Unintentionally funny…or not so funny

FOBIF has been having another look at the heritage question. As we’ve pointed out before, heritage is a funny business. Sometimes it’s unintentionally funny—as when the national heritage listing for the Diggings Park tells us that the miners had ‘a lifestyle intimately connected to the earth.’ Does this mean they dug holes? We do not wish to denigrate the miners, who were people of their time: but the heritage industry has an apparent obsession with putting a positive spin on things, an obsession which can sometimes seem slightly gaga—as when they use the phrase ‘extensive vegetation modification’ to refer to wholesale environmental destruction, for example.

An example of ‘extensive vegetation modification’ and its consequences. The relentlessly positive language in heritage documents oversimplifies history and might amount to a cover up.

More seriously, check this out, offered as evidence of ‘outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia’s natural or cultural history’:

‘The goldfield, which played a major role in drawing overseas immigrants to the colony, and in raising from the ground so much of the golden wealth which flowed into Australian and overseas markets, played a substantial part in all those changes which gold wrought on Victoria and Australia: increased population, increased wealth, the growth in manufacturing, the improvement in transport, the development of regional centres and townships, the further development of a middle class, democratization of political institutions, reform of land laws, the genesis of an Australian Chinese community, and so forth…’

All true. All very positive. But is there anything missing?

We wonder what might be covered in that harmless phrase, ‘and so forth’. Like, is there anything notable missing from that list of entirely positive stuff about changes in demography?

You might find a clue in this book: Black Gold—Aboriginal people on the goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870 by Fred Cahir (ANU Press 2012). It’s online, and free here.

The heritage listing comes perilously close to endorsing a terra nullius idea of our history. Maybe it’s time for a revision?

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Tackling some myths

The latest issue of Parkwatch magazine contains a pertinent article attacking a few popular myths about fire. Here’s a sample:

‘Our land managers seem to have been subservient to a litany of inherited myths, and display a puzzling lack of curiosity over recent research.

‘An important element of that research shows that fuel reduction burns will be effective for a few years, but can be followed by a couple of decades of greatly increased growth of flammable shrubs, followed over the long-term by relatively open and less flammable

‘Publication of those important studies has failed to alter fire management in Victoria; it hasn’t even prompted FFMV to implement a monitoring program whereby the changes in forest composition and structure are measured, over time, after management burns are performed.

‘Indeed since the 1930s, when the Victorian Government began formally recording its fuel reduction burns, there has been no program to monitor the results of those burns: no recording of changes in flammability levels over time, no documentation of understorey species changes or, for that matter, no measurement of effective increases in public safety.’ (FOBIF emphasis)

The article goes on to discuss  the relevance of indigenous approach to fire, and recent attempts to use Indigenous fire practices as somehow incompatible with current conservation thinking.

You can find the article here. Have a look.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Fun facts, not so fun facts

Did you know that some large dragonflies can reach speeds of 70 kilometres an hour?

This intriguing info can be found in the latest issue of Wombat Forestcare magazine.

Australian Emperor (Anax papuensis) in a Norwood Hill dam. Dragonflies are carnivorous and can eat hundreds of mosquitoes in a day.

The issue contains an informative article about dragonflies, as well as some less fun facts about salvage logging in the Wombat-Cobaw area. Here’s a sample:

‘Following several visits to the Cobaws, it is hard not to be cynical when considering the government’s response to the storm damage there. While the removal of logs and dangerous trees on or close to tracks that impede fire mitigation is logical and appropriate, the use of large heavy machinery in sensitive habitats seems totally unwarranted. Once the logs have been removed it is expected that DEECA will conduct fuel reduction burns to reduce the amount of residual bush litter left following the salvage logging.

‘ If other fire affected parts of the Cobaws are anything to go by, this will see an abundant growth of bracken, which virtually excludes other types of understory, which is a very negative outcome in terms of a healthy biodiversity.’

You can read the magazine online here.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Walk cancelled

We have decided to postpone tomorrow’s early morning walk due to the wet weather. It will now take place next Tuesday (April 4). We will be meeting at Leanganook picnic area near the information signs at 6 am. If you are interested in going please register with Bronwyn Silver (info@fobif.org.au)

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Anyone for a dawn walk?

A few FOBIF members are planning an early morning walk on Mount Alexander on Tuesday 28 March. We will be following the route for Walk 20 in the FOBIF Twenty Bushwalks book. If you are interested meet at Leanganook Picnic area near the information boards close to the toilet block at 7 am. The walk will take about an hour. Contact Bronwyn (info@fobif.org.au) if you would like to register for the walk or have any questions and check this website before the walk in case of cancellation due to rain.

A foggy morning on Leanganook

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Down…then up!

A good sized group rocked up for FOBIF’s first walk for the year yesterday. Cool, breezy weather gradually merged to a warmer day as the group negotiated a route into Columbine Creek, a tributary of the Loddon and one of the region’s remoter areas.

Walkers in the valley: trees on the flat are markedly bigger than ones on the ridge, and relic stumps show that they were much bigger in the past.

This route starts with an easy descent over rough tracks, but ends with the sort of climb that reminds you that life wasn’t meant to be that easy. In between, the valley floor contains just enough tall timber to recall what this forest was like in its heyday.

Survivors: FOBIF walkers after a stiff walk up the Irishtown track to Fryers Ridge

Comfort zone: this couch in the Fryers Forest is one of the weirder signs of…er…cultural heritage

Hackelia suaveolens (Sweet Hounds-tongue) Check out https://castlemaineflora.org.au/pic/h/hacke/hasua.htm for more information.

Our thanks to Jan Hall and Helen Dewhurst for taking us into one of the most intriguing corners of the Fryers forest.

April’s walk is in the Gough’s Range state forest. See the walks page for details.

