Urban Salvage

The Drum

 

      APRIL 2011

  • Yorke Peninsula and the Mallee: 'The Drum' Editor Goes Bush
  • What's New
 


Yorke Peninsula and the Mallee: 'The Drum' Editor Goes Bush

Innes National Park is at the very end of the Yorke Peninsula. The bottom - as Yorkies say it. Remnant coastal scrub and low savannah woodlands in a loose sandy soil and saline lake environment. I had passed through other woodlands near Penola that merged with coastal lowlands around Robe and the Coorong. It reminded me that not all woodlands yield timber - even if you judge that in time past, these areas had stands of closed woodland with tall well-formed stems suitable for sawlog. The rhythmic, ubiquitous Yellow Gums of the Mt Lofty Ranges are not sawlogs but attractive anyway. They extend to Penola and the end of the Fleurieu. Many eucalypts with tall straight stems in a mountain habitat develop a multi-stemmed habit and twisted form in a windy coastal environment - angled trunks and spreading branches even on the lee side of a rise. In woodland, the understorey can be low - xanthorrhoea, banksias or native grasses - encouraging breadth in the upper canopy. It is a habit that is mapped in the seed of a species in any one terrain or region.
 

 
Woodlands near Penola, The Coorong and twisted Yellow Gums, Fleurieu Peninsula.
 

 

Not all felling of trees was for building. Land clearing for agriculture and logging for fuel drove deforestation on the Yorke Peninsula. In the low rainfall zone just inside the Goyder Line, wheat farming is the dominant food industry. Gypsum mining inside the park saw the disappearance of much of the low woodland canopy. White Mallee, Black Box, Moonah and Peppermint Box were felled daily by a logging crew employed at the gypsum factory in Inneston - now a ghost town inside the park boundaries. The furnaces burnt wood for several decades till the 1931 Great Depression when the factory closed. Old photographs show a cleared wasteland as far as the camera lens can see.
 

 
Old gypsum factory ruins and workings at Inneston.

Mallee woodlands have regenerated around old township.
 

 

I'm unsure how difficult it was to bring back this Mallee woodland with its Melaleuca lake fringes, but it has regenerated well. These journeys provide a strong sense of the resilience or fragility of environments. On a clifftop walk I got a different sense - this time of a tenuous hold on the landscape in a high, unsheltered coastal scrub. Low spreading native shrubs and grasses clung to fractures in the rock or to sand dunes created from the disintegration of softer bedding layers in the limestone strata. Intricately formed around twisted woody stems anchored deep in the rock and flowering on the leeward side, Bearded Heath survives in an uncertain grounding of sand. Its grey gorse flank a threadbare back to the prevailing winds. Nearby, Pigface and small lacy groundcovers supply colour. At a different time of year, Salmon Correa and Rock Wattle, Wallowa and Cockies Tongue would be inflorescent - but are recessive in late summer.
 

 
Native flora in clifftop scrub environment, Yorke Peninsula.
 

 
Nature's designer jewellery.
 

 

Walking in a place like this triggers a special awareness. There is a modern obsession with rainforests and on creating nature reserves in high rainfall areas, but there appears to be an urban ignorance of woodlands, savannahs, coastal scrub and mallees. Yet these are valuable regions. Do media decide priorities and importance? Are we too accepting of benchmarks provided by the environmental NGOs? 

Returning to Melbourne, I undertook a longer route through Riverland, across a swollen Murray by ferry at Waikerie, on to Loxton and then the Southern Mallee. The Mallee was green. Dark green with fluorescent pale blues at ground level, the saltbush thriving on the unexpected rain. On the vast horizons you could see isolated storm clouds trailing a curtain of rain below. We drove from Pinnaroo and Murrayville towards Ouyen along a deserted highway. It's all wheat farms after the irrigation area and some farms have put an effort into landcare. Small rises - probably old dunes - as well as verges, driveways and drainage lines have been fenced off and regrown with Mallee, Callitris and small Wattle to stabilize the unbound soil. I was thinking that not all of these farms survive the vicissitudes of weather, drought and world grain prices. Some may be sold. In spite of my strident newsletters begging people not to be misled by the guile of advocacy of the plantations lobby, I was wondering about - you guessed it - Callitris plantations in the Mallee. 
 

 
Rain in the Mallee and the Murray River in flood.
 

 

I'm no lover of monocultures and neither is White Cypress, but it grows successfully with Eucalyptus Crebra - the inland red Ironbark species with a small diameter and dense heartwood. Some terrains would also support Sugar Gum. They all might grow successfully with a dry land native understory. White Cypress used to be known as Murray Pine - suggesting it was once endemic in much of the lower Murray-Darling basin and connected in extent to the Pilliga Forest. You can find these trees in open woodlands as far south as Jerilderie.

In the Pilliga, trees are removed at a 60 to 80 year age. Only a slight improvement in rotation on coastal hardwoods, but the advantages lie in non-competitive use of land. The wheatbelt has a broad frontier with an overextended reach. Not much else competes in this rainfall zone or in lightly-structured soils. 

To avoid industrial scale in plantation, small 20ha diversified plots can be isolated from roads and each other by 200m wide mallee scrub verges. It remains to find scale to allow eventual local milling of log. These economies of scale, community participation and distances from market are important factors. Farm forestry could participate too. It's a plantation idea - make that a native forest idea - to get excited about. A species grown in its native region with natural biodiversity. State forestry in partnership with private forestry, farmers, the community and private sawmilling.

