I wanted to set fire to some grass in a small enclosure on a windy ridge that Mum had made about ten years ago. It fenced in three big eucalypts, (two yellow box and one stringybark), with the hope that they would regenerate by themselves and make a new grove on a bare hillside.
It didn’t quite work that way. The grass grew very thickly and smothered any potential seedlings.
Five years ago, with the drought ending, I decided to plant some new seedlings of mixed natives into the conveniently fenced area. At that time we were just visiting for a few weeks from California, so we only had buckets to water the young shrubs and trees, and no four wheel drive to take us up close. That meant a wheezing slog up and down the hill to the dam with those damn buckets. My children hated me for a couple of years for making them help.
The long grass also hid a network of broken branches from the dead stringybark, great for sending tree-planters flat on their faces. And wombats decided it was a lovely place to dig a major tunnel system. Somehow I managed to fall in the same wombat hole three or four times, each time thinking I was avoiding it.
Of those first thirty trees we planted, only four survived. I replanted twenty the following year with bigger holes and more water, but only in half the area. Those ones survived and have even thrived with a few good seasons.
My plan was to burn the other end of the plantation to remove the excess grass and perhaps spark a little life into some ageing eucalypt seeds.
But each year, something else got in the way, such as burning African Lovegrass in great swathes along the river, or doing a different big plantation. Last year, the grass was wet and soggy until October when the summer fire bans come into full force. Suddenly the grass was dry, but with a howling wind and half of New South Wales in flames, it wasn’t a good moment to try a low key burn. Or even light a match.
So this weekend I thought I finally had the right moment.
We notified our neighbours and the local Fire Captain in the approved manner. We took our matches and newspaper up the hill.
A drip torch is much more effective, but we haven’t got one yet and I hadn’t been organized enough to borrow one. We moved some dead branches that might cause problems by burning for too long and not going out when it rained. Also, dead branches are great habitat for lizards and other little animals. We took a few for firewood, but there was plenty left.
I lit the first match. The flames flickered, ran for a bit, then died in heaves of smoke. Each clump need its own match. So much for worrying whether the planted trees would survive a raging holocaust.
I tried lighting bundles of grass to move by hand from clump to clump. That’s a great way to burn your fingers. I tried attaching some newspaper to a stick and soaking it in diesel. It fell off and burned very slowly.
The final result was a real mosaic of individual burned clumps and lots of remaining green grass.
Someday, I’ll finish this plantation.
In the meantime, the surviving big trees are looking healthier with the better seasons and the surrounding vegetation is attracting some birds.