Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Bigger Life

Three of the new lots carved out of the old Turner block on Gap Road have sold, and I expect the last will go soon. Contractors cleared the blackberry and gorse just before the "For Sale" sign went up, with the offer of "Larger Blocks, Bigger Life". A fine sentiment, but I wonder if the real estate agent's spiel mentioned respraying the blackberry and gorse when it bounces back, or using fencing that lets the kangaroos move up and down the slope, or, where the blocks run into Whittakers Lane replanting and weeding the "wetland/retarding basin"—all part of that bigger life.

Early March sees a big event in rabbit control—1000 doses of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus K5 were released at roughly the same time across Australia. It's a new variant of the calicivirus, a virus which doesn't affect any animals other than rabbits (as far as we know) and brings on a quick death. Blood clots form in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, and block blood vessels causing heart and respiratory failure. Calicivirus first appeared in China in 1983, where it quickly killed 14 million domesticated rabbits. It spread westwards into Europe, and researchers in Australia were testing its potential as a control agent for our rabbits when the virus escaped quarantine in 1995. It killed 10 million rabbits in 8 weeks, and many more since. But increasing resistance to this strain led to a search for an alternative strain, and so we come to K5.

In Riddells Creek, we'll be seeing the effects of the release from now on—look out for dead rabbits lying in the open. If you have pet rabbits, innoculate them now against the K5 virus. If you are civic-minded, report deaths online using the "Rabbit Biocontrol Tracker", and download the RabbitScan App and join in the count of rabbit numbers.

K5 is the next move in our troubled relationship with rabbits. Riddells Landcare is interested because rabbits set up warrens in creek banks and bushland fringing settled areas like Riddells. They cut down young native species—the Australian Government Department of the Environment says rabbits increase the threat to 304 nationally threatened plant and animal species. They'll eat anything soft and edible, like my lettuces, and at the height of summer 2015, the soft bark of my fruit trees and the exotics at Webbers Garden Centre. They dig warrens under houses and undermine the foundations. And they never stop breeding!

A virus or poisoning is never 100% effective; it's necessary to deny rabbits the habitat they prefer, beginning with their warrens, by fumigating (good) or ripping (better). In a closely settled landscape like Riddells, this requires cooperation between neighbours, because one warren or a rubbish heap left untouched will shelter rabbits that recolonise cleared areas. Here in Riddells Creek, Anne-Marie Drummond is encouraging her neighbours along Cornish Street , just west of that Turner block, to pay attention to the rabbits on their properties and start taking action. Drop her a note ( - she would love to hear from interested people. Or call Beau Kent at MRSC (5421 9507) for more on rabbit control.

For some people, rabbits seem cute and harmless, and the thought of killing rabbits makes them uneasy. But when you understand the impact of rabbits, it's all part of living that Bigger Life.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Getting back home

I went away for Christmas and New Year, to Perth, where I lived for 30 years. I went for the ocean and to see my children and grandchildren. I went to be in that country again.

The kids were wary at first of their distant grandfather, then warmed to me again. I have daughters myself, not sons, so it was a revelation how much pleasure can be had with a shallow depression at the ocean's edge, running Tonka trucks through each time the wave wash fills it. And the water itself was a miracle - cool but not cold, deeply refreshing. I swam, I sat with the sun on my back in the dry warm air. I woke to the doleful sound of crows and the shriek of corellas and looked at the same blue sky, each day, and never thought about a second layer of clothing. Then I had had enough. I wanted my own place. I wanted clouds and the possibility of rain. The mercury went to 40, then 42 degrees, then backed off, but the hot weather migrated across the country as I headed home. I walked out of Melbourne airport in the evening into balmy weather.

It was damp. The big rain in early January was in evidence everywhere. The lights of the taxi showed dark at the edges of the unsealed road, and walking around to the front of the house, the lawn was long and still growing. I woke to a valley of birdsong. From the first call, the wren's high-pitched piping, I lay in rapt attention as each bird started up, layer on layer of song, rising in splendid cacophony as territories were settled and identities reaffirmed.

Over the break, my partner read "Position Doubtful" by Kim Mahood, and urged me to it. Sitting on the veranda here, with the magpies calling, she had me at page 2:

"How many of us still feel the grip of place - the long span of life traced out in the growth of trees planted by someone you knew, a family history measured in memory and change, the sudden clutch of knowing it will end, life and memory both, that love and sorrow cannot be separated? To learn the names of trees and grasses, the times of their seeding  and flowering, the glimpse they offer into the grand slow cycles of nature, is to see your own life written there, and passing."

We're a migrant people, moving from place to place, mostly urban places. Not many of us have the luck of being taken up by a bit of country and losing our hearts to it. I got lucky in Perth with a patch of wandoo forest too poor for clearing, perched at the very edge where the wheatbelt begins its sweep of devastation and economic return east for 300 kilometres. Country my grandfather and his father cleared. I drove out one day to visit. The campsite with its corrugated iron roof, a table and chair, was as I had left it 15 years ago. I stood in the crackling heat and one familiar bird brightened my monochrome mood.

