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 rapid and fundamental vegetation changes.
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.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.