From The Editor

Welcome to our Autumn issue. As you will read, we have made a good start to the year, and have some good things planned to follow. But FOGG  is not just about activities. We also need to be active in protecting and looking after our park. That’s why we are enclosing the petition from the Victorian National Parks Association calling for far better funding for our National Parks.  Some of you may have seen the front page article of the Age back in January, pointing out just how small the budget of Parks Victoria is. So do please sign, either online or by putting it in the mail.

In his piece president Rod discusses the problem of the cairns that continue to be rebuilt, and what can be done about them. There are similar issues in each of the towns surrounding the GNP. How are we going to ensure that the tourism sector cares for the precious values of the Park? Yes, we want people to love the Park and enjoy their time in the area, but how do we stop the Park being loved to death? Here in Halls Gap where I live we thought we had had a small win over the helicopter rides over the Park when the owners were forced to move their base to Stawell rather than Pomonal, and promised not to fly over our townships and our valley. But last week they actually landed in Halls Gap, before heading up the valley and over Lake Bellfield, and their flight path was right over the territory of a pair of wedge-tail eagles, as well as other raptors, which are very sensitive to intruders on their patch. A heated discussion then arose on social media, some strongly objecting to the helicopters, but others just as loud saying that the whole tourist industry would shut down if people weren’t allowed to do this sort of thing. Now I believe that shouting achieves very little, that some tourism actually benefits the Park, some is benign. But some tourism threatens everything the Park stands for. The tourists we want to attract are those who come here to enjoy the beauty and richness of our environment, but how do we educate those business owners (not all, thankfully)  who can only see the immediate cash benefits to themselves?  I don’t see how we as an organisation can do this, but those of us who live in the area must try to have our say when we have the opportunity. Tourism, particularly overseas tourism, is expected to continue to increase, so this is so important, not just in Halls Gap but also Dunkeld and the Wartook valley.

Remember that Joni Mitchell song?

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

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!


From Our Very Busy Ranger In Chief

David Roberts, Area Chief Ranger, Grampians Gariwerd

Over the past 6-8 weeks, there have been many activities undertaken that have been very important to the Grampians National Park now and into the future.

Cleanup Australia Day Week – Grampians Style

A full week of activities was planned and undertaken by over 200+ volunteers, community members and Parks Victoria staff across the Grampians National Park and surrounding Reserves. The intent of the activities was to focus on the high visitor use areas and really promote the right behaviours expected when visitors visit our natural areas. There is a need to reinvigorate the message “leave no Trace” and we’d welcome any opportunity for FoGGS, and other volunteer forums to spread the message through all available forums.

Sallow Wattle “Mechanical Control”

The next phase of our Sallow Wattle control has been underway with the use of a mulching machine grooming semi mature wattle in the Rose’s Gap Area. The trial of different control techniques has included various chemical controls, manual cut & paste techniques and now mechanical. In the coming months we will also trial brushcutters with blades.

Nature Play Week  

Parks Victoria partnered with Victorian National Parks Association to run an activity in the School Holidays as part of Nature Play week. The activity centred around primary school aged kids and was well received. It is something we want to build on as we reinvigorate the Education Program in the Grampians.

Rock Cataloguing and Registration 

Parks Staff have been working with Ben Gunn (Cultural Heritage Consultant) to record and catalogue recently discovered Art sites across the Park. It is incredibly important to know what we have and where it is located so that our management decision are informed. These sites once recorded sit on the State-wide register that ensures future land managers have access to the information.

Fuel Reduction Burning 

There has been a concerted effort placed on preparing the nominated burn areas for treatment during Autumn and Winter 2016. As it stands, much of the forest fuels are still too dry to initiate our burn program. Some smaller burns will be undertaken around Stawell & Ararat where there are Asset and community protection objectives. We will continue to implement an expanded Winter burning program which allows us to run fire in the cooler conditions and achieve a greater mosaic of fuels across broad areas. This year we are also fortunate to be undertaking research and monitoring around Small Mammal presence with the Wannon River Catchment, Burning Prescription development for the western slopes of the Serra Range and the development of Key Fauna management tools for the Grampians with the Geometric Means of Abundance measure – a project which I’ll describe in more detail in the coming months.

 Grampians Peaks Trail  Alignment Planning

Has been progressing across the entire length of trail by Parks project officer and contractors. The scale and complexity of the task shouldn’t be underestimated as we transition from concept phase to feasibility to delivery.

Grazing Management 

A project has commenced in the Grampians assessing the impacts and populations dynamics of Goats as we move towards initiating a control program in the future. Monitoring of goat populations is 2/3 complete with the early data indicating that numbers are steadily increasing from previous counts in the late 2000’s. Our ultimate aim will be to establish partnerships with community based hunting groups (SSAA or Field & Game) to assist us in targeted control programs. Once a management program has been planned and implemented for Goats, our attention will move towards Deer.

