How it really is

Landscape photography can be a problem. It can have a tendency to prettify nature—the ‘chocolate box’ effect, the one seen too often on calendars; or it can be tempted to ‘disaster chic’, with an emphasis on ruins and devastation.

The goldfields offer pitfalls in both these directions, but Julie Millowick’s current exhibition, Surrounding, avoids both. In so doing, it offers a compelling and powerful insight into our region. Without trying for epic scenes, she presents the beauty of this ‘strangely poignant’ landscape ‘in tumult and recovery’. The photos show the ‘devastating  effects of mining and invasive plants, but also remind us of the interconnectedness that links all parts of this landscape, including its human occupants.’

Clothes hanging on a line, decaying walls, light filtering through trees, scatterings of Cassinia seeds, vegetation colonising mining sites, a small boy standing on a mullock heap, rainsoaked bush…There’s an unpredictable variety in these photos, but every one compels a close look. The poet Les Murray once referred to ‘the commonplace and magnificent roads of our lives.’ Somehow these pictures recall that phrase.

This exhibition captures the real spirit of the goldfields–ruin, abandonment, redemption–and the affection that can be felt for these astonishing landscapes. It’s to be hoped that the proponents of World Heritage listing for our region will come along for a good look.

The exhibition is at the Castlemaine Gallery [open Thursday to Saturday  11 am to 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon to 4 pm] till June 16. Don’t miss it.

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Fire on the Mount: is it time to sacrifice campfires?

Prompt action by firefighters confined a potentially dangerous fire on Mount Alexander to less than half a hectare on February 4th.

As the photo below shows, the fire, though confined in area, was not a minor affair. We believe it started from a neglected campfire. The site is only a couple of hundred metres from Leanganook campground, which has been heavily used on summer weekends.

Part of the Mount Alexander fire area. A small fire, but with significant damage.

There seems to be a widespread belief that our bush is so flammable that it could spontaneously go up at any minute. So this might be the occasion to brush up on a few stats to do with the actual causes of fire. Here they are:

‘The majority of bushfires are started either intentionally or unintentionally, by people.

‘The Institute [of Criminology] found the top attribution was “suspicious” followed by “accidental”.2:

  • Suspicious 37%
  • Accidental 35%
  • Deliberate 13%
  • Natural 6%
  • Reignition/spot 5%
  • Other 4%’

There is a common idea that we are innocent victims, the bush is our enemy, and needs to be kept under control. It might be more accurate to say, we are the enemy of the bush.

Given the above figures, it’s quite surprising that campfires are even permitted in the fire season in Australia. Of course, fires are meant to be confined to proper fireplaces: but a quick look at Leanganook shows that campers have spread outside the main camping area, and some pretty dodgy campfire sites are easy to see.

Of course, a campfire is a romantic thing. A bushfire, not so much.

In any case, you would think a lot of resources would go into educating the public about fire behaviour. There are plenty of worthy programs around, but there’s obviously room for improvement in this area.

Not very Fun fact: Every year, more than 4500 fires across Australia are caused by cigarettes and at least 77 people lost their lives in fires started by cigarettes between 2000 and 2005. OK, that stat is a bit out of date, but bizarrely, in 2019, more than 200 people were caught tossing a lit cigarette out of a vehicle in NSW.

And here’s an even less fun fact: according to According to Chloe Hooper, ‘It is estimated that only 1% of bushfire arsonists are ever caught.’

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2024 Walks and FOBIF subscriptions

FOBIF subscriptions for 2024 are now due. If you haven’t received information in the mail or would like to become a new member you can find the form here. Members who haven’t changed their details can skip filling out the form and deposit their subscription in the FOBIF bank account (include your surname/s). 

Our 2024 walks program is now online and you can read our latest newsletter here.

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Cinnamon fungus in the Castlemaine Diggings NHP?

Parks Victoria has closed the Loop Track to vehicles at the south end of the Diggings Park, in an effort to control the spread of a possible infestation of Cinnamon Fungus in the area. FOBIF walkers had expressed concerns some months ago about the deaths of numerous plants along Loop Track and the southern end of Porcupine Ridge Road, near the Goldfields Track. Suspecting possible presence of the fungus, Parks undertook to take soil tests and consider limiting access. This closure is the result.

