Hunters be­long on the Bar­won Es­tu­ary

The Bar­won Es­tu­ary Project is pro­duc­ing a pub­li­ca­tion to record the com­mu­nity’s con­nec­tion to these im­por­tant wet­lands near Gee­long, Vic­to­ria’s se­cond largest city. No record would be com­plete with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing hunters, and the fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle has b

Field and Game - - 2018 NATIONAL CARNIVAL -

Hunt­ing weaves its way through the his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the Bar­won Es­tu­ary, gen­er­at­ing con­tro­versy and pub­lic de­bate in equal mea­sure through­out the years.

Of­ten ig­nored, or al­ter­nately, wil­fully ne­glected in this nar­ra­tive is the pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion made by ded­i­cated wa­ter­fowl hunters to these valu­able wet­land en­vi­ron­ments.

Long gone are the days of large-scale com­mer­cial har­vest­ing for the game meat mar­ket, and the vir­tu­ally un­reg­u­lated duck sea­sons where hunters op­er­ated ac­cord­ing to abun­dance of wa­ter­fowl.

Duck hunt­ing in the mod­ern age is lim­ited in du­ra­tion and highly reg­u­lated to be both eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able. It is not, as many would think, at odds with con­ser­va­tion prin­ci­ples, es­sen­tially be­cause of the high value hunters place on the small num­ber of ducks they har­vest.

Be­cause they value the nat­u­ral re­source, hunters are mo­ti­vated to pro­tect it, which is why they are Aus­tralia’s most sur­pris­ing con­ser­va­tion­ists.

Gee­long Field & Game formed in 1964 and for its mem­bers (most of whom are duck hunters), the Bar­won Es­tu­ary is home.

Dur­ing duck sea­son, they take from it, eth­i­cally and sus­tain­ably har­vest­ing wild food for the fam­ily ta­ble, but that is a frac­tion of their an­nual in­ter­ac­tion with these im­por­tant wet­lands.

For many of the 10 000 peo­ple who now live near the Bar­won Es­tu­ary it is a beauty to be­hold, a vista to en­joy from the ve­ran­dah or a place to walk or play.

Hunters are dif­fer­ent. They are out­doors peo­ple, with an in­nate cu­rios­ity that draws them to ex­plore the nat­u­ral world around them. Whether hunt­ing or not, they are keen ob­servers of weather, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, wa­ter, plant life and, es­pe­cially, bird life.

They will spend time ob­serv­ing and study­ing; for them, the Es­tu­ary is a life­long class­room you keep at­tend­ing to build knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing.

In 1964, Ron Green owned a sports store and gun shop in cen­tral Gee­long and he put a no­tice in his win­dow to spark in­ter­est in form­ing a Field & Game branch. “There was a branch in Co­lac; I had been to a tar­get shoot with them, and I thought, why don’t we have a branch in Gee­long?” he said.

Post World War II ri­fle shoot­ers were well or­gan­ised, partly be­cause the gov­ern­ment of the day en­cour­aged par­tic­i­pa­tion and fa­mil­iar­ity with long arms, a safety net for the de­fence of the na­tion.

Ron said shot­guns were dif­fer­ent, and these hunters were of­ten poorly trained in safety and hunt­ing prac­tice. “We used to run all the pre-duck sea­son tar­get shoots and saw a need to bet­ter train peo­ple and make them safe,” he said. “The early aims were to co­or­di­nate hunters and im­prove safety and con­serve our wet­lands. One of our first projects was putting up duck nest boxes and ob­serv­ing how they were used and which birds used them; we did a lot of re­search work on Lake Con­newarre.”

Field & Game emerged in 1958 amid con­cerns about the de­cline of the Pa­cific black duck.

More broadly, there was a view that Vic­to­ria’s rapid growth was oc­cur­ring at the ex­pense of na­ture, a point made by lead­ing con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Arthur Ry­lah in 1959.

“With­out the in­creased wildlife-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity … the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the State will leave lit­tle liv­ing space for game birds and other wildlife,” he said.

The keen hunters who formed and guided Field & Game had a clear vi­sion for the fu­ture. They recog­nised that the big­gest in­flu­ence on duck pop­u­la­tions was habi­tat, not hunt­ing.