Now there's this valley at Riddell. I see the grass flattened where the creek spilled its banks in the big rain, and lift my head to catch the magpie's warble. I worry how to get on top of the vegetable garden, and what the really dry hot weather will bring. Another place has taken residence in my heart.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Clearing the trails

The big storms of Spring combined with persistent rain to bring down many mature trees right across Riddell. It was the rain as much as anything that did it: as the soil turned to mush, the root systems have less grip, and those enormous wind gusts catch the leafy canopy and drag the tree over.

I marvelled at the speed with which Council trucks arrived to a couple of trees across Gap Road. An hour after I called one in, multiple chainsaws were buzzing and a chipper churning through the leafy branches. The crew took 20 minutes on the job and the road was safe again. I was a lot slower getting over with my chainsaw to Barrm Birrm, the bushland above Gap Road that Landcare looks after. The trail bikers don't stop to think about the damage they do to the fragile surface of soil, grasses and shrubs when they encounter a fallen tree. They simply rip a new trail around any obstacle. It's heart breaking to new tracks growing, for each will surely erode as the rains carry the loosened soil away.

I cleared a couple of trails, throwing the litter back over the detour, to push the bikers back to the established line. Keeping going at work like this requires stubbornness. You have to press on despite ignorance and rules, and staying hopeful is the key. Last week we had a balance of encouraging and discouraging events.

Down on the Rail Reserve, David Francis continued the springtime monitoring of the donkey orchids that he and Russell Best started in 2009. This year's showing is 26 plants at 5 locations, down from a peak of 129 plants at 7 locations in 2010. Funding from State Government has allowed us to get a contractor to spray the weeds around these locations, and this will open up the environment for this endangered orchid (go to and search for diuris punctata - it's a spectacular orchid). David found a big growth of Acacia melanoxylon plants, with many new seedlings within or adjacent to the orchid, so we'll need to pull these out.

But good news too - he waited patiently in a spell of warm weather, and finally got a photo of the insect that pollinates this orchid. It is Lasioglossum (Chilalictus) spp. - a small native bee. See David's photo on  Knowing the pollinator means we can make sure the vegetation that bee feeds on is in good supply in the area, so the bees are around to visit the orchid.

The discouragement cam with discussing our Galenia eradication program with Macedon Ranges Shire. We survey Riddell each year to locate this highly invasive weed, then spray it. We've been doing this since 2009, and this year, our application to Macedon Ranges Shire for $1500 to cover the cost of a weed contractor was met with questions about our contractor's preferred mix of herbicides. With its metre long taproot, Galenia is a difficult weed to kill, but a mix of two herbicides does the job.

Turns out the mix may be illegal without a special permit, and the cost of the permit may take the budget available for spraying the weed, plus time on the paperwork to get the permit! We'll have to see. In the meantime, the only alternative to spraying is digging. If you have a strong arm and a crowbar, give us a call - we may end up using $1500 to do the job manually!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

The tomatoes are in

I confidently planted out my first tomatoes in late September. A firmly-worded sign alongside the punnets at the nursery told me to hold off until Melbourne Cup day, the traditional marker for the end of frosts, but I just don't believe we'll have another frost. I can't feel any bite in the bounce backs of cold that we get as we come out of winter. 

In the same week, the court of appeal for the Queensland State Land Court ruled that Gina Reinhardt's Alpha coal mine in the Galilee basin was not constrained by the law as it stands. The proponent had argued that if the coal wasn't sold out of Australia, it would be sold by some other country, greenhouse emissions would not be reduced, and so possible impacts on the Great Barrier Reef from global warming were not relevant when considering "potential detrimental impacts" from the mine. The Land Court had agreed with this reasoning, and the Appeal Court found it had no power to change that finding.

It's not the law that's at fault here, but the legislature, and behind the politicians and the lobbyists, us, who think that the world is here to be used by humans as we see fit. The other life that's been here for much longer than us is a secondary consideration. We may look after small pockets of the natural world and limit the damage to specific places we love, but we can't do more than this.

The defining legal assumption of this human-centric view of life is that land is property, and nothing more. From this point on, the rights of the owner to do what they want with their land have primacy and  Crown Land is just land waiting to be used by someone. We are locked in here, the Appeal Court in Queensland, the Barrier Reef and vegetable growers in Riddells Creek, all duct-taped to the very large machines that roll out of Gina's business plans. 

But let's imagine a different system of law, Earth Law, law that assumes "wholeness, and a complex and deeply interdependent life-support network that rejects the logic that gives priority to the 'part' as distinct from the whole, whether it is the individual versus the community or the State versus the world." (Harmony with Nature, United Nations, 2016). Earth Law views human rights as contingent on our respecting the rights of nature. That's where we came from, that's what has nurtured us as we've become what we are. Nature means that wetland, that creek, that grassland. 

In 2008, the Ecuadorian people put the rights of nature in their constitution! Article 71 of the constitution of Ecuador states that "Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain itself and regenerate its own vital cycles, structure, functions and its evolutionary processes, and that any person, people, community or nationality may demand the observance of the rights of the natural environment before public bodies." 

Thanks to the New Ecological Discourses reading group for finding this report. Our monthly discussions, like this one on Earth Law, often leave me perplexed by how difficult it is to shift the ways we live. The Environmental Defenders Office in Queensland will appeal the Alpha coal mine decision. I will see how the tomato seedlings are faring. And on the frosts: was I right or was I right?!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare