’40 degrees and 40 illegal fires on Victoria’s long weekend’!

Here’s a press release from the Conservation Regulator this week:

‘Conservation Regulator and Forest Fire Management Victoria Authorised Officers patrolled campsites statewide and detected more than 40 campfires still alight during a Total Fire Ban, a number that could have been much higher had officers not intervened to prevent several people from also lighting fires.’

The authorities are ‘deeply disappointed’ by this dereliction. Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer of Forest Fire Management, offers this advice: ‘Even if it’s not a declared Total Fire Ban day, campers must reassess their need for a fire in warm, dry and windy conditions.’

OK, good kindly advice–but maybe it’s time for regulators to enter the twentyfirst century, and face the fact that no one has a need for an outdoor fire in our summer. Fires should be banned in the fire season.

Here’s another kindly reflection, from Parks Victoria:

‘Sitting around a glowing campfire is one of the joys of camping, but with ten per cent of bushfires caused by unsafe campfires, it’s essential to follow the rules and do the right thing.’

The ‘right thing’ is to acknowledge that in cool summer conditions you can put on a jumper, and you probably won’t get hypothermia.

And Parks Victoria might want to give away the romantic maunderings about glowing campfires, and focus on telling people how to survive the summer without setting fire to the bush.

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Moron of the century–new nomination in!

Readers will remember FOBIF’s occasional tilt at one of Australia’s weirdest windmills: the car commercial. We doubt whether the advertising industry will ever invent a more cretinous TV ad than AAMI’s attempt to persuade us that children should prefer to be driven to school rather than scoot along under their own power. Even so, we thought we’d offer Toyota Hilux as a genuine contender for the crown of worst commercial ever. You can find it here. It’s getting a good run in sports TV programs currently.

If you can struggle past the twee and rather queasy joke about the car being a beloved child, you’ll notice the usual images—the car being driven recklessly at the sea’s edge, for example:

Dumb and dumber: the current Hilux ad.

Many people will see this and think…Hang on: isn’t sea water pretty corrosive? Yes, it is. In fact, there’s a line in fine print below the image: ‘Pre-production model shown. Wash with fresh water immediately after salt water exposure.’ In other words: ‘Charge along the beach—then, rush home and spend a happy time washing the salt off your car!’

Such ads are completely at odds with the supposed advertising standards, but the Code of Practice and the Ad Standards Bureau are useless in controlling  them.Our reader Greg Jacobs, responding to this issue in 2019, summed it up pretty well:

‘The car ads are stupid in many ways -smashing thru the areas you have supposedly come to explore –you don’t camp on riverbanks re flood, mosquitoes, cold off the water. You don’t smash your way up a mountainside -proper 4 wheel drive clubs hate these types (RACV doesn’t answer to rolled vehicles on hillsides). You don’t drive to or park on the edges of cliffs–something to do with health and safety? You don’t drive beyond your capability nor your car’s capability –some vehicles promoted are heavy ,oversized tubs. You don’t speed thru forests on dirt roads– other suckers may be coming the other way and you may hit a tree or two when you hit the gravel.’

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Moron of the century 2: here’s a job for the Conservation Regulator!

You may be wondering, who or what is the ‘conservation regulator’ mentioned in our above post? We confess we didn’t know either. To find out, check the relevant website here. The interesting part is under the heading ‘Regulatory priorities’. The Regulator’s priorities for 2023–24 are:

  • illegal campfires
  • illegal take of firewood
  • cruelty to wildlife
  • protection of threatened species
  • illegal commercial timber harvesting
  • illegal vehicle use.’

Under ‘illegal vehicle use’ we find:

‘Victoria has a well-established network of formed roads and tracks available for public use in state forests, parks and reserves.

‘Despite this infrastructure, the Conservation Regulator continues to detect increasing illegal vehicle use across natural terrain, walking trails, cycling trails, closed roads, restricted access areas, in streams and on informal single tracks.’ [FOBIF emphasis]

The Regulator claims to ‘conduct frequent patrols and use surveillance technology to identify illegal off-road vehicle use.’ We haven’t seen any of these patrols, but anyway, we have a suggestion: if you want to detect illegal vehicle use in streams, just turn on the TV! Before long you’ll almost certainly see something like this:

Current Toyota TV ad: could this be called, ‘incitement to break the road laws’?

That’s right–it’s our current nominee for Moron of the century: the Hilux ad. We wouldn’t like to single out Toyota, though. The company is not alone in its moronic promotion of bad driving habits. Maybe the regulator should compile a collection of car commercials and take them to the Ad Standards Bureau?

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World Heritage: what should it mean?

The Victorian Goldfields World Heritage bid team regularly updates details of the bid and its international contacts, and invites local responses to the idea of World Heritage for the goldfields. FOBIF has responded with a request to meet with the team, with the letter below:

Thank you for the opportunity to engage with you on the subject of World Heritage. We are not opposed to this project, but do have serious concerns about what it might mean.