They en­cour­aged the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment to im­pose a li­cence fee on duck hunters. The funds were used to set up net­work of State Game Re­serves, pro­tect­ing vi­tal habi­tat.

Vic­to­ria has more than 200 SGRS cov­er­ing 75 000 hectares, in­clud­ing Reedy Lake, Lake Con­newarre, Hos­pi­tal Swamp, Salt Swamp and Murt­naghurt Swamp.

For 60 years, Field & Game mem­bers have con­tin­ued to con­trib­ute to the health of these wet­lands through en­vi­ron­men­tal works, nest boxes to sup­port breed­ing, wa­ter and pest an­i­mal man­age­ment, reveg­e­ta­tion, weed con­trol and rub­bish re­moval.

John Long was an early pres­i­dent of Gee­long Field & Game after join­ing in 1966. Now 85, he’s still an ac­tive hunter of foxes, which do un­told dam­age to na­tive species. “We hunt ducks for 12 weeks a year but we spend the rest of the time on con­ser­va­tion projects; I spend six months of the year hunt­ing foxes,” he said. “The place was in a ter­ri­ble mess at

var­i­ous times: there were car bod­ies and rub­bish dumped there, we planted trees by the thou­sands and put in nest boxes. “We have main­tained it to be a pretty pris­tine wa­ter­way.”

One of the ear­li­est en­vi­ron­men­tal projects un­der­taken by hunters was build­ing struc­tures to re­turn wa­ter to Hos­pi­tal Swamp. “I think there was an ef­fort to make graz­ing land out of it and they had stopped the wa­ter get­ting into it,” John said.

At the time, John said they were ac­cused of self-in­ter­est: cre­at­ing a habi­tat just so they had more ducks to hunt. “They couldn’t see we were try­ing to save a wet­land that ben­e­fits all sorts of wa­ter­birds and crea­tures,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for hunters it would be a wilder­ness and rub­bish dump or drained for graz­ing; in those days the broader com­mu­nity just didn’t care about wet­lands.”

Pub­lic de­bates about hunt­ing on the Bar­won Es­tu­ary have flared over the years and in­creas­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion in the re­gion guar­an­tees that will con­tinue.

If you delve into the Gee­long Ad­ver­tiser from 1871–3, you dis­cover a three­cornered con­test over Lake Con­newarre.

The land­holder, a Mr Ruther­ford of Lake Con­newarre, took aim at the “big guns” in the pages of Oc­to­ber 19, 1871. “On Sun­days par­tic­u­larly, the lakes are haunted by sports­men, who keep up a reg­u­lar fire from morn­ing till night. The friends of Sab­bath ob­ser­vance will do well to turn their at­ten­tion to this mat­ter.”

The “big guns” were swivel guns, used to fire into flocks for com­mer­cial har­vest and they pub­licly de­fended their right in sev­eral ar­ti­cles and let­ters. One, on Oc­to­ber 25, 1871 re­ferred to Mr Ruther­ford’s claims as a “mul­ti­plic­ity of ex­ag­ger­a­tions”. “His sole ob­ject for many years has been, if pos­si­ble, to poi­son the pub­lic mind against the use of big guns on the lake. He for­gets to men­tion that the wild­fowlers are own­ers of land with ten times the lake frontage his has got, and that he is the only landowner who is against shoot­ing on the lake with any kind of gun,” James Wool­ley wrote.

Un­der an­other at­tack, this time from ‘Sports­man’ or recre­ational hunters, who were con­cerned the big guns were dec­i­mat­ing wild duck pop­u­la­tions, Mr Wool­ley said his 18th sea­son on Lake Con­newarre had pro­duced dou­ble the take of any sea­son since 1853. “The whole mat­ter is self­ish­ness from be­gin­ning to end on the part of those who raise a cry against the big guns,” he wrote.

In Au­gust 1872, fol­low­ing a pub­lic meet­ing and gath­er­ing of a pe­ti­tion, a Gee­long del­e­ga­tion of game pur­vey­ors and fish­ers (con­cerned about net­ting re­stric­tions) went to the Vic­to­rian Par­lia­ment and suc­cess­fully ar­gued for the with­drawal of the bill.