Stapylton Camp Ground 

Post fire recovery works continue at the camp ground with all the road and track work complete. A contractor has been engaged to install all the fencing and park furniture with an objective to reopen the site ASAP upon completion.

Committee Meeting February 2016

Membership fees At the AGM it was tabled that we discuss an increase in subscription fees at a committee meeting in time for the new membership year on 1 July 2016. The membership has been $10 since 2006 with various costs increasing markedly since then it was agreed we needed to increase membership fees. We also discussed whether to offer associate membership for those who just want to get the newsletter and don’t necessarily wish to be active members. However, we decided to just have 2 levels of ordinary membership being $20 for a single and $25 for a family (those living under the same roof). This level of membership will allow us to pay increasing insurance, postal and other running costs.

Activities for rest of year

A  proposed activity calendar was drawn up in order to be well organised and able to advertise our activities more widely in the hope of attracting some new membership.

March and April activities have already happened and are written up in this newsletter.

Proposed activities, and more details will appear in Newsletters and emails closer to events.

  • May: Ross Cayley to give us a talk and a field trip. (See calendar at end of this newsletter for details)
  • June: Park update from Dave and other staff.
  • July: A bird outing, with Horsham Bird Observers club somewhere in the Park.
  • August: Red Gum walk tidy up.
  • September: A wildflower trip perhaps led by one of our local experts.
  • October: AGM with a walk to Mt Rosea and hopefully with good weather we can have our meeting on site otherwise we will need to adjourn to a venue in Halls Gap.
  • November: Denis Crawford  19th November to run an insect day at his property.
  • December: It was suggested we have another try at a twilight picnic on Mt William in the hope of better weather.

What to do with the money we received from Friends of Zumstein

Received in 2010/2011 financial year. September 2011 we had decided to use the money for interpretive signage or some other distinctive use at Zumsteins. With the floods and the fire we never got round to finalising spending this money. It was suggested we look into erecting a board which has either birds, flowers or fungi of the area. If the money we were given is insufficient for this, the other suggestion was that there is nowhere to sit and rest along the Fish Falls walk and we may be able to put a seat along the track dedicated to the friends of Zumsteins.

FOGGs Facebook page

A facebook page has been setup in the hope of capturing an audience which use this form of communication. The page will be managed by Rodney and Margo. Its main purpose will be to be another avenue to advertise and report on our activities with the hope to gain membership from it.

Zumsteins History Book

Margo will write a book review on the book for our next newsletter.

Sallow Wattle

Wendy and Rodney have put pegs in to mark photo points. Rodney has made the stands to sit on the star pickets to line up the spot for the photo shoot. Wendy needs to create a map with GPS points and write the instructions and send to the people who indicated they wanted to participate in this project.

Other points of discussion

It would be nice if we could wear badges when we are out doing activities to advertise that we are FOGGs.

Ben mentioned that there could be a proposal to produce a book on rock art sites and we may be able to help with publishing.

Student Presentation at February Meeting

Susannah Hale, a PhD student from Deakin University, spoke to us about the findings of a study on ‘The Effect of Fire and Climate on Small Mammals’. The study started after the 2006 Bushfires and has been running nine years. There were 36 study sites established and each are of 150 square metres. When surveying the sites, baited Elliot traps are used and are checked twice daily, captured animals being tagged, weighed and measured before release. Populations go through a boom and bust phase which are affected by the previous 18 months rainfall and the ‘time since fire’. In the years straight after fire, exotic species predominate. In the first year of the study, 85% of captures were exotics. The house mouse occupies areas quickly after fires and then declines. Four years after fire, 91% of captures were native species.

Small mammals respond strongly to ‘time since fire’; native species do better in wetter periods which are a boom phase and ‘time since fire’ is less important.

Some study sites have been affected by more than one fire as well as the floods and dry seasons.

We don’t think of the Grampians as an arid region but the boom and bust population dynamics observed in the study indicate that it is acting as an arid region. This Grampians study provides a unique data set helping to understand dynamic ecosystems.

It is hoped that monitoring can continue long term through trapping at these sites. More can be learnt about the immediate post fire responses of small mammals and the role of climate refuges in the temperate zone.

Where to now?

  • continue to monitor long term trapping sites
  • immediate post fire response of small mammals
  • role of climate refuges in the temperate zone
  • fuel and structure dynamics – climate change scenarios.

Several of us (including Susannah) continued on to the pub for a very social evening.

FOGGs have a strong commitment to encouraging and supporting research into the biodiversity of our Park. Susannah was not one of the students we supported financially, but whose work is so important and we will help followup work if needed. We hope to have at least one student presentation on our calendar each year.

