Prez Sez

Winter is truly hitting us, but there doesn’t seem to be much wet, just a double dose of cold. It’s obvious through the park that things are dry, but it still looks verdant and green compared to inland NSW and Qld. So, dry as it is here, we haven’t got the worst of it. Our fungi location at Jimmy’s creek was a little disappointing, but the season just hasn’t been wet enough, and lots of frosts have taken their toll on the fruiting bodies of fungi. We were pleased to have young Dave and Lyn Munroe to share their knowledge. As protégé’s of Ian McCann it is always a pleasure to have their knowledge in the group on our Fungi Frolic. But even with experts present we still saw lots of bums!

I recently indulged in the pleasure of a big road trip through inland NSW and Qld. Beautiful country. Great facilities. Roadside stops with toilets and information boards are regularly spaced ever 25 km or so. It’s an interesting comparison with our park when people have to travel greater distances within the park to find a toilet. Tourists and travellers seem much more welcome than here. Information centres seem to be about information on the local area and less about promoting businesses that pay for the service. I was struck by how much it seemed that sharing their love of their home was more important than making money off tourists. I’m sure there is a flow on from the warm welcoming attitude that translates to spending, but it didn’t feel as though profit was the only reason for communication; pride seemed to be at the forefront.

Working bees at Goltons Gorge have been progressing with a few minor hiccups due to weather conditions, but the work on the new track is looking good. Those participating should be proud of what they have achieved so far.

Vale Sam Speyer. One of the earliest Friends Of the Grampians and a committee member who helped lead the FOGs into the new era of FOGGs. We recently had news that Sam had passed away. Although not attending activities for many years he was an avid reader of our newsletter, and kept up with what the group was doing. He and his late wife Jetti were both involved for many years and carried the load for administrative work and communication. As a child I was fascinated by the passion a couple of European immigrants had for our piece of paradise. I looked up to them and the dedication they showed to their adopted home in Halls Gap. They were big believers in education about the environment, and the benefits of being out in the park to discover, learn and be fascinated. Those benefits aren’t just for the park, but also for the individual, and for our society.  Sam you will be remembered fondly and sadly missed by many.

I am also saddened to share that another couple who have been staunch and active FOGG members for many years, Bill and Hennie Neve, are soon to depart our region. The Neves are relocating to Perth to be closer to family. We have a final opportunity to share their joy of Australian birds at our next activity. They are opening their home to us. We can wander their covenant protected property abutting the National Park, looking and listening to the avian visitors they love. We will then gather in their giant bird hide home to share a meal and watch the natural world through their famous picture windows. If you are looking for inspiration you will find it with this couple. Tireless workers for our environment, even into their late 80’s they are pulling weeds and counting bird species.

Now the challenge is to bring younger, active and enthusiastic people into the group to continue on from where these great people have guided us.

Cheers

Rod

What the Prez Sez

It has been a dry time in the park, with only a couple of rain events so far this year. Particularly in the north, a lot of trees are under pressure and new growth after fires is dying in many areas, particularly where the rock layer is not far below the surface. Some hillsides look like autumn colours, until you realise that there are only natives growing, and they are suffering. Our summer has continued a long time but the weather has finally taken on an autumn feel with those beautiful pleasant days and chilly damp nights. Even the odd misty morning. I love this time of year! It also allows struggling vegetation to survive until winter rains arrive. I still worry about lightning strikes and careless fires with the current fuel load of dead vegetation.

                Combine this with grazing pressures the vegetation is doing it tough, particularly on the plateaus. Grazing by macropods and introduced cloven hoofed animals is a worry for park management. There are programs set up and in place to deal with this issue, but not enough funding for staff to oversee them. The next round of funding is coming up and Mike Stevens (Acting Head Ranger) is hopeful things can be put into action soon. It saddens me that programs that need to be ongoing are only funded annually, and there is uncertainty every year if they can continue. The deer program is dependent on this cycle, and with rumours of an extra species being deliberately introduced to the park, and high numbers already present from existing species (along with goats) it is important to control their numbers.

                There is movement afoot amongst FOGGs with walking tracks. The Volunteer Track Maintenance group are soon to start working on the walking track at Golton’s Gorge, with assistance from some FOGG members. They will not be reinstating the old track, but marking out and creating a new pathway. It will be great to see this site back in use as it is a favourite of locals at the north end of the park, and it’s been missed by many.

                Redgum Walk is also on our agenda. We have signage ready to go back into place, and members keen to try and repair the damage fires have done over the years. We are looking at options for fireproof metal stands for the signs to be mounted on, replacing the sign on Glenelg River road, and a general prune and tidy up to make the site more inviting. We insisted it be included in the guide book on walks for the less-abled so we need to make sure it is worthy.

                Recently three of our dedicated members participated in the Cavendish Redgum Festival, promoting our long term project in the Victoria

How lucky are we to have experts within our group, and others willing to come to our region? We have had presentations from members and other from regional experts, and more to come. Even if you aren’t up to traipsing through the bush there is much learning to be done at our indoor lecture presentations. PHD presentations from 2 of our committee have been followed by a couple of others. Having Ian Clarke fit us into his busy schedule was great. His work on the history of the rock art and connection of the Bunjil story to the Grampians was great to hear about. Mike doing our annual catchup with park staff and throwing in a visual presentation was great to see too, once the vagaries of the Mural Room AV system were battled and won. This has been a theme of visual presentations in recent years, but it’s been worth persevering as the information given and the photos viewed are most impressive.

