Creek Healing Walk 2006
Lake Bolac Eel festival forum speech delivered by
Neil Murray on 21/4/06
name is Neil Murray; I was born and raised in Tjapwurrung country.
Tjapwurrung is the name of the indigenous language that was spoken
in this region, which includes the Lake Bolac foreshore where we
are gathered this evening. So in the absence of any senior indigenous
person I’d like to welcome you all to Tjapwurrung country.
The Fiery Creek Healing Walk of 2006 grew out of last years successful
Healing Walk, which followed the Hopkins and Salt Creek waterways
to Lake Bolac from the coast.
concern in the community about the decrease in water flowing into
Lake Bolac and the Salt Creek gave impetus to the decision for a
Healing Walk along the Fiery Creek that feeds water to the lake.
I’ll give an explanation of some of the ideas behind the Healing
Walk before going on to report specifically on what we gathered
on the Fiery Creek journey.
Healing walk is a collective community initiative of environmental
and cultural significance and has evolved out of a desire to participate
in and care for the land we inhabit. The Healing Walk believes,
that like-minded people, with a collective desire to “heal
country” can have a beneficial effect on the environment,
themselves and others.
a period of days, we walk through country with an attitude of care
and respect for the earth. With deep sincerity we hold this attitude
because the land provides for our existence. We have a responsibility
therefore to look after the land, to care for it and not abuse it.
By doing this we believe are contributing to “healing”
both the inner and outer landscape of our region and community.
Healing the inner landscape refers to an individuals own mental
and physical restoration. The outer landscape is the natural environment
we depend on and share with all other forms of life on the planet.
Healing Walk believes many western peoples have lost their connection
with the earth and need to restore it. One way to do that is to
go back to our first mode of transport- our legs – and use
them exclusively over several days. You get to watch time slow down,
your perceptions of the world around you change. You actually start
seeing and hearing more. By camping outdoors, rising and going down
with the sun you begin to fall in step with nature’s rhythm.
Western district of Victoria is a prosperous region, but industrialised
farming is extracting a heavy toll on the environment, its waterways
and eco systems.
believe there has to be a comparable effort directed to preserving
and restoring the environment or in the long term such land use
will be untenable.
Healing Walk acknowledges and respects the first peoples of Australia
and their culture that successfully balanced resource use with the
preservation of a sustainable, environment that provided for thousands
of years. Therefore, wherever possible, the Healing Walk seeks to
apply indigenous wisdom and interpretation to the land.
The Fiery Creek, along with the Salt Creek marks the eastern extremity
of Tjapwurrung country, a boundary it shares with Wathu-wurrung
country on the east side as far down as the Nerrin Lakes, where
it then becomes the boundary with the Kirrae Wurrung nation for
the Fiery Creeks final eastern run into Lake Bolac and down the
Salt Creek. To the canny observer these old tribal boundaries make
good environmental, geographical and ecological sense. As Dorothy
Dunn from Streatham observed, they largely correspond with catchment
Healing Walk believes, that given proper protocol, the right of
passage for people travelling on foot should exist the same as it
does for wildlife to pass through country irrespective of who owns
it. Stream and riversides constitute much of the traditional indigenous
“walking highways” that once went all over this country.
We do not oppose the rights of any landholders to earn a livelihood.
We are concerned however that landholders be encouraged to see themselves
as holding land in stewardship and trust for the future rather than
seeing themselves as defenders of a possession.
the morning of Thursday April 13th 2006 a dozen people were gathered
at the Glut picnic ground at Mt Cole. Nearby, at a small rivulet
(perhaps one of many rivulets that constitute the headwaters of
the Fiery creek) Ted Lovett, a senior indigenous man of Tjapwurrung
descent performed a smoking ceremony to purify us and heal country
and ensure that we would have safe passage to Lake Bolac.
Lovett, Neville Oddie, Una Allender, Dave Nicholson, Phillip Robertson,
Lou Hollis, Dave Mcinnis and myself all walked on that morning.
Sandy Troup and other Raglan locals had seen us off. From Beeripmo
rock or Saddle rock we began to follow the first formation of the
Raglan, we saw the first of what was to become a major curse along
the waterway- gorse infestation.
From Raglan almost to the western hwy there was extensive gorse
and willows. The last hundred acres before the highway was clear
due to conscientious work by a landholder. However we feel their
efforts are in vain unless all landholders upstream and downstream
are equally vigilant
Over the coming days we would encounter even heavier infestations
If this is left untreated, within ten years the entire system will
be clogged and native grasses, wattles and ti trees will be choked
It seems to us that the spread of Gorse is preventable. Why isn’t
there a co-ordinated campaign to eradicate it? Why not have the
unemployed help out? These are some of the questions that spring
Friday April 14th we entered the creek half a kilometre upstream
from the Middle Creek Road bridge, noticing the extensive plantings
of blue gums nearby. Blue gums are being planted all around the
upper catchment with little consideration as to their impact on
water runoff. However as the trend in farming has shifted to cropping
generally the specific effect of blue gums is hard to quantify.