Scented Bush-pea die off, Porcupine Ridge Road, Summer 2023…

‘Known variously as die back, root rot and Jarrah dieback, PC and Phytophthora, Cinnamon Fungus derives its name from the bark of Cinnamon trees where it was initially isolated in Sumatra in 1922. Phytophthora literally means plant killer and this pathogen has lived up to its name, destroying vast tracts of vegetation around the world.

‘It is listed in the top 100 of the world’s most invasive species and is Victoria’s most significant plant pathogen affecting both native ecosystems and the horticultural industry.

Dead bushes, spring 2023. Cinnamon fungus is the suspect. Walkers should clean their footwear before going into the area.

‘Cinnamon fungus was first detected in Australia in 1935 and has since spread across the country infecting hundreds of thousands of hectares of native vegetation in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. Heathlands, coastal woodlands and dry Eucalypt forests are most at risk.

‘Within Victoria, the pathogen has had serious impacts in the Brisbane Ranges, Grampians, Great Otway, Lower Glenelg, Point Nepean, Kinglake, Croajingalong and Wilsons Promontory National Parks in addition to Lerderderg State Park, Lake Tyers, Anglesea Heathlands and the coastal forests of east and south Gippsland.’

The pathogen (it’s not actually a fungus!) is easily spread by soil adhering to car tyres and walkers’ boots. Walkers entering affected areas should clean their gear before and after each trip. FOBIF strongly recommends that anyone entering such an area pay particular attention to footwear. Cleaning spray will be available to all participants on our monthly walks this year.

For more information check

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An open letter on western forests

Over 70 Victorian conservation groups, including FOBIF, signed an open letter to Victorian Premier, Jacinta Allen, late last year, urging better management of Central West forests. The letter was initiated by the VNPA and Wombat Forestcare, and reads as follows:

Congratulations on your recent appointment to Premier.

We celebrated the Victorian Government’s 2021 public commitment to create new protected areas. We applauded the decision to end native forest logging in the east of Victoria by 1 January 2024. In doing so your government acknowledged the incredible natural diversity and cultural importance of these areas.

Yet VicForests has plans to log over 60,000 hectares in the fragmented and cleared landscape of the west. If your agencies continue to log this habitat, plants and animals like Powerful Owls, Brush-tailed Phascogales and Mt Cole Grevillea risk becoming locally extinct.

It’s now time to demonstrate leadership by permanently protecting the surviving wildlife, forests and woodlands of western Victoria. It’s time to look after the complex web of natural life in these forests and restore what we have left. We call on you to immediately:

  • Halt the taxpayer-funded destruction of our natural heritage and end native forest logging statewide.
  • Legislate the promised Wombat-Lerderderg, Mount Buangor and Pyrenees national parks.
  • Cease all firewood harvesting in Wellsford Forest and include it in the Greater Bendigo National Park.
  • Enact formal protections promised for the nature-rich Cobaw Conservation Park, and other regional parks and conservation reserves.

This is a rare opportunity to create a profound legacy for future generations and:

  • Provide vital habitat for over 370 rare and threatened animals and plants.
  • Support First Nations joint management of new parks.
  • Help reduce the impacts of climate disruption by trapping millions of tonnes of stored carbon.
  • Support rural and regional livelihoods through visitation and nature-based tourism.
  • Protect river headwaters that flow from these forests to create water security for farms and communities.
  • Help forestry workers to transfer their skills to nature-positive jobs.

Creating new national parks and phasing out destructive native forest logging isn’t only about protecting wildlife and beautiful places. It’s about clean air and water, a liveable climate and people’s livelihoods.

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Fire riddles…

FOBIF has questioned fire officers about their management of a parcel of land at the junction of Irishtown and Hunter’s Tracks in the Fryers forest.

The 17 hectare zone has been carved into several smaller zones by brutal gouging of mineral earth breaks. Two of these zones have been quite savagely burned: many trees, including big ones, have been destroyed, and canopy scorch, indicating probable death, affects about half the trees in the zones.

The zone before the fire…

DEECA has informed us that this exercise was conducted ‘for training purposes only’, and that other sections in the zone will be burned for the same reason over some years.

‘Training’ fires, as we understand them, are lit to teach fire officers to investigate aspects of fire behaviour, including how a fire might have been ignited. They are obviously useful exercises for all sorts of reasons…

…and after. Many trees felled, many more canopy scorched, whose survival is in doubt.

But is it necessary to destroy the bush in order to achieve their purposes?