The next lecture presentation will be from a herpetologist from the Arthur Ryler Institute. Being a reptile fan I’m really looking forward to this one!

Please feel free to tell me your thoughts, suggestions or ideas for FOGGs in the future.

Cheers!

Rod

Prez Sez

Hello foggies and welcome to 2018!

We are kicking off another year and I hope it can be an impressive one. As always we will be doing a cleanup day this year in March, and I hope we can see some PhD presentations from some of our esteemed membership. A working bee or two, some educational sessions too. A picnic on the mount… no wait wrong song! Our usual mix, sprinkled with some time outdoors enjoying the park.

Online stuff- this may be a year of technology for FOGGs.

Parks Victoria have launched a website called ParkConnect, to help people find and join volunteer groups and organisations. The idea being it will allow people new to an area, or travelling through to find a local group or activity to be part of. Three members of our committee attended a workshop to learn its operation, from the team that developed the site. At that workshop we listed FOGGs on the portal. This may allow people to join us and maybe bring in some new members. They can join the group from the website, but would not be true members until they have attended an event and paid their fees. I would request our existing members who are tech savvy to go to ParkConnect, set up a profile and join the FOGG group on the portal. This will allow us and Parks Vic to keep track of volunteer hours in the park. We do need to add more information to the page, and that will happen in due course, but it is a work in progress. There is opportunity through this profile setup to list all skills and certifications that members have. This means those skills can be recorded and utilised, allowing some activities to be expanded by making use of the member/volunteer skill set.

Some of the committee including those that attended the training session need to log on and finish putting details into our page, but the bare bones are there, allowing us to be found.

An app has been launched by the Victorian State Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) that enables native plant ID and includes a facility to map where species are being observed. I have only played with it briefly, but it seems to be a useful app. It does require mobile service to work, although you can photograph plants and upload the photos at a later date. It provides plant identification assistance, with basic species information. Using your smartphone or other mobile device you can upload photos of observed plants and this will automatically record a location. It will enable a more accurate vegetation map to be generated showing where native species are still hanging on, and even areas they have returned to! Automatic recording of location does concern me a little, we don’t want too much information about locations of rare species to be available, but it is a balance that has to be found.

Some years back our dedicated volunteer webmaster set up a system that allowed us to have email addresses for President, Secretary, Treasurer, Editor etc @friendsofgrampiansgariwerd. We haven’t adopted them and in some ways I feel it is to our detriment. The legitimacy it lends us as an organisation when communicating with government departments, filing grant applications, and press releases etc cannot be underestimated. I know I’m guilty of not trusting emails from an unknown source with a gmail address, I wonder how many others might be the same. We can remove that doubt. As a second advantage, imagine not having to learn new email addresses after each AGM. The email address would be tied to the position, not the person. I feel we should look into setting it up properly, Frank has volunteered to help us set up each office bearer and all will be easy to change to the new office bearer if need be. We will discuss this as a committee and make a decision.

I recently received a bag from a former FOGG president containing unused Red Gum Walk signs. As an organisation in the late 80’s and early 90’s we paid to have interpretive signs made up to install on the longer loop of the walk, which never got off the ground due to park management concerns at the time. I’d like to kick it off again and make Sue McInnes’s vision comes to pass. Several late members, founders of the group and former presidents dedicated them selves to this project. I grew up working on this project, it’s time we got it finished in some fashion.

We may not be able to do the longer loop, but I would like to see the original short loop properly reinstated. It’s irked me for years that we have been slow to do this. In some circles the walk is iconic, it started a nationwide trend of providing access to the environment for the less able to enjoy. It was the first walk in the Grampians that didn’t climb a hill or a mountain. It shouldn’t disappear quite yet! We can honour several people by working towards a new version, using old signs designed by renowned artists who believed in the project.

Cheers, Rod.

What the Prez Sez

AGM brings me to the end of another year as president. Another busy year with a varied and interesting list of activities as I look back.

Insects with Dennis Crawford, garden lover insect photography expert and local Radio celebrity. He is passionate about his subject and a great macro photographer

Deer with Daryl Panther others have jokingly referred to him as a poacher turned gamekeeper. He was never a poacher but he has great knowledge from years of deer farming and hunting. This is why he is a contractor to Parks Vic. Aiding in hunting and exterminating introduced pest species. And he had some interesting stories to share.

Clam Shrimp investigation with the worlds leading expert Dr Timms, ably organised and coordinated by Bill Gardiner.

Annual Park catchup with Dave Roberts, the area chief ranger. He gave us some amazing facts and figures about visitor numbers, earnings and expenditure within the park.

Mabel’s Plant Out.  An amazing thing was accomplished by a dedicated group. We planted, ate, drank many cuppas and even got the watering system up and running! A great arboreal memorial to Janbert, Mabel and the participants. In my head I think of it as Janbert’s Arboretum.

Mount Abrupt and its unexpected events.

Cleanup Day a success as always, with Caity O’Reilly’s efforts much was achieved through the park, with many groups participating, even some European backpackers wading in the creek and cleaning out large quantities of rubbish.

A Sallow Wattle research presentation by Samantha Barron.

Videos presented by the students documenting the history of the Stawell Field Nats. We have learned from this that backups are incredibly important (Unfortunately the only copy of the edited film has now been lost due to car theft), as is the attendance of a parks staff member with keys, and pre testing the film/projector operation. Thank you to Margo for keeping us occupied, Judith for feeding the kids, and the Brambuk cafe for ensuring we didn’t consume too much food, by not preparing it. But we all ate well later as we had our Christmas breakup at the hotel.


