That was the year…

FOBIF had a successful AGM last Monday night. The text below is the President’s report, given by Marie Jones. Below it is the new committee elected on the night:


The effects of COVID-19 had an impact on what FOBIF did in 2020 as they did on everyone’s way of life – but we are a resilient lot – hopefully in the way we’d like to see our natural environment being resilient in coping with the future.

Thanks to the expertise of Lynette we were able to continue with zoom committee meetings though unfortunately not all members could attend.  Nev managed to keep us all in line and I think we were getting quite used to meeting this way.  And thank heavens we did keep going as the issues that appeared each month needed to be dealt with at that time including the ever-present planning proposals.

This changed time also showed the value and importance of social media and our website in communicating and keeping the focus of important issues in the eye of our members, the various communities and agencies.  We’ve consistently supported indigenous co management in our region, both through our website and through attendance at local briefing meetings to do with the Balak kalik manya [walking together] project for Kalimna Park. We have high hopes that this project will prove a model for land management in the region.

Through the year we have made several detailed submissions to government on environmental and planning issues impacting our region responding to local and broader concerns when they arose. 

This picture illustrates the highs and lows of the bush experience: the beauty of the Columbine Creek catchment disfigured by, er, cultural heritage (?). The couch was observed by our July walkers…

Bronwyn’s management skills, well supported by Jeremy and the team leaders, were also needed with the walks program especially when the limits to the numbers of people in a group had to be considered so that the walks could continue.

Pandemic restrictions forced us to make adjustments to our walks program this year. Some walks were cancelled, others reorganised to allow for smaller groups. Walks were led by Mike Reeves, Karen Baker and Antoinette Birkenbeil, Christine Henderson, Jeremy Holland and Bernard Slattery. Thanks to all these people for leading the walks and doing all the prior planning: and to Clive Willman, Barb Guerin, Lionel Jenkins and Geoff Nevill, who put in the planning work, but whose planned walks had to be cancelled because of the COVID restrictions.

The walks ranged across the Chewton Bushlands to the remote corners of the Columbine Creek catchment in the Fryers Forest. Once again they were a wonderful way for people to see different areas of our bushlands and learn about local plants with the help of our many flora experts.

We are far advanced into production of two new guides: The first, A guide to the native peas of the Mount Alexander Region, has been produced by Bernard Slattery and Bronwyn Silver, with the help of numerous local experts: Frances Cincotta, Richard Piesse, Ian Higgins, Bonnie Humphries, and many others. Attendees at this meeting will have a sample page from the book.

The second, 20 Walks in the Mount Alexander Region, has been compiled from the walks we’ve conducted over the last 20 years. It’s supported by excellent maps by Jase Haysom. The walk descriptions and maps have been finished, and are currently being tested ‘on the ground’ by Jeremy Holland. The walk notes are backed by flora and fauna information.

Both books will be launched in the new year—when we hope to be able to have a proper gathering.  There have been steady sales for our moss, eucalypt and wattle books this year requiring extra printings of the three books. New greeting cards featuring photos of local fauna and flora by local photographers have also been popular.

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A bit of care, and everyone wins

They’re out: snakes, we mean.

Which means: look out. It’s important to be careful when in areas likely to be frequented by snakes, for obvious reasons. This is virtually an annual preoccupation, so, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we are now going to repeat ourselves.

Eastern Brown snake, Gough’s Range SF, November 12 2020: we need to be careful about snakes: but the brute fact is that they are more at risk from us than the other way around.

Here’s a FOBIF post from 2014:

‘The Eastern Brown is highly venomous—but it’s not keen on attacking anyone as big as a human, and … will always try to get away if it can. If cornered however, it is extremely nervous and aggressive. The moral therefore is, don’t approach any snake, and dress appropriately if going into areas where one might be met. The great  majority of snake bite deaths have arisen when people unwisely take on the reptile [if you want to get it away from the house, call a snake catcher]. It is, of course, illegal to kill snakes, which are protected animals. For pets, the best advice is, don’t let them roam around the bush ferreting into holes; in any case, dogs should be on a leash in the Diggings Park.

