Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A trip to Boxflat ...

I just took the kids out to Boxflat. What an amazing site. Amazing in that it is a disaster.

The Ngarkat Conservation Park had a huge section (the north western part) of it burnt out in 2006. So much so that the back end of the family farm which borders the Ngarkat northern fence line was burnt, along with several other farms.

The fire was a very "hot" fire. It really "cooked" everything in its path. Much more so than a "normal" bushfire. Given the current drought, it is easy to see how devastatingly stressed the park is. Regrowth is currently minimal.

I suspect that part of the problem lies with the how the park is managed.

I can clearly recall an experience many years ago when I was a child. I spotted smoke from a fire "out in the desert" so I rushed to tell my father (as we used to call it "the desert", however it is normally far from being a desert). He said to me "Don't worry about it Pete. These fires often occur due to lightning strikes. If the fire looks like it's going to escape the desert then we'll do something about it as there is no possible way to stop a fire in the desert itself. We'll just keep an eye on it".

Back then no one in the district got excited. How things change.

Well meaning people have made some really dopey decisions when in reality nature is quite capable of looking after itself with only the occasional guiding hand needed. Now I honestly believe my father's advice to me at the time, is something the National Parks people should consider taking on board.

These days, when a fire occurs, it is quite comical to see what happens. Fire spotting planes, Helicopters, State Emergency Services called out, Voluntary Fire services (EFS) called out, mobs of National Park people (who you rarely normally see around the place), TV crews, you name it. Well intentioned it may be, in reality it is clearly a waste of time and huge amounts public money. In particular it puts lives at risk.

It would be better I believe, to carry out regular "cold" fires or "burn offs" in controlled circumstances at cooler times of the year. Only burn off say five to ten percent of the park each year i.e a ten to twenty year cycle. In this way the wildlife has a better chance to escape, the bush has a chance to recover (actually many of the plants rely on a regular burn to produce new growth or to germinate seed but they sure don't need to be "cooked").

As it is, the park seems to be managed in exactly the opposite way I believe it should be! A totally odd thing to do is to allow well meaning but ill informed "Friends of the Park" to close off tracks and access to many areas of the park. It does not taken long for existing tracks to be overgrown and many are now inaccessible for emergency vehicles when necessary. Ironically, when the National Parks people want access during a fire, incredibly they sometimes BULLDOZE a path in a futile attempt to create firebreaks or to provide access. Did they skip common sense at University?

A significant disappointment to me was that the northern track into Boxflat has been "closed". There is an existing approach from the east and also from the south still available. There is also an approach from the North West but I won't tell anyone if you don't. However the northern part of what I call Boxflat (directly east of the old ruins from the Gara station days) has been "blocked off" for public access. Now this area is (or was) very attractive with old gums and a pleasant trail through it. Great for camping. Not anymore. Why???? I'm stumped (poor pun I know).

At least the old ruins are still there largely the same as I recall them to be from when I was child too many years ago. My father's "signature" is still engraved on the walls along with many other locals. Now many people are aghast this "vandalism" these days, however it is interesting to read the names still there. At the time it was the thing to do. Some idiot has recently tried to damage some of them unfortunately but at least most are still there.

One area the parks people seem to have missed is the old well in the soak area proper. Now the real vandalism was when the old SA Mines Department took it into their collective university trained heads many years ago, to blow it up! So there is not much of it left. However there are still remnants of superb limestone rocks the old timers dug up. Limestone appears all over the Eastern part of South Australia but the rocks at Boxflat contain some of the very best fossils contained in limestone that I have ever seen. Remarkably clear specimens great to see still there. Excellent stuff.

Just why the old timers built the "out" station (now the ruins) so far away from the flat and the Well I don't know. Possibly because the area flooded at times.

An unfortunate result of closing tracks in the park is the concentration of vehicular access on to only a few tracks. This creates all sorts of problems with tracks sometimes hard to negotiate due to deep ruts, erosion etc. No wonder then, there are often calls to ban 4X4 and motorcycle access to the parks. Just silly.

I know of one person several years ago (a "Friend of the Ngarkat Conservation Park") who proudly showed me photos of one his many trips to the park where his troop of "friends" had a ball in a muddy clay flat with their 4x4's. What an incredible mess they made. And he was proud of it. So it was apparently alright for them to have fun in this destructive manner and yet then close off the tracks for others (who most probably would have behaved better).

Continuing my rant, the National Parks people seem to think they are the holders of all knowledge of the park. My family has now five generations of knowledge of the area. Not on a single occasion have we been approached about discussing management of the park neighbouring us. Yet the locals are expected to drop everything and fight a fire (putting their lives at risk) that they know is unmanageable. This is incredibly frusting for them.

The area even now has a staffed Park Management Office in Lameroo, this is probably a good thing, however the park seems to be in its poorest state of health that I have ever seen. Heck of a pity I reckon.