We have ordered a newer, lightweight sign through Wimmera Printing and Design. This will be very useful for marking activity gathering points, even in crowded areas.

Fellow FOGGs you get out what you put in. If you have an idea for an activity, feel free to run it by the committee and help organise, or even run the event. Don’t just make suggestions for others to act on. Get involved. Everyone on the committee has a say, can organise activities, write reports etc but you don’t have to be on the committee to do this, any member can take on activity responsibility with committee approval, we would love to see what great activities you can come up with, and what direction the group can take with newer input.  As such we are asking for people to volunteer to write activity reports, and represent FOGG at other activities and report back via the newsletter. (Round table attendance? If someone is interested in replacing Wendy please let us know) And I’m sure you would all love to read someone else’s ramblings in this newsletter, without me on my soapbox.

We do still have the option to reprint Ian McCann’s field guide, but we need someone to project manage this. We also need a few dedicated people to aid office bearers in their duties, we need a succession plan in order for the group to survive in times where many volunteer and community groups are struggling. One day Margo may decide she is doing too much, so we’ll need an editor as well as our other office bearers.

I have been doing much thinking, and soul searching since John Clarke passed away at one of our activities. It raised thoughts about how we deal with emergency situations. I feel we need to have a PLB or personal locator beacon at all our activities. Just for piece of mind in case of an emergency on a walking track or somewhere away from the main roads through the park. In years gone by this was a high cost purchase, but currently somewhere less than $400, with a long life battery. By the time the battery runs out (8-10 years) the technology will be so much improved we would be wanting to do an upgrade anyway. This will definitely make us look better to emergency services if an incident occurs, and to potential new members we will look well organised and prepared.

We have had some good promotion of group and activities this last year. Janbert’s efforts began a trend for us getting radio time. I was interviewed twice by Dave Lennon on ABC local radio a couple of times this year, as was Ben prior to his archaeology activity. Previously Margo has also had the pleasure. Its only a short stint in the early morning “What’s on?” segment, but it gets a wide audience, and this seems to bring potential new members to activities.  The number of attendees at Daryl’s deer session was proof of this. They may not have been our usual cohort, but their eyes are opened up a little. They now know we don’t hate them for hunting deer, surely its good for people to come into contact with us and change their preconceived views.

I think if Dave and his producer can be convinced, it would be good to make this a regular chat before each FOGG activity to promote us to the region. It also gives us more community recognition, and legitimacy. I must follow up on this, maybe if we can get Dave or his producer to attend some activities it might get even wider appeal. I have no desire to become a radio star, but I do want FOGG to grow and evolve with new, younger members so that our future is secured.

I am once again humbled to be elected as president again, and will continue to do my best to steer the FOGG ship for another year. This time with a new secretary and treasurer. Many thanks from all of us to Wendy and Mabel for their work over the past years. Yes that’s right you are stuck with me again!

Feel free to email me with your thoughts.

Thank you
Cheers
Rod

Prez Sez

Its been a nice autumn season of late. The weather has been beautiful. It has been cold overnight, and often foggy in the mornings, but the days have been truly magnificent. Good for walking, photography or any other activity enjoyed in our great park. Its always a pleasure to be here regardless of weather, but I have truly enjoyed myself lately, and we have had some great activities in and near the park.

The sense of achievement at the end of our planting session for Mabel was uplifting. To know we had honoured JanBert by helping to get Mabel’s garden planting well underway truly gladdens my heart. They have both done much for our group over the years, it was nice to be able to return the favour to them. And the garden will be a great example of native plantlife, a beacon of how beautiful and varied a garden can be without bringing in introduced plants. My thanks to all who were able to participate, it was an enjoyable task with many hands making the work a joy rather than a chore.

Our catch up with Dave Roberts was informative, depressing, frustrating and enjoyable. Mostly the latter. It is always gratifying to know that our group is valued enough within the park that the management will give time to us for sharing information, and to ask us what we want to see or help with. Some of the numbers shared with us were quite surprising and gave us a great idea of how tough managing the budget for the park is. We were saddened to hear that we are loosing our volunteer coordinator. I fear what becomes of all the work that a massive number of volunteers contribute. Who will it fall to without a coordinator to make sure it all happens? Will any of it continue, or will it just be added to park staff’s already overloaded plate?

We are still facing a peaks trail that will drain maintenance funds from elsewhere in the park after completion as there is still no increase in the maintenance budget. Interestingly, any earnings will be treated the same as the rest. The money goes to a central point and not to the park that earns it. So if 1000’s of people use the peaks trail, the money it generates will leave the park, rather than being used to maintain the facilities that generated the income. It kind of looks like the whole concept is an iconic fund raiser more than an iconic environmental experience. Don’t get me wrong, I think it will be a great experience and I’m looking forward to walking more of it, but if I let my inner cynic loose, I don’t think the experience is the reason its being built.

Our most recent activity was a citizen science operation organised by Bill Gardiner. I must apologise to Bill for not getting to his first organised event for the FOGG’s. He was just unlucky that the first event I have missed in several years had to be his, but a prior commitment took me elsewhere. I understand it was a success, with Doctor Timms getting many samples to analyse in his quest to identify and catalogue Clam Shrimp in the region.

I must also address the tragedy of a death at a Friends activity. The details are covered in the activity report. What I want to raise, is the frustration of trying to get 000 to understand what our location was. The call centres are very city centric. What street?, what house number?, what cross street? These questions don’t pinpoint a location in a large wilderness area. Especially if the nearest road is 100’s of metres away, and the cross street is 12 kilometres from there! And the location has to be pinpointed before the job can be assigned to the correct Ambulance, Police, Fire and SES station. The delay this created made no difference to our tragedy, but it might to some others. It is definitely frustrating in an emergency, trying to make someone who doesn’t know the area and can’t read a map understand where you are before they can move on to sending help.

I feel maybe we should have an EPIRB or a personal locator beacon at all our activities, just in case another emergency arises. We have never needed the technology before, but maybe we will in the future. If its available at a reasonable price, why wouldn’t we cover ourselves? We had a request from the parks office to purchase some for the purpose of hiring to park visitors. If we need one, maybe others do too!

I’d love to hear what you think on the matter. 

Cheers,
Rod

What the Prez Sez

Another great year kicks off for FOGGs.

We are planning another action packed program this year with great experts, fun activities, world leading research, gatherings, walks and good fun. I’m looking forward to leading our Mt Abrupt walk. It was a part of my childhood (visible on the horizon as I grew up) and my schooling, with camps, hikes and rock climbing adventures. I look forward to seeing the views from the southern end of the range again. I just hope some of our other members can help me with plant ID as we wander.

Our traditional cleanup was again a great outing with collaboration from parks, 4wd club, walking groups, climbers and tourists all joining in. A few backpackers too. Maybe it was the enticement of doing your bit to help out, or maybe it was Tammy’s skill on the hotplate cooking a free feed.

I have to admit I look forward to our cleanup day. It’s a chance to communicate with others and be visible in the park. And we look for a new location each time. This year was a new location for most of our attendees, and that’s another reason to enjoy it.

We are grateful to the work Caity O’Reilly does in volunteer coordination. This year’s cleanup was no exception. And this year her lunch preparations were a step up on last year. She even had BBQ tongs! Her efforts are always appreciated. It’s a pity a park this size can’t give a valuable and dedicated staff member a long term contract, instead of having to chase funding for her every year. The region is enriched by her efforts. Lobby everyone you can to increase funding to our National Parks, one day they will be the only natural environment we have left!

We are saddened by the sudden loss of JanBert Brouwer. A dedicated participant, our promotions officer and committee member. His sense of humour and wry smile made his presence at activities a delight. His attention to detail kept us all on our toes when writing our reports…..He will be sadly missed by all, especially Mabel. I will leave tales of his greatness to those who knew him better.

We will be holding a working bee to help Mabel complete her planting, to honour JanBerts plans for showing the world his favourite Australian plants. I urge you all to join in, for a few minutes, an hour or a day. The feeling you get from helping others makes the effort worth while. For me it is a chance to pay it forward. FOGG members aided me recovering after the 2014 fire.

It’s been a great season for the park, with a lot of weather suitable for visitors. It’s been a pleasure to talk to people from all over the world. They are blown away by the natural features, and the scenery, but I often hear them wishing there were more staff available to talk to. It saddens me governments don’t view our national parks as something that should be funded in tough economic times. They bring tourism to our regional areas, and help a depressed population find some cheap enjoyment that fulfils them, and more determined to preserve our environment for future generations. They also inspire ideas of other ways to enjoy our natural environment. These are all things that can help improve local economies, and strengthen our national identity at a time when it is essential we have positive hope for the future.

But then, the environment that sustains us has long been second place to the needs of profit and greed. At least our state government won’t allow fracking in our arable land. Just sand mining and toxic waste storage, in areas adjacent to our favourite national park. I am referring to Iluka’s plans for new mines, and a storage dump for radioactive waste sands in our region. While not in the park, the proximity can impact on our playground. It’s a pity government stays away from ruling things out, and leaves it to a local council to fight a multinational with bigger coffers and higher paid experts.

But it is heartening to see council members, business owners, farmers and conservation groups working together to prevent what could be an environmental catastrophe for our region. And that is the future I see when I’m out and about in the park!

Cheers!
Rod

Prez Sez

December 2016

Hello foggies, welcome to my annual presidents report . Those who attended the AGM have heard it all before, but for those who haven’t, I waffled something like this….

This year we have held a number of activities in conjunction with other groups in the park, and supported some activities that have been run by Parks Vic by providing people to man tables and work stations. Our own Cleanup day initiative was taken on by others this year with great success. 4 wheel drivers, climbing groups, walkers and park staff all joined in to clean up at some of the iconic sites within the park. Its amazing to hear the support we get from the public too, with much praise offered at all sites. This event will continue to grow! I have already ranted about the stone cairns previously so I will stay calm, but it disappoints me Parks don’t feel the need to put up signage discouraging the activity, the cairns are back in abundance. Other activities included a bioblitz event and Little Rangers, supported by Margo, Prue, Mabel and others, with thanks from the entire group for giving up your time to represent us. A birding activity in the coldest wettest month with Birdlife Australia was also successful, but I have to admit there were more of them than us. Janbert’s report on that one was good too. Concise and accurate, with a little humour thrown in. (I must get him to teach me how to do concise, it would make Margo’s job easier come newsletter time)

We also joined in with the Lake Fyans 100th Anniversary celebrations, setting up a display, and running a wild flower walk. It turned out to be a wet, cold dreary day, but we had fun in the rain, found some great plants, and enjoyed bopping along with the Ararat City Band. A mix of young and not so young musicians who really enjoy what they do.

