Saturday, December 16, 2017

King Lake National Park

I think the best thing I ever got to do when I was in school was Work Experience with the park rangers at the Kinglake National Park, north of Melbourne. I'd always wanted to be in the bush and found it difficult living in the urban and city environment. Somehow when I was in year eight I managed to score the opportunity to live and work for two consecutive weeks in Kinglake National Park! I think I may have received some extra help in scoring this opportunity based on my borderline delinquent status...

This was such a great opportunity, my previous work experience had me getting up at 5:30 every day for two weeks in the middle of winter to catch a train and bus to a skylight factory where I was stuck inside all day folding sheet metal and cutting perspex. At Kinglake I got to live in a small cabin in the forest just up the track from Mason's falls.

My work consisted mainly of digging trenches, track maintenance, cleaning toilets and painting signs. Most of it was pretty mundane but I just loved being there, occasionally there were opportunities to go on patrol with the rangers and visit some of the lesser known corners of the park. My favorite time was at dawn before the park opened, lyrebirds and wallabies would break cover from the ground ferns, they'd browse and forage in the scrub right next to my cabin, nobody else saw that!

I really wanted to be a ranger but was advised that if I didn't have straight A's at school and didn't have a combination of multiple degrees and highly specialized skills like mountain climbing or various other extreme sport activities up my sleeve, I might as well quit my fantasy of becoming a ranger. There were no positions for amateurs! (The previous work experience kid was a high achiever from a private school!) So I enjoyed my two weeks in paradise and returned to my destiny as a Pleb. (I was failing dismally at school, I'd never been given any impression that I'd ever be able to attend university) All evidence pointed to me becoming either a sheet metal worker in a factory or a second rate criminal residing in the  "Bluestone College" at Coburg. 

 Kinglake National Park was a place I'd visited several times in my Youth, it was the nearest 'mountain range' (mountain by Australian standards) and only place of that type that I was familiar with. I loved it there but by the time I got my license and became truly mobile I became used to venturing a lot further afield. I possibly only went back to Mason's falls three or four times after I left school.

The Lyrebird was a very commonly seen resident before the fires, I hope my kids can see one here some day

In 2009 After three days of temperatures of over 40 degrees C the tinder dry bushland ignited. On the 7th February 2009 multiple fires spread across the region and the hills burned! This was the day known as Black Saturday. The destruction was extreme, according to the statistics on the National Museum of Australia website 450,000 hectares was burned and 173 people died, 100's of houses were destroyed and thousands of animals perished. Impact on the environment was massive. Non fire resistant riparian vegetation and rain forest was lost.The tree ferns disappeared the earth was left bare and all that could be seen from the grasslands below were the eerie skeletons of 1,000s of dead trees rising above the bare hills.

I had been living in Darwin for several years at the time of the fire and didn't venture into the hills again for a couple of years after. Even several years later Driving through Flowerdale on my way to Bonnie Doon was a devastating experience! I couldn't recognize the landscape! What had once been a thickly wooded shady valley dripping with mountain dew was now a barren hillside covered with the grey and black corpses of dead trees. No foliage. As we turned toward Alexandra my eyes welled up and I began to cry. What has happened here was apocalyptic! It felt like The End! I couldn't stand it!

Yesterday nearly 9 years after the fires had passed, I finally felt OK about visiting the National park at Kinglake. On the way I was shocked to see how much development has spread along Plenty Road. People everywhere, cars, flash houses, the lot! All plonked on top of a land which had it's own spirit. The new comers oblivious to the space they now inhabit, will they ever appreciate the place that lies beneath their roads and streets of houses?

As we approached the park it was confronting to see how the vegetation has changed. The mature forest was gone. There had been quite a bit of re-growth but this was not the same forest. It's taken so many years, nearly a decade, for plant life to begin to restore, but at least it is happening, God knows if it will ever become the wet forest it used to be.

At the park itself I could see that a lot of the tall trees remained, but most of the shrubs and ground cover had been replaced with eucalypt saplings and acacias. The riparian zone appeared to be in reasonable condition, there were actually still a few tree ferns very close to the water and the stream flowed clear. We didn't get to see any Lyrebirds but I have heard there are some around. 

Tree ferns still exist  but there are much less than there used to be

A lot of tall trees were felled after the fires

This is a park which attracts a lot of city visitors, it has always had a fairly heavy impact. The attitude of visitors was particularly obvious to me this time around. After the bushland here had suffered so much through the fires it was very saddening to find that every tree trunk in the visitors area had been defaced. Some fools saw the blackened trunks of these great survivors as nothing more than a canvas for their self indulgent need to leave their mark. Every visible tree trunk had people's names and various other messages and vulgarities scratched like graffiti in the charred bark of the remaining trees! Although this has relatively low impact on the health of the trees, it reflects a general contempt for the majesty of these beautiful trees and a lack of appreciation for just how precious this place is. As I walked the Lyrebird path with my children and my mother I saw other artifacts of spray painted graffiti and wondered who would perish first, the forest or the destructive culture that has altered the climate to the point that such a fire is likely to happen again. 

Every tree in this area had been defaced

Getting back to my original hopes to become a park ranger, I did eventually study to become a ranger in the NT, where there were actually ample opportunities to work in the field and in some very remote and beautiful places. I chose not to pursue that career due mostly to the fact that a large portion of the job involved managing the people who want to use these places for quite destructive recreational pursuits. NT parks, particularly those close to Darwin tend to be used as places to congregate in the bush with a ton of booze and loud music. 
I've chosen for my relationship with the environment to be a more personal affair.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Tubeless Tyres

Just a quick note.

In September I went to Singapore.
There were lots of interesting things but what caught my eye in particular was the fact that tubeless bicycle tyres are already in common use!

Based on the media I've seen about them I thought they were a concept that was being developed. It turns out that Western media sources are way behind the 8 ball.