Posted in News, Walks | Leave a comment

First 2023 FOBIF: Columbine Creek and back

Our first walk will take place on Sunday 19 March. The 6 km route is based on the Walk 15  in the FOBIF book, Twenty Bushwalks in the Mount Alexander Region. More detail can be found on the Walks page. We will meet as usual at the Community House in Templeton Street at 9.30 am and then travel by convoy to the the beginning of the walk on Fryers Ridge Road. For people who want to go to the beginning of the walk via Taradale follow the directions in the walks book on page 67 and meet us at the intersection of Fryers Ridge Road and Irishtown Track at 10 am. Ring Jan Hall 0407 338 490 for more information. 

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Working on the railway (1) : alternatives

Representatives of local enviro groups convened by Friends of Maldon Railway met on site with fire officers last Monday to discuss the Department’s proposed fuel management exercise south of the railway line.

The proposed burn is scheduled for autumn next year. Its purpose is ‘To develop fuel reduced areas of sufficient width and continuity to reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires’.

Fire discussions in the Maldon Historic Reserve: alternative approaches to fuel management were raised. The results will be seen when the exercise is conducted next year.

The zone is shown on the map in the Post below. It’s bounded by Railway Track, Tatt Town Track, Spur Track and Donkey Farm Track, and is about 310 hectares. Though it doesn’t cover the land immediately adjacent to the rail track, it’s pretty close, which adds some element of concern over the exercise: this strip is of outstanding biodiversity interest.

The brute political reality is that such exercises take place. Questions directed at DEECA staff focused on whether the overriding purpose of fuel reduction necessarily makes them environmentally destructive. A case in point is a very hot ‘reduction burn’ in the area a decade ago, which seriously depleted a population of locally rare Flame Heath, and also provoked rampant regrowth of Cassinia and Golden Wattle. Fire officers acknowledge that some too hot management burns can have the perverse effect of creating fuel through dense regrowth.

Questions raised at the meeting included: the possibility of rezoning part of the proposed area; the possibility of isolating patches known to contain particularly important species; and the possibility of using alternative methods to fire (for example, slashing) in defined areas.

DEECA staff at the Maldon meeting listened sympathetically to the concerns expressed there.  The actual outcome of the meeting, however, will be seen in the conduct of the exercise.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Working on the railway (2): what is ‘cultural burning’?

Environmentalists at the Maldon Railway meeting expressed interest in Indigenous approaches to fire in the landscape, and a possible briefing by Indigenous fire officers was canvassed.

This is from the Joint Management Plan for Dja Dja Wurrung parks (2018):

‘For Dja Dja Wurrung People, Wi is a practice with some equivalent aspects to contemporary fire management undertaken by Parks Victoria, DELWP and other agencies. Wi
helps deliver a disturbance regime that supports or hinders particular plant species and manipulates animal distributions. Among other impacts, Wi can open the forest floor to light, release the seedbank to support greater biodiversity, help convert old wood into available nutrients and stimulate the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. However, Wi is far more than an environmental management tool—it is an expression of cultural obligation, of Dja Dja Wurrung People’s connections to land, each other, and Creation time. Fire regimes that lack DDW involvement threaten cultural obligations, aspirations and knowledge systems, as well as the healing of the landscape. Wi is as much about who applies Wi as how Wi is applied.

‘Since colonisation the application of Wi has dramatically changed. Consistent intensity and timing of Wi is lacking in the landscape, and intense wildfires occur periodically, with
ongoing damage to cultural and natural heritage. Planned burning is largely centred on fuel reduction—the cultural outcomes, impacts on DDW food and fibre plants and
animals, cultural connections and obligations have been little considered. While controlled burning is beginning to integrate DDW cultural practices, fire regimes continue to damage
Country. Cultural heritage in the Parks can also be damaged by the use of fire retardants, mineral earth fire breaks, control lines and in some cases the intensity of controlled burns.
Finally, ongoing climate change will affect how fire behaves in DDW Country and how it can be used as a management tool.’ (page 33)

According to the Joint Fuel Management Plan, Dja Dja Wurrung rangers are set to conduct 17 burns in 2022-3, 30 in 2023-4 and 13 in 2024-5.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Working on the railway (3): North side good, south side bad?

One peculiarity of the proposed Maldon Historic Reserve fire is that it is partly designed to protect the railway and private property on the north side of the railway line. Yet the briefest look at the map below will show something very strange: namely, that the north side of the line is bordered by a significant area of private bushland—for which no fuel reduction program is planned.

Here’s a question: if the bush on the south side of the line needs to be fuel reduced, why doesn’t the bush on the north side?

Or: if the bush on the north side doesn’t need to be fuel reduced, why does the south side?

Logically you’d burn both sides of the line…or neither.

Would a fire approach a fence and say to itself, ‘Oh. Private land. I can’t go there.’ ?

The questions relate to a longstanding but very inconsistently implemented policy: Tenure blind fire management.

The Auditor General’s 2020 report on Reducing Bushfire Risk had this to say:

‘While agency roles and responsibilities are well defined for public land, they are not for private land. Consequently, tenure-blind burning has exposed some uncertainty that did not previously exist. DELWP and CFA have worked together to resolve initial concerns about liability regarding tenure-blind burns. Following a project to identify policy and legislative enablers to support tenure blind burning, the agencies updated their cooperative arrangement and communicated outcomes to staff.

‘However, they are yet to resolve issues about how tenure-blind burns are funded. DELWP and CFA advised us that while tenure blind burns are crucial for risk reduction, they cost more because they:

  • are generally close to assets
  • involve high levels of community engagement
  • require more staff resources due to the increased risk to human life
  • include paid DELWP staff, not just CFA volunteers.

‘This issue requires resolution to support more of this work to occur.’

Posted in News | Leave a comment