Months ago, we arranged for some work to be done on the access tracks on both sides of the river.
I hoped to have them done in time for tree-planting and fencing, to save us all bumping and slithering over quite so many boulders, and allowing Andrew and Frank to round up their stock in future. It was a tricky sequence – first the earthmoving and the new cattle ramps, then the fences, then the tree-planting
I spent a day with our neighbour Frank and Aaron, the bulldozer driver who’d done such a great job with the grader on our road for the council.
I was very keen to put in a new dam on the Benny’s Hill paddock on Esdale, because in putting up the new box-gum woodland fence, we’d also closed off the only creek water access for stock in that big area. We walked around three places in the deep, steep valley between the two ridges. Each one Frank and Aaron looked at, shook their heads ” Too steep. Get too much rain and a gully-buster will take it out” or “Probably not enough clay to seal it, too much rock and gravel.” or ” It might work, but you could dig around for days and get nothing but a waste of your time.” Finally we went up to the top of the ridge to a place where two old willow trees were slowly collapsing into a small mud-hole in a shallow gully.
Andrew had told me he thought this was our best bet for water. “The stock are drinking from there, just from the little puddles, a lot of the time.” Frank considered it was worth a try, but it was still steep, rocky and awkward to access. We all agreed it was worth digging some sort of a “hole” and seeing if we could get it to fill and hold. “There might have been a waterhole here before, and the willows were put in to try and keep the bank from breaking down, as it began to silt up”.
That seems likely. The weeping willows must have been planted there deliberately because until recently there were no self-seeding willows in Australia.
Early settlers brought slips with them that they planted out when they arrived, often from the island of St Helena where many of the early ships stopped to take on supplies. I like to think that our local willows could be clones of those ones that grew there beside Napoleon’s grave.
The willows probably didn’t help retain the bank much, though, as their roots are just as likely to pull the earth together and allow more erosion.
After the arrangements were made, I waited for the bulldozers to arrive.
The fencing got done. The tree-planting is almost done. All without the better access tracks I’d hoped for. There was a lot of carrying of water buckets for young trees in inaccessible places. The ramps finally arrived from Young and were delivered to the house and the Esdale main entry.
We had to get a new bulldozer driver. At Andrew’s shearing “cut out” party, surrounded by beer cans and the sound of clay pigeon shooting, I was introduced to Mick Downey who Andrew knew from his sheep shearing team. Mick had just gone into the earthmoving business. After discussing it one day, the machinery was delivered the next and away they went.
Suddenly the hills have been alive with the sounds of rumbling and beeping monsters making their way up and down the rocky slopes.
They’ve been going places with their big equipment that I find tricky just walking.
I found it hard to watch the access tracks, minimal as they are, go through our native grasses. I’ve just learned to identify some of those plants. It’s necessary to have the tracks, though, both for fire fighting access and also so that we can water the new trees we’ve planted. Buckets in midsummer heat are just not going to happen.
There’s been a lot to learn about what makes a good occasional use track. Unlike an all-weather full-time road, it’s better for a track to be grassy if possible because it reduces the erosion when it rains. The idea is to do the minimum needed to make it drivable. That means removing the biggest, sump-crushing boulders, cutting into the slope to make the road a little more level if it’s dangerously tilted, making runoff trenches and “Whoa-boy” humps in the road to force the water to divert. I see the purpose, but don’t like driving with the Whoa-boys on a steep track, because coming up or down the lower side of the hump means you’re momentarily vertical.
Anyway, the waterhole was dug and is holding water beautifully. The willows are history.