In this turbulent 2020 year Jord International’s annual Bush Heritage trip was hosted on the Tarcutta Hills Reserve to “do some good”, have some rest and relaxation and strengthen team bonding. This COVID year we couldn't be joined by our workmates from overseas and interstate but nevertheless people from our Sydney and Newcastle offices took part in an activity that's become an annual institution at Jord.
Tarcutta Hills Reserve nestles in the foothills of the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, a landscape that's been heavily cleared of its native vegetation. Before white settlement there was an abundance of Ironbark and White Box gum tress providing nectar for thirsty Swift Parrots taking a fuel stop midway through their long migration route across South Eastern Australia and Bass Strait to and from their breeding sites on the Apple Isle. Unfortunately for the Swift Parrots, the region is grazing for sheep and cattle and in the years since, nearly 90% of such woodlands have been cleared and replaced with pasture.
However all is not lost. In recent years Bush Heritage secured 720 hectares in this region to establish the Tarcutta Hills Reserve and has set about creating a habitat similar to that which existed prior to 1850. A big task but an immensely satisfying one if it can be pulled off.
The 6 hour drive from Sydney left us plenty of time to pitch tents and go on a bushwalk with our host Reserve Manager, Damon Bassett, to get an idea of the lay of the land.
Compared with Naree Reserve, which we visited 12 months ago, it looked like the land of plenty. Everything was green and the grass was high.
As the sun dipped down, dinner arrived and the frogs started their croaking. The frog population seems to be in great shape. The Australian Museum verified 4 frog species from the recording I made using my FrogID app and there seemed to be a lot of mating going on judging by the sound volume.
In Tarcutta the soundscapes are just as good as the landscapes.
Night time brought heavy rain. The raindrops drumming on the tent almost drowned out the frogs.
Sunrise brought with it bright sunshine and a cacophony of birdsong.
After a hearty country breakfast the work started in earnest. Patterson’s Curse is a pest of arable and conservation lands and needs no urging to cover large swathes of countryside in the Riverina and Eden-Monaro. It's also known as “Riverina Bluebells” by wily local flowergrowers out to a make a buck by selling it to gullible florists in Sydney.
Bees like it but Bush Heritage does not. So Jord’s trusty volunteer crew set about ripping it up by the roots and depositing it in huge piles that could be covered with black heavy-duty plastic to accelerate the composting before the flowers would have a chance to seed.
We also attacked some stands of Scottish thistles with similar relish. We had enough to corner the worldwide market for Riverina Bluebells but we decided to do the right thing by the environment and destroy the crop like the vice squad.
After another fine meal and poetry recitals and a few snifters of aged (1942!!) brandy we settled into our sleeping bags and went to sleep serenaded by the frogs.
Sunday was time to hit road again and we cut across to Scottsdale Reserve via the Snowy Mountains Highway.
The drive is spectacular but a bittersweet spectacle these days after the devastating fires of early 2020.
Nine months after the fires wrought havoc across the national parks, large areas are suffering soil erosion from the otherwise welcome rain due to lack of vegetation.
Up at the higher altitudes it seems the epicormic growth so typical of gum trees responding to bushfires doesn’t seem to have kicked in. The trees have not got a leaf on them. They just look dead.
Dropping down on the other side of the Range we soon came to Scottsdale where we were welcomed by reserve manager Phil Palmer.
Phil knows us from hosting us back in 2017 and strangely enough he seemed pleased to see us. He wasted no time putting us to work on a new design of tree guard – it's a cracker! Made out of concrete reinforcement grid of 4mm diameter wire, it can stop kangaroos, wallabies, deer, almost every known herbivore up to but maybe not including wombats.
In a thousand years Phil Palmer’s tree guards may be all that's left of our entire civilisation!
Having knocked up dozens, if not hundreds, of heavy-duty tree guards we retired to the Bredbo Pub to have dinner and watch the NRL Grand Final.
That left Monday for the Jord Grand Finale.
As reported on this blog earlier in the year Scottsdale was not so lucky in the fires. It lost a lot of trees. The soils on the hillsides, once held together by tree roots have been washing down into the Murrumbidgee River to the detriment of both the hillside and the river.
The banks were in urgent need of young trees to bind and hold the soil and ash and, in the fullness of time, to provide insects with something to eat and then a convenient place to fall into the river and drown so they can feed the Macquarie Perch and Platypus that have begun to thrive along this stretch of the river. Nature is funny like that.
The Murrimbidgee flows in a gorge along Scottsdale’s northern boundary and the only way into it is by raft or kayak. So that’s what we did.
We donned lifejackets and helmets and started making our way upstream into the gorge in inflatable canoes. A tinny followed behind with a tray of 200 tubestock of River bottlebrushes, a tree we are reliably informed no insect can resist.
It was a chilly 8 degrees but at least the rain was holding off and paddling helped warm us up. We stopped at a number of sites and got to work planting trees into holes drilled with a hand augur. It took two hours but we got all the trees planted and hopefully by late summer or whenever callistemons flower they will be mature enough to hold the soil together and to lure some insects into falling into the drink and getting eaten by a Platypus.
This left us with a final challenge, to shoot the fabled Scottsdale Cannonball Rapids. Normally these are a Category 2 rapids (Moderate medium-quick water) but on this particular day (at least in our minds) they seemed to be Category 5 (Extremely difficult and very violent).
The survivors made their way back to the homestead for hot showers, hot tea and to pack the tents.
It was another great experience with Bush Heritage Australia who have given Jord so many rich experiences over the years.
Once again thanks Bush Heritage for your hospitality and the rich interpretative guided tours you take us on, that have now become so much a part of Jord’s cultural identity and folklore.