Saturday, 7 February 2015

Joanna PII - Otways

Named after Captain William Albany Otway in 1800 by Lt James Grant.  Grant was on his way to Sydney to hand over the 60 ton survey vessel ‘Lady Nelson’ to Mathew Flinders.

As fate would have it Grant was delayed on the way out and tasked to confirm the presence of a passage between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.

This he was able to do becoming the first European to navigate the entire passage West to East.  However lacking provisions and talent for serious survey work no detailed maps of the coastline were forthcoming, arriving in Sydney on the 16th Dec 1800 only to find Flinders had already left for England.

Sailing along the coast Grant would have been amazed at the beaches wriggling with seals, penguins, oceans brimming with fish, dolphins, and the air a haze of birdlife.  But possibly the most dramatic view would have been of the coastline itself.  Something straight out of the Jurassic Park movie set.  Steep sandstone cliffs rising in the air, paler limestone formations standing apostle like in defiance of the tempests which batter the southern coastline and vegetation dominated by giant flowering trees (Mountain Ash) dating back to the days of Gondwana kept company by sprawling stately tree ferns.  
Mountain Ash, Tree Fern lined road

A dense cacophony of life.

This is the Otways. 

More accurately this was the Otways.  Now 215 years later there have been a few changes.  Most notably extensive land clearing for a variety of purposes over varying time scales.  Consistent throughout and dating back to the 1840’s the desire for timber has had the biggest impact.  Initially harvested in response to gold rushes, fuel and construction materials in more recent times it has been clear felled as a source for woodchips.

Clear felling is the most destructive form of logging resulting in the decimation of the flora and fauna of the region, many of which exist only in this environmental refuge.  It is also said that logging in the area produced marginal if any benefits, socially or economically.  

Fortunately public concern and action led to a ban on such logging of native forest in 2008.  However plantations of pine (Pinus radiata) and blue gum (eucalyptus globulus) still dominate many vistas and contribute to catchment wide issues such as the spread of Myrtle Wilt Fungus and downstream water quality issues.

Having halted the destruction of native forest this was a win for the environment in the area however the industry is still lobbying strongly in other regions and there is now pressure mounting from investment in the dairy industry from overseas interests.
Pine Plantation on the Turtons Track, Otway Ranges

Dairy farming sprouted following the second world war when returned soldiers were offered parcels of land to transform into profitable farms under the ‘Soldier Settlement’ act.  Many failed but not before large areas were cleared and burned.  Since then farmers welfare has risen and fallen on the price of milk with recent times being particularly tough as a result of price wars between the major retail outlets.

Dairy Farm water trough and cleared pasture land
looking west across the Otway Ranges
Enter the overseas investors. Their catch cry is ‘increase efficiency’, ‘Increase productivity’ which usually translates to intensive farming practices.

SO what does the future hold for the Otways?  I don’t now but today is a beautiful day to explore!

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