The middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of town

A strong group gathered yesterday in fine weather for FOBIF’s first walk of 2022. Mike Reeves had devised an ingenious route on the outskirts of Elphinstone: confined to a relatively small area, the walk wound through bushland gullies which could have been miles from anywhere, and provided enough ups and downs to generate a moderate amount of sweat. The walk ventured into areas set for a DELWP burn this season, and participants were interested in imagining what would be the outcome of the operation. Watch this space.

The middle of nowhere?FOBIF walkers wind through bushland near Elphinstone.

Our thanks to Mike for a brisk start to our walking year; and to Frances Cincotta for illuminating insights into the vegetation along the way.

Our April walk will be led by Jeremy Holland on Mount Alexander. Check this website for details.

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Strategic fuel breaks 1: the prospects for 2022

As we’ve reported (see our posts, with maps, here, here and here), DELWP is planning to create Strategic Fuel Breaks (SFB) in our region over the next two years. Castlemaine households have been recently letterboxed about this program. Note that the works as originally proposed have been held up by approvals problems. Initial works will be re-instating previous fire-breaks and concentrating on woody weeds: these are the works shown on the letter to households.

Grevillea dryophylla, Walmer forest. Enviro groups have been engaged in detailed conversations with DELWP in an effort to see that rare and vulnerable species are not damaged by the fuel breaks project.


Several local enviro groups have been in consultation with DELWP over the implementation of this program, with the focus being on protection of biodiversity values. Castlemaine Field naturalists, FOBIF, Castlemaine Landcare, Muckleford Landcare, Golden point Landcare,Friends of Kalimna Park and several individual community members have engaged in a detailed set of meetings on the project, including onsite meetings to look at the challenges involved.

The letter below to the SFB implementation team was drafted by Euan Moore, Castlemaine Field Naturalists Vice President, on behalf of the local groups involved.


First, I would like to thank you and your team for your patience and time working with our community group here in Castlemaine. We do appreciate your efforts.

So that we can avoid misunderstandings in future, this letter summarises what our community group believes is the way the Strategic Fuel Break (SFB) program will be implemented. Please let us know if we have misunderstood what your team said.

1 The SFBs to be implemented in the 2021/22 year are:

  1. Daltons Rd,
  2. Woodbrook Rd,
  3. Youngmans Track,
  4. Chewton-Fryerstown Rd & Wattle Gully,
  5. Around the Loddon Prison,
  6. Forest Creek / Leanganook Track,
  7. Kalimna Park adjacent to houses, etc.

2 The other SFBs (Fryers Ridge, Irishtown Track, Porcupine Ridge, Muckleford Forest, etc.) may be constructed in 2022/23 or later.

Continue reading

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Strategic Fuel Breaks 2: points of contention

Readers will remember that FOBIF’s major concern is that mulching of high value roadsides will be catastrophic both from a biodiversity and amenity point of view. Further, we are curious about the relationship between the SFB program and the Fire Operations plan which governs DELWP’s fuel reduction program.

In her response to Euan’s letter, Justine Leahy, senior leader of the SFB project team, has offered the following responses:

  1. On environmentalists’ concerns about mulching roadsides,

‘Areas proposed for mulching depend on the species present, and height and density of understory growth. As a general rule, mulching would not be required where shrubs are less than 1m tall or very sparse, however all woody weeds will be mulched and some native species such as Cassinia sifton are particularly flammable so may be mulched even if less than 1 m high.’

‘The depth of mulching from the road will be less than 20 m for Walmer SF, Fryers Range, Muckleford SF. Where mulching is proposed in areas of high biodiversity value, and where shrub height and density trigger the need for mulching, it will be less than 5 – 8 m from the road verge.’

  1. On the connection of the fuel breaks program with the fire operations plan:

‘Strategic Fuel Breaks are a key action of DELWP’s Advanced Forest and Fire Management strategy. The locations and treatment options for proposed SFBs were raised by the same operational staff who undertake planned burning and other nonburn fuel treatments as part of the Joint Fuel Management Program. Though they are presented separately on the Joint Fuel Management Plan SFBs will complement the burning and nonburn fuel treatments (as presented together here). Given the cyclic nature of the burning program, at some point SFBs will be utilised as pre-prepared burn boundaries that will not require any additional treatment. The ongoing management of SFBs will become the responsibility of the land manager, so the locations and treatments chosen are those with the greatest benefit for fire prevention and response.’

FOBIF accepts the clarification of the relation between the SFB and the control burn program at face value. On mulching, however, we are VERY concerned that Fryers Ridge road verges will be mulched for 5-8 metres on both sides. Consultations this year may –we hope–bring some improvements on this plan. In any case, we believe funding problems may cause delays in implementing the project.

