Friday, May 13, 2011

The Cobberas - a wilderness area?

I am back from 4 days walking in the Cobberas, in north-east Victoria, on the other side of the Great Divide. It snowed and it was exquisitely beautiful, but I was saddened by the impact that Europeans had had on the Australian landscape. The Cobberas is designated as a Wilderness Area but driving in to the Cowombat Flat Track the presence of feral dogs was obvious as farmers had shot them and left there corpses hanging from trees. On the first night I heard the mewling of a feral cat in the dark hours of the morning. The first night on Cowombat Flat we heard the eerie and beautiful yowling of a feral dog. Everywhere was evidence of feral horses: horse shit, brumby pads, and wetlands and streams turned to quagmires. And occasionally we had a sighting of the horses themselves - beautiful. Most obviously was the damage done by the fire of 2003. Without Aboriginal mosaic burning we have intense whirlwinds of fires that leave the debris of a holocaust, and a simplified ecosystem. The Cobberas burnt in 2003. Now, since the 2009 fires, almost all of the Victorian Alps are covered by dead trees. No where can I stand on a mountain and see a sweep of green unburnt forest to the horizon. That is lost to me and to coming generations. The countryside has the look of the stubble on an unshaven face.

So what is now a wilderness area?

I took the book Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx with me and read with sadness of the same situation in North American pine forests destroyed by the "triple catastrophes of prolonged drought, warming climate and an unprecedented invasion of mountain pine beetle" She goes on to say "I am deeply sorry for all who never … looked out from a fire tower across miles of green mountain wilderness." The pleasure in that awe has been lost there, as it has been here in Australia.

1 comment:

Stephen Whiteside said...

You make an interesting point, Andrew. I walk a lot around the Hotham/Feathertop/High Plains region. The fires are very evident there, also. It hasn't had quite the same emotional impact on me, though. I have lots of memories of green views to balance the current blackness against. Also, I've been inclined to the view that this is just a temporary setback, but perhaps I'm being too optimistic. Then there is the undoubtedly dramatic effect of walking through a blackened forest where the ground is covered in snow. You feel as though you are in a black and white movie. It is quite surreal, made all the more so by the complete absence of any sound or wildlife.