Funding? There is no predictable investment return you could take to a bank manager. It is a poor investment vehicle on paper alone. That's just the way it is with sawlog and it's no use pretending otherwise. Timber and sawlog should be part of a Future Fund - as well as just trees in a landscape. Every timber product sale in Australia can attract an impost that returns to a dedicated replacement of the resource. The levy could include imports so that the local product is not disadvantaged. The self-funded approach requires little change in industry structure. State forestry bodies already provide funding for forestry and generate returns to the public. It is an improvement within their existing charter. 

This region-specific planning for forestry is being regularly proposed and developed by private forestry and state forestry branches, but it is often submersed by national initiatives. The same clash of bottom-up versus top-down decision making complicates Murray Basin planning. On the radio, as I sneezed and missed Walpeup, farmers in the Wimmera were collectively agreed to opt out of the irrigation scheme, but the authorities, committed for a long time now to a new Wimmera pipeline, need water licensing at the gushing end and are reluctant to buy back rights in this region at this time. It's probably no one's fault, but in a crisis defined by a chronic shortage of river water, a call to users to voluntarily opt out is a good starting point, but can be a serious complication further down the planning track. 

Always in the balance of regional versus federal priorities, Australians tend towards centralised policy-making by default. It has a number of effects. One being that it hampers any meaningful development of regional consciousness. That this regional identity can be more productive if it were more vigorous is never in doubt. In the country pub where we had dinner last night, national wine brands dominated the list despite there being a strong local wine industry with a good reputation. Would visitors have felt deprived if only the local labels were offered? I doubt it. Back yourselves, I wanted to say, but left just thinking it.

In forest regions, species, terrain and competitive land uses vary and the required approaches differ, but the regions do not have the autonomy to act independently, and never really did in the past. The urban consumer, settled in the presumption that native forestry is a single management matrix without significant regional complexity, is weary of even more perplexity. But there it is. It's not about a popular process. It's about empowering the right people. In the meantime, on the radio, lambs were fetching $205 per head and wethers $190 as I drove into Ouyen. Things were starting to look up in the bush, and everyone was just waiting for Prince William to make things a bit better.

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Notes on Journal

Cypress is a timber name causing some confusion in Victoria. 

White Cypress or Callitris Glauca is a native softwood with a slight resemblance to Golden Cypress in tree form and timber. It is a small diameter tree which may be double-stemmed but sawlogs are usually selected from single-stem trees. Diameters nowadays rarely exceed 300mm. Timber is resinous, pungent in aroma with brown heartwood distinct in tone from creamy sapwood. It is found in forests in the Chinchilla-Injune-Tambo region of southern Queensland and the Pilliga forests of central NSW north of Coonabarabran. In open woodland form it is found in regions between, in the Flinders Ranges and the Riverina. The forest form is a twentieth century phenomena in response to grazing and farming practices. Without management these forests form a dense thicket of unproductive weedy stems. Callitris is Class 1 in durability and has a high resistance to termite attack. Eric Rolls, living in Baradine in the Pilliga at the time, writes a great short story on the cypress forests.
 

 
Mature native Callitris tree; juveniles on a creek bed; White Cypress dominates the hillsides
and River Red Gum follows the creek line in the Flinders Ranges.

 

Golden Cypress is Cupressus Macrocarpa. An exotic, also known as Monterey Pine, or Macrocarpa Cypress and originally imported for use as a windbreak in hilly, windy or south coast regions. It is found throughout Victoria. A multi-stemmed species with as many as five main stems. During windbreak harvest, as many as twenty trees can be felled making site-milling a worthwhile practice. Timber has pale gold heartwood with sapwood barely a tone lighter and fairly indistinct. It is Class 2 in durability and has many outdoor uses as a structural timber. Also aromatic in smell. Camphor-like. Not termite resistant. Its use as timber should be encouraged because it is felled close to the end of its life and a wider windbreak of eucalypt and native species is now preferred on these farms. Once sirex wasp, canker or termite affect one or two Macrocarpa trees in a row, the others will succumb soon after and felling is indicated.

 

 
Site milling of a windbreak row of Macrocarpa Cypress in southern Gippsland.
 


What's New

  
Recycled Messmate
   140 x 19mm   T & G   Rate $93.00/m2

Gotta love this size board in hardwood flooring.
It is close to a dimension familiar to us from inner-city living and old cottages where Baltic Pine or Kauri Pine may have been the norm.

This hardwood is very Melbourne.
We source Messmate and the Stringybark mix of similar tones from factory and house demolitions around the metropolitan area.
Every now and then a big lot of 160mm purlin will deliver many packs of same-sized flooring.

Timberzoo milled this 140mm board from timbers sourced in the old RAAF Stores base at Tottenham.
The colour is mid-toned and not too blond.

 

 
 

 

DAR Recycled Messmate

Good volumes of these sizes have made their way from the mill to Spotswood so if you have table, benchtop or furniture orders, 
these boards are a frontline choice. The 150mm board has a range of tones and lots of that rustic mien.
First in will be able to grab the finely furrowed surface pieces that everyone wants so desperately.

The 40mm board has only flickers of darker feature and plenty of that dusky pink you find in old Blackbutt.
But any attempt to separate into differing species is usually pointless with these batches.
Everyone sees colour differently, but matching of planks for a tabletop is a breeze with these even tones.


190 x 40mm   Rate $39.00/m

 
 

 

150 x 30mm   Rate $24.00/m

 
 

 

KD Brushbox   230 x 32mm   Rate $29.00/m

Has to be the bargain of the decade so far. We bought this dried board cheaply and can pass on the discount.

Most north coast timbers at this size retail close to $50 per metre. Plus, there's no catch. It isn't bent, or wet, or highly-featured.
It is perfectly seasoned furniture board at a great price.

Like all batches of Brushbox, first in gets the swirly grained and streaky ribboned boards. That's only fair.