A weekend in the life of a BTAC volunteer
I am Joe van Beek, President of the Ben Cruachan Walking Club, committee member and a volunteer with the Bushwalking Tracks and Conservation (BTAC) team, a standing committee of Bushwalking Victoria.
In 1864 Angus McMillan was commissioned by the state government to establish a track to link the various gold fields in Gippsland. The track stretches some 220km from Omeo westward to Woods Point through the Gippsland high country. A few years after the Ben Cruachan Walking Club was formed in 1965, members of the Club investigated, documented and marked what they thought was an accurate re-creation of the 'McMillan's Track' and began maintaining it.
Our most recent track maintenance was over a very hot Australia Day weekend to assist with track maintenance on theMcMillans Walking Track. I was the project leader, and was joined by John Kellas from Ben Cruachan Walking Club and 13 other BTAC volunteers from various bushwalking clubs, individual members of Bushwalking Victoria and two visitors.
This ambitious track maintenance activity on behalf of DELWP was scheduled to start on Friday 25 January but as that day was a Total Fire Ban, the start was postponed untill the Saturday after a front had cooled the air. Concerns remained as a dry lightning storm accompanied the front and set several wild fires in the bush not so far from the work area. Some of these subsequently joined and became the Thomson Jordon Divide Road fire of more than 6,000 hectares. A number of discussions were held with DELWP on the risks and wisdom of going into the bush at that time. The safety, communication and contingency plans were reviewed and escape routes verified.
The section from Lazarini Spur Track down to the Black River is one of the more picturesque and historically significant sections of McMillans Walking Track but is also one of the more difficult to maintain. There is only ready access from one end, it is 6km in length and has an approximate 700m descent which means a 700m climb back to the start. The first 2km is a permanently closed 4WD track but has been used as such in recent times but DELWP desired it be maintained as a walking track only. This meant all access was by foot.
On the Saturday morning we established a camp, 4km from the start of the work site, at the intersection of the Jamieson-Licola Road and Lazarini Spur Track as various members of the work party gathered. After lunch two teams of 5 started work after a further consideration of the risks and safety issues. Four more joined later in the afternoon. Large plumbs of smoke were observed and not knowing the source of the smoke we evacuated back to our vehicles and camp.
DELWP kindly provided us with food for two BBQ meals. It was a communal task to prepare and cook the food. It proved to be a generous quantity as many of us enjoyed the leftovers for lunches. That evening, some explored the nearby Crows Hut and as there were some keen mountain runners among the volunteers, there was much discussion about the nature of the McMillans Walking Track and how long it may take to run given that the total climb and therefore descent is almost 9,000 metres, the height of Mt Everest.
That night there was some rain and the temperatures were cooler so we were much more at ease going into the bush on Sunday morning. The conditions were perfect for some serious track clearing; over cast sky, slight breeze and temperatures in the low 20s. Great progress was made by the three teams; a chainsaw team and two "tunnelling" teams consisting of a brush cutter followed by two track clearers, a further brush cutter and two hedge trimmers and finally a crew of track clearers and groomers. When the "tunnelling" teams met up, it was decided to call it a day. All 17 participants put in over 8 hours of work.
Monday was to be the big day, a concerted effort to get down to the river. As numbers were down to 12, we formed two teams. A chainsaw team who continued from where they left off and an enlarged "tunnelling" team. Great progress was made but it became evident that we would not finish that day. A call to knock off and proceed to the river for refreshment was made a bit before 3pm. Several took the opportunity to bath in the Black River while others took in the atmosphere of this isolated spot in the bush and rested up for the 700m climb back to the top of the track. Equipment and fuel not needed the following day was carried out. We reached camp at 7pm, almost 11 hours after leaving.
Conditions were still fine for working on Tuesday. A team of 4, all wishing to leave around mid day or just do a half days work, did some tidy up of a section of track near the beginning that had been skipped over previously. The other four set off down the track to complete the track clearing left undone the previous day. The last of the chain sawing was completed. We also cleared a little way up on the other side of the river crossing and cleared a couple of spots that could be used for a tent site just downstream from the crossing and opposite a lovely swimming hole. Some benching was done where most urgently required and to protect the most significant example of the dry stone walling constructed by McMillan's gang in 1864 when the track was originally formed.
We got back to camp at 17:30 and the remianing four of us had a relaxing time before an early retirement to our tents. The morning John and I packed up camp, stowed the trailer and tidied up as the storm clouds built. We hadn't finished when heavy showers started. We were at Heyfield before noon and dropped off the DELWP supplied equipment.
Thank you to DELWP for facilitating the track maintenance and providing food for the volunteers. Thanks to BTAC for coordinating the event and providing the volunteers and much of the tools and equipment. A very satisfying feeling knowing that the job was achieved to a high and uniform standard. Happy walking everyone, this section of the track should be good for some years.
If you would like to become a BTAC volunteer, you can find more information here as well as the track maintenance schedule for 2019.