A SEMI-rural Casterton resident says a more relaxed approach to public land grazing and more controlled burns are the only ways to reduce the fire risk around the township.
Cherryl Rees took over her father’s Racecourse Rd property 15 years ago and despite many attempts, has given up the battle to have high fuel roads on public land abutting her property, removed.
“In the beginning, I went into the shire and there was a bit of debate about who owned (the land around the property) whether it was railway, whether it was the shire, whether it was Vicroads, or who as responsible for it,” she said.
“It wasn’t ever determined who owned it, that I know of.”
The former market garden, bordered by the old railway line, the Glenelg River and Racecourse Rd has been cleared to a manicured lawn state, with various trees and shrubs dotted around the property.
On one side of the triangle-shaped block, the neighbour’s grazing paddock sports enough grass to support his few sheep.
On the two sides adjoining public land, feral species including blackberry bushes and in some places, metres-high phalaris, grows rampant right against the fenceline.
“It’d be two or three years since the (road easement) was slashed up to the fence … on the river side, it’s slashed, but only where they can get a tractor,” Mrs Rees said.
“Until I put the fence up, I used to mow (the road easement) and the fire brigade, I don’t know if it was once or twice, the fire brigade burned it … they burned the side of the road and the hump, the old railway line, but that hasn’t been done for a long time.”
Mr Rees said the final straw for her, in trying to maintain the public land against her fenceline, was waste being dumped on the edge of her property.
“Before I put the fence up, I used to mow in there, I used to maintain around the poplar trees in the road easement, until someone came and cut the poplar branches back from the road and left them all lying there under the trees,” she said.
“I cleaned it up two or three times and then the fourth time I thought ‘nup, not gonna do it, I’m too old for that’ and it’s just been let go out of control ever since.”
Mrs Rees said the riverbank side of her property had also been maintained for a short time after she took over and between manual clearing and the presence of a local drover, the riverbank had been maintained to a much safer standard.
“Years ago, when dad had the place, the forest commission, two men used to walk through (the riverside fenceline) … they would spray the old fenceline and cut down all these saplings,” she said.
“There used to be a laneway there, where people used to ride their horses through there, right up around the hill; it’s now non-existent, there are the sapling, the grass, even bigger trees that would never have been there.”
Mrs Rees said she was fully supportive of former drover, Joe Smith’s calls (CN 29 Jan) for “common sense” when it came to access for drovers in areas like the Glenelg River easement in and around Casterton and called for all levels of government to revisit their positions, on the practice.
“I’m not scared of snakes, if you live near the river you’ve got to expect snakes, but I’m a bit scared of fires this year,” she said.
“I’m probably better off than people further up, because if a fire did get in there, it would be up that hill and gone before any of them knew it was coming.
“Joe used to come around here, he used to put a hotwire up there near my gate and out around (the roadside and river bank), he’d run the cattle for perhaps three days, four days, clean it all up and then be gone.
“The cattle weren’t a problem, they’d clean it up beautifully.
“(Government regulations) stopped him from coming here, supposedly for the native grasses or flowers, or whatever else they found there.
“It’s amazing they’re still there if the cattle were damaging it for so long and I can’t believe they can find anything in all the feral grass and trees along there.
“The only thing that can clean the roadsides and the rivers up properly are the cattle and fire and they both need to be brought back.”