We believe that all mono cultural cropping does impact negatively
on water run off and consequently stream flow.
Perhaps landholders could adjust their crop management plans to
provide for some pasture retention in significant run off areas.
from the Middle Creek Road Bridge the creek was fenced off for some
distance. However by not allowing enough room for a vehicle to get
between the fence and the creek it would make spraying to control
came out onto unfenced areas and there was much erosion. And over
a distance of approximately 4 kilometres we estimated there were
no less than twenty sheep dead in the creek. We did manage to pull
two out of a bog.
down we came across a pump house that piped water from the creek
up to a large dam in the paddock. We wondered how efficient a use
of water that would be.
are grateful to Doug Hopkins for allowing us to camp on his “Challicum”
property on the night of Friday 14th.
The Billy Billy creek is an exquisite creek with a deep furrow coursing
between ancient red gums with flat banks of native grass. There
was little gorse along its length but after it joins the Fiery there
are severe gorse thickets for hectares over the tussocky flats.
I walked along kangaroo and cattle tracks beneath Gorse 10 or 12
Finally a clump of woolly tea tree signals the start of a magnificent
waterhole some 200 metres in length. There is brick pump house situated
on its west bank.
is a marked change from here on. There are more redgums and ti tree
and more water holes in the creek. The creek is virtually a chain
of water holes. Wherever the creek has been fenced off high well
back from its bank is a delight. There is an explosion of native
grasses and shrubs and the water looks much healthier. Platypus
tracks abound between the waterholes. There were still however the
occasional, outbreaks of gorse and foxes were frequently sighted.
John and Julie McDougal greeted us and welcomed us on to their property.
They walked with us over their paddocks to the creek to show us
a platypus hole that is largely covered in duckweed. John had installed
fencing to protect remnant vegetation along the creek and to encourage
regrowth. It appeared to us, problematic that John had securely
fenced off his side of the creek from stock, when his neighbour
on the opposite bank had not.
Sunday 16th April was a glorious sunny day and we headed off downstream
from our campsite at Travellers rest. Neville Oddie and his friend
Peter as well as Rachel Taylor joined us.
passed by some significant scar trees; one in particular was a superb
example, still on a living tree. Along the way we were welcomed
by landholders Geoff and Heather Phillips then later Greg and Sue
Joyce accompanied us along with their children for several kilometres
and gave us much insight. Greg said they had good flow in the creek
for six weeks in 2004 though it failed to have much impact on levels
in Lake Bolac. Greg also informed us that he takes no water from
the creek, and is vigilant against gorse. Sue believes all landholders
along the creek should do likewise. However, with gorse on the opposite
bank from us it was obvious not all landholders shared Greg and
passed by some remarkable long waterholes in Peter Phillips property
in the afternoon before camping near Wayne Harrops.
Monday 17th April, our group consisted of Wayne & David Harrop,
Phil Robertson, the two Dave’s, Michelle Casanova, myself
and welcoming us on to “Blythvale” was Bill Weatherly.
showed us the extensive electric fencing he had installed along
the creek, specially designed to let go in a flood. He spoke of
the spraying and seeding he had done to encourage native vegetation
regrowth. As we walked he pointed out a number of waterholes where
the tracks of platypus were clearly evident. Bill is a conscientious
landholder, and has devoted a great deal of thought and consideration
to preserving and protecting the creek and its flora and fauna on
his property. We were especially impressed with his paddock of native
grass that had been left ungrazed for several years. Bill was informative
and frank and was not afraid to admit where he’d made mistakes.
Bill has invited us back in the spring when the creek is flowing.
to Dorothy Dunn, Phil and I sheltered at the fire centre in Streatham
on the windy night of Monday 17th. The next morning Dorothy, Bruce
and Nerol Dunn guided Phil, Una, Rob Nichols and myself through
their property. I was especially interested in the evidence of indigenous
campsites beside some of the favourite waterholes where Dorothy
had spent her child hood.
the afternoon of Tuesday 18th, we had walked from Streatham to Margaret
Moreton’s, and had been accompanied by Rob Nichols and Richard
Collopy. Pat Clarke had driven Richard up from Framlingham to meet
us during the day.