We would appreciate the chance to discuss with you the issues outlined below, to do with the reality of the gold rushes, and the manner in which they are presented today:

Brown’s Gully: a world heritage destroyed waterway?

Three major transformations happened with the discovery of gold in Central Victoria. They’re interlinked, and can’t be separated:

  1. Massive immigration largely caused by the gold rush created a completely new society, with all its virtues and defects.
  2. The natural environment was almost completely trashed, with every waterway degraded, and natural vegetation stripped from the landscape.
  3. The destruction of indigenous culture and society was dramatically advanced: already weakened by disease and violent dispossession, Aborigines now saw their country almost eradicated.

Any serious effort to appreciate what happened in the 19th century should deal honestly with all these questions. Unfortunately, discussion of ‘heritage’ is usually anchored in this Macquarie definition of the word: ‘the culture, traditions and natural assets preserved from one generation to the other.’ In other words, it’s stuff we want to remember, not the stuff we’d rather not take responsibility for.

So the ‘heritage’ we have in the goldfields is often seen as…gold, the people who worked for it and the nice buildings it created. It seems that mainstream Australian society has difficulty accepting that the wreckage of our environment and that of Indigenous culture are part of that heritage. So in heritage discussions these two indisputable realities of our history are usually treated as sideshows to the main event.

Pennyweight Flat childrens cemetery: goldfields landscapes are paradoxical: celebrated for gold, haunted by a sense of loss.

This neglect can reach pretty crass levels. Consider the National Heritage declaration of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park. 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’, we get this explanation:

‘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…’

The absence of reference to environmental damage, and the effect on Indigenous life is striking.

*******************

There have been two Heritage Action plans produced for the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park: the first in 2002, and the second in 2017. This last has been inexplicably kept under wraps by Parks Victoria.

How do these documents deal with FACT 2 and FACT 3 above?

The 2002 Heritage Action Plan explicitly set questions to do with Aboriginal Heritage aside—not as a dismissal, but as a major separate project. The Plan did, however, draw attention to environmental damage, and made the point that the local bushland could be presented in a way that ‘highlights the transience of mining, demonstrates the severe environmental impact that can result from inadequate environmental constraint, and illustrates some of the resilience of Australia’s native vegetation.’ (page 29)

The above points, we hope, are not tangential to a World Heritage bid. After all, anyone who ventures into our Diggings Park—or even the environs of Hepburn Springs— will be instantly struck by the eroded gullies which scar our landscapes, remnants of ruined streams. These are ruined landscapes, and any World Heritage bid should present them as such—not as romantic signs of a golden age.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these matters at a mutually convenient time.

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Exempt Cairn Curran!

Following the state government’s recent decision to keep Victoria the only state in the country where recreational duck shooting is allowed, FOBIF has endorsed the letter below to the state premier. The letter, drafted by Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting,  was also endorsed by Castlemaine Field Naturalists and Castlemaine Birdlife.

*****************

Dear Premier,

We write to request your urgent assistance in making Cairn Curran Reservoir and surrounding wetlands exempt from native bird hunting which is due to start April 10.

As you are aware, there is strong support for a ban on native bird hunting from the local community. The number of local groups including First Nation Clans who signed our joint letter is significant.

Further, our local petition in 2021 (which Maree Edwards MP has viewed) showed those in the area wanting bird shooting banned, was 23 times higher than those wanting it to stay. (Our petition, which was deliberately run quietly, obtained over 480 signatures, mostly local. A petition by shooters to keep bird hunting in the area obtained just 21 signatures, only 11 of them local.)

Cairn Curran: a recreation area for a small minority?

In general terms, a UComms Poll of over 1000 metro and regional Victorians in 2021, found while most Victorians supported a ban on duck shooting, the strongest support for a ban came from the regions. As you know, in your own electorate of East Bendigo, the majority supported a ban also. In terms of Cairn Curran and surrounds, reasons for constituents wanting the area exempt from native bird hunting include:

  • Safety concerns. We note that other wetlands, such as two in Mildura in 2019, were closed to shooting for public safety concerns– without 480 signatures.
  • Despite one in four Victorians now living in regional areas, there has never been any public consultation, nor risk assessment, nor even desk top studies to consider the impacts – physically or mentally, of shooting on residents and other recreational users. As you can see by the petition comments from community, impacts are real and ought be a significant concern to policy makers.

Continue reading

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New model rules for associations

Like many voluntary associations, FOBIF is bound by the Model rules of association, which define the governance of the group–access to membership, running of meetings, elections and so on.

The Victorian government has recently modified these model rules. The changes, as far as we are concerned, mainly relate to the influence of new techology on meeting attendance. You can see the new changes here.

