Almanac Bush: In Search of Old Growth Mountain Ash in the Otways.

 

The Footy Almanac welcomes Stan Kluzek to our community of writers and readers. This is his first piece for the site.

 

Recently I visited the plantation of Californian Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) just south of Beech Forest, in the heart of the Otways.    These were planted in the early 1930s by displaced European refugees, who were getting away from the madness of fascist regimes, prior to the madness of WWII.  To read about the history and rationale of the planting of these trees refer to the book The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith.

 

A friend of mine asked me if I was interested in a motorcycle ride down there.  I said yes, being surprised that I knew nothing about this plantation.   I was quite surprised at what I saw.  The trees are now approaching ninety years old and very impressive. These trees belong to a species that is the tallest trees in the world.  The Otway trees are now in excess of sixty metres tall.   The ones on the Californian coast are much older and can grow to over one hundred metres tall.

 

This got me interested in these trees, so I got hold of Roger Smith’s book.  It is an interesting read with the author having grown up in Beech Forest when the trees were much smaller, and the refugee camp was diminishing.

 

Although the focus of the book is on the Coast Redwoods, Roger Smith devotes a lot of the book to the native trees of the Otways, particularly the giants of the Otways, the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus Regnans)

 

I was in for another couple of surprises.

 

Firstly, the Mountain Ash is the second largest plant on earth.  Second only to the Coast Redwoods.  Mountain Ash is native to Victoria and Tasmania only.  Other areas in Victoria where Mountain Ash can be found are the  Yarra Ranges and Kinglake area.   The height of most mature old growth trees can be between 80 to 100 metres.

 

Until I had read this book, I had thought the Karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) of Western Australia were the tallest eucalypts.

 

The second most shocking surprise to me was the fact that there is very little old growth Mountain Ash left in the Otways.   It is mostly 2nd and 3rd generation growth.   At the peak of harvesting the Otways, it was pretty well open season on the Mountain Ash.  There were over 200 sawmills within the Otways, heavily milling these beautiful giants.

 

 

 

According to the book and my research, there are only two small areas of old growth Mountain Ash remaining in the Otways.

 

These are the Big Trees reserve (220 ha) in the West Barham catchment and the Olangolah flora and fauna reserve (1490 ha) which are said to be over 150 years old.  To me that is frighteningly bugger-all.   Not much, is it?

 

 

Felling a forest giant – Aire Valley 1903 – 1905
From the John Flynn Collection, National Library of Australia
If you are wondering, this is the same John Flynn of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He was originally from Beech Forest.

 

 

 

So I wanted to have a look for myself at some old growth trees.   I took two trips.  The first to where I thought the Big Tree reserve is, on the Old Bay Road.  It is a very old and disused road, that must have originally linked Beech Forest with Apollo Bay.  It was wet and narrow, with a reasonably firm surface, but it was getting a little tricky, even on my adventure bike, and lack of confidence in my skill level, as I was by myself and did not want to have a mishap, or I would never be found.

 

My GPS told me I was in the right location, but I could not see anything that resembled the trees referred to in Roger Smith’s book.    I was very disappointed that I could not see any of these giants.   I cut my losses and retraced my ride, back to Beech Forest and home.

 

At home, I thought that had I gone about 100 metres further, I would have been there – maybe.  I also thought I would leave it until the tracks dries out a bit.

 

My curiosity wasn’t satisfied, so I checked out where the Olangolah flora and fauna reserve is.  Turns out that Turton’s Track goes through it.   When you turn off the Colac – Apollo Bay Road, the first 6 to 8 kms is the Olangolah flora and fauna reserve.

 

 

 

 

So off I go on another day, to really have a closer look at the Flora along the Track.   Certainly, I had ridden along this road numerous times and marvelled at the views.  But I had never looked at this area in terms of old growth forest.    The amount of bark and tree debris, certainly helped me believe I was in the right place.  I rode along at a snail’s pace and stopped on numerous occasions to look at particular trees.   Tall they were, with some having fairly large circumferences at their base.   Riding so slowly and stopping often gave me a enhanced sense of the beauty of this place.   The amount of debris on the road was certainly a lot less once I had got to the west boundary of the reserve.

 

I did not see any trees that were the sizes that feature in Roger Smith’s book, but because I took my time, I still found some pretty wonderous examples of Mountain Ash.

