It costs a bit to be a beach basher

It seems there’s a niche market for whom there’s nothing quite so enticing as sitting in your $85,000 4WD on a remote beach somewhere, enjoying the sight of your own tyre marks and muttering ecstatically, ‘How pristine is that?’

It’s this niche, apparently, that the editors of the Age Drive supplement had in mind last Saturday when they did a feature on four different brands of these vehicles. These were pictured nicely posed on a beach, and the text noted, among other things, how well they handled sand.

Come to think of it, the drivers may not be examining the formerly pristine sand, but each other. Certainly they wouldn’t be thinking about the creatures they might have crushed on the way down.

We had a go at the RACV a few weeks ago for a similar piece of crassness. The RoyalAuto editors were pretty impressive in their response. Maybe it would be a good idea for readers of the Age to ask its editors what values they think they’re promoting in features like these.


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RACV and off road driving: an answer

FOBIF has received an answer from the RACV to its letter about an article in RoyalAuto magazine promoting the irresponsible—and idiotic— practice of driving on beaches (see below).

We complained that the article should have been corrected online, as the editors had promised, but had not.

It appears we were half right: unknown to us, there are two online versions of Royalauto: the article in question was corrected in one, but not the other.

The relevant parts of the letter from the assistant editor of Royalauto  read as follows:

‘RACV RoyalAuto magazine and the photographer have both acknowledged the errors in this story and have apologised for not better checking the facts and the images.

‘As soon as the error was raised, the RoyalAuto editor updated the online story, removing reference to driving on the beach, and he wrote a fulsome apology.

‘However, the story in the flip book was not altered. This was an oversight that we are fixing today.

‘Once this work is undertaken, all online references to 4WDs on beaches will be removed and the fulsome apology will appear in both places.

‘We also followed up with this article in print in the November edition:

Here’s the apology referred to:

‘EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was amended on 29 June 2017 to take out a reference to driving on Snelling Beach. Local by-laws state that you are only permitted to drive on a beach up to 250 metres from a constructed access road for the purpose of launching and or retrieving a vessel. Once the vessel is launched the vehicle should be parked off the beach. It was RoyalAuto’s intention to bring attention to a wonderful part of the world and apologises for appearing to encourage driving on this wonderful beach. Please do not drive on Snelling Beach.’

The November article referred to above includes the following sensible advice:

‘Stick to tracks designated for travelling. Leaving tracks can cause compaction and wheel ruts and damage vegetation. Wheel ruts may not repair, and in some ecosystems such as coastal saltmarsh they can alter tidal patterns and damage larger areas. Birds, such as the endangered hooded plover which nests on sandy beaches, are especially vulnerable.’

This small media kerfuffle is important because it’s a tiny step in the direction of changing Australian driving culture. Of course, it remains to get manufacturers and retailers of off road and adventure equipment to stop actively encouraging silly driving practices.

And it’s not only relevant to beaches either. Inland bush is not immune to destructive driving. And FOBIF is aware that during the recent VEAC Western Forests consultation there was some agitation in Castlemaine against the idea of any new national parks in the region. One of the objections was that in national parks, you have to drive on formed roads, and that this is a terrible restriction on our liberty. Of course, you are supposed to drive on formed roads in state forests, too, so it isn’t really clear what that fuss was about.

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FOBIF has written to the RACV asking for clarification on its view of 4WD practices, in particular the practice of driving along beaches and other off road places [see our post].

In connection with the article we complained about in the July issue of RoyalAuto, we asked:

  1. Where is the apology/retraction of the offending parts of the article?
  2. What do the editors of RoyalAuto understand by the word ‘pristine’, when they can apparently accept that it applies to a scene with a car and numerous tyre marks on the ground?

We also pointed out that the Code of Conduct for off road driving for Four Wheel Drive Australia includes the following points:

‘3. Respect our flora and fauna. Stop and look, but never disturb. 4. Keep to formed vehicle tracks.’ [our emphasis]

And we asked: ‘does the RACV not endorse these protocols? Ninety percent of 4WD drivers are sensible and law abiding. It is a source of great irritation that advertisements for these vehicles regularly show them plunging recklessly through creeks or churning through vegetation: this encourages the minority of cowboys who think that trashing our environment is great fun. It’s a pity that in this case the RACV seems to be on their side.’

We’ll let you know if we get a response.

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Have a say about waste

The State Government is currently running a number of online public consultations under its Engage Victoria process. You can sign up for this easily by going to

Two current consultations are of interest to us: one is on the decision to phase out single use plastic bags, and the other on the banning of e-waste from landfill. Both are on the face of it good policies, but as in everything the implementation could make or break them. For example, the government has allocated d $15 million to design and implement a program to upgrade Victoria’s e-waste collection network, and $1.5 million on public education on e- waste. Is this enough, or will we see an increasing number of TV sets and computers dumped in our bushlands?

