marysville

In Conversation with Professor David Lindenmayer: Part 2

Professor David Lindenmayer of the Australian National University is one of our country's foremost ecologists. An outspoken conservationist, David uses his decades of experience and years of scientific studies to support his argument for a Great Forest National Park, in our state of Victoria, a move supported by Wild Melbourne, and a host of other NGO's.  

With the recent release of the video advertising his proposal for the GFNP, now seems like the right time to revisit a conversation I had with him late last year. 

In this second part of the interview, David discusses the health of the mountain ash forests that he has worked on and their importance to our region.  

Prof. D. Lindenmayer: Courtesy of smh.com.au 

Prof. D. Lindenmayer: Courtesy of smh.com.au 

On the importance of these forests to our city and the surrounding region, David says that while we are probably dealing with about “300 direct jobs in saw milling and timber cartage” we know that the “value in water far exceeds the value in paper”, as is the case for carbon.

What does he mean by this?

Well, when the forest is young it uses a lot of water “because the trees grow very rapidly and they transpire massive amounts of water”. The more a forest is logged, the younger it becomes. The younger a forest, the more water it uses.

But how does that cost the average Victorian? Well, the less water we have, the more we will have to rely on our city’s expensive desalination plant.  

“You have to get the water from somewhere else because the forest isn’t providing it.” Says David, “The older a forest is, the more water it provides. And the more water it provides, the less desalination water you have to use... So the other values of the forest exceed the value of the paper.”

While David doesn't work on the hydrological aspects of the forest himself, he is currently working on a book with his father-in-law, who was a water based engineer, titled “The History of Melbourne’s Water Catchments”, soon to be released.

So just how important are these forests for the health of our local lands and the connected ecosystems across Victoria?

“I think most people are unaware that almost all of the water for Melbourne’s population comes from these forests. And that’s soon to be Australia’s biggest city, so you’re talking about a lot of water… and so these forests have a critical role in the integrity of Melbourne itself.”

Furthermore, these forests are among the most carbon-dense in the world, says David.

“When you get very old mountain ash forests they’re storing colossal amounts of carbon… And a lot of that carbon is emitted when you start cutting the forest down… It is important to hold onto that carbon… as a part of tackling dangerous climate change.”  

Indeed, under a carbon market, the forest becomes a huge economic resource. But their value doesn't end there.

“The other side of this is that in these systems where you have enormous tourism potential, then you have yet another important role for regional jobs and development and alike… the thing about tourism is that if you manage it the right way, then people can come and see these forests over and over again, whereas if you liquidate the resource through logging, you don’t get anything back for another 60 or so years. The thing about tourism is that it keeps on giving.”  

David believes that investment in infrastructure within these areas could greatly improve their ability to recover post-bushfire, and also bring a huge long-term boost to the state’s economy.

“At the moment” he says, “The [logging] industry is so heavily subsidised that it is actually costing us to cut the forest down.”

According to David, if the system continues to degrade it will not only lose carbon, but become more fire-prone and eventually “collapse” into a wattle-forest.  

“And that means it’s going to store a lot less carbon, have a lot less biodiversity, and provide a lot less water.”

Suffice to say, its tourism value will be lost a long with these other resources.

“Many people are unaware that these are the tallest flowering plants in the world… the most carbon-dense forests in the world… and just about the only place the Leadbeaters Possum lives.”

“Really it’s one of the best kept secrets, but it shouldn’t be a secret… it should be something people from all over the world want to come and see… When you come to Victoria you go to watch the footy, when you come to Victoria you go on the Great Ocean Road, when you come to Victoria you come and see the world’s tallest flowering plants because they’re very special.”  

For David, it is an outrage that the tourism potential of these forests has yet to be tapped.

“I think it’s an absolute crime and a scandal that it hasn’t been recognised, and that at the moment we are massively degrading those values by what we’re doing. It’s not only environmental vandalism but it’s economic bastardry as well... there’s no sense in trying to justify the rationale for this, it just doesn’t work. ”

He outlines the arguments for logging the forests as follows:

“I suppose people would say that it makes a huge amount of money for the state, and it did used to employ many jobs…. Now that isn’t the case. We are dealing with around 300 people employed that are directly cutting timber, mostly low-value timber products like pellets… only 2.7% of the wood that’s cut is actually high-quality furniture timber… this is a paper driven industry, and the reality is you don’t need large amounts of native forests to make paper. You can make paper from plantations.”