Common sense is the best defence against snake bite, but unfortunately hysteria is more common than common sense, as witness a 2013 Sydney Telegraph headline: ‘Snakes are raiding the suburbs…Fatal snake bites will become a tragedy repeated this summer as the deadly reptiles—thriving in hot conditions—slither towards the urban sprawl.’ This horror movie scenario doesn’t fit well with the fact that on average less than 3 people per year over the whole of Australia die from snake bite: far more people are killed by bee stings…

…And the odds are stacked against the snake: more than five million reptiles are killed by cars in Australia every year. According to the Australian Museum, ‘countless’ Brown snakes perish in this way, ‘both accidentally and on purpose’.

For other FOBIF material on the subject, try here and here.

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The cost of deer

The Victorian government’s Deer Control strategy was at last released on October 30. You can find it here.

The strategy contains some quite frightening info—with photos— about the damage increasing deer populations are doing to the agriculture sector and protected areas, and the safety threat they pose on our roads. Having done that, however, and made some gestures at control measures, the strategy reveals itself as a bit of a paper tiger: it offers no detail about the extent of control measures proposed, no indication of the total resources allocated to control, and no timeline for its objectives. It effectively maintains the current perfectly bizarre situation where deer are officially a protected species. That’s not essentially different from declaring the cane toad as protected.

Map showing areas of Victoria where it would be worth putting in the effort to control deer…given the current rates of population expansion, this map could be different in a few years. Source: Deer management strategy

Perhaps the explanation for this is to be found in a statement by Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes: “Under this new strategy, recreational hunters will have more opportunities to help with control programs on public land, continue to hunt in more areas and be able to ethically source wild venison.” (our emphasis)

As we’ve pointed out about the draft document two years ago, it’s not really a deer control strategy: it’s a hunting strategy. The government has favoured the hunting lobby over environmentalists, farmers and peri urban municipalities: a spectacular example of the power of that lobby…

Deer are not yet a serious threat in our region: but sightings are increasingly frequent, and at current rates of population growth, the prospects are not great.

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Kalimna Park co-management: an update

As we’ve previously reported, work is under way to produce a new management plan for Kalimna Park, in the Balak Kalik Manya (Walking Together) project. A progress report by Harley Douglas, manager of the project, is published below.

It’s worth noting in this context that the National Royal Commission on disasters (see below) pays careful attention to Indigenous land management as an important set of practices which could help in fire protection and landscape restoration in increasingly severe conditions:

‘Indigenous land management aims to protect, maintain, heal and enhance healthy and ecologically diverse ecosystems, productive landscapes and other cultural values. It is not solely directed to hazard reduction.’

Recommendation 18 reads, in part:

‘Australian, state, territory and local governments should engage further with Traditional Owners to explore the relationship between Indigenous land and fire management and natural disaster resilience.’

Harley Douglas’s report is as follows:


The Walking Together- Balak Kalik Manya Project is a four-year project committed to writing site-specific management plans for two sites within Dja Dja Wurrung Country; Kalimna Park in Castlemaine and Wildflower Drive in Bendigo. Both sites were selected due to their proximity to growing townships and the increasing pressures of urbanisation encroaching both park boundaries. The project is exploring how we can increase community connection with nature, how to improve visitation rates and encourage appropriate use of these sites, all while maintaining and improving biodiversity. The project will promote Djaara employment and assist in Djaara reconnecting with traditional practices of land management. For more information on the project please see this short video-

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Disasters (1): ‘the outlook is alarming’

The Royal Commission into national natural disaster arrangements has released a report nearly six hundred pages long scoping the scale of natural disasters in Australia, and what can be done to avert the worst consequences of such events. You can find it here.

