGEM’s review is to provide independent advice, free of influence from external sources.
  • ‘It will also consider the findings of the Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor and the reports of the Expert Reference Group- Bushfire Management Reform Program.
  • ‘The IGEM may provide recommendations on complementary performance measures for fuel management on public land, but will not provide advice on a recommended target.


This statement contains a number of peculiarities. What on earth can be meant by ‘independent advice, free from external sources’, for example? Is the enquiry to take place in a kind of cone of silence?

It’s good news that the Government has decided to scrutinise the mindless commitment to the target espoused by its predecessors. It’s also good news that the Minister seems prepared to do something the Coalition seemed unable to do: that is, to see if risk management is compatible with an arbitrary target.

It’s sobering to be reminded, however, that in the mean time, the old order remains. The minister’s press release yesterday offered this:

“The review will not affect the Department’s planned burning program for 2014-2015. It will begin a process to develop an evidence-based approach to reducing the risk of fire and protecting lives, communities and the environment.”


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Kalimna: an old question

FOBIF has written to David Major, Ranger in charge fire and emergency operations for Parks Victoria, about track works in Kalimna Park. Our key question was: we believe protocols were developed by Parks some years ago to do with track works. Our question is: what are these protocols, and were they observed by dozer drivers?

Erosion in new track work, Kalimna Park: it's impossible to find out exactly what directions are given to dozer drivers.

Erosion in new track work, Kalimna Park: it’s impossible to find out exactly what directions are given to dozer drivers.

We’re awaiting an answer. It’s a good idea to have protocols guiding workers in sensitive areas: but only if they’re actually followed. The unfortunate history of track maintenance in this region suggests that they rarely are. One question we’ve repeatedly put to managers is: Were workers given a maximum width to keep to? We’ve never had an answer to that one.

Meanwhile, Castlemaine had a bit over 20 mls of rain over the weekend, in two falls, not particularly heavy ones by recent standards.  We went up to have a look at one of the pulverised tracks on Wednesday, and it’s no great joy to record that erosion has already started, as you can see from the picture above.

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Golden Orb Weavers are about

The Golden Orb Weaver Nephila edulis is reasonable common in our local bush. At this time of year the females are mature and able to construct large wheel-shaped orb webs. In certain lights these strong webs look golden, thus the name. Their egg sacs are also golden.

The Orb Weaver below was one of two that had joined forces to build a complex web stretching across the track in the Walmer South Nature Conservation Reserve. The web which had been there for over a week was nowhere to be seen the morning after the recent thunderstorm (15 February). Orb Weaver webs are semi-permanent and repairs and adjustments are common so it may reappear.


Golden Orb Weaver, 5 February 2015

There are some interesting photos of Golden Orb Weavers including one of mating – the male is tiny compared to the female – and one of a bird caught in a Orb Weaver web on a wonderfully informative site that has been developed by Robert Whyte and Dr Greg Anderson. The site serves as a working draft of forthcoming CSIRO publication, A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia. You can also find out more about these spiders and others on the Victoria Museum website.

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Burning Kalimna

The Department of the Environment is preparing to burn Kalimna Park this autumn, some time between March 1 and May 31. This activity has been long planned, and is part of the current Fire Operations Plan. The map below shows the proposed burn area. The area in the centre of the map enclosed by the bend in the Tourist Road [to the east of the Secondary College], was burned in Spring 2009–this area is thus getting a double dose well inside the Tolerable Fire Interval necessary for the bush to recover after a fire.

Proposed burn area. It's centred on the Tourist road, and includes the area burned in 2009

Proposed burn area. It’s centred on the Tourist road, and includes the area burned in 2009

FOBIF has acknowledged that there is a fuel management challenge in the Park, given its proximity to Castlemaine. We have consistently maintained, however, that public safety and ecological health should be the dual aims of management activity in this heavily used bushland, which is home to the endangered Eltham Copper Butterfly. [Part of the planned ‘treatment’ area was assessed in the recent Bushfire Risk Landscape Plan as a ‘high value ecosystem area.’]

In the light of the apparently intractable contradictions between public safety and ecological health, local conservationists have put to the Department the suggestion that the area be treated in a series of very small burns over an extended period of time. Staged treatment like this would allow fauna better access to relatively unburned refuge areas, and would mean that this community asset could continue to be enjoyed.

At odd times we’ve had positive responses to this idea, but its big drawback is that such operations are more expensive. Land management needs to come cheaply, it seems.

Local conservationists met with Department fire officers on January 30 to discuss these and other concerns. The dialogue was constructive; undertakings were given that areas of importance to the butterfly would be protected.

One serious concern has already emerged, however: track work. Fire managers were asked at the January 30 meeting if intrusive and unnecessary track works could be avoided. They were assured that track works and mineral earth fire breaks would be lightly handled, and that no heavy dozer work would be needed for this.

Within one week, dozers had churned up to a kilometre or more of perfectly serviceable tracks in the proposed burn area. This does not bode well for the sensitive management of this precious area.

Our concerns relate also to adjacent burns proposed in successive years: Kalimna Point and adjacent areas,  Water Race Hill Track, and Colles Road.

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