David says that the plantation sector is doing very well, while the native logging sector is dragging the industry down. He cites the fact that over the last five years Vic Forests have made a profit of one-million-dollars, while receiving subsidies of 25-million-dollars from the state government through bush-fire recovery grants.

“The only way that this organisation is viable is through a series of bushfire grants.”

He believes that the vested interest of Australian Paper in receiving cheap pulp from these forests is driving this “nonsensical” logging.

“This is economic insanity, and it is environmental insanity… the only reason you can imagine… is the massive vested interest… of Australian Paper.”

He also emphasises the fact that Australian Paper is owned by Nippon – a Japanese company.

Salvage logging near Marysville: courtesy of myenvironment.net.au

Salvage logging near Marysville: courtesy of myenvironment.net.au

But aside from this, David is also concerned about the rural towns in these areas. In places like Marysville, where he has previously lived, he says that people no longer want their communities to be known as “timber towns”, and are worried about the implications of this industry on their small businesses. 

And of course, he is deeply concerned about the fate of the iconic and critically endangered, Leadbeater's Possum.

More on that in Part 3 of the interview. 

The Wilds of Marysville

The landscape around Marysville is a stark reminder of the power of nature. 

The landscape around Marysville is a stark reminder of the power of nature. 

Last month, Wild Melbourne ventured out to the town of Marysville to explore the surrounding wilderness. During our adventure, we went on a few of the nature walks that encompass the township, including a visit to Steavenson Falls, an underestimated hike up to Keppel Lookout, and a night-time walk to the Trestle Bridge. For me though, none of these stood out quite like the Beeches Rainforest Walk in the Yarra Ranges National Park.

The journey out to the Beeches was beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own right. We took the turn onto Lady Talbot Drive and, soon enough, the towering white skeletons of Mountain Ash trees - relics of the Black Saturday bushfires - surrounded us on all sides. These ghostly figures were all that we could see for kilometres, overwhelmingly illustrating the huge scope of the bushfires that occurred here in February 2009. Although this was sobering, there was also evidence of recovery and regrowth, with almost every naked tree surrounded by a sea of saplings. It looked impenetrable. Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) recover from bush fires by dropping huge quantities of seeds. The developing saplings then grow into dense communities, until one by one individuals are outcompeted for light, nutrients and water by their neighbours. It is these surviving saplings that go on to form the new forest canopy.

 

The pristine water of the Taggerty River gushes down mossy rocks. 

The pristine water of the Taggerty River gushes down mossy rocks. 

Lady Talbot Drive follows the Taggerty River, which bubbled and flowed alongside us as we drove up into the hills. About thirteen kilometres up the road, we reached the Beeches: a pocket of cool temperate rainforest, nestled in amongst towering stands of Mountain and Alpine Ash. Its canopy is dominated by Myrtle Beech trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii), but you will also find Southern Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) and Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) trees. Some of the trees in this rainforest are even thought to be 300 years old. This is quite plausible, as Myrtle Beech canopies can be up to 500 years old, with root system of up to 1000 years old. Before eucalupts evolved, Myrtle Beeches are thought to have been much more widespread. However, that was 25 million years ago - now they are restricted to cool, shaded forests and sheltered valleys throughout Victoria and Tasmania.

 

Words cannot express the tranquillity we found in this special place. 

Words cannot express the tranquillity we found in this special place. 

We didn’t see a great deal of animal life whilst wandering through the Beeches, but the plant life compensated for this. You cannot take a step on this walk without seeing a myriad of different mosses, or stumbling across some native ferns. Lichens and creepers cover the trees, whilst rocks and boulders guide the Taggerty River down through the rainforest.

In the town of Marysville, however, wildlife was abundant. Wood Ducks waddled down the main street, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos foraged for grass seeds on the nature strip, and Currawongs loitered around the cafes. These three species were common throughout the town and seemed to exist in higher numbers than the town’s human residents.

 

Marysville is a wild town. 

Marysville is a wild town. 

