TWENTY years ago, newly arrived in Bass Coast, I remarked on “the beautiful rolling hills of Gippsland” to a new local friend. Richard is a pacifist so he didn’t yell at me. He merely said “I can’t look at them without thinking of what used to be there.”
I’ve thought about that many times since. Of course! When we look at those rolling hills we are looking at a skeleton. In just 150 years they’ve been cleared of forests and groves and native grasslands. A few landholders – sometimes the descendants of the original land clearers – are valiantly replanting the hills but it’s a long road back from that scale of land clearing.
When Premier Daniel Andrews announced the DAL project, just before the 2018 state election, he promised it would protect Bass Coast’s “environment, landscape and local lifestyle”. It is disconcerting to see the draft policy interpreting “landscape” narrowly as vistas, and almost entirely from the point of view of a visitor driving along the Bass Highway towards Phillip Island.
According to the report, this visitor would be entranced by “picturesque rural scenes across paddocks towards the Bass Hills, especially where the Bass Highway travels close to the hills. This is a highly valued landscape and an important part of the experience of travellers to the Bass Coast.”
I don’t know about you but this is what I see when I look from the highway to the Bass Hills:
Put aside for a moment that what matters is the life in the woodlands. The denuded Bass Hills are more visually arresting than the ancient Western Port woodlands?
On the basis of the beautiful vistas of the nude Bass Hills, they have been included in a proposed Significant Landscape Overlay. The overlay carefully skirts the Western Port Woodlands (here referred to as the Gurdies Hills), perhaps because all those trees are spoiling the view.
Or could it be because of the sand that lies beneath them?
There are 10 working mines in the forest corridor between Lang Lang and Bass, including five in nature conservation reserves. Another nine work authorities for sand mining have been issued but not yet activated. Another seven work authorities are under application.
The draft planning policy report adds a reassuring note. “Extractive industries are temporary land uses that require appropriate buffers during and rehabilitation at the end of their operating life in a way suitable to the surrounding landscape character, thereby providing a net community benefit.”
So the landscape will be in better shape after it’s been mined?
This is to wilfully misunderstand ecology. The woodlands are not simply the trees and understorey. They are the sand, the fungi, the vast network of orchids and their insect pollinators, the ground covers, the animals that burrow, the birds that nest in tree hollows.
In The secret life of orchids, Dick Wettenhall, an orchid lover and professor of microbiology, describes driving past the sand mine-scarred bushlands along Western Port’s shoreline:
“Disturbingly, this is one of Bass Coast’s few remaining areas of remnant bushland, and home for some of Victoria’s rarest orchids. The survival of these orchids is the product of millions of years of evolutionary adaptation to the extraordinarily intricate underground ecology of dry, nutrient-poor soils. Tragically, it only takes seconds for sand mining bulldozers and excavators to irreversibly destroy these remarkable ecosystems.”
In 1996, the State Government endorsed the Lang Lang to Grantville Regional Sand Strategy. After years of conflict between the sand mining industry and local people, it was a compromise: sand mining would be permitted in less environmentally sensitive areas but a network of conservation reserves would provide habitat and biolinks for threatened species. The strategy also recommended strategic purchases of high value remnant vegetation to strengthen the forest corridor between Lang Lang and Bass.
How you can help
Almost 4000 people have signed petitions to the State Government calling for an end to sand mining in this woodland corridor. If even a proportion of them put in a submission, we can save our woodlands.
We have 20 days left to convince the State Government that ripping out woodlands for sand makes as much sense as burning down the house to keep warm.
Submissions on the DAL draft policy close on April 29 and must be lodged through the Engage Victoria platform.
Save Western Port Woodlands is running two submission writing workshops via Save Western Port Woodlands is running two submission writing workshops:
Sunday, April 10 @ 10:30am
Meeting ID: 816 2125 7647
One tap mobile 61 3 7018 2005
Monday, April 11 @ 7pm
Meeting ID: 897 8426 3118
One tap mobile 61 3 7018 2005
You’ll find plenty of background information at Save Western Port Woodlands. SWPW members are also available to answer questions:
Neil Rankine, Ph 0490 418 739
Gerard Drew, Ph 0403 135 093
Catherine Watson, Ph 0401 817 796
It is the only contract ever signed by the Government, the community and the sand mining industry. And it has been totally ignored ever since.
This week, the State Government announced a $31 million program to revegetate and restore 20,000 hectares of private land to provide habitat for Victorian wildlife. At the same time, they continue to permit sand mining in Bass Coast’s nature conservation reserves and on private land with high biodiversity value. Something is missing.
South Gippsland Conservation Society president Ed Thexton has been involved in riparian revegetation projects for most of his working life. In The wonder of the woodlands he writes: “We struggle to retain or rebuild our natural heritage by reproducing pale facsimiles at great effort and expense. The utter irony is that here intact is a place with the lot. To top it off the woodlands retain not just the flora but the fauna – the goannas, the bandicoots, the antechinuses.
“Talk about fiddling while Rome burns! The Western Port woodlands are the main game, the rest a mere sideshow. Come on, Victoria. If at this time in this place we can’t adjust our priorities to retain these woodlands then nothing we do in conservation has any real meaning.”
Catherine Watson is a member of Save the Western Port Woodlands.