This year the committee voted to change our fee structure to enable us to cover insurance payments from our membership fees. Also to cover the Newsletter costs. I still think our membership is a good price, and this is only the second fee increase since we started at the inception of the park 32 years ago.

Our Facebook page has been gaining in popularity and is a good way to communicate with the tech savy future group members and leaders. Many thanks must go to Margo and Caity for their efforts. Its always good to see a bit of online promotion for our group, and it raises our profile in different ways to our website, with links between the two.

Janbert’s promotion work has been very successful this year, with several new members, and many first time visitors hearing the radio promotions. We even had a few interviews on the ABC radio prior to events! I wish to offer my heartfelt thanks to Janbert, he does a great job.

There have been a number of students supported by Foggs over the years and this year was no exception. The most notable  of these this year was the three students documenting the history, work and people of the Stawell Field Naturalist Society. We had three very dedicated young people who did research, interviews, video editing and production. Ably supported by Margo who was a tower of strength and dedication throughout. She even provided accommodation, editing and directional advice. It seemed like a full time job for her. The mini – documentaries that they produced were viewed at our final activity for the year, and despite a few hiccups, were well received with more to come. Its good to know some of the great people I have looked up to for most of my life for their dedication to actions supporting the environment and educating others, are now laid down in history for others to learn from. It also makes me think of others that it should be done for too, before its too late and memories fade. Notably some of our own founders!

We are still trying to put the leftover money from the Friends of Zumsteins to good use. The committee have decided to purchase a seat to donate for use on the Fish Falls walk from Zumsteins to Mackenzie falls. It is needed, and can incorporate a plaque to explain where the money came from.

We have been asked if we were interested in taking on the reprinting of Ian McCann’s book, Grampians in Flower. It’s a very good idea, as Ian’s book is a definitive work many of us find invaluable in the field. Ian was also one of those documented in the Field Nats project, and it seems both projects dovetail nicely.

It is very gratifying for me that the Friends Of Grampians Gariwerd is seen as a reliable legitimate organisation that can support or facilitate projects within and relating to the park. We’ve come a long way from the group of fanatics and misfits that got together at Borough Huts after the inauguration of the park, but maybe not so far as all that either. It was fitting to hold our AGM at the same location in 2016.

Wendy and I attended a meeting with Mike Stevens, representing FOGGs, to discuss his major work on grazing animal control. It’s a big issue with so many ferals within the park, and as unpleasant as it is, action must be taken to protect the environment. I am satisfied that the best possible actions are being taken, in the most environmentally friendly way, with humane treatment at the forefront. This will not be a gung ho let em have it kind of programme. There will be many carefully planned actions, with proficiency, control and oversight at the forefront. Parks will have a tight leash, and no one will get away with breaching the rules! I have some knowledge of the issues and techniques and I am satisfied there is no better way to approach the problem without closing the entire park, and spending millions of dollars. Mike has designed a program that will be efficient, effective and most importantly humane, with as little impact on people and wildlife as possible. Some people will still not be happy, but they never are. This is about protecting the park, and the needs of the native animals that belong here. I genuinely believe if it wasn’t here before white settlement, it doesn’t belong in a national park. The ferals have to go!

We are working on a program of activities for the coming year, and hope it can top our success of the last twelve months. But it will have to be good to do so. Educational, active and fun are the buzzwords for any discussion on possible activities. We are happy to have suggestions, and hope our ideas are well received. We had some great experts this past year and hope we can get even better.

I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks for the confidence shown by re electing me as president. It is touching to know my actions are appreciated, even if I do rave on a bit and get hot under the collar sometimes. And to the other returning committee I thank you for your own dedication and support.

The Grampians National Park is a wonderful place and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest extent again this year. I hope you can all join me in supporting, learning, sharing and educating.

Happy New Year!
Cheers.
Rod

What the Prez Sez

It’s been an action packed time in the Grampians lately.

Snow, Rain, floods, spring and everything that goes with it.

It’s always a great time of year, seeing young coming out of the pouch, flowers blooming, and plant growth you can see if you watch for a moment. I love it. It’s a great time to be out and about. In the natural world!

The FOGGs are facilitating a project to document the history and work of the founding members of the Stawell Field Naturalists Club. Names familiar to us like Ian McCann, Win Pietch, Dave Munro and others. The plan is to interview them, their families and their colleagues in arms, or to make use of previously recorded interviews. Filming these people in their homes, or in the environment they dedicated their time to studying and learning about. We have a group of 3 very enthusiastic people, who are finding more and more excitement for the project the more time they put in. I am proud that as a group we can support a project like this. There is great knowledge and some great projects have been completed by the Field Nats. We need to record that for posterity, and to help future environmentalists find common ground/enthusiasm for the future. To give them an example to aspire too! I will admit that there is a wistfulness in me that wishes the same could be done for some now deceased founders of our own group. But maybe that’s selfish on my part.

Those who attended our wildflower walkabout had a great time, and saw some great flowers. We had a couple of our dedicated  students come to interview Dave and film his interaction with the group, sharing his knowledge. They were impressed, not just by Dave, but the knowledge of everyone present. I think they now understand why the passion and dedication of interested amateurs should be recorded for future generations. It was gratifying to show someone a few sparse orchids and see the excitement. It was even better when the girls got their own “orchid eyes” on and started to point them out to us. “Don’t step there” “there’s one there too” “look a whole patch of them” it was like a switch, suddenly they got it, they became part of the enthusiastic group instead of just documenting it. That moment is why I love being a FOGG, help introduce someone to new wonders and fascination with the small things in the natural environment.

Our August activity meandering round the Victoria Valley Redgum country was small but enjoyed by all. There were not too many flowers out, but there were some great views of mirrored wetlands, huge old trees that have silently observed the passage of time, and waterfalls that left us spellbound in childlike appreciation. Native and feral animals crossing the roads, birds serenading from the trees, grasses nodding to us as we passed. Then there was a working bee too. A minor price to pay for an enchanting time in the valley.

Our upcoming AGM will be a chance to participate in the decision making of the group, nominate members to the committee and vote on office bearers. If you have a bit of spare time to help out we would love to have you. If you are interested make sure another member knows so they can nominate you. A couple of our long term office bearers would like to bow out and enjoy their retirement, and we need to bring in fresh enthusiasm to keep the group moving forward and attracting members. I hope I have served you well in my term as president. I have loved every moment and am even more proud of the achievements of the group now that I have seen the inner sanctum. If nominated again I will accept. If you want to nominate someone, it’s a wise idea to check with them before putting them up in the meeting.

Bill Gardiner and myself represented FOGG’s at a hastily organised meeting with Park management and interest groups with a stake in the Northern Grampians area. They were looking for input on matters like walking track usage, car park facilities, campsites and access issues. We were also given an update on the Grampians Peaks Trail, and asked for input to some of the planning. Representatives included the rock climbing fraternity, outdoor education, Wimmera 4wd club and some of the businesses adjacent to the park. Stapleton campground reopening is coming! But it has to match Parks Victoria’s standards before it can be opened. And that includes Redgum Bollards to keep tents separate from vehicles. And that is the big holdup. There is not much Redgum available at the moment, and until the bollards are in place for public safety, closed it shall be. I get the public safety thing, but it’s still frustrating.

The impact of heavy rain in the region has been felt within the park and many places around it. For those who attended the Wildflower day at our house, you will be glad it wasn’t a week later. Smiths Rd was destroyed by the flow of water, and impassable to anything but an amphibious tank! At one point the floodgates were opened on Lake Wartook, and the inflow was still greater than the floodgates can release, and the water was flowing over the spillway too. It would have been great to see McKenzie Falls with that flow, but I couldn’t get there, as the northern Grampians road was underwater, and closed for public safety. This leads me to my gripe! Roads are closed for public safety, and to limit damage while they are fragile due to saturation. The people who make these decisions don’t do it lightly. Your ability to use your normal route, or your need to make money is not relevant to that! Suppose the road has eroded under the water. You can’t see it from the surface, you don’t know the risks. Driving on it could cause a collapse. You certainly shouldn’t drive through floodwaters, no mater how well you know the road. Someone leaving the road in flood waters at Zumsteins could suddenly find them self in 10 feet of water trapped in a car! Then rescuers risk their life for someone else. For that reason the experts close the road for everyone’s safety. Is a few drownings worth it so a business can make money, or a tough guy in a 4wd can prove themself? If a sign says road closed its closed for a reason. Stay out, and stop whining about how it impacts you!

It is a difficult balance for management with private businesses wanting to use the park, school groups and volunteers. Tourists, campers and 4wheel drivers all having slightly different needs. And all thinking their own impact is minimal. That is the most difficult part of the balance. If we enter the park we impact on it. Managing or confining that impact for the sake of the environment the park exists to protect is all important. But if people can’t visit and use the park, how do they know it should be protected? How do future generations develop an appreciation of the natural world? What is the minimum required for public safety? There is so much to balance when making decisions, and allotting funds, especially when some of those funds are only available for one part of a project and not its continuation. I don’t envy park management. It’s a tough gig!

I would like to finish off with a little tale from the Wimmera biodiversity seminar. A standard feature of the seminar is a short bus trip. As we were hosted in Dimboola this year that trip took us to the shores of the famous Pink Lake. And it was incredibly pink at the time. After walking and talking along the edge, looking at plants and wildlife and the ways the indigenous people used the lake we came to the waters edge. Uncle Ron Marks encouraged us to strip off our shoes and socks and walk into the lake. No one took the offer. But I did! Trousers rolled up I waded in. The salt crust massages your feet, the water was sun warmed and caressing my legs. The smell of salt cleared my airways, while the reflections of a dead flat surface were a balm to the soul. 150 metres from shore it was still only about calf deep. I stopped and looked back at the shore and the people standing there and missing out. I relearned a valuable lesson right there. Nature is real. Remove your shoes and socks and walk around in it. Feel it between your toes, splash it on your body and enjoy it, listen to it, taste it. Never forget that experience, because that is being truly alive!

Cheers

Rod

What the Prez Sez

Rod Thompson, President

I am breaking a little from my normal format of the president’s report this issue. There were many things raised in our meeting with the chief Ranger Dave Roberts that I wanted to expand on, and felt for the benefit of those who could not attend, I would use my column to do this. That means less rant and more information this quarter. Thats my intention anyway. But I might slip a little.

Fire management is well resourced due to govt. push at the moment, but not other areas of park management. In general across the staff long term stability has been consistent. However older staff are retiring, some will be replaced some not. This gives the park a balance of new enthusiastic and experienced staff. Unfortunately staff levels are declining, and responsibilities are  increasing, so they have to prioritise. Cleaning toilets etc must now be performed by Rangers as there is not enough funding to pay for contractors. This takes them from other duties but the management team have to do what is best for the park long term, based on the funding currently available. It still seems wrong to see people with tertiary qualifications in resource management and other degrees cleaning toilets, filling toilet rolls and cleaning up after lazy tourists.  Some of this funding has to be applied for annually, so some positions can’t be permanent. Additionally there are positions which depend on project funding which is also time limited. This results in a turn over of staff in some positions, such as the Grampians Ark  coordinator (the fox control program), where Ben Thomas (formerly DELWP who fortunately has lots of experience) is replacing Ben Holmes who has gone to a position with Conservation Volunteers Australia overseeing a re-wilding project at Little Desert Nature Lodge.