 

As I left Beech Forest, I decided to take the Old Colac Road, which was surprisingly in very good condition surface wise.  It takes you close to the old Beech Railway line.  The countryside varies between farmland and forest.   To my surprise, I came upon a large tree, with a huge base.  It was not as tall as some of the ones I had seen earlier, but it had a huge diameter at the bottom.  I suspect the lack of height was due to a lightning strike.  The base of the tree also had been subject to fire.  But it certainly was an example of an old growth tree.

 

I have included a couple of my photos, and a couple from Roger Smith’s book.

 

Thankfully, legislation now restricts heavily what is taken out of the Otways.

 

I have listed the co-ordinates of trees that caught my eye below, but I am sure that others’ eyes would see a different perspective.

 

I hope to revisit the Big Tree Reserve later in the year, but I would encourage readers to take a look at the reserve along Turton’s Track.  You do not have to have an adventure bike to observe the trees in this area.

 

Just take your time, keep an eye in your rear-view mirror and also watch for oncoming traffic.  It’s all sealed rode but very narrow and restricted to 40 kph speed limit.

 

Stan Kluzek

 

Table

What is here Location Condition of Road
Apollo Bay Rd -Turtons Track Intersection S38° 38′ 27.8 E143° 42′ 32.3 Sealed
Big Tree1 Turton’s Track S38° 38.399′ E143° 41.699′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Big Tree2 Turton’s Track S38° 38.417′ E143° 41.412′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Parking Bay Turton’s Track S38° 38.643′ E143° 41.342′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Big Tree3 Turton’s Track S38° 38.450′ E143° 41.060′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Big Tree4 Turton’s Track S38° 38.626′ E143° 40.617′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Big Tree5 Turton’s Track S38° 38.682′ E143° 40.237′ Sealed (narrow & tree debris)
Beech Forest- Redwoods Road Intersection S38° 38.363′ E143° 35.149′ Sealed
Coast Redwoods – Binns Road S38°38’21.8 E143°35’08.9 Sealed
Big Tree6 Old Colac Road S38° 34.700′ E143° 33.663′ Unsealed – good surface

 

 

Reference

  • “The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges” by Roger Smith, Lothian, ISBN 978-1-921737-13-8
  • https://victoriasgianttrees.weebly.com/tall-trees.html

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read Stan. I didn’t realise John Flynn was a local.

  2. Love the meandering track you have just taken us on Col. I came across the Californian redwood plantation out at Warburton earlier this year. It was planted at a similar time in the 1930’s, stunning.. incredible to think about how our native trees were so mercilessly brought to the ground in the past.

  3. Oh very nice, Stan.
    The mountain ash is my favourite tree.
    That Otways tree-top walk is near Beech Forrest, isn’t it?
    Pretty sure I’ve found some off the road between Apollo Bay and Cape Otway, too.
    Meandering around on a bike. Love it.

  4. Interesting, Stan. I visited those redwoods earlier this year. They’re mighty impressive, and very efficient at annuling biodiversity. Nothing grows under them at all.
    There are a few full sized regnans on walks in the gullies behind Lorne. Missed or spared by the loggers?
    Also up Mt Cowley there is a stand of eucalypts (messmates of some sort??) exclusive to The Otways.
    But you’ve got to be careful taking a car in there in winter. I had to abandon a 4×4 in there until I could pay a 4×4 tractor to tow us out. (Actually my English cousin paid. He worked for Goldman Sachs in the days they were handing out bonuses the size of African GDPs and his hire car was caught in the same valley.)
    There is a retired doctor in Lorne who knows all about the logging operations and can lead you to their ruins in the bush.

  5. Roger Lowrey says

    Great debut piece Stan. .

    My dad told me yarns about the Winchelsea footballers getting changed on the “Beechy” train on the way down to play Forrest in the 1930s. Dressing sheds apparently were just that, designed for basic modesty purposes only. And forget about showers – let alone hot showers – from the fresh water tanks BTW that disused train line reservation is still quite visible in many parts.

    He also used to trot out the old line about the Otways where ” it rains nine months of the year and drips off the trees for the other three”. I imagine this possibly had some small part to play in the size of the trees you’re talking about.

    A very warm welcome to the Almanac family mate!

    RDL

  6. A fab read, Stan.
    As someone who has a place in Apollo Bay, I have visited the redwoods a couple of times, and have ridden a pushbike along Turton’s Track. It is just marvellous country, but I often wonder how it must have looked prior to European settlement.

  7. Stan Kluzek says

    Mait’s Rest on the GOR is the place to see some wonderful old growth forest.

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