Wendy & Alan Bedggood

Cleanup Australia Day

2016-02-5 _116On Saturday March 5th FOGGs held their contribution to Cleanup Australia Day.

Our event was a combined activity involving Park Staff, Wimmera 4wd club, Horsham bush walkers, Conservation Volunteers and some expert rock climbers. The aim was to collect rubbish and clean up the beauty spots within the park. As the day was a FOGG innovation we were given our choice of location.

12 FOGGs and Matthew (a volunteer from Macau), met at the Reids lookout car park at 9 am. We were met there by Ranger Matt White from Parks Vic, and his partner Stephanie.

Although the view was partially hidden by fog, the day was forecast to be warm, and the sun was already showing its strength. A rollout awning, washing water and chilled drinking water were set up for our amenities. Kitted up with high vis vests, gloves, bags and pickup sticks we were ready to be cleanup warriors.2016-02-5 _114

Our first task was to take apart the destructive rock cairns that have proliferated in the area. Builders of these rock monstrosities are breaking rocks off the natural features, shattering existing stones by smashing them together or throwing them high in the air to shatter on the pathways. They tramp all over the mosses and ground cover plants, and remove the roofs of the homes the small reptiles, marsupials and invertebrates need to survive. These disturbances destroy the delicate balance of nature on the top of mountain peaks, ruining the natural experience visitors come for. Our Chinese volunteer was just asking why they were a problem, when an example of the local reptiles was spotted. A small dragon was a great example of how he blended in with the weathered surface, but not the large expanses of orange sandstone exposed by the removal of rocks. He had nowhere to hide and a long way to run exposed to predators.

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Removing the cairns involved dismantling, and placing the rocks back on the ground moss and weathered side up, avoiding the struggling plant life. Some had even been constructed in trees, just to prove how wonderful the builders were.

I am dismayed to have returned 6 days later and discovered that at least 20 have been built already! I wonder if FOGGS could contribute some funds to help pay for a sign explaining that this is not an activity suitable for a national park? There needs to be some information to explain why it is destructive.

After this we then began rubbish collection in earnest. Walking the track to the Balconies (formerly known as the Jaws of Death) we picked up rubbish including glass bottles, plastic water bottles, cans food packaging, cigarette butts, bottle caps, the ubiquitous toilet paper, and three pairs of underpants! We did some scrambling around the viewing ar2016-02-5 _117ea, enjoyed the view, and then retraced our steps to check we hadn’t missed anything. A short, well earned smoko break (but none of us smokers!)  consisted of gathering under the awning and sharing biscuits, tea, coffee and some well needed cold fresh water. A half hour was spent around the car park area to do some more rubbish collection, and then we went to meet the other groups at Zumsteins for a barbecue. FOGGs were early so we did some rubbish collection while we waited.

When it came time to cook, I reverted to my former career (chef) and did the cooking as fast and efficiently as I could. After all there were nearly 50 hungry people waiting for food. Why is it that the food is always in the last vehicle to arrive?

A great lunch was enjoyed with time spent chatting to other volunteers, sharing food and iced water, and getting to know likeminded people from the other interest groups that have a stake in the park and enjoy spending time in our favourite piece of the natural world!

Thanks must go to Matt, Tammy and Caity. They were the Rangers and liaison staff from the Grampians National Park. Without their efforts a large group cleanup like this could not have taken place to this level of effectiveness!


Cultural Arts Site Excursion

I don’t get to enough FOGGs activities because I live in Melbourne and get caught up in activities there. However, as a passionate student of the Aboriginal story of Gariwerd, I made sure I could be at the cultural sites excursion run by Ben Gunn on April 9th. We 2016-04-08 FOGG_29met up at Buandik and I noticed a few keen non FOGGs members also turned up, having found out by various means (thanks to the wonders of the internet) that this rare opportunity was being offered.

Twenty of us set off up the Goat Track – some by foot and some by car to the location Ben had chosen for our adventure. As we tramped through the bush to visit three sites in all, Ben generously filled us in on many aspects of the archaeology of Gariwerd art sites and discoveries. We learned about the changing nature of interpretations of the art. Amusingly Ben criticised some of his own earlier attempts at proscribing meanings to the symbols.

The fire of 2013 in this area destroyed much vegetation, and regrowth is slow. 2016-04-08 FOGG_10However the great gift is that so much is accessible which once was very scratchy to get into. One of the big bonuses, as we learned from Ben, is that several art sites have been re-discovered. Some by climbers and some by fire recovery crew. Our main objective was to visit one of these sites as well as stop to look at a previously known site now closed to the general public.

When we arrived Ben asked us to spot the art, and no one managed to do so. He had tricked us a bit by standing around the corner from where it actually was. All the same it was a good lesson in just how hard it is to find and identify genuine art.  Which makes it all the more remarkable that new sites are being found and recorded.

