MT WORTH State Park is a little-known gem of a park nestled in the Strzelecki Ranges, a short drive south-east of Warragul, and just a few kilometres from the home of my brother Paul and his wife Merrin. While the park is magnificent in its own right, the family connection gives it additional significance to me. I’d like to describe some of its salient features in the hope that anyone who hasn’t been there yet may feel inclined to make the trip.
Having been “discovered” and named, the Strzeleckis shortly began ringing with the sound of axes and mill saws, crashing trees, and the shouts of men urging on the beasts maneuvering the logs down the muddy slopes.
Much of the area is now farmland, having been almost denuded in the timber gathering frenzy, but thankfully pockets have been preserved so that we can still have some idea how the lush, cool temperate rainforest must have looked. Perhaps the best known is Tarra-Bulga National Park, 33 km south of Traralgon. Established in 1986, it is one of only four major areas of cool temperate rainforest preserved in the State. Another of that precious four, Mt Worth State Park could be described as a miniature version of Tarra Bulga but offering equivalent appeal and for those of us closer to the western end of the range, a shorter drive.
In it we find neck-bendingly tall mountain ash, along with myrtle beech, blackwoods and tree ferns. Oh, the tree ferns….their glowing greenness not merely vibrant but vibrating. And in many sections of the walking tracks their umbrella tops form an archway, a tunnel even, that makes me imagine an elfin wedding scene, or perhaps a goblin springtime procession.
Birdlife, too. If you stand still and open your awareness to sound, you will hear many different bird calls echo across the gullies. Indeed over 50 species have been recorded there, either sighted or heard. Be alert: the untrained ear may be fooled into believing it is registering the calls of numerous birds in rapid succession … until it notes that all those varied calls are coming from one spot. You are privileged to be hearing a lyrebird, one of the best mimics in the bird world. Whipbird, raven, yellow-tailed black cockatoo, motorbike, chain saw, telephone, and many other sounds in rapid-fire delivery. And a reliable performance too: I’m sure I’ve heard at least one showing off its operatic skill every time I’ve been there.
Now to the family connection. Paul and Merrin have been principal leaders of the Friends of Mt Worth for some years. Wrangling a diverse group of volunteers in any endeavour is a challenge, especially for self-declared sociophobes such as these two. But they are dedicated and determined to keep the park as accessible as possible, given that the chronically under-resourced Parks Victoria can’t possibly keep up. Tracks continually need to be trimmed clear of overhanging vegetation, and underfoot the moist conditions turn a soft surface into mud as soon as rain falls, so that duckboard laying and gravel spreading are ongoing projects. Interpretive and directional signage has also been improved under their supervision.
They have also involved community groups in their work, partly to introduce the wonders of the park to an even wider range of people, but also to offer opportunities for stimulating and empowering learning experiences. For example, local specialist school students have had fun and exercise learning how to lay duckboard on muddy paths, and local VCAL students have built and helped install bench seats at strategic spots.
They have even, absolute non-runners themselves, organized and run successful trail run events through the park. “Almost certainly overthinking everything” mumbled my brother in the anxious few days before the first event, checking lists and getting advice to ensure every possible contingency was covered, from an SES all terrain rescue vehicle down to a coffee van … for reviving weary volunteers, as much as the runners. But it was declared a great success by the damp but cheerful finishers and became an annual fixture.
This little rainforest remnant is a delight to all the senses. The crisp, skin-tingling chill. The medicinal bush scent, inducing a deep inhalation immediately on arrival. The ear-awakening snap, bubble and shriek of natural forest sounds, breaking what seems like silence in contrast to the white noise of passing vehicles, computer drives and humming whitegoods everywhere else. The beams of sunlight penetrating the canopy to illuminate the understorey, intensifying the greenness of the fronds and foliage and making the water droplets clinging to them sparkle like diamonds. Gems within this little-known gem of a park.