When you register, you can find out about current consultations at

Consultations on these matters close on January 25.

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Presentation on Tuans this Thursday

This Thursday evening 19th October Newstead Landcare Group is hosting a presentation by PhD candidate Jess Lawton. Jess is studying the Tuan or Brush-tailed Phascogale, a threatened and declining species of the Box-Ironbark country. The presentation will start at 8pm at Newstead Community Centre and all are welcome. A gold coin donation would be appreciated.  Afterwards there will be supper and a brief AGM.

Jess says,

“The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a rare, threatened species, and is declining in Victoria. Our understanding of its conservation biology is limited because it is sparsely distributed, ‘trap-shy’, and has been difficult to survey using traditional techniques. We know that this species has a rapid reproductive cycle, whereby all males die of stress and exhaustion after their first breeding season. We also know that this species often has a large home range of up to 100 ha. Therefore, the current thinking is that it requires large areas of intact forest for a population to persist. However, this species still occurs in modified habitats, such as paddock trees, roadsides, and isolated remnant patches. The aim of my study is to see if the occurrence of the Brush-tailed Phascogale in a modified landscape relates to patch size and patch connectedness.

Connecting Country set 150 nest box sites in 2010 to provide habitat for this species through the Mount Alexander Shire. They have since monitored many of these nest box sites every two years, and now have a number of years of data on this species occurrence in the region. I selected 50 of these 150 sites, stratified according to landscape context (ie. the amount of tree cover surrounding each nest box site). Between April and June 2016, while Connecting Country conducted their nest-box checks, I set two cameras at each of these 50 sites.

In this study, I model the occurrence of Brush-tailed Phascogales in the Mount Alexander Shire with landscape attributes, such as the size of a forest patch, and a number of habitat attributes collected in the field, including forest productivity, forest structure, logs and leaf litter, and tree size and species.

One  property near Axe Creek was home to a particularly active population of Brush-tailed Phascogales, and you can watch a video of the sort of footage we detected”

Tuan in nest box at Welshmans Reef. Photo by Jess Lawton.

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The last walk

FOBIF’s last walk for the year took in some isolated areas in the Red White and Blue and Dunn’s Reef sections of the Muckleford State Forest. Walk leader Geoff Neville having been struck down by the flu virus which seems to have raged in our region for months, the walk was devised by a committee consisting of Catherine Jerome, Jeremy Holland and Bernard Slattery, using Geoff’s walk notes. We’re not quite sure how, but the walk was completed in good order, with several highlights. The chief of these was an exhilarating aerial display by four sugar gliders, but there were plenty of wildflowers about, in spite of the general dryness of the bush. Bernard Slattery and Liz Martin sent us the photos below.

A late walk’s report with photos of Sugar Gliders came in from Noel Young:

A lot of birds calling, including Fantail and Pallid Cuckoos, Horsefield’s Bronze-cuckoo, Grey Fantail, White-throated Treecreeper, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red Wattlebird, Rufous Whistler, Superb Blue-wren, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Olive-backed Oriole, Raven, White-winged Chough, and Thornbill sp.

Also seen along the way; Sugar Gliders (3 or 4 ran up a tree from a stump at ground level); a large Echidna, and a small Brown Snake.

A scattering of flowering plants included –

Lots of Senecio sp. (fireweed) and Sticky Everlastings, Yam Daisy, Chocolate lily, Downy Grevillea, Pink Bells, Rice flower, Showy Podolepis, Guinea-flower, Daphne Heath, Grey Everlasting, Parrot-pea, and Bluebell. Orchids were scarce, but we came across Purple Waxlips, Musky Caladenia, Purplish Beard-orchid, and a Slender Sun-orchid.

Watch for the 2018 walk program early next year.

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Let’s go and tear up some country, fellas

There’s something very striking about advertisements for SUV’s: almost every one contains an image of a car either tearing up some country, plunging through a waterway, or driving along a remote beach. TV advertisements of these cars will sometimes do all three, as watchers of sporting broadcasts can attest.

The gist of this quite substantial propaganda barrage is: ‘go for it, rip up the country, that’s what these machines are for.’ There might be an additional message: ‘be a man: show the country who’s boss.’ We’re not sure about that one.

Isn’t it great tearing up the country? Illustration of a ‘review’ of Jeep Cherokee in the Age, which should know better.

