A decade of delivery
Just before Christmas in 1848, the Reverend Willoughby Bean set off to administer to the Montgomery family on their property next to the Heart Morass.
“We had,” Rev. Bean told the Gippsland
Times, “now to cross the natural boundary of upper and lower Gippsland — a large morass under water, about a mile-and-a half-broad in a direct line, but fully three miles as we had to travel across it.”
Even with a guide, Rev. Bean managed to get his horse into a hole and had to get off and wade some 300 yards then swim the horses across the Latrobe River.
Rev. Bean would not have recognised the Morass by the time Field & Game Australia, WET Trust and the Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation purchased the land.
Williamson Foundation chairman, Martin Carlson, remembers well his first site visit to what was a collection of five farms on marginalised country. “Williamson was approached by a number of people in Sale who were part of a small environmental group we funded called Watermark,” he said. “They kept talking to us about the Heart Morass so we came to see what it was.”
The seed planted, the Williamson Foundation saw the wisdom of purchasing the land and turning it back into an iconic wetland. “It was then five farms that were eventually purchased in a joint venture between Hugh Williamson and Field & Game Australia; we both put in the equivalent of a million dollars each, that’s big money,” Mr Carlson said.
“Primarily it is a conservation project but we need the public to want to own them; everything we are doing has to be related to public ownership otherwise you are wasting your time.”
At the same time, the Williamson Foundation was growing Bug Blitz, a hands-on program to help students explore and discover their local habitat.
More than 25 000 students have participated in Bug Blitz at 65 sites including Heart Morass.
After a decade of hard work, it’s likely the Rev. Bean would again recognise the area. After recent rainfall the Morass is flush with water, the vegetation is getting thicker every year and the birdlife is a remarkable sight. “It is another world, and that is why we are now starting discussions about how it can become open to more people and perhaps with some element of tourism,” Mr Carlson said.
Chairman of the committee of governors for the Heart Morass and Field & Game Australia patron David Hawker AO addressed the crowd at the 10th anniversary open day where the transformation of the Heart Morass was there for all to see. “It is quite remarkable by any measure,” he said. “It is a great credit to everyone who has been involved, particularly the local Field & Game Australia members who have put countless thousands of hours into making it what it is, supported very strongly by the
West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, WET Trust and the Hugh Williamson Foundation who continue to be so generous.”
Volunteers have planted 50 000 indigenous trees and encouraged the stunning regrowth of native cover by collecting seed from 50 species, and more than 20 000 tonnes of invasive carp has been removed. “The really big message is this can be replicated and we have representatives from Geelong Field & Game who are doing a similar thing at Connewarre with the Wetland Centre,” Mr Hawker said. “What you are seeing here is an initiative that started with Field & Game and it demonstrates something that is replicated worldwide: when it comes to conservation, it is hunters that generally lead the way.”
John Chambers, who joined FGA in the 1970s, recalls being a regular visitor to marvel at the engineering of the nearby swing bridge. “I’ve been a duck hunter and a wing shooter over those years but the more shooting you do, the more you want to do to ensure for the future that the environment is available for all,” he said.
Mr Chambers conserves wetlands on his own property but marvels at the achievements at the Heart Morass. “It is one of the great achievements in environmental management. It is a very special place for me; my heart is in the Heart Morass,” he said.
A fish trap used to harvest carp
Wetland supporter John Chambers with Martin Carlson from the Hugh Williamson Foundation
Trent Leen used a drone to capture this aerial view of Heart Morass