FOBIF’s collective head is currently exploding over the information overload in this report, which covers a wide range of challenges, ranging from dealing with changed global conditions to the nitty gritty of preparing for, and facing disaster scenarios.

The report is not comforting reading: the disaster outlook for Australia is ‘alarming’, it says, before enumerating the wide range of climate change related disasters: extreme weather events, lengthened fire seasons, etc.

It does, however, offer some constructive responses to the challenge: increased attention to Indigenous land management practices, improved communication and response capacity. All of them would need significant investment.

The report reveals, wryly, that Australia has now had 240 enquiries into natural disasters, before insisting that implementation of its recommendations is urgent.

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Disasters (2): we have a report. What action can we expect?

The Commission has made over a hundred recommendations.  The question is: how many of them will actually be implemented?

This will depend on how much political pressure is put on to Government: but you can get a sobering clue from these two quotes from the report:

‘The 2004 National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management, said that, to reduce natural hazard risk from bushfires: Planning processes [should] ensure that built assets are not placed in areas of high fire risk and that structures meet standards of construction that reduce their vulnerability.’

[2020] ‘Currently, all states permit homes to be built in bushfire and flood prone areas, and the degree to which planning or building standards act to mitigate risk varies across jurisdictions’

So: given that it’s pretty obviously not a good idea to build a home in a dangerous area, and that the point has been clearly made, not once, but several times, why does it still happen?

The commission gives us an insight with the following observation: ‘privacy and market impact considerations suggest possible adverse consequences of detailed risk exposure and vulnerability information. For example, revealing the risk profile of properties could potentially affect their value, and could expose state, territory and local governments to liability.’

So houses can be built in disaster prone areas, and there’s a certain shyness in talking about the resultant dangers, because of the financial consequences! Of course, there are financial risks when a house is burned down, or swept away in a flood—but maybe these are taken less seriously?

There are consequences that are almost comic:

‘…there is still clear evidence of recent planning decisions placing communities at a known and obvious risk of disaster. For example, development in the suburb of Idalia in Townsville is only partially completed, yet it was significantly inundated by flood in February 2019.’

The practice of disregarding environmental risk is, it seems, built into our culture—and it doesn’t date from yesterday. Check out Governor Macquarie’s problems with settlers who insisted on building on flood plains in 1817 here.

The report does recommend that ‘State and territory governments should continue to deliver, evaluate and improve education and engagement programs aimed at promoting disaster resilience for individuals and communities.’ It’s fair to assume that such education programs would include increasing understanding of how to live constructively with nature, instead of believing we can beat it into submission.

We can only hope that the Royal Commission’s recommendations help shift both public attitudes and political will on the matter.

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FOBIF AGM reminder

As mentioned in a previous post FOBIF has decided to have a Zoom AGM on Monday November 9 at 7.30. Members and supporters who wish to attend can register by emailing FOBIF ( We would like people to register 48 hours before the meeting. People who have registered will be sent a login link before the meeting. 

You can find more information about the meeting here.

Columbine Creek walk, July 2020

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Another hunting riddle: the state government and duck shooting

A couple of years ago we expressed surprise at the apparently supine attitude of the state Labor government before the hunting lobby. Its so called ‘deer strategy‘, for example,  was ‘more concerned to gratify the hunting lobby than to respond to an increasingly evident environmental mess. It is puzzling and depressing that the state government should be concerned to pander to this lobby, whose allies are actively campaigning against it in the state election.’

Another matter on which the government seems to be paralysed is duck shooting.

Recreational shooting of birds is banned in NSW, Queensland, WA and the ACT, but not in Victoria. FOBIF has lent its support to the letter below, signed by 42 conservation related groups:


At their November 2019 conference, the Victorian Labor Party committed to review recreational native waterbird shooting in Victoria.

We call on the Andrews’ Government to honor their commitment.

Here’s why.