Interestingly, the zone in question is not listed as ‘training’ or ‘fire investigation’ in the Joint Fuel Management Plan released for consultation some months ago. In that document it appears as a ‘Landscape Management Zone,’ the intention of which is ‘To provide bushfire protection by reducing overall fuel hazard and bushfire hazard in the landscape.’ LMZ is the mildest of DEECA’s fuel management strategies. What we’ve seen at Hunter’s Track is almost bushfire intensity.

Here’s another thought: the photo below shows a sawn off stump, sprouting already in the middle of an earth break. As well as being cute, it’s a sign of hope: The bush is tenacious.

Resprouting eucalypt, Hunters track. It’s a sign of regeneration–but what kind of regeneration?

On the other hand, it poses a question: when the bush is burned severely, it regenerates profusely, creating a greater fuel hazard than existed before. DEECA acknowledges this. As an example: a zone on the other side of Hunter’s track, which had been burned some years ago, is now head high in flammable Cassinia.

And a further question: other exercises we have monitored, like Wewak Track, have shown riotous growth of some species–but the effect on the biology of the area generally is only patchily known. That is an unsettling thought.

We’ve requested an on site meeting with fire officers.

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Reminder: FOBIF breakup 11 December

All members and supporters are welcome at the FOBIF breakup in Walmer starting at 6pm on Monday 11 December. You can find out all about it here.

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2023 FOBIF breakup

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests is having a BBQ at Bronwyn Silver’s place in Walmer on Monday 11 December.

It starts at 6 pm and the address is 1036 Muckleford-Walmer Road, Walmer.

*  food to share, including something for the BBQ if you like
*  plates, glasses, cutlery
*  drinks
*  a chair

All FOBIF members and supporters are welcome. Enquires Bronwyn: 0448751111.

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Become a citizen scientist

Bioblitz is a great opportunity for people to get out in the bush, parks or their gardens and become citizen scientists. It increases understanding and interest in biodiversity and contributes enormously to the scientific databases of thousands of species and their distribution. There is also the exciting possibility of finding a species new to science. You can find out how to be involved here

This year Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club is the host for the Castlemaine region project, comprising Mount Alexander Shire and the eastern half of Hepburn Shire. Local events are shown below. 

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Don’t miss this one

If you haven’t seen it, get along to the Castlemaine Gallery and check out its Stonework exhibition. This exhibition combining geological exhibits and related works of art offers an intriguing set of insights into our landscape. If for no other reason, it’s worth going just to see the amazing 1853 Selwyn geological survey map of this region (see our previous post on this wonder here ).

The exhibition is described as follows:

‘There are many ways of looking at a stone. For First Nations artists with a deep knowledge of their Country, stones and rock formations have a spiritual and cultural energy as well as intrinsic and material qualities of colour, sharpness, hardness, weight.

Section of the 1853 Selwyn map. The late Gerry Gill described it as ‘full of quiet calm, still, beautiful’…but also ‘terrible, disturbing’, because it recorded a landscape in the process of dramatic transformation.

‘A different attitude to stones developed in Europe in the 19th century. Sharp-eyed natural historians turned their attention to mountains and valleys and developed a controversial new discipline – Geology. These quarrelsome thinkers challenged the traditional view, based on the Biblical studies, that the Earth was only 6,000 years old. Many artists had a working knowledge of these dangerous new ideas. And with the discovery of gold in the Castlemaine region in the early 1850s, an obsession with faults and seams, uplift and anticline was almost universal in Central Victoria.

‘With rocks in mind, works by Louis Buvelot, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, W. B. McInnes, Elma Roach and Penleigh Boyd show landscapes that are dynamic and alive, constantly weathering, warping, folding, eroding, erupting or sinking.

‘Contemporary artists, sculptors, photographers and jewellers also reveal unexpected aspects of rock and stone: geometry, ritual, even relationships to memory and trauma. Contemporary artists include Stephen Bram, Alvin Darcy Briggs, Pete Curly, Brodie Ellis, Sally Marsland and Felix Wilson.

‘The exhibition also includes historical maps: the work of geologists and cartographers from the Geological Survey of Victoria, who in the 19th century meticulously surveyed and mapped both the visible and the subterranean flows of rock and sediment. While in the 20th century, local amateur enthusiasts returning home with pockets full of stones, have created the rock collections which fill the museum cases. Specimens of minerals and fossils ground the exhibition in the physical world and introduce the viewer to the concept of deep time.’

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