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A great discovery

There’s not a great deal to be rejoicing about right now, but here’s one thing, a report by John Walter in the latest edition of Wombat Forestcare newsletter:

‘As a regular visitor to our forests, woodlands and grasslands, I can report that one of the great pleasures that one can receive is the finding of a new plant or fungus during your field trip.

‘Clusters of bright yellow flowers caught my eye and I quickly realised I was looking at an Acacia species that I had never seen before.’ Rare and endangered Acacia sporadica, Fryers Forest.

‘New does not have to be new to science to make it exciting, it could simply be a new species that you have not seen before or perhaps a species that you have not seen in a particular district. In my role with the Upper Campaspe Landcare Network, I have been spending a lot of my time chasing down as many of our insect pollinator species as I can. In September, I became the entire survey team for the project as Covid lockdowns prevented the core team from travelling interstate and up from Melbourne.

‘While finding and photographing new and interesting insects is exciting enough for me, on September 7 I was looking for an ideal location in the Fryers Ranges to conduct the first of our early spring pollinator surveys. The flowers at my proposed site were plentiful but the day simply was not warm enough to make the insects active so I walked a little further into the woodland to see what else might be flowering.

‘Clusters of bright yellow flowers caught my eye and I quickly realised I was looking at an Acacia species that I had never seen before. I knew of Ern Perkins’ record for Acacia sporadica and had previously attempted to locate those plants without success, and as these plants were about 500 metres away from Ern’s record, I had my suspicions that the new plants would prove to be Acacia sporadica. The plants were growing in clusters ranging from 10 stems up to 150 stems in each cluster. I located 17 clusters plus a number of apparently single stemmed plants that might prove to be additional plants or perhaps an outlier from one of the main clusters. In all, I counted over 600 stems and virtually all of them carried the bright golden flowers making quite a sight against the glaucous foliage

‘I confirmed my suspicions regarding the identity of these plants once I returned home, and then discovered that A. sporadica is listed as critically endangered in the June 2021 threatened species listings.

‘Finding the location of such a large population was very exciting and this species is only found in two other locations, one near Howqua and the other near Myrtleford in north-east Victoria. It suckers, forming clumps or clusters of stems up to 9 metres in diameter and apparently only rarely sets seed. One clump in the new population had over 150 stems and was easily 4 or 5 metres in diameter.

‘This new population would make the Fryers Ranges population the second largest and greatly increases the known population of this beautiful but endangered species.’

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Fire’s On

Mount Alexander Shire residents may have received a couple of DELWP leaflets in their letter boxes last week, informing them of upcoming management burns. All are fuel reduction exercises—ecology is a secondary consideration, if it’s a consideration at all. For that reason FOBIF has been concerned to quiz the Department as to the actual fuel reduction achievements in its previous burns. On that score we’re very sceptical, but try as we may, we can’t get DELWP to tell us frankly what they think they’ve achieved.

This is the related map, showing where burns are proposed:

You can check FOBIF’s submissions on this program here.

FOBIF is concerned, as always, by the detail of implementation of these exercises. In particular, we believe that the larger area burns are far too big to manage in detail. The Helge Track burn is 344 hectares, and the one proposed for the following year along Wewak Track is 470 hectares! We are convinced that ‘reduction’ burns conducted in this area over the last 20 years have actually generated more fuel. Questioned about this, fire officers have been… non committal, though we were interested to get the following admission from DELWP last year:

‘We have also observed that lower intensity burns seem to not generate as much fuel and accumulate fuels slower than burns that are generally burnt hotter. In addition, lower intensity burns generally maintain the Overall Fuel Hazard (OFH) levels under triggers for more years than higher intensity burns.’

Let’s hope that means an improvement in methods over those of the (sometimes) disastrous past.

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The cliffs of lunacy

Decades ago Simone Weil predicted that ‘‘We will see throughout the country the most incredible absurdities—and they will appear natural.’ She was right on any number of fronts. One of the most incredible is car advertisements on TV and online. Readers will remember that in 2019 FOBIF launched a complaint to the Ad Standards Bureau over a Suzuki commercial promoting reckless  and destructive driving: the ad actually suggested that responsible driving is boring, and driving around in circles was great fun. Our complaint was found to be partly justified, and the advertiser agreed to modify the ad…though we couldn’t see it made any difference.

In any case, the lunatic promotion of very silly behaviour continues. An avalanche of commercials for SUVs urges TV audiences to plough through creeks, churn up sand dunes, kick up dirt and disfigure beaches. A lot of this behaviour is actually dangerous, but presumably it appeals to the fantasies of those drivers who see it as an enhancement of their self image.

Our nomination for the silliest current commercial goes to Mitsubishi Outlander, whose effort culminates in the following image of a family ‘enjoying’ the outdoors:


Have a close look at where the car is:

We’re not sure how the happy family is going to get their picnic out of the boot. Maybe that’ll be in the sequel?

