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.’

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Too late, perhaps? Too little? We hope not

‘In 1980, there were an estimated 50,000 feral deer in Australia. By 2002, the estimate had grown to 200,000. In 2022, the population is likely to have reached 1–2 million in Australia.’

That’s from the recently released draft National Feral Deer Action Plan. You can find it here

If ever there was an illustration of the rule, ‘Tackle a problem early, don’t let it get out of hand’, those figures supply it.

Deer, Campbell’s Creek: no, it’s not cute, it’s a pest. Photo: Naomi Raftery, 2018

Exploding deer populations have been compared to the rabbit plagues of the past. They destroy crops, turn healthy streams into mud heaps, and are increasingly dangerous in peri urban areas:

‘Australia’s feral deer problem costs land managers and governments tens of millions of dollars every year. Land managers are paying more each year for measures to protect the land, through activities such as deer culling or exclusion fences. Transport departments are also increasing culling and fencing along highways and railways to reduce vehicle collisions with feral deer. Local governments are struggling to cull feral deer in urban and periurban areas, gardens and ovals.’

The draft strategy offers a number of approaches to deer control. It doesn’t discuss recreational hunting, but does say that this method of ‘control’ has failed. Further, it makes the point that ‘Landscape-scale management of feral deer can be hampered when neighbours have different, or conflicting management goals (game management or pest control).’

In other words, giving deer protected species status as game animals is an actual impediment to control. This puts a bullet, so to speak, into the Victorian Government’s incomprehensible policy of pandering to the hunting lobby on the deer problem. [You can check out our comments on this subject here, here and here]

FOBIF members sighted deer on the Porcupine Ridge Road last week: they’re increasingly common, and have been sighted in every corner of our region.

The draft policy is open for comment till March 20. Have a go. [You might want to take a look at a comment by the Invasive Species Council here.]

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Last days of FOBIF exhibition (11-13 March)

The FOBIF exhibition at Newstead Arts Hub will be running this Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Labour Day). The opening hours for Saturday and Sunday are 10 am to 4 pm. On Monday we will begin taking down the show at 2.30 pm to allow for people to pick up purchased photos. We will contact people before Monday to let them know if their photo will be ready by this time..

Our new book Responding to Country: Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests 1998-2023 will be available for sale at the Hub. This 70 page catalogue has 25 photos with accompanying text by members and supporters, historical and geology sections, children’s art, and an essay by Alex Panelli, Of people and a forest – some personal reflections. The first few paragraphs of Alex’s essay can be viewed here and the book’s contents page here

Sample page from the book.

You can order Responding to Country on this site through Paypal or bank transfer for $15 plus $3 postage. It is also available at Stoneman’s Bookroom, the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre and Bookish in Bendigo.

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What a difference a decade makes

Check out the two photos below, taken at the same point on the Porcupine Ridge road, 11 years apart:

The top photo was taken in August 2012, at the height of a Cup Moth infestation. The bottom photo was taken last week. Notice the difference?

In 2012 the charmingly attractive and very unpleasant Cup Moth (Doratifera sp) was laying waste to our bushlands, and especially the Red Stringybark eucalypts. The bush was pretty dismal, and it wasn’t hard to find people wondering if the forest was actually going to die.

As you can see from the above photos, predictions of doom were at least premature. Tree recovery has been good. You can still, however, see signs of the past crisis, in the number of  trees which have only partly recovered, and the number which didn’t survive the attack.

Porcupine Ridge Road, February 2023: skeletal branches and dead trees are reminders of insect attack ten years ago, but forest recovery has been good.

These observations are necessarily crude. What we’d really like is to see the detailed monitoring done by managers over the last 20 years as part of their fuel reduction program. This forest has weathered a long drought, serious insect infestations and management fire over this period. What has been the result, in detail? We don’t know, because we haven’t seen the abovementioned monitoring, if it exists.

The bush on the right of the photos above is scheduled for a management burn in the next couple of years [see our posts here and here].

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New name, new…er…

In case you’re confused, DELWP has changed its name: it’s now the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.

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Alison Pouliot’s new book launch

Alison Pouliot has extended a warm welcome to all FOBIF members and supporters to the launch of her new book Underground Lovers: Encounters with Fungi, There will be several launch venues in Central Victoria including:

Friday 3 March Newham

Wednesday 15 March Hepburn Springs

Tuesday 18 April Lockwood South

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New FOBIF book!

