The spectacular Barfold Gorge, on the Campaspe River, is one such site. Overlooking its steep cliffs, says Tim, “gives you a sense of what the landscape was like long ago. It’s like taking a step back in time.- The majestic basalt columns, lava caves, and dramatic tiled rocks recall the region’s fiery volcanic past, making the site a prized destination for geologists.
This magical place is tucked away on private farmland, near Redesdale. The landowners, Christine and Will Elliott, worked with Trust for Nature to place a conservation covenant on the site. Tim is a stewardship officer for the site, which has no public access. Covenants- permanent but flexible land management agreements between landholders and Trust for Nature – ensure sites will be protected forever, creating a haven for native wildlife and plants. Victoria now has over 75,000 hectares of covenanted bushland. ”We see ourselves as custodians of the land, not owners,” says Christine Elliott. “We feel privileged to look after it, and want it to be there in future for our grandkids.”
While the river brings no cash-flow or water for farming, Will sees it as a natural treasure: “It’s pretty special. Every Easter we go camping at the Gorge. We’re lucky to have both the Campaspe and Piper’s Creek fronting the property. This place is a one-off.”
Native flora and fauna living in this part of the Campaspe include platypuses, rare fish and plants, and 95 bird species, including Tim’s favourite, the Peregrine Falcon.
“Peregrines mate for life and return each year to nest in the cliffs,” he says. “Seeing them swoop and chase each other is so uplifting. It connects you to the ancient spirit of nature, and to our own origins as beings who once lived much closer to nature.”
Less lovely, but almost as dear to Tim, is the Hairy Anchor Plant (Discaria pubescens), a rare and endangererd species he discovered in the gorge while clearing gorse with a group of Korean volunteers. The visitors spoke no English, so when Tim found the five-foot-high plant, he had to do a creative mime-show to explain that this prickly specimen was to be saved, not culled.
Appearances aside, Tim says, “it’s terrible to lose any species. They have an inherent right to exist.” But there are also selfish reasons for being conservation-minded: “You never know what advantages for humans might be hidden in some of these species.”
Growing up on Melbourne’s fringes, Tim loved exploring the bush. He also witnessed first-hand the impact of urban sprawl, watching lush natural wildflower gardens scraped away to build new subdivisions. Seeing such destruction drew him to conservation work.
Tim points to the “canary in the coalmine” analogy; the Peregrine Falcons, for example, are super-sensitive to changes in their habitat. “The fact that so many species are threatened shows we’re having a devastating impact on the planet.”
By protecting the plants and animals of the Campaspe River, he says, “we’re also taking care of the ecosystem that provides essential services to us – fresh water, fertile soil, clean air. You can’t separate these fragile systems from the wider world. It’s all connected.”
Story by Meg Mundell, 2007