Does all this matter? Is anyone going to be stupid enough to park inches from a cliff edge? Probably not. But a significant percentage of people subjected to this barrage of propaganda will engage in bad practices. Have a look at this:

Castlemaine Diggings NHP, February 2022: some drivers have been persuaded that the only way to have fun is to gouge a bit of the bush. Our photo doesn’t really capture the destructive results of this hooning.

FOBIF has tilted at this particular windmill before, with mixed results. Should we try again? Mmmm…

Next in this infinite series: Flying, gouging, churning and splashing with Nissan Navara.

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Grevillea: check out a local speciality

Malmsbury Landcare and the Threatened Species conservancy have devised a project to map the distribution of our local rare Grevillea species, Grevillea obtecta – the Fryerstown Grevillea. The project uses a mobile phone app to capture and save data whenever a user locates and reports a population of this threatened species.

The app will be launched with an awareness and training session at Lauriston on Saturday March 12 at 1.30 pm. Participants will be shown how to download and use the app and there will be a field trip into nearby Lauriston forest reserve and the Fryers Forest to see some plants.

Fryerstown Grevillea is generally found in the Fryers Ranges from around Taradale south west to the Porcupine Ridge area. The Lauriston population is an isolated and unusual form. The plant flowers from around mid-October to mid-November but is easily recognised by its unusual leaves at any time of the year.

The project will help build up knowledge of this rare plant—one of ours!

The session is free, but you need to register: click here for details. The precise venue is still to be announced. Click on the image below to see full version.

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‘Nature in time’ show starts Saturday

Antechinus. Photo: Patrick Kavanagh

The ‘Nature in time: images from Central Victoria‘ show at the Newstead Arts Hub is starting this Saturday, 5 March, 10am – 5 pm. The opening event will take place on Sunday, 10.30, 6 March. There will be refreshments and everyone is welcome.  The exhibition will be open all weekends in the month as well as Labour Day, Monday 14 March.

You can find out more on this website and the Newstead Arts Hub website. For enquiries ring Bronwyn Silver 0448751111.

Aboriginal rock wells, Eureka Reef. Photo: Bronwyn Silver

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Take a closer look!

Night sky, Tarrengower. Photo Patrick Kavanagh

The Newstead Arts Hub is hosting a photographic exhibition, ‘Nature in time: images from Central Victoria‘, in March. The exhibition starts on the 5 March and will be open all weekends in the month as well as Labour Day, Monday 14 March.

The formal opening will be on 6 March at 10.30 am. All are welcome and refreshments will be provided.
The photographers are Patrick Kavanagh, Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery and David Tatnall. 

You can find out more about the Newstead Arts Hub, the exhibition and the photographers here.

Salters Creek flume. Photo Bernard Slattery

Ironbarks. Photo David Tatnall

Barn Owl. Photo Patrick Kavanagh

Dog Rocks, Leanganook. Photo Bronwyn Silver

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Mind-boggling force, rocks that bend

Some people think the world is a messed-up place. I prefer to stay optimistic but, I have to admit, when it comes to the rocks beneath our feet, it’s a pretty accurate view.

These anticlines are just a selection of the crumpled rock strata that make up Castlemaine’s foundations. At least twenty anticlines lie between Castlemaine and Golden Point Road and some have been traced downwards by diamond drilling for at least 500 metres. Anticlines, and their companion synclines, are everywhere.

The strata that wrap around these beautiful folds were originally laid down on the deep ocean floor. Back then, some 440 million years ago, mind-bogglingly powerful tectonic forces were messing with eastern Australia by deforming the strata then raising them to form land. It started with a tectonic plate pushing from the east creating folds that run in a north-south direction. Try this with a sheet of paper: anchor one end and push the other towards it and you will see a fold forming at right angles. Most Castlemaine anticlines have sharp, narrow hinges like ‘The Anticlinal Fold’ (Photo 1) in Lyttleton Street but some can be quite broad, especially if there are a lot of thick sandstone beds in the area (Photo 2).

Photo 1: The Anticlinal Fold is fantastic because it shows so clearly the way sandstone layers are bent. Of course, they would have been quite plastic at the time of folding.

Photo 2: Broad anticline south side of Forest Creek near the Leanganook Track. Just north of Montgomery Street.

A lesser-known anticline is on the Kalimna Tourist Road (Photo 3) and a forgotten one is in Bull Street (Photo 4).

Photo 3: This anticline on the Kalimna Tourist Road is about 700 metres north of the top end of Lyttleton Street. It’s best to look at it from the north side.

Photo 4: A very nice anticline on the south side of Bull Street about 70 m east of Kennedy Street – it was once a quarry and now is a Council depot. Memoir 2, Geological Survey of Victoria 1903.

This is the sixth post in our geology series written by Clive Willman. 

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