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‘The turd-worst Clean Up Australia Day experienced at Expedition Pass’

Our readers will be wearily familiar with our complaints about rubbish dumping in the bush. This practice is one of the weirder signs of something wrong with our culture. We reckon the report below from Golden Point Landcare takes the discussion to another level, though…and it’s not a higher level:

The best part of Golden Point Landcare’s annual clean up at the Res was that there wasn’t as much of the usual human detritus to clean up – but it appears we have another problem!  Over the last twenty years working with Golden Point Landcare, Parks Victoria and locals, there have been trailer load after trailer load of bags full of all sorts of rubbish to be taken away. But, happily, not this year. 

Expedition Pass reservoir: an idyllic and much loved local resource: so what kind of person chucks a bag full of poo into the bush, or lets a dog poo into the water’s edge?

The biggest issue was dog droppings – droppings just plopped, and other droppings bagged but left. Really, really unpleasant calling cards left as reminders that the “No Dogs” signs are being ignored by a very selfish few.

As usual, this annual day is a great social catchup for locals, and as usual the volunteers did a casual review before heading off home to clean themselves up.

Comments ranged from the positives:

·       the res has become so popular that people regard it more highly and like to come back to a clean park,

·       judging by the type of rubbish found, it was more adult type things that could mean that current school anti-litter programs like “Take your rubbish with you” and “Don’t rubbish Australia” could be working,

·       the regular tidy up by Parks Victoria Rangers helps keep the park in attractive and healthy

·       despite the number of visitors, some wildlife was still active (including a brown snake on Res side of the bank!)

The discussion brought out some downsides too:

·       the incredible number of dog droppings around the water’s edge (carefully collected by a volunteer using gloves and placed in a separate bag for disposal)

·       and even more incredible were the number of bagged dog droppings along the side of the road opposite the carpark

·       bottles and cans (mostly tucked in the bushes) that are worth 10c each if recycled,

·       the perennial take away food and drink containers thrown from car windows

Local Parks Victoria Ranger Susan worked with us and then disposed of the ute load of collected rubbish, which made the session so much more enjoyable (if picking up other people’s rubbish can be called that!)

The biggest question that came out of the morning’s activity was about dogs being at the res in the first place – this despite the valid reasons for protecting the natural environment and the NO DOGS signs.  Dog poo finding its way into the Res eventually impacts the water quality affecting both humans and wildlife.  When left on the ground, waste eventually breaks down and washes into rivers, streams, creeks and other local waterways.

And the ‘doggie’ bags left lying around are another baffling issue. There were many of these “baffling issues” along the roadsides near the Res…

 

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Fire season campfires: time to show some gumption

Here’s an exerpt from a DEECA press release dated last Wednesday March 6th:

‘On a day of Total Fire Ban in the South West fire weather district last week, a campfire escaped at the Rocklands Reservoir in the Grampians and while campers managed to contain the fire, it burned 0.1 hectares before Forest Fire Management crews arrived. Three tankers, 10 firefighters, and one air support
crew were required to completely extinguish the fire.

Mount Alexander near the Leanganook campground, January: this potential disaster –caused by a neglected campfire–was headed off by timely intervention by fire fighters.

‘Since 1 January 2024, authorities have detected more than 170 unattended campfires in parks and forests across the state, and with Victoria recently experiencing some of its most dangerous fire days, any unwatched campfire has a significant risk of escaping and spreading rapidly out of control.’ [FOBIF emphasis]

The release goes on to tell people to be careful. Given the above statistics, you would think the Department would show some decisiveness and go for a ban on campfires any time in the fire season. Polite advice doesn’t seem to be working.

Why doesn’t it? Well, our guess is that DEECA has a notion that campfires are some kind of sacred tradition, which can’t be touched. If so, it’s time they showed a bit of gumption, and leadership. The stakes are too high to indulge something that’s no longer necessary.

We’ve had lots of feedback to our post two weeks ago about fires at Leanganook: all confirm that there are too many fires, too many carelessly situated fires, and above all, too many large fires quite out of proportion to what might be needed to keep someone warm. Further, the ground around the camping area has been stripped of timber, including large logs which are not a fire problem and are important habitat.

News flash: the summer season is usually warm…and potentially dangerous. Even in mild or cooler days, fires are not necessary.

This should not be a matter for controversy: sometimes common sense and a bit of gumption make a good combination…but one which is often surprisingly absent.

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First FOBIF walk for the year

Our first walk next Sunday (17 March) is a 5 km loop on Mount Mooral which is just outside Maldon. We will have lunch at the Rock of Ages where will be able to take in stunning views of northern plains, Mount Tarrengower and the Maldon township. 

Meet as usual at the Community House at 9.30 am. If you live close to Maldon you can join us at 9.45 am outside the Maldon Post Office (95 High Street). Ring Bronwyn Silver 0448751111 if you need further information.

Looking north in the early morning from the Rock of Ages.

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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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