We purchased this home in late 2009, the year of black saturday, millennium drought and El Nino. The house design, views, off-grid nature and location called me in a way I had not experienced before, so the attached land was not a major consideration.
The house enjoyed superb views and great environmental design closer to our work, so had enough attractions, but it came with 45 hectares of bare, desolate looking hill country. Our two kids loved the place, playing on the large rocks, walking around the hills and along the dry creek bed. What idiot would look to buy this over-cleared, steep, rocky, poor land that had been overgrazed for 30 years with massive weeds, rabbits?
One neighbour had been the original owner, and known locally as one who gives all farmers a bad reputation. Starving stock will find any weakness in a fence, so the first weeks were spent unpacking and trying to repair fences and continuously remove his stock. There was no grass I could see in our parched paddock, but these cattle seemed to be convinced there was something worth chasing.
In 2010 La Nina kicked in and it didn’t stop raining. No stock on the block meant that the native grasses were growing and seeding quickly. I was amazed at how quickly the grasses recovered and flourished. I started to find some wattle and eucalypt regrowth coming up through the grass, now growing rapidly without being chewed to the ground.
I found Grazing Guidelines for managing the native grasses through intermittent grazing with specific timing. After only five years of this regime the block was looking superb. The kangaroo grass was increasing in cover. The gullies run clear water all year. The eucalypt regrowth was 4-6 metres high. The wattles and other shrubs were slowly extending their numbers and range. The hills were going from bare with few trees to small areas of open woodland.
The cover has meant more birds and we get excited when new bird species appear on the place and can be added to the list. The resident red bellied black snake is now considered a friend after we learnt they like to eat brown snakes, and the wrens keep us notified of where ‘she’ is in the garden.
I started cool winter burns in the grasses on the block, now 5 years of creating a mosaic of burnt and unburnt sections. The kangaroo grass seems to love the winter fire and the annual rubbish seems to hate it. This fire regime seems to be accelerating the increase of native grass cover and the burnt areas just look better in the following spring and summer.
My wife and I consider how the rest of the valley would look if it was managed the same way, but this will not happen until the ownership changes, so we keep to restoring our island and hope for change. Ten years of turning fat cattle off our block while his other stock barely grow during the same period has done nothing to convince our neighbour to reconsider his practices.
There is another drought now across the country. At the start of Spring 2018, we are at 30-40% of average rainfall. It has been fortunate that the little rain has been well timed and useful. The block still looks good as the native grasses respond quickly to every fall. It will be interesting to watch what happens as the drought continues.
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