SPIRIT OF RE­NEWAL

Go­ing full cir­cle and re­cap­tur­ing the wet­lands at Win­ton.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - Words Kylie Wil­son pho­tos Ewen Bell, Luke Plum­mer

TUCKED in a pic­turesque val­ley on the other side of the Warby Range, be­tween Wan­garatta and Be­nalla, is the largest scale wet­lands restora­tion project in the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

The Win­ton Wet­lands area – around 8750ha in to­tal - has a long his­tory, stretch­ing back to when it was known by In­dige­nous peo­ples as Mokoan, an ex­ten­sive ephemeral wet­land sys­tem that was in­un­dated sea­son­ally.

It was rich in tra­di­tional food sources and pro­vided wa­ter, shel­ter and medicine to sus­tain In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, and was also a tra­di­tional meet­ing place and trad­ing hub for the Yorta Yorta peo­ple.

At the time of Euro­pean set­tle­ment, the area, known as the Mokoan Run, was one of many pas­toral li­cences granted, and farm­ing in the district has been con­tin­u­ously re­fined by gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies since the 1840s.

In 1971, the Win­ton Swamp and nearby Green Swamp were in­un­dated to cre­ate Lake Mokoan, which in turn was de­com­mis­sioned in 2009.

Ever since then, work has taken place by the Win­ton Wet­lands com­mit­tee of man­age­ment and the com­mu­nity to re­store the nat­u­ral ecosys­tem of the Win­ton Wet­lands, hon­our the many di­verse facets of its his­tory, at­tract vis­i­tors and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­men­tal hub.

It’s still a work in progress, but chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Jim Grant, who has been in the driv­ing seat for the past three years, be­lieves both eco­log­i­cal and tourism pri­or­i­ties set out by the com­mit­tee’s multi-faceted mas­ter plan are ad­vanc­ing.

Mr Grant said the first stage of the plan – con­cen­trat­ing on cre­at­ing in­fra­struc­ture and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties - is head­ing to­wards com­ple­tion, while work on the sec­ond stage – po­si­tion­ing the wet­lands as a ma­jor tourist des­ti­na­tion and en­rich­ing vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ences – is gain­ing mo­men­tum.

He said the wet­lands is steadily grow­ing into a di­verse nat­u­ral at­trac­tion.

Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude the Mokoan Hub, which fea­tures a café, func­tion fa­cil­i­ties and vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion; a bi­cy­cle path on the wet­lands’ north shore; a path suit­able for walk­ing and moun­tain bik­ing at The Spit; a walk­ing path at Green’s Hill; a ba­sic road net­work; and a pic­nic area which is set to have a play­ground by the end of the year.

Bird­watch­ers can keep an eye out for some 188 feathered species at the Mokoan Ponds and Dam Wall, in­clud­ing sea ea­gles, pere­grine fal­cons, pink eared ducks and other wa­ter birds, while kayak and ca­noe en­thu­si­asts can en­joy a pad­dle, or even a fish, in the wet­ter months of the year.

IT’S BEEN THE BIG­GEST WET­LANDS RESTORA­TION PROJECT

IN THE SOUTH­ERN HEMI­SPHERE, AND NOW WIN­TON WET­LANDS IS LOOK­ING TO WIDEN ITS PUB­LIC AP­PEAL

THROUGH A WHOLE NEW SE­RIES OF EVENTS.

A board­walk/cause­way area is also in the pipe­line, and while reg­u­lar ‘ flash camp­ing’ events are cur­rently be­ing held at Win­ton Wet­lands, per­ma­nent camp­grounds at the Duck Pond and Dam Wall ar­eas will be com­pleted by the end of May.

“This year’s chal­lenge is build­ing up events,” Mr Grant en­thused.

“We’re try­ing to build a place where lo­cal peo­ple and tourists can in­ter­act.”

He said restora­tion works, par­tic­u­larly plant­ing redgums at strate­gic points around the wet­lands, and carp erad­i­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties to give the ecosys­tem a chance to thrive, con­tinue to help the re­cov­ery of the en­vi­ron­ment in the area.

“You can re­ally see great progress,” he noted, adding that while true restora­tion of the area will take place over the bet­ter part of a cen­tury, the next five years will con­cen­trate on both at­tract­ing vis­i­tors and con­tin­u­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion work. >>

Com­mit­tee chair Dennis O’brien is another ar­dent ad­vo­cate for the on­go­ing evo­lu­tion of the wet­lands.

“It is a great re­newal project, a re­newal of a de­stroyed wet­land,” Dr O’brien said.

“It’s about the ex­pe­ri­ence and the emo­tion that the site gen­er­ates.”

The wet­lands was in the artis­tic spot­light last month, with in­ter­na­tional artist Guido van Hel­ten - whose large scale works on dis­used Wim­mera wheat si­los have made waves glob­ally - trans­form­ing the wet­lands’ emer­gency wa­ter tank into a strik­ing piece of art­work.

More in­for­ma­tion on Win­ton Wet­lands is avail­able on the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Face­book page or on www.win­ton­wet­lands.org.au.

If this has re­ally sparked your in­ter­est, why not con­sider join­ing The Friends of Win­ton Wet­lands? It was es­tab­lished in 2013 to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of the wet­lands, and its mem­bers get in­volved in ac­tiv­i­ties to in­crease aware­ness and knowl­edge of both the wet­lands and the sur­round­ing wood­land ar­eas. You can make en­quiries with Win­ton Wet­lands.

IT’S WORTH A LOOK \ Pel­i­cans ( top) and many other bird species can be viewed at the wet­lands, while you can go on a range of walks ( above), or re­lax at the Mokoan Hub, pic­tured be­low with chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Jim Grant.

COME EXLPORE \ The 8750 hectares mak­ing up Win­ton Wet­lands of­fers some fab­u­lous walks. The re­serve has 3800ha of wet­lands sur­rounded by 4950ha of red gum and box grassy wood­lands, which in­cludes 1850ha of graz­ing land.

PER­FECT SIGHT \ A beau­ti­ful sunrise at the wet­lands ( above) and some of the largest lo­cal in­hab­i­tants take flight.

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