This is just hoon behaviour, and most 4WD drivers don’t go for it, fortunately. In fact, the Code of Conduct of 4WD Australia includes the following:

‘1. Obey the laws and regulations for Recreational Vehicles that apply to public lands.
‘2. Respect the cultural, heritage and environmental values of public/private land,
by obeying restrictions that may apply.
‘3. Respect our flora and fauna. Stop and look, but never disturb…
‘7. Adopt minimal impact camping and driving practices.’

There are enough drivers around, however, who seem to think that ripping the country apart is what life is all about, and it’s a pity that they should be getting as much encouragement as they are. The results can be seen all over the country, and the photo below is a sample.

Section of the Goldfields Track near Irishtown, October 2: this kind of destruction is the direct consequence of irresponsible advertising of recreational vehicles.

Most drivers don’t behave like this, and it’s about time the industry and its publicists grew up and stopped promoting hoon behaviour.

Here’s a curious footnote, in this letter to the August issue of the RACV RoyalAuto magazine, and the editor’s response, under the heading, ‘Keep off the beach’:

‘Your writer recently visited Kangaroo Island with his 4WD and left an intrusive footprint on the formerly pristine Snellings Beach (“The Other Kangaroo Island,” R A July). Snellings is a small beach that can be walked in a few minutes. This allows you to experience how nature does perfection. A bonus is that pedestrians might see the rare hooded plover eggs and the birds get a chance of survival. We have roads for cars, beaches are for the creatures that depend on them. It is a privilege for humans to enjoy them.

Trish Edwards, Balliang

Editor’s note: The online version of the story has been modified to include our apology and to take out reference to driving on the beach.’

Out of curiosity, we just checked the online version of the July RA. The offending article doesn’t seem to be modified at all. It’s headed by a large photo of a  beach, a car parked in the foreground, and numerous tyre marks on the sand. The text reads, in part, ‘Within minutes we’d driven down onto the beach ourselves, our 4×4 rolling confidently over the firmly packed sand. Maybe five other people were scattered along Snelling’s pristine length. We’d found the other Kangaroo Island.’

Not so ‘pristine’ now, maybe. We’ve contacted the editors of Royalauto for a clarification. Oh, and we couldn’t find the apology, either. On the other hand, it’s not easy to find things in online versions of magazines.

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New wetland ecology and training courses

Intermittent Swampy Woodland, Aquatic Herb land with emergent Red Gums, Scotties Billabong, Lindsay Island

SERA 2016 award winning ecologist Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes have sent us information on their upcoming wetland courses.

Join us on a bus tour through some of northern Victoria’s most ecologically diverse wetlands that will be looking their best because of recent rainfall and flooding. Learn how ecological drivers determine wetland ecology. Dixie Patton, Barapa Traditional Owner will share knowledge on aboriginal uses of these amazing wetlands.  Other land managers will meet us along the way.

Learn about wetland restoration and management over 2 days with Damien Cook by visiting ‘Waterways’; a SERA 2016 award-winning wetland restoration project which he was involved in planning and implementing, followed by the 200 hectares of coastal park at the Victorian Desalination Plant, Wonthaggi.  Learn more about these projects here.

Learn to identify the most common wetland plants. Choose 1, 2 or all 3 days. Continue reading

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FOBIF September walk

Damien Cook with Crocodile Reservoir in the background.

The sunny forecast for last Sunday meant a big group came to our second last FOBIF walk for 2017. We set out from near the corner of Spring Gully Road and Fryers Road and proceeded across country to Crocodile Reservoir before turning back to the starting point.

Leaders Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes once again provided an informative and entertaining commentary on interesting features of the landscape and local flora and fauna. Julian Hollis helped out with geological information as did Frances Cincotta with plant identification..

As you can see from the photos below there was a spectacular display of spring flowers. Click on photo to enlarge. Photos were contributed by Ruth, Rosemary and Bronwyn.

Our last walk for the year on 15 October will be in Muckleford Forest led by local Geoff Nevill. The focus will be on orchids, other wildflowers and some mining remains.

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Don’t miss this show

Mountains and Waterways, our latest photographic exhibition at TOGS cafe, finishes on Thursday 28 September. Photos range from a closeup of leaves underwater to landscapes of Mount Alexander and Mount Tarrengower. There are also 5 terrific birds on water images by Patrick Kavanagh, Damien Kelly, Geoff Park and Mitchell Parker. The response to the show has been very positive with a number of people commenting that the photos remind them of why they live here. 

All photos are for sale for under $100 including frames. Proceeds of sales go to FOBIF to cover costs. You can see more Mountains and Waterways photos on our Flickr site and on previous posts here and here.

We would like to thank TOGS once again for their support in mounting this exhibition. This is our fourth show at the cafe and our eighth in total. 

Harcourt reservoir. Photo by Frank Foster. The reservoir is not on most people’s list of local picturesque spots, but this photo makes a claim for it’s charms.

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