Cruelty. Numerous studies including by ballistics experts, show at least one in four of the hundreds of thousands of birds shot each year in Victoria will not be killed outright. Many will flap away to die a slow painful death elsewhere. Many others will live to suffer permanent injuries.

Sustainability. Populations of our native waterbirds – many species unique to our country – have been decimated. Allowing recreational native waterbird shooting is irresponsible if we care about biodiversity or leaving the next generation any hope of enjoying the birdlife we do today.

Biodiversity. Significant numbers of threatened and protected species are killed as collateral damage of Victoria’s recreational duck shooting seasons including Australia’s rarest waterfowl, the Freckled duck.

Safety. It is not possible to monitor the thousands of public waterways where recreational waterbird shooting is allowed, placing our wildlife and the public at risk. More people live around the waterways now than they did in the 1950’s and many have expressed fears about their personal safety during duck shooting.

Economics. Studies show there would be an economic benefit in banning the activity in Victoria, as it has already been banned in other states. With rural communities crying out for a financial lifeline and 866,000 domestic tourists engaging in birdwatching last year, it makes sense to protect our natural assets not kill them off.

Democracy. Less than half of one percent of the population shoot ducks. Meanwhile professional polls continue to show that the majority of Victorians – city and country – want duck shooting to end.

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Zoom in to the FOBIF AGM

FOBIF has decided to have a Zoom AGM on Monday November 9 at 7.30. Members and supporters are cordially invited to attend. You’ll need to register to do this.

Those who register will be sent a log in link, in the manner of the many  Zoom meetings we’ve had to become used to over these last months.  To register, simply email a request with your email address to

FOBIF’s financial report will be delivered at the meeting, as will the President’s report on the year’s activities. We have decided, however, not to have a guest speaker. We hope to be able to have a ‘live’ meeting early next year, where members will be able to share the same area, in the traditional way. At this meeting , we plan to launch one of our new publications: watch this space.

Nominations are now open for the FOBIF committee. A special form is not required: a sheet of paper containing the nominee’s name,  the signatures of two nominators (both FOBIF members), and the signature of the nominee accepting the nomination, is all you need. You can send it to Box 322 Castlemaine, give it personally to a committee member, or email us at, and we’ll come and pick it up…assuming you’re in the Mount Alexander Shire.

Positions open are: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and ordinary committee members.

To vote at the meeting you will of course need to be a member.

If you have a special interest in our local bushlands, and a bit of energy to spare, we urge you to consider standing for the committee: there’s a place for you!

Our monthly FOBIF walks have now been going for more than 20 years. This is a photo of the March 2009 bushwalk led by local geologist Clive Willman. Liz Eagar is holding up the map and Margaret Panter, former walks organiser, is taking notes.. Clive is still leading walks for FOBIF but unfortunately his 2020 excursion had to be postponed. We hope to run it next year.

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Last FOBIF walk for the year

Twenty walkers in two groups set off last Sunday for a delightful walk along the Coliban Water Reserve in Kennedy’s Lane where the old Harcourt Channel runs through remnant wetland on the outskirts of the Chewton Bushlands.

The pace was leisurely with walkers enjoying the many wildflowers in open bird-rich forest among old river red-gums. After leaving the Reserve walkers followed several Chewton Bushland tracks with even more wildflowers. Highlights included finding an uncommon native pea for our area, Creeping Bossiaea Bossiaea prostrata, an unexpected climbing Hill Flat-pea Platylobium montanum and a wonderful display of Hoary Sunray Leucochrysum albicans var. albicans at Antoinette’s home where one group had lunch.

Thanks to Antoinette Birkenbeil and Karen Baker for leading the walks and all the people who sent in their photos to FOBIF. Our next walk will be in March 2020 and new walk’s program will be distributed in January.

If you missed out this walk you might be interested in a wildflower walk in Chewton next Sunday on the track between Railway Street and White Gum Track also led by Karen and Antoinette. The walk starts at 11am. Contact Antoinette for more details:

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