Recreating the Country blog
Before the first white settlers began clearing trees and shrubs around Geelong, Drooping Sheoak, Allocasuarina verticillata was a widespread and distinctive feature of the Barrabool Hills and the Geelong region.
Drooping Sheoaks were the first tree that Surveyor John Helder Wedge recorded in his diary in 1835 as he crossed the Barrabool HIlls near Pollocksford. Artists Charles Norton> painted a landscape of grasslands and Drooping Sheoaks near Ceres in the Barrabool Hills in 1846 and Eugene von Guerard> sketched the harvesting of Drooping Sheoak on the banks of the Barwon River in 1854.
These early records suggest that a significant part of the Barrabool Hills landscape was open grasslands under scattered Drooping Sheoaks.
Recent surveys show a diverse vegetation.
We know from recent vegetation recent studies (Remnant Roadside Vegetation of the Surf Coast Shire, 1997, Moulton P. Trengove M, Clark G>) and (Gordon TAFE, Conservation & Land Management students and teacher surveys, 2017, for Flora of 'The Hills' booklet - see below), that there is a diverse community of plant species remaining on roadsides and on private properties in the Barrabool Hills. These studies hint at the extraordinary diversity of the vegetation in the Barrabool Hills before 1836.
Click to the Flora of 'The Hills' booklet> for a comprehensive plant list and guide to the vegetation of the Barrabool Hills. (Launched on 27th October, 2017 by the Barrabool Hills Landcare Group)
Why was much of the pre-settlement landscape dominated by one species of tree?
The vegetation of the Barrabool Hills - Part 3. Its original & natural condition in 1835. - Plant density
1835 – Walking the Hills with Wedge and Buckley
On Tuesday 18th August 1835, the first steps were taken toward the colonisation of Geelong by John Helder Wedge, a surveyor working for the Port Phillip Association.
After setting up camp at Indented Head, Wedge guided by William Buckley who had lived with the Mon:mart clan of the Wadawurrung people for 30 years and knew the area well by its indigenous names, headed into the unknown for a seven day tour. Making observations they walked from Breamlea to Lake Connewarre, followed the Barwon River to Pollocksford, trekked south-east across the Barrabool Hills to Lake Modewarre, headed south-west to Paraparap and then returned back to Breamlea through Jan Juc, a total distance of 70 kilometers.
Wedge’s notes provide the first insights into the vegetation of the Barrabool Hills before the pressures of British colonisation began the rapid and fundamental vegetation changes created by their demand for the natural resources.
On Thursday 20th August Wedge recorded;
“Crossed the Barrabull Hills….for the first 3 miles are of the same description, grass rather light and thinly wooded with sheoak. The soil from thence to the declivity (downward slope) which leads down to the Lake (Modewarre) is a rich brown loam with excellent grass. The soil from the declivity is not so good and rather wet at this time of the year and the grass sour. The country around the Lake is lightly timbered and grassy with very gentle rises and flats”
The following day he described vegetation near the lake as “thickly timbered, the gum trees prevailing”.
The images below are from wedges diary courtesy of the State Library Victoria. Hover over the image to read the title and click to view in more detail.
Homo sapiens first arrived in Australia about 60,000 years ago when the climate was colder and dryer. Evidence suggests that the Wadawurrung people have lived in the Geelong region more than 25,000 years. At that time the world was in the grips of the last great ice age.
Ark Australia, home to a remarkable and unique mix of plants and animals, was about 4km south of where it is today. It had been slowly drifting north for 30 million years after breaking away from Antarctica.
Australia was then part of a greater land mass called Meganesia which included Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania and the low plains in between.
Its time to climb on board our amazing time machine and travel back to the Barrabool Hills in the far south of the great continent of Meganesia. We have arrived in late summer on a perfect windless day. The undulating hills are much as we knew them though we notice the animals are much larger and we are surrounded by a forest of tall acacias.
H G Well’s classic story ‘The Time Machine’ explores the idea of time travel through the adventures of an English gentleman who invents a time machine that carries him to past and future worlds. Like the time traveller’s machine the sciences of geology and paleontology provide windows into past worlds through fragments of evidence found in ancient rocks
There is a lot of ancient history hidden in the rocks of the Barrabool Hills and this history has played an important part in developing its unique landscape and vegetation. Let’s imagine we have borrowed the amazing time machine and it has carried us through many millennia in a matter of seconds to a time 135 million years ago when it all began.
We’ve arrived and we’re mystified because we’re sitting in total darkness and the air is sharp and cold. We zip up our windcheaters and pull our beanies down over our ears to keep out the chill of a deep arctic winter in Gondwanaland.
We shine our torches into the eerie darkness and see snow under the ghostly silhouettes of trees hugging the edge of a shadowy frozen lake. A dog sized animal ambles past sniffing the air curiously, its paw prints in the snow are strangely reptilian.
Stephen Murphy is qualified in Geology and Environmental Management and has been a nurseryman and a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.