Point Hicks in the Croajingolong National Park is named after Lieutenant Zachary Hicks, the naval officer on James Cook’s Endeavour who first sighted the southeast tip of the Australian continent just after daybreak on April 19, 1770.
Cook sailed towards the landmass for two hours and described it in his journal before turning northeast. “What we have seen of this land appears rather low and not very hilly, the face of the country green and woody, but the sea-shore is all a white sand” — an accurate description of Point Hicks and the coastal park to this day. Smoke from several fires was observed — probably from managed burns and Gunaikurnai campfires. Cook took the fires to mean that the land was inhabited, but no one came out of the bush to greet the visitors.
Moving forward a couple of centuries — to Grand Final weekend September 2023 — and smoke was seen again in east Gippsland, this time from out-of-control bushfires. Bayside Bushwalking Club member Mike Grant was packing for a weekend of volunteer track clearing in Croajingolong on Grand Final Thursday when the Parks Victoria ranger in charge rang him to advise that the trip should be cancelled due to the fire risk. As Mike said later, while Captain Cook had the Pacific Ocean as an escape route, there is only one road out of Wingan Inlet, which would be a problem in a bushfire.
Mike has organised the Grand Final long weekend track clearing project at Croajingolong for the past five years. In 2022, 14 volunteers took part. The 2023 event has been rescheduled for the Anzac Day weekend of April 25 to April 28 next year —254 years after Captain Cook.
The Croajingolong track clearing event is one of twelve in an annual program organised by Bushwalking Tracks and Conservation (BTAC), a group of environmental volunteers organised by Bushwalking Victoria, the peak body for bushwalking clubs in Victoria.
Mike says it’s a sociable weekend of camping and track clearing with opportunities for walking and enjoying the sandy coast. The weekend starts on Thursday with the 450 km drive. The group sets up camp at Wingan Inlet or Point Hicks campground ahead of a 9am Friday briefing with Nick Wilkins, the Parks Victoria ranger based at Cann River.
On Friday and Saturday, the group clear tracks radiating out of the camp site. Equipment, including chain saws, brush cutters and hand tools, is supplied from a trailer maintained by BTAC.
On Saturday night Parks Victoria hosts a barbeque for the workers at the camp site. The 6.5-hour drive back to Melbourne takes up most of Sunday.
Track clearing is a niche bushwalking activity. Some track clearing takes place in remote and difficult country — like the Victorian Alps — and volunteers need to be strong and fit to carry chain saws, brush cutters and fuel into remote areas as well as, on some occasions, their own tent, sleeping bag and food.
Mike’s project at Croajingolong is not arduous and most competent bushwalkers would manage. “We use the opportunity to get into the bush at Croajingalong and help keep important parts of the park open for bushwalkers. If the tracks grow over, they’re impassable and can be lost for all time.”
Mike said there was a wide role for volunteers in track clearing, working together with Parks Victoria and the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA).
BTAC takes on some very remote and difficult track clearing projects including McMillans Walking Track, the Australian Alps Walking Track, Mt Howitt Spur Track and Eagles Peaks Track in the Alpine National Park.
There’s a cohort in bushwalking who are up for hard walks and hard work. However, there are less demanding events such as reinstating the track to Mt Thorn.
“In the remote areas we may have to carry in the equipment and fuel as well as our camping gear, so that’s for stronger bushwalkers. But other tracks — McMillan’s for example — we can usually get the equipment trailer to the camp site, or we can carry equipment and volunteers’ packs in 4WD vehicles.”
Volunteers have been fewer since the COVID shutdown, but numbers have improved, and younger volunteers are participating. A survey last year by DEECA showed young people were open to the idea of working to improve the environment but were not prepared to commit to membership of an established group.
Parks Victoria and Bushwalking Victoria are conscious of this and are always looking for ways to promote event-based, short-term opportunities for people with a range of abilities. For example, at the BTAC event at Ropers Hut in the Alpine National Park maintenance work was undertaken on the hut by volunteers not wanting to participate in the more demanding track clearing activities.
To sign up for Mike’s weekend next year and for the full program of track clearing opportunities and information on how to get involved, go to https://bushwalkingvictoria.org.au/btac/.
You can find BTAC on Facebook here
Article supplied by Martin Curtis (Bayside Bushwalking Club – October/November 2023)