January 2021

The Source

The forest, when I reached it and left the open plain, was glorious. It had not been burnt last year and brought back to me how much we have lost. There were tall mountain ash trees.

I could see someone had driven up the trail recently. Just a few places where the tread was in the mud, or the moisture was gone from the grass. I wondered what someone else would be doing up here.

The path climbed up for a while and then swung right down to a bend. There was a clearing here and I could see out onto the plain, and see the course of the creek back to my left. Another small stream ran out onto the plain at this point, and I could hear it burbling in the gullies. I was in cloud, and it was damp, but not wet, but a couple of times it started raining, more noticeable by the sound on the leaves than the droplets. The trail led up a gully. It was overgrown and rocky. I could hear the incipient Murrumbidgee rabbling in amongst the rocks.

The track climbed up the gully and then when the climbed eased off the bush again opened to a clearing, about the size of a football field. There was a gully opposite up a hill, but the main arm still ran off to the left. There was a weather measuring station, with solar panel and aerial. And a white ute with Wollongong plates. The driver’s window was open and he was listening to radio. I said ‘Hi’. He was surprised to see me, but we chatted for a while.

He said there were some storms around, which he said explained the rain we were seeing. I accepted this news with trepidation, not wanting to get caught in a lightning storm in the trees. I had been in a big storm on Long Plain 10 years ago, and it was quite scary, being you are right in the cloud.

He was doing a survey through the area for the Broad Toothed Rat (Mastacomys fuscus), looking for scat. We talked about the impact of the fires which had been devastating for the rat apparently. They relied on the gap between bushes and snow cover to survive winter, because it didn’t hibernate, and in the burnt areas, there was no under-growth and the snow was on the ground.

We talked about the problems with dropping incendiaries into unburnt forest just to fill burning quotas.

I explained what I was doing, and he asked a very pertinent question, particularly after yesterday’s failure, “how will you know it is the source?”

The map showed the track running up another 500 metres and then crossing the stream, before heading away. I said I would walk to the crossing point and see from there. I wished him good luck with the rats and kept following the track.

Where the track crossed the creek, it was about 50 centimetres wide and running quickly. The road had collapsed in around the pipe designed to take the water under the track. And people had picked up some large watermelon sized rocks to jam in the hole to make it trafficable. There were blackberry canes in the creek, making it difficult to reach but I managed to get a mouthful of the clear pure water.

Visibility was reduced at this altitude, with a grey fog making it hard to see into the bush where the stream flowed from. I walked up the track a little. There was a lot of bird life making noise, an Eastern Whipbird, a number of honey eaters singing out and flitting from bush to bush, and a baby yellow tailed black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) demanding to be fed. It flew off when I reached it. I could hear its parents somewhere close. The track started to pull away from the gully. I walked off into the bush over wet grey tussock grass, fallen logs, and blackberries. The creek itself was deep amongst small shrubs, acacias and the like. I could hear it but not get to it easily. I didn’t know how much further up it ran. From the map it could not have been very far, but given the conditions, and wary of the potential storms, I decided that I was close enough.

I took some photos of the mist and turned around to walk back down. The rat man was gone, but then I passed his ute parked on the track where the forest opened onto the plain. He was in blue and yellow high vis, about 200 metres away looking under bushes.

Dr Greg Pritchard