We are lucky due to location and size to have the only parks road team in the state, consisting of 2 drivers and grader.

Disaster recovery has been prominent in recent years but the tide is turning back to normal management issues such as education and relating with stakeholders to work towards the future of the park. But bear in mind these recovery programs have opened up other infrastructure rebuilding and renewal at rapid rate.

Goltons gorge will be reopened eventually after consultation with stakeholders and user groups, and some of the FOGGs and other representatives from the local area will aid in a type of advisory group.

Stapleton campground will be reopened in coming months, including school group facilities. Many northern walks will be reopened after that, there was no point while the camp was closed. This closure was necessary until the site was brought up to the safety standards required by Parks Vic across all its locations.

Construction of the Peaks trail will then be creating new tracks and new alignments on old tracks. This will change usage of northern Grampians. New vistas will be visible from these tracks and will often be used by day walkers not just long distance hikers.

One such location will be Dead Bullock Falls, and up to the plateau and a circuit on Mt. Difficult range including Briggs bluff. Troopers Creek infrastructure  will be moving to Dead Bullock creek. The reasons are twofold. The beautiful location, and the need to protect a newly located art site near Troopers Creek that has been mindlessly vandalised by some visitors.

In an ideal world everything would be reopened ASAP but practicality means investigating need, usage and environmental purpose/impact. Parks Vic. need to do this properly instead of just following desire or hedging bets. Some areas are very susceptible to erosion and damage due to fire impact, and it is necessary to keep people out to allow proper recovery. After the January 2014 fires The Bush Fire Rapid Risk Assessment Team created a new category for the severity of impact on the Wartook plateau catchment. There is not enough data yet to know the full impact, or causes but current fire and burning regimes seem to be not right, They are certainly not working properly for current climate and weather patterns.

There are more winter and heathland burning trials taking place-low intensity, smaller area, more mosaic style burns may be the answer. The trick is to manage ecosystems, and older age class vegetation needed for survival. Unfortunately, due to the impact of large severe fires and incorrect burning regimes, now only 20% of park is mature forest. Different parts recover faster than others, gullies much quicker than plateau areas. Some animal species rapidly returned, but need food sources to survive. And in the case of insectivorous small mammals and birds, this is problematic with the destruction of the leaf litter layer on the forest floor.

The central corridor of the park seems to be over used by visitor numbers, with too many people for the number of car parks. This may be contributed to by the number of areas closed since the fires, and even the flooding back in 2011. Traffic management has become a big issue in area and this raises the concept of a shuttle bus project again. It has been trialled before but the ever increasing numbers mean it has to be seriously looked at. A suggested alternative would be to make the Mount Victory road one way, creating a loop that returns through Roses Gap, but this requires a lot of community support, and Vic Roads to be on board too. I don’t think we are ready for that as a park yet.

School education programs are hopefully being rebuilt with new resources, making use of study and research results. Concerns have grown about this issue after discovering there is currently no pool of resources to answer information requests from students and community groups. This is an important thing for the future of National Parks and their place in the community, and their ability to get ongoing funding. Many schools are interested but need more school programs. Some enquiries even coming from Adelaide, Melbourne and other locations further away, not just the local area. Maybe a bush classroom or some similar learning system can be put in place from state funding, with a rollout hopefully starting springtime.

One worrying issue is funding. The only revenue developed by Parks Vic is from camping fees. No walking fees are currently allowed, and in a cash strapped economy, where the environment is not seen as a major priority, that means Parks budgets are not enough. We all need to lobby our decision makers to put the environment we live in, and its health, as a priority ahead of economic growth. If our environment falls, so does our economy.

The Rock Wallaby population has been a concern for some time, with attempts to reintroduce a viable population struggling, due to a lack of breeding success and higher than expected mortality rates. Now after reaching a conclusion that viability is an issue due to the dwindling population, one of the females, known as KR1, has sub-adult joey at foot and pouch young. Nothing has ever survived this long in this attempt at a breeding colony. However the population of 4 wallabies and 3 offspring will not be viable. With 6 months till the offspring reach breeding age there has to be decision about how it is managed. DELWP don’t want to do more releases but something has to be decided to prevent in-breeding. It seems that stability has occurred in conjunction with lower numbers. Perhaps early planning over estimated viability of site? Our colony size is similar to Gippsland, but they have 6 satellite populations whereas we have only one here. Watch this space.

2016_05_04_btrw5_ki1-and-immature Rock Wallabies
2016_05_05_btrw4_f2-and-yaf 2016_05_05_btrw1_m167-and-ki1-with-py

In some of my own research into the history of deer within the park I find references to an 1863 visit by the crown prince, who spent the day shooting wallabies off the rock faces. Some of these reports suggest many hundreds were shot. One eye witness even suggested thousands. When he became bored of shooting ‘stupid animals’ and watching them fall lifelessly to the ground below, he asked to go big game hunting. When informed that there was no native big game in Australia he suggested something was done about it. This brought the Acclimatisation Society to introducing the deer. These deer are now protected within the park, and it would take an act of parliament to change the rules and remove the deer protectorate status. (the wonders of the commonwealth, even here they are the queens deer!) But the beautiful little rock wallabies he, and others, so happily slaughtered have struggled ever since.