We also got a demonstration of how newly emerging technology can be used in this process. Ben showed us how a photo with a camera loaded with special software can enhance 2016-04-08 FOGG_35the faded art and make it starkly visible.

We also got to watch him ‘map’ the shape of the shelter with a kind of laser gadget (sorry for my technical vagueness).

I found it exciting to know that more cultural sites are being mapped and recorded. The richness and density of Aboriginal sites in Gariwerd makes this a unique and special place in Victoria, and it is wonderful that the count of sites is going up.  Even though almost all sites are necessarily kept secret to protect them from vandalism and degradation, it is very necessary for them to be preserved in the record of such a long lived culture which was so vibrant.

I think we all felt privileged to have this opportunity to have a brief look at how this is happening and feel even more supportive of the process. I tried to encourage Ben to write a book on Grampians rock art. I for one only want to learn more.2016-04-08 FOGG_47

Ben told us of the danger some sites are in; e.g. Climbers putting bolts in rock faces near art they probably haven’t even seen.  Preservation of the site we visited is probably assured by the fact that it would be very difficult to find it again. Possibly Ben led us there on a rather roundabout route purposefully. Of course we all understood well the vulnerability of the sites and this excursion helped to shore up our dedication to their protection.

Descending from the heights of the range and her secrets we gathered at Buandik picnic ground for lunch and chat. There were numbers of other picnickers and walkers and the car park was chock-a-block with cars. It looked more like a city park on a busy Sunday afternoon. I propose it might have been at peakIMG_2804 usage of all time – as I have rarely, over the years, seen more than a few cars there at any one time.

A few new keen members were signed up for FOGGs over lunch and some of us went on to take another look at Billimina and Manja shelters as a dessert option.

Thanks to Ben for answering our innumerable questions so interestingly.

Chris Sitka

Brushtail Rock-Wallaby Site

Although there have been issues with remote cameras in the last month, the two young at foot were alive and healthy when last detected in early March (as in photo).

The quoll has not been seen since last July, so it has either moved away or died.

Platypus Survey

The Wimmera CMA conducted a platypus survey  of the McKenzie River near Zumsteins in early April. It showed that despite the ongoing extremely dry conditions the fragile population is holding its own. They captured a new juvenile about 4 months old, the fourth year in a row that this has happened. They also recaptured  a 16 month old female. The Wimmera CMA chief executive said that environmental water releases through ongoing dry conditions  had a focus on maintaining suitable conditions for as long as possible so platypus, fish, bug and plant communities could stay in good shape.

Members of the public (including us FOGGIES) are urged to register any sighting on the website.  Enjoy the very informative site anyway!

Advisory Group Report

As usual, the March meeting of the AG had a very full agenda, which we struggled to complete. The main discussion was an update on the Grampians Peak trail.  Dave has mentioned in his piece just what a huge task this is, and now here is the somewhat more detailed presentation the AG were given. The money for the trail ( $30.2 million)  has to be spent by September 2019 so there is a real urgency now. The finished track will be 144km long (61km existing track, 83km new), with 10 hiker camps, 1 new school camp, several trail heads and carparks, with waymarking, interpretative signage, link and maintenance tracks. In addition an online booking system and phone apps need to be developed. A massive task. At this stage no funding has been set aside for maintenance equipment and facilities (such as quad bikes to service the camp sites) and there is no expectation that roofed accommodation will happen on park land.  Potentially in the budget are water storage and preparing guidelines for roofed accommodation in case a future government allows it. Nice to have, but not currently funded, would be mobile phone coverage and seed funding for tracks to lodges outside the Park.

There are three staff working on it fulltime.: Project manager Mark Gallon,  “paperwork manager” Annie Wilson, “ground manager”  Rod Spinks. Mark reports direct to PV CEO and the Project Control group, who in turn report to the Project Steering Group which also has representatives from Regional Development Victoria, DELWP and local councils. Annie’s tasks include getting approvals from all and sundry. Not just what you would expect: cultural heritage, threatened species, bushfire overlays, but also two Catchment Management Authorities, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, plus some roads are local council, some are VicRoads, campgrounds need approvals ….. She is a busy woman! Rod at the moment is dealing with what needs to happen on the ground. The 83km of existing track need to be assessed and some re-alignment will be needed – increased traffic affects the sustainability, and they want to give walkers a really good aesthetic experience. A local volunteer scoping group is walking these tracks and reporting on them, as well as taking a preliminary look at where the new sections of track should go. And of course Annie can’t organise cultural and vegetation surveys until the proposed route is more or less decided in some detail.

The trail will be built in three stages: Stage1 is already under way: get existing tracks up to standard; Stage 2: the new sections where the approvals are simple: Stage 3: the new sections with more complex approvals.

The team are well aware of the daunting task ahead, but confident and committed.