In April we holidayed in the tiny community of Tawonga South nestled close to the Kiewa River and just a few minutes’ drive to the township of Mt Beauty. Mt Beauty is within a comfortable 4 hours’ drive from Melbourne and situated in Victoria's high country. The location of Tawonga South where we stayed is at the southern end of the Kiewa Valley at the foot of Mount Bogong which is the state's highest mountain. For those more adventuresome in the summer months there are horse riding treks with pack horses to traverse the mountain forests and alpine woodlands.
Mt Beauty is aptly named as it is a place of abundant natural beauty which my pictures do not do justice. The landscape is predominantly one of mixed farming which gives way to the surrounding Alpine National Park punctuated by lakes, forests and snowfields.
The township dates to the 1940’s when work began on the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme but the construction of a large dam and power station did not proceed as other priorities took precedence. However in 2001 as the state encountered power shortages the project was re-considered, but the new proposal constructed a tunnel rather than a dam, as originally envisaged and located the power station underground.
Bogong power station was commissioned in 2009 and currently provides 140MW of ultra-fast power during peak demands whilst eliminating 88,000t of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The power station, operated by the publically listed Australian Company AGL, does not interfere in any way with tourism and the recreational benefits to the region. Reference http://www.power-technology.com/projects/bogong-station/
The purpose of the holiday was also to join our walking group friends and although we did not participate in any of the walks we enjoyed their company in the evenings. Over dinner it was always interesting to hear about their experiences such as an encountering a team of pack horses and to learn about the many historic sites they observed and took photos of along the way. A highlight was a visit to the Bogong Estate winery where in the evening we all enjoyed delicious fresh Pizza's baked in the estate' s outdoor Pizza oven. We were also treated to a fine drop of " Pinot Noir" courtesy of one of the walking group's nephew who owns the vineyard.
Mt Beauty proved to be an ideal spot, not only for its attractions but as it was relatively close to other centres such as the township of Bright. We visited Bright on a number of occasions which was resplendent in autumn colours reflected in the Ovens River which winds it ways through the town. The is plenty to explore in the nearby forests, to visit their boutique wineries or to simply enjoy, as we did, the local produce and township cafes.
On our trip up from Melbourne nearing Mt Beauty we were greeted by a disconcerting smoke haze caused by a planned “burn” in preparedness to reduce fuel and ensure improved fire trail access prior to summer’s bush fire threat. It was a minor inconvenience and during our stay it began to clear.
It was a reminder of the devastation caused in February 2009 when a catastrophic wildfire engulfed the State Forest and surrounding districts. The tragedy claimed not only human life but the livelihood and livestock of many as more than 33,000 hectares were destroyed. Such was the ferocity of the blaze that even some of the very old trees, who had withstood many prior bushfires, dropped their limbs and died. What tales of life could they convey or words of wisdom impart?
But, it seems the local communities have responded very well to the crisis and are united in adapting to a brighter future- in the same enterprising manner as the early settlers eventually adapted to the reality of much harsher conditions compared to their homeland. The area was first discovered by the expeditions in 1824 (Hume & Hovell) and then further exploration of the region was undertaken by Charles Stuart (1848) after which large scale sheep and cattle runs with lots of up to 50,000 acres were established. But the relative wealth and prosperity of the early pastoralists was short lived as they were soon subject to the ravages of a severe drought and bushfires – a feature of the Australian landscape that prevailed for thousands of years prior to colonisation.
But in the 1850’s after the discovery of gold, like many country areas of Victoria, the district subsequently prospered from increased wealth and migration. By way of example by the 1900’s Melbourne was the most open cosmopolitan city in the world with 40% of its population born abroad. The mixed fortunes of the region over the ensuing period to modernity were enhanced by the preparedness of farmers and communities to better understand the landscape with affiliation to such groups as “Land Care”. But the ferocity of the 2009 bushfire and its destruction galvanised the community and authorities into renewed restoration objectives and affirmative action.
Subsequently a “Community Landscape Project” was formed from an allocation of funds raised by the Bushfire relief appeal at the time to help with the restoration of the land and ensure the original heritage trees are retained in conjunction with additional plantings to improve biodiversity.
Funding additionally covered the publication of the historical journey entitled “a farming journey: an account of the development of eleven farming districts in North East Victoria for the region’.” The action plan linked the natural environment to practical farming to achieve sustainable environmental outcomes. I purchased this excellent publication and found it interesting reading with many photos of the early pioneers of the region.
Details of recent plantings of deciduous and native trees across the fire affected communities and the work undertaken can be ascertained from the website reference below. Once in the website scroll down for details and pictures of locals engaged in plantings and restoration work.
During our stay we also visited the nearby historic township of Yackandandah whose settlement arose to support the goldfields of 1852. It is a delightful small town with quaint shops. It was a hive of activity when we visited. The town like many in the area, is now attracting many more folk who introduce new skills in contrast to the earlier rural bias. But strict planning and regulation have skilfully maintained the old world feel whilst ushering in the new – so that none of the old charm and history is lost,
The region gives grounds for cautious optimism and the likelihood of a brighter future. Andrew Cross