Our 95 hectares at Adams Road, Slaty Creek – in blue mallee country just north of St Arnaud, Victoria – now has 100 waterholes (we call them gilgai). These are mainly small water bodies along drainage lines, including eroded ones, but we are slowly ‘decriminalising’ the original 10 ‘traditional’ farm dams – in other words, converting them to wetlands.

Two years ago, in mid 2016, Aaron Watts, earthmoving contractor and farmer from Coonooer Bridge, was working on the property. In 2-3 hours he scooped out eleven ponds with his excavator. I got the distinct impression that Aaron, and his offsider Geoff Winsall, a one-time Soil Conservation Authority (SCA) plant operator, relished their task.

With the example of Middle Creek in mind, the best example in the district of an intact chain of ponds, we decided not to leave banks on the downstream side, as John Douglas had done with our earlier systems.
It rained overnight and, to our delight, every gilgai filled.

We later seeded the bare areas with melaleucas and sedges, and totem-poles and some sedges have germinated around each gilgai. We can readily transplant more sedges from existing dams.
This has been immensely satisfying.

What’s next?

Some 30 kilometres south of St Arnaud, a modest gully runs SW-NE through our block of box-ironbark country near Stuart Mill. In parallel is a non-eroded grassy drainage line. I want to try to restore the former to a chain of ponds. This means, I think, getting Aaron’s excavator to reshape the bed of the eroded gully into a series of terraces, rather than the present constant fall, and filling the channel with as much natural debris – especially branches and heads of trees – as possible. Clearly we’ll need a gentle touch to minimise disturbance.

It might also mean an inconspicuous series of upslope riplines. And maybe judiciously thinning 5-10 percent of the vegetation within say 40 metres of the creekline – across the slope, not up- or downhill – to ‘roughen the catchment’, as a friend once put it. It might even extend to a contour bank or two – an old-style ‘soilcon’ technique from the halcyon days of Victoria’s SCA – for which I also worked – briefly in the early 1980s during the amalgamation phase that led to the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, and so on.

Or we could introduce beavers to Stuart Mill!

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