Pondering preservation in the modern world
In 1966, Max Downes was the superintendent of Game Management and the future was bright as Victoria tackled the issue of reserving habitat. However, 50 years later, should we question whether the same enthusiasm exists for maintaining habitat for hunting?
Delving into the treasure trove that is the Australian National Hunting Archive, curator Max Downes recently came across a progress summary he wrote half a century ago.
The report covered: Wildlife Reserves, areas set aside and managed by the Fisheries and Wildlife Department for the conservation of wildlife; State Game Reserves, which were similar in nature but were open for hunting during Duck Season; and, State Sanctuaries, which were created for the same purpose as game reserves but were closed to hunting at all times. “Because legal duck shooting during the open season is not detrimental to the wildlife conservation in these areas this activity will continue as in the past,” Max wrote at the time. “At this stage of the programme most attention is being given to swamps for the conservation of waterfowl. Due to drainage and deterioration of swamps this is the sphere of greatest urgency.”
The report noted that the flying black duck had been chosen as the emblem signifying a State Game Reserve.
The process of declaring a reserve began with an investigation into the wildlife and habitat and the opportunities to eliminate detrimental activities such as drainage and grazing.
A proposed management plan was devised and included projects such as watering, fencing, planting of waterfowl food and cover, design of access tracks and provision of public facilities.
The plans were presented to local clubs, responsible authorities and adjacent landowners and the evidence would be put before a State Wildlife Reserves Investigation Committee.
Max did not hold back in his advice, writing:
“It is essential to secure the areas and save the existing habitat before it is finally destroyed. “Once the areas are safe, then the slower work of rehabilitation and development can proceed.”
At that point, three areas had been gazetted and declared in the category of State Game Reserve: Jack Smiths Lake in Gippsland, Lake Coleman in the Latrobe Valley and Lake Goldsmith near Ballarat.
Some interesting facts emerge from Max Downes' summary, including this statement, which underlined the urgent need for reform: “Of 44 000 acres of duck swamp in the Latrobe Valley less than 4000 acres is on Crown land and attempts are being made to drain the remainder on private land.”
The document outlines a further 15 areas that were under consideration by the investigation committee including Tower Hill, a volcanic formation created 30 000 years ago.
The eruption left the largest nested maar formation in Victoria but as it pushed through the earth's crust it also forged a shallow crater, which later filled with water to create the lake.
By 1966 animal and plant life was poor, and Koroit Borough Council requested the establishment of a game reserve be investigated.
Max wrote in his 1966 report that 1860s settlement and early agriculture had been “cataclysmic” and the original prolific vegetation was destroyed in less than a decade.
In 1892, Tower Hill was declared Victoria's first national park but the destructive uses continued.
A century after settlement the park needed saving and among its saviours were hunters.
The Victorian Parliament approved the creation of a State Game Reserve, which Max said: “…appealed to the imagination of, and received considerable support from the local public, shooter and naturalist alike.”
Warrnambool Field & Game erected the first trial fences to keep out rabbits and the Field Naturalists group from the same city prepared the ground to plant trees.
A major revegetation program began, largely guided by Outlook, an 1855 painting by Viennese artist Eugene von Guerard.
By the 1980s, 250 000 trees had
been planted and the 60 species of birds surveyed in 1960 had grown to more than 160.
Hunters contributed significantly to the success at Tower Hill, which is now a significant tourist asset for the region, and while there is duck hunting during season, it is not allowed between 9 am and 5 pm each day.
It remains as a beacon for what can be achieved when a value is attached to public land but it also stands in stark contrast to the status, condition and management of so many of our hard-earned State Game Reserves.
In the 50 years since Max penned his progress report, one thing has not changed — the commitment of Field & Game Australia members to conserving State Game Reserves is as strong as it ever was.