Dear to the hearts of many of our group is Sallow wattle management, particularly to those who reside on the northern end of the park. It is a tough fight, and almost a loosing battle. The first method is mechanical control. This involves cutting and mulching with bobcat around significant vegetation to prevent losses.

Experimental control plots for manual, mechanical, chemical and brushcutter are taking place, and other control forms are being looked at too. Gall wasp, as trialled and used in South Africa, appear not to be effective as it is too dry here and only seems effective in wet locations. There is also a team in one of the tertiary institutions researching carbon buildup and if it helps sallow proliferation.

Mapping is taking place, and we as FOGGies are participating in photographic monitoring of the spread. Containment is possible, stopping spread, but eradication is questionable due to the area impacted and the lack of money available. It saddens me that this is the case, but when you consider that the only effective method so far has involved someone actually handling every individual seedling or tree to remove it, and there are hundreds of millions in the park. If you miss one and it sets seeds, they remain viable for more than 70 years. One natural disaster allows them to take root again. I am ashamed to admit that this is a truth at my place adjacent to the park.

It is great to know that our park is on the personal radar of the New Parks CEO. It may not change anything for our park, but at least we know we are not forgotten due to our distance from the capitol.

Cheers FOGGies,
Rod Thompson,
President

What The Prez Sez

Hello FOGGies, another quarter has flown by. We have had a mixture of science and volunteer work. Passive and active. Our promotion of activities is bringing guests and new members to each activity, and credit for this must go to Janbert Brewer for his efforts. We know how great our group and its activities are, now others are hearing it too. We have even made it onto  ABC Mornings! Our dedicated little group is really kicking goals at the moment.

Our first activity this quarter was Susannah Hale’s PhD research presentation “Longterm Responses to Fire and Climatic Variability in the Grampians National Park”. It is great to see the enthusiasm of someone working on a longterm project within the park. Susannah has been involved in the smoky mouse study from early on as an honours student, and has a real love for these cute little marsupials.

Cleanup Australia Day has become an institution. We are proud to do our bit within the park, and bring some attention to the rubbish problems. This year was no exception. Thanks to Caity O’Reilly (Parks Vic./CVA), and her volunteer coordinating skills, we were joined by other groups this year. It was not all icky rubbish and hard work. We also got to indulge in a little destruction, taking down hundreds of rock cairns. The builders think they are showing their inner Zen, not realizing that their impact on the environment is far from Zen! More on this later! We enjoyed a barbecue together afterwards. Thanks Caity.

Our last activity this quarter was Archeology with our own resident expert Ben Gunn. His walk and talk from the side of the Goat track was enjoyed by everyone. And the numbers were up for this activity! This shows how well Janbert’s promotion is working, aided in no small part by Ben being interviewed about the FOGG group and this activity the day before on ABC Local Radio. Ben was a founding member of the group, and it was great to have him share his expertise and local knowledge.

Our future activities for the year should prove to be no less exciting, with local experts aiding us in activities like birdwatching or insects and pests. Our next gathering on the calendar is a geology session with renowned local expert Ross Cayley. I am excited about this one, Ross is a great presenter with incredible knowledge due to passion and his position at Victorian Geological Survey. He takes great photos and explains in layman’s terms. We will even be looking at fossils on Mt. William!

I want to come back to the rock cairns on the walk to the Balconies. The purpose of national parks is conservation, education and preservation. The idea is to maintain natural areas for the population to enjoy the real world and get back to nature. Making your mark on the landscape in a national park doesn’t really fit with these aims. Especially when it involves vandalising the landscape, and destroying the homes of the native wildlife that has limited space to maintain population numbers. Exposing small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates to predation just so you can build a memorial to your own selfishness really gets under my skin. Not to mention the impact on the mosses and slow growing vegetation on an exposed mountain top rock face. But you already guessed that.

The trouble is, most of the people building their zen(?) stone piles probably don’t realise how bad their actions are for the environment that they have come to visit, and enjoy. Maybe they don’t understand the concept of the web of life. That impacting on the smallest organism can affect things further up the chain so to speak. Many might say its only about insects and slimy reptiles. But there is another organism that depends on them to survive, and another that depends on that and so on. Until it happens we never know what the impacts on the rest of the web will be.

One construction probably isn’t too bad. But when there are hundreds being built in one location everyone else thinks its okay so they do it too. This can result in lasting damage.   Unfortunately I think there needs to be signage to tell people this. Both on the wall in the visitors centre, and in the carparks of locations where it takes place. With the over stressed budget that runs the park this is not a priority. I would like to make it our priority. I feel it would be a great use of some of our funds to sponsor some signage. The one design could be used in numerous locations, and could help protect sensitive environments from damage. If people know their actions are detrimental they may not be so keen to build. And I think this is a scourge that needs to be stopped before it becomes worse.

If you think I’m wrong I can accept that, and I welcome feedback. I just feel parks are about the environment more than people and their desire to prove something about themselves by leaving their mark, and this action is no better than vandalising trains, public buildings or homes. I know I come from a very Dark Green background and want to defend the environment, but I feel that with the threat of development in national parks, dwindling budgets and the pressure of climate change, anything that detracts from the few untouched environments we have left has to be combated before things are lost!

Cheers,
Rod