FOBIF has just published a catalogue of our current exhibition at the Newstead Arts Hub. This 70 page book, Responding to Country: Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests 1998-2023, includes:

  • Photos with accompanying words by 25 members and supporters,
  • Drawings by Chewton Primary School students,
  • A geology section with text written by Clive Willman,
  • Photos of FOBIF walks going back more than ten years,
  • An essay by Alex Panelli, Of People and a Forest – some personal reflections
  • Articles about two FOBIF founding members, Ern Perkins and Doug Ralph,
  • Two articles on the founding of FOBIF and its history by Phil Ingamells and Bernard Slattery.

You can buy the book for $15 plus $3 postage on this site. It is now available at Stoneman’s Bookroom and the Visitors Information Centre in Castlemaine and Bookish in Bendigo.

Sample page

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Celebrating attention to country

Well over 120 people overflowed the Newstead Arts Hub on Saturday for the launch of the FOBIF turns 25 exhibition.

FOBIF president Marie Jones in the pink shirt introducing the event.

Friends President Marie Jones gave a brief run down on the group’s 25 year history, from its beginning in the lounge room of the late Ern Perkins, and paid tribute to the many members who have contributed to its ongoing success. She made special mention of Bronwyn Silver, the creator of this exhibition.  Phil Ingamells followed with a tribute to founding president Doug Ralph, a man whose gentle inclusiveness was a remarkable leadership quality, and whose knowledge of the country came from walking it with quiet attention to the details of the landscape.

Alison Pouliot then opened the exhibition with some eloquent words echoing Phil’s theme. Quoting from the exhibiting artists, she emphasised the importance of beauty in understanding landscape, and especially the appreciation of the tiniest living things. Her talk will be published on this site in the coming weeks.

The exhibition, Responding to Country: Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests 1998-2023 will run on the next two weekends (March 4 & 5, 11 & 12) and Labour Day (March 13). Gallery opening hours are 10am to 4pm.

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Money…and a reminder!

Sales of FOBIF’s guides are going so well that all five books will be reprinted before autumn is over. All books have now gone through multiple reprints. Unfortunately costs have risen, and we’ve been obliged to raise the price of the eucalypt, wattle and pea guides to $15 a copy from the end of this month. All money from our sales is devoted to reprinting costs–no profits are made from our books, nearly ten thousand of which have now sold.

And a reminder: The FOBIF 25 show at the Newstead Arts Hub will be opened by Alison Pouliot at 10.30 next Saturday the 25th. Alison is a charismatic and engaging speaker. Make the trip!

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New tracks in the Diggings Park

Parks Victoria has completed its network of new walks centred on the Garfield Wheel trailhead in the Castlemaine Diggings NHP. Maps and descriptions can be found here.

The new walks are marked by distinctive posts, and supported by online maps you can get by downloading the free Avenza map. The supporting note packages give plenty of detail about mining practices, and one of the walks, the short Garfield Bush walk, has notes on the local vegetation and bird life.

Nature creeps back: Breutelia moss colonising a mullock heap at the Nimrod mine. Mosses and fungi are highlights of winter walking at the Welsh Village.

Note that the new walks overlap somewhat with the Welsh Village walks in FOBIF’s local walks guide. The changed conditions make some of our directions hard to follow. A new edition of this guide will soon be published incorporating changes on the ground. In the mean time, walkers using our book should follow our maps carefully (they’re better than the Avenza ones, anyway).

The new track system certainly sparks up what was perhaps a tired precinct. The accompanying heritage notes might be a bit heavy on technical detail, but some of them are provocatively interesting. Take this, on the Garfield crushing battery:

‘Quartz was tipped into the battery from the raised tramline and pounded to sand by the stampers. The battery sand was mixed with water into a slurry and forced through mesh screens onto the sloping aprons or concentrating tables (also known as blankets). These were covered by copper sheets coated with mercury, which caught and amalgamated with the gold.

‘Periodically, the gold-mercury amalgam was scraped off the copper sheets and heated to vaporise the mercury and release the gold. Once cooled, the mercury was reused. The miners involved in this process would probably have suffered from mercury poisoning.

‘Mercury is a neurotoxin which damages the part of the brain that co-ordinates movement. It also harms the kidneys and other organs. Although it is illegal to use mercury in gold mining in many countries today, there are an estimated 10-15 million unregulated gold miners operating in 70 countries. About 15% of the world’s gold is produced by small-scale miners. Mercury is still widely used, causing irreversible neurological damage to workers.’

This is an uncommon example of heritage notes straying away from local colour and into the drama of life as it’s lived, and is welcome.

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