Although we didn’t see many mammals (despite our keen searching), there is one marsupial that I would like to draw your attention to. The Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) was originally declared extinct in the 1950s, having not been sighted since 1909. However, after the discovery of a colony near Marysville in 1961, the Leadbeater’s Possum was declared Victoria’s faunal emblem and is now an ambassador for the endangered species of Victoria, and even Australia.

 

The Leadbeater's Possum. (Image courtesy of   http://www.zoo.org.au  )

The Leadbeater's Possum. (Image courtesy of  http://www.zoo.org.au)

Leadbeater’s Possums are most often seen at dusk when they emerge from their tree hollows to feed on insects and tree sap. From head to tail, this possum is just thirty centimetres in length, its body measuring just half of that, and is primarily distinguished by its club-shaped tail that is characteristically wider at the tip than at the base. These marsupials live in family groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring from previous years, often including as many as twelve individuals. Due to their highly endangered status, Leadbeater’s Possums are only found in Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve and the Victorian Central Highlands. These secretive creatures are found mostly in forests with a high occurrence of tree hollows, smooth-barked eucalypts and dense vegetation structure. As such tree hollows need over 150 years to develop, these possums can generally only live in mature, old growth forests (hence their localisation in only two particular areas).

It is these tree hollows that are the core issue surrounding the plight of our Leadbeater’s Possums. As they are essential habitat features for these marsupials in terms of nesting, tree hollow abundance directly affects the number of Leadbeater’s Possums in the wild. Due to logging, land clearing and bushfires, the number of tree hollows is unfortunately decreasing, with any destroyed tree hollows of course not being replaced for at least another 150 years. Bushfires also provide a threat to Leadbeater’s Possums, the Black Saturday fires wiping out almost all of their already diminished habitat. Subsequently, this loss of a suitable environment can lead to habitat fragmentation and a decrease in connectivity between populations, further worsening this fragile species’ chance of survival.

However, although population numbers are expected to decline further, there are a few things that we can do to help our state emblem. Zoos Victoria is currently running the ‘Wipe for Wildlife’ campaign, which encourages people to buy locally produced toilet paper made from 100% post-consumer paper, whilst containing no harsh chemicals. We can extend this notion to many other aspects of our lives, such as purchasing products that are sustainably packaged, as well as choosing wood and paper products that are ethically and sustainably sourced.  In doing this, the high rate of logging in Victoria can perhaps be decreased enough to give this species a fighting chance to achieve higher population numbers, as well as a less vulnerable position on our endangered species list.

With fewer than 1000 individuals remaining, Leadbeater’s Possums are in desperate need of our attention. The extinction of this iconic species would be a huge loss to our state and nation, both biologically and culturally, and would leave a stain on Victoria’s already unfavourable faunal history.

 

For one thing, the beautiful wilds of Marysville would not be the same without them.  

Marysville: A Place in Nature

DSC_0361.JPG

A beautifully scenic drive from Melbourne’s CBD, the township of Marysville boasts enviable views of Victoria’s temperate forest landscape and is a prime location for discovering what it truly means to get in touch with nature. Nestled amongst the surrounding Great Dividing Range, the town could be described as quintessentially country, but with a unique take on its interaction with Victoria’s native wildlife.

Simply by walking down the main street, it is obvious to residents and visitors alike how seamlessly local flora and fauna fit into the picture of this country town. Cockatoos, wood ducks, king parrots and currawongs are just some of the native birdlife that can be easily spotted from your table at the central Marysville Bakery, whilst the encompassing hills provide a rich backdrop of native temperate flora.

 

 

The iconic Marysville Bakery.

The iconic Marysville Bakery.

Although Marysville’s connection with the nearby and often inescapable native wildlife is not unusual for many country towns of the area, this town’s connection with the sublime power of nature cannot be underestimated.

The township’s unfortunate and devastating confrontation with the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires has since portrayed its history as one that will forever be ingrained by the unforgiving power of nature.

Driving through the surrounding forests of Marysville on the well-known Lady Talbot Drive, it is impossible not to recognise the sublimely black and charred trees and eerily-absent canopy that speak volumes about what occurred here just four years ago.

 

 

 

The view from Lady Talbot drive. 