Rob Nichols place the creek drops a couple of metres through basalt
stones. It is a significant site and was clearly utilised by indigenous
people as a fish trap.
on we saw the deep V shaped drain cut across the paddocks to drain
a swamp through to the creek. Although dry, Rob Nichols assured
us he has taken water samples both above and below where the salt
drain enters and his readings indicated there had been no appreciable
difference in salinity levels in the Creek. Still we remain circumspect
about any large-scale artificial water impediment or drainage system,
as its effects are not always predictable and can often be disastrous.
a section of the creek that was dense with common reed, Rob posed
the question as to whether reeds were good for the creek. Richard
Collopy’s advice was that reed beds are good for creeks as
they trap silt and actually exacerbate water flow.
fact that they grow so profusely in some areas may be a result of
excess nutrient and fertiliser run off. To remove them would certainly
invite erosion and more silt transference downstream.
Moreton met us and welcomed us to camp on her property “Wahroonga
Park” for the night of Tuesday 18th April. We cooked and ate
some of the eels that had been provided by Bill Allen.
Wednesday April 19th up to 80 school children accompanied us on
the walk from Wahroonga Park to LakeBolac. We witnessed the magnificent
sight of more than 20 brolgas near a swamp east of the lake. We
were welcomed by John and Jenny Malin onto their property and they
walked with us to the fiery creek mouth and around to the overflow
for a barbecue.
Fiery Creek Healing walk of 2006 has concluded the following: -
The decrease in water flowing into the Lake Bolac and Salt creek
systems is first and foremost a result of changed rainfall patterns,
which could be an outcome of climate change. We are just not getting
the rainfall when it matters – that is in winter or spring
when the ground is saturated and follow up rains provide maximum
run off. In recent years we have been getting a lot of rain in summer,
which is not providing run off.
this lack of water run off is changed land use practices. There
has been an exponential increase in mono cultural cropping –whether
it is bluegums, cereals or oilseed- this land use now far out strips
grazing in the catchment.
believe that land holders should be encouraged to allow for pasture
run off areas within their cropping regime and that they should
be encouraged to develop water supplies independent of the creek.
necessary, water rights should be suspended to assist some environmental
flow through the system. We believe that landholders with help from
land care groups or volunteers should make more use of fire as a
cleansing tool and regenerative agent for native plants during the
appropriate season. We feel all landholders with creek frontage
should install fencing and raised water points to encourage regeneration
and to control stock.
for Lake Bolac, we believe the lake should be allowed to revert
to as natural a state as possible. We believe the time is opportune
to remove the concrete overflow. We feel the community must come
to accept that the lake may dry up periodically, but if it does
the wind would then clean it of much salt and silt. When it fills
it would overflow more readily into the Salt Creek reducing salinity
build up whilst allowing eels to migrate. The lake may not be suitable
for power boating, but it will remain a haven for wildlife and still
attract campers, fishermen and eco-tourists. We have got to trust
in the regenerative powers of nature.
Ghandi said: “The earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s
need but not everyone’s greed”
Everyone is dependent on the health of this system. We call on all
people in the region to be mindful of that and to desist from bickering,
or of making unsubstantiated allegations or of justifying negligence
with the “my neighbour doesn’t bother so why should
I?” or “he’s pumping water so I’m going
to pump my share too”. This kind of attitude leads to environmental
vandalism and degradation. We believe the Fiery Creek/Lake Bolac/Salt
creek system should be able to follow its natural course unimpeded
and that tributaries that supply it should not be dammed or blocked.
believe that funds should be directed towards preserving or restoring
the system commensurate with funds that go elsewhere in the state-
to the Glenelg River for example- and that there should be a co-ordinated
gorse eradication programme beginning from Raglan and extending
all the way downstream.
I wish to deliver a message to landholders concerning indigenous
are some landholders who are concerned about indigenous sites- whether
they be middens, scar trees, artefacts, fish traps, campsites, burial
grounds or skeletal remains being on their farms. There is not a
square metre of land in Australia to which some particular language
group, clan, family or individual did not belong. There are footprints
beneath ours. The signs of habitation and occupation left by indigenous
people are everywhere. They are marvellous secret jewels in the
landscape. To the keen eye they can be read like an open book. For
indigenous people they carry powerful meanings that continue to
resonate. The presence of these things does not impinge on the landholder’s
ability to earn his livelihood. Some landholders fear if they divulge
such sites it will lead to the loss of their holdings. Such fears
are groundless. One of the aims of the Healing Walk is to absolve
people are grateful to any landholder who protects and preserves
such historic sites. Future generations of all Australians will
be grateful also.
should welcome indigenous community members who may wish to visit
a site on their holdings. Much knowledge, important dialogue and
often valuable new information can be obtained.
All that is required is that indigenous sites be catalogued and
registered, because it forms part of the important history of people
in this continent. It is after all, the true history of Australia-
a history that belongs to all of us.