It was only a re­prieve: even­tu­ally the swivel or punt guns were banned, and ul­ti­mately, as farmed food be­came more plen­ti­ful, com­mer­cial har­vest­ing also ended.

What sur­vives is recre­ational duck hunt­ing: not a sport but a tra­di­tion that keeps its prac­ti­tion­ers con­nected

>> to na­ture and the self-reliance of har­vest­ing your own food for the ta­ble.

Para­mount in de­ci­sions to con­duct hunt­ing sea­sons is sus­tain­abil­ity. Sea­sons are rou­tinely aban­doned or re­stricted based on duck num­bers, ob­served breed­ing, wa­ter and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

This is not at odds with the ethos of the hunter.

Don White was a game of­fi­cer in 1959 and at the same time man­aged the Fish­eries & Wildlife re­search sta­tion at Serendip.

Don said he worked closely with Gee­long Field & Game vol­un­teers on many con­ser­va­tion projects. “They were just about the only ones who were in­ter­ested in wet­land con­ser­va­tion at the time,” he said.

Projects were funded with money raised through game li­cence fees, so hunters were ef­fec­tively pay­ing for the con­ser­va­tion projects and then vol­un­teer­ing their labour to help. “Peo­ple think it was al­ways there and al­ways man­aged; they don’t know the amount of work put in, es­pe­cially by Field & Game,” Don said.

Ar­ti­fi­cial drainage kept wa­ter out and graz­ing leases threat­ened the vi­a­bil­ity of the wet­lands. That en­vi­ron­men­tally un­friendly regime changed with the des­ig­na­tion of State Game Re­serves. “Part of my work was also ne­go­ti­at­ing to buy key pieces of pri­vate land that would make the wet­lands vi­able. There had to be a fair bit of restora­tion done: Reedy Lake had a big tip on it where rub­bish had been dumped, and while they were des­ig­nated Crown Land, lit­tle ef­fort as made to sup­port wa­ter­bird habi­tat,” Don said.

Gee­long Field & Game now meets at the Con­newarre Wet­lands Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, es­tab­lished on 36 hectares of land bor­der­ing Hos­pi­tal Swamp.

The Cen­tre is a part­ner­ship with Field & Game Aus­tralia’s char­i­ta­ble trust, the Wet­lands En­vi­ron­men­tal Task­force, and is used as base for com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion in wet­land en­vi­ron­ments and their con­ser­va­tion.

The Cen­tre has hosted the pop­u­lar Bug Blitz pro­gram, an arts-based ap­proach to en­gag­ing stu­dents with the en­vi­ron­ment.

It has also be­come a base for re­search into avian in­fluenza.

Work­ing with Pro­fes­sor Mar­cel Klaassen from Deakin Univer­sity, Gee­long mem­bers con­duct a trap and re­lease pro­gram to col­lect sci­en­tific sam­ples from wild ducks.

The re­search in­volves cap­tur­ing and study­ing the virus from the wild to un­der­stand how it evolves and how to pro­tect against out­breaks in the hu­man pop­u­la­tion.

Hunters are not just a part of the Bar­won Es­tu­ary’s cul­tural his­tory, they are part of its fu­ture.

Hunters value these im­por­tant wet­land en­vi­ron­ments and as they have demon­strated re­peat­edly, they are pre­pared to work hard to pre­serve them for all crea­tures and all users.

Ray Agg, whose con­ser­va­tion ef­forts with Gee­long Field & Game span 50 years, is still as keen as ever to con­trib­ute to the heath of the Bar­won Es­tu­ary. “Peo­ple want to live near those wet­lands now, and we’ve stopped hunt­ing the north side of Lake Con­newarre be­cause of that; we have made con­ces­sions but hunt­ing can co­ex­ist,” he said. “I love the place, I re­ally love it. “I just love get­ting out there; if I get a duck for the ta­ble, ter­rific, but I just like be­ing out there in the wet­land en­vi­ron­ment, I al­ways have. “It is hard to ex­plain to peo­ple the love you have for the wet­land; it is just a fan­tas­tic place and it is al­ways a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Im­ages record­ing the sig­nif­i­cant ef­forts of hunters to con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal works in the Bar­won Es­tu­ary

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