The view from Lady Talbot drive. 

Although a tragic event in Marysville and indeed Victoria’s history, it is clear that out of the Black Saturday bushfires has come re-birth, as well as an acceptance and heightened awareness of the influence of nature. The fact that many have rebuilt (and are still rebuilding) both residential and business properties tells visitors that the beauty and serenity of nature makes it worth the possible dangers that this town has already known.

This is not a difficult thing to understand, as it is made obvious from only a short stay in Marysville that the beauty and exceptionality of its natural setting would make living here a completely unique and awe-inspiring experience. Despite past tragedies and the subsequent lack of current economic benefits, many still inhabit the tranquil and picturesque Marysville in an attempt to appreciate the vast splendour of Victoria’s natural world.

The local art aficionado, Bruno Torfs, gives visitors just one incredible example of how the beauty and culture of a country town can be revived following such a terrible natural disaster. His Art and Sculpture Garden, situated off the picturesque Falls Road within Marysville, presents artwork that has survived, been destroyed by, and even created out of the bushfires.

One particular painting, produced days before the disaster, portrays a woman holding a lighted candle walking calmly through a world of fire and destruction. Its significance can only now be remarked upon, as it managed to survive the actual fires almost unharmed (a grateful dog unceremoniously having kicked a hole in it when scrambling into Bruno’s truck amidst the panic of the fires). 

Other standouts of the gallery include a slightly unconventional reproduction of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and several exotic works depicting Bruno’s extensive travels to Africa and the Middle East. A slightly charred and twisted French Horn is also displayed, along with paintings turned black by the fires – all artwork in themselves, again born out of the tragic circumstances that forever altered the originals.

 

DSC_0378.JPG

Many of the sculptures on display in the charmingly wild garden also blend together these elements of human culture, nature and rebirth. On entering, a sign informs visitors that following the bushfires, ‘there was not a single glimpse of green to be seen’, and that only through ‘the magic of nature’ has this garden managed to bloom again.

Not far along the first path of the garden is a sculpture of a man and woman emerging from a seed pod – an image that could not be more symbolic of the rebuilding of the gallery, garden and town itself. Such a theme continues throughout, with indigenous, culturally iconic, and humorous sculptures also included.

The famous Lady of Shalott sculpture is one of many that have been remade based on the original. Other sculptures further resonate the integration of nature into Marysville culture; a man with a face made of mice, a naked woman lying asleep next to a fox, and another coming out of a snail shell are but a few examples of the artwork that reflects this human relationship with wildlife.

New love emerging, or just two peas in a pod? 

New love emerging, or just two peas in a pod? 

The famous Lady of Shalott

The famous Lady of Shalott

The Mouse Man: How many can you count?

The Mouse Man: How many can you count?

A woman and a fox resting together in the forest.

A woman and a fox resting together in the forest.

This woman of the forest is literally coming out of her shell. 

This woman of the forest is literally coming out of her shell. 

Marysville’s close association with its surrounding natural aspects is also nothing short of historical. Originally established as a stop-off point for passing gold enthusiasts en route to goldfields further on, Marysville would have been a small and humble mark of civilisation amongst the serene forests of the surrounding mountains. In many ways, the town remains such a place, and as early as the 1920s, was already being promoted as a tourist destination based on the many natural wonders the town had to offer (including the stunning and still-popular Steavenson Falls). The importance of such a connection with the natural world is therefore only strengthened by the reliance many residents had, and still have, on the tourist appeal of so much natural beauty.

 

The famous Steavenson Falls - beautiful and serene. 

The famous Steavenson Falls - beautiful and serene. 

However, even in the absence of tourism, Marysville’s emotional link with nature is one that appears deeply rooted in the minds of many of its citizens - Bruno’s gallery being a strong testament to such an idea. The town’s ability to blend aspects of human settlement with the calm and almost utopian feel of Victoria’s natural environment is both a triumph of the town, and a gift to visitors not accustomed to such a close relationship with wildlife. It is again not difficult to comprehend how the town has managed to establish this connection with nature, and I believe it is with great appreciation and envy that visitors leave Marysville, many unable to forget the great significance and vitality that comes with understanding our state’s beautiful yet sublime natural surroundings.