We are often asked how things are recovering after the December bushfire. I’m happy to say, really well! Already all fire affected properties have been cleared up. The Sep Ck bridge now has a footbridge and … Paddys Path, the vital link between Wye and Separation Ck, has reopened. Yess!!
Over 40 landowners and their families joined a community working bee, and now hundreds of seedlings welcome you at each end of Paddys Path.
Bird nesting boxes are starting to appear in local trees.
There is a back story about how this happened. Told here for the first time.
It all sounds so simple, but as permanent residents Sibylle and I decided after the fire that we had two choices – we could be victims or we could be part of the solution. We decided to work behind the scenes to make things happen, and Paddy’s Path and the planting are some that we had a part in.
Even before the fire I had started a little group called ‘Wye Weed Warriors’, a catchy name to get attention for the hard grind of attacking weeds. An offshoot of Wye to Wongarra Landcare. Kind of boring. Supported by Yvonne, an enthusiastic local who like us, would lose a house in the fire.
In the fertile rainforest weeds are constant threat to the natural environment. I had watched a pretty Banana Passionfruit vine grow around our Treetops rental house and found to my horror that it had strangled 11 large trees within 2 years. We made a start on the weeds last year. But that was then.
After the fire we decided to fast track regeneration of the environment, and our Wye Weed Warriors was the vehicle.
Although Sea Zen was unaffected, Treetops was totally destroyed and large parts of the village vegetation were struggling to come back. Piles of bird feathers reminded us that Feral cats are more effective killers after the fire. Paddy’s Path was closed.
What could we do?
First we realised that after a fire burns everything, there is a unique opportunity – the bad weeds are gone for a while, we can easily see them emerge, and hit them hard so they will be gone for generations. On the other hand if we are slow to react, the weeds will overwhelm the native vegetation for generations.
It was easy to convince the weed experts from the Shire and the environment agency Delwp (Department Environment, Land Water and Planning) about the opportunity. In no time they formed a task group focused on Wye / Sep weeds. Quickly all the local agencies pooled their funds. They got it, that we had one shot at this. We appointed a weeds contractor under the supervision of the regional Landcare group.
Experts from Landcare helped answer the important questions. Which weeds could we sensibly eliminate? What native vegetation was most suitable for planting? What was best in a future fire? What were the priority areas to attack? When could we replant? What could we do for the birds? One by one, the experts worked through the answers.
About this time, Monbulk Landcare donated us 45 bird nesting boxes to help the birds. On 19 July the first were installed high in the local trees.
Grocon had started cleaning up the burned houses in March, and a Resilience Committee was formed to link the community with Government agency support. Emergency services commissioner Craig Lapsley and ministers Neville and Garrett came and spoke with locals, and threw in huge funding support.
Next, how could we get the community onside for the environment effort when folks were still reeling from the shock of the fire? At the Easter CFA Fete, I set up a table with some weeds, some information flyers and some bird boxes. A few people signed up to get a bird box and our emails; things were looking good.
From nowhere, a bright woman dressed as a clown came up and said, “I’m Jay. I’d like to help with your bird boxes!” It was to be the start of a great relationship for the WWW.
Then came the bad news from Delwp. “Sorry Rex, it looks like we might have to keep Paddy’s Path shut till Christmas, we are concerned about safety.”
After some work behind the scenes, there was a target for reopening Paddy’s Path, backed by the central community committee.
But the weeds started to grow. I kept calling – “Can we get our weeds contractor started in Paddy’s Path?” The answer was “Soon, soon”, then finally in May, “OK”.
What about the bird killings? Reports of Feral cats continued. In March we bought 2 cat traps, and started catching feral cats, with humane removal via the local vet.
How could we bring all this together – and bring the community along?
I took a punt on Paddy’s Path being open for Queens Birthday. We would organise an information workshop and a replanting working bee for that weekend.
We ordered 250 seedlings for the working bee.
Jay volunteered to source information about the local birds. She ended up writing a comprehensive guide to local birds – best I have seen. There is a set in Sea Zen, covering 11 birds and animals. Check it out when you stay!
We advertised wherever we could. The tireless Jay set up a tent outside the Wye cafe the day before the workshop signing up folks for a bird box and promoting the workshop. It rained all day but that didn’t stop Jay getting lot of bird box orders. Things were looking good.
Paddy’s Path WAS officially open for the Queen’s Birthday weekend. The Vicroads contractor put on a spurt and the new footbridge at Sep Creek was open. For the first time since the fire the Wye and Sep villages are joined and folks can walk from one end to the other.
However, would anyone come to our Birds and Weeds workshop, or were we just a few crazies?
The day of the workshop dawned fine, and one by one folks filed into the Surfclub. Five – it was a start, then 10, 20 and finally 50 people came. They wanted to hear the story, more important they wanted to help the environment recover from the fire.
We spoke about the opportunity, the birdboxes, the cat traps. Libby from Landcare showed our enemy weeds and how to kill them. Stewart from the shire explained how agencies had pooled resources to fight the weeds. Jacinta our weeds contractor explained progress.
I was proud to explain that Jacinta was also a CFA volunteer from Barongarook who took on the vital task of site commander after our local CFA Captain was relieved in the December fire.
After a BBQ lunch the planting was due. Again we didn’t know if this would be a few hardy souls or more. At the Wye end of Paddy’s Path we had 15 eager planters. At the Sep end of the path we had 30 planters. Our youngest planter was 6, our oldest was 68. After a few hours everyone surveyed their handiwork as all 200 seedlings were planted.
It was a start of revegetating Wye, and it looked great!
While our little environment project worked well there are lots happening in parallel in the community, guided by locals and supported by the agencies. Well done Commissioner Lapsley!
In late June the vegetation steering committee met. They gave us more funds for more plantings. They launched a booklet that guides local folks on what kinds of plants to replant. Another planting working bee is planned for 31 July.
A few days ago the first bird nesting boxes were installed high in the trees.
The work started those months ago is bearing fruit, the town is re-emerging.
There are more stories to tell – but come and see it first hand from the comfort of Sea Zen!