Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

2011 Connecting Country AGM

Posted on 3 October, 2011 by Connecting Country

Ann-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs at the 2011 Connecting Country AGM

Can you farm in a different way? Is farmland degraded land? These are two of the questions Ann-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs from Sutton Grange Organic Farm addressed in their inspiring and informative presentation to Connecting Country’s AGM on 26 September 2011.

Their farm is organically certified and consists of 205 acres of granitic sandy loam. Rainfall is between 400 ml and 1000 ml rainfall a year. They run 75 goats and produce the award winning Holy Goat organic cheese which they sell at Farmers’ Markets and through a distributor who supplies outlets in regional Victoria, Melbourne and  Sydney.

Bushland with Hedge Wattle in foreground.

Twenty-nine percent of the farm is bushland and two percent is infrastructure. The benefits of protecting this extensive bushland include the maintenance of seed banks, the protection of pasture provided by birds, insects and windbreaks and the beauty of this land which they believe benefits the goats and people.


The farmland zone is sixty-nine percent of the total land and supports substantial stands of native grasses which are deep-rooted, perennial and drought tolerant. Kangaroo grass and Wallaby grass are particularly beneficial in providing vital minerals and fibre for the goats. They described their successful efforts in increasing levels of phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, iron and PH levels in the soil. They have also recently trialled an innovative method for controlling Capeweed.

Ann-Marie with some of this year's kids. 21 September 2011

Ann-Marie and Carla concluded their talk by explaining their vision for the farm. They distance themselves from the conventional idea that growth means more goats and producing more cheese which could eventually be exported. Instead they view the growth of their farm in terms of sustainability, quality and generosity for their goats, the land, people and the soil.


Other news from the AGM

1. Connecting Country Coordinator, Chris Timewell, gave a comprehensive report on progress over the last 12 months. The vast majority (90%) of the years annual project targets were achieved, and often significantly exceeded.  Twenty separate on-ground works projects were developed with landholders, and many others are in progress.  Over 400 nest boxes have been installed. 260 of the boxes have been monitored, with many found to support tuans or Sugar Gliders.  Three field days were all booked out, and more than 200 community members attended evening talks on a range of topics.  Planning for another successful year ahead is already well underway.         

2. All members of the Management Committee were re-elected and retained their current roles.  Click here to view a list of members with short biographical details.

3. Jodie Odgers, North Central CMA, updated us with the latest Landcare news and announced the recipients of the Victorian Landcare Grants. Information about these grants will be posted on this website when a complete list is available.

4. Two Connecting Country members, Damian Kelly and Robin Feary, won the random membership renewal prizes. If you are interested in becoming a member of Connecting Country, click on the links below:


Family Fun Day is a Great Success

Posted on 29 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

A huge crowd of over 700 people gathered at Victory Park in Castlemaine on Sunday 25 September to celebrate nature in our backyards.

Children enjoyed the huge range of activities including face painting, jumping castle, badge making, butterfly wing creating and water watch. They filled out nature passports, danced with Swifty the Parrot and Tilly the Platypus and collected nature cards from the Connies.  The biggest hit of the day was the live native animal display by Tooko which included Dingos, a Cape Barren Goose, Possums, Turtles and a 2m long Python.

The nature information stalls gave away a huge amount of information about local environment groups including Trust for Nature, Parks Victoria, Connecting Country and local Landcare Groups.

Connecting Country would like to thank Victoria Naturally, Trust for Nature, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, MECU, IGA, Bakers Delight and KR Castlemaine for helping to sponsor the event as well as the many volunteers who helped to make the day such a success.



Reporting sick or dead wildlife

Posted on 28 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria investigates reports of sick and dead wildlife from free ranging populations in Victoria to understand baseline health, detect changes and identify risk factors. The organsation is based at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne, Werribee. For more information, including contact details if you see sick, dead or dying wildlife, click here.


Good News for Landcare

Posted on 28 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Connecting Country is preparing an expression of interest for a Local Landcare Facilitator through the just announced DSE’s Victorian Local Landcare Facilitators Initiative. This expression of interest would be made on behalf of the Landcare, Friends and environmental groups in our area.

We’d love to hear the thoughts of local landcare members about this ASAP – Is it a good idea? Would your group support our application? How would it be managed? What other questions do you have?

To discuss this opportunity you can email or call the numbers below. Also, keep an eye out for a planning meeting so that we can get ourselves organized.

Marie: 5472 2892,
Chris: 5472 1594,
Krista: 5427 1594,

Details on the Initiative

This program is a fixed grant of up to $50,000 p.a. for up to four years.  The funding is available for the salary and operating costs of a part-time Landcare Facilitator.

Under the guidelines a new Landcare Facilitator would be based within the local communities they support and would

  • support on-ground NRM delivery;
  • build local community capacity to enable groups to be self sustaining;
  • undertake community engagement and build partnerships;
  • assist with planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting; and
  • secure project grants and other funding.

More information can be found on


September edition of Groundcover

Posted on 27 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The lastest edition of the North Central CMA publication Groundcover includes information on the 60 new Landcare facilitators positions that have just been announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Ryan Smith, and a report on Dr Arn Tolsma’s talk on fire history which was part of the Connecting Country education program. The edition can be downloaded here.


9 October – Metcalfe Landcare Planting Day

Posted on 23 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Metcalfe Landcare’s next planting day will focus on indigenous understorey shrubs underneath mature eucalypts along the banks of the Coliban River. Plants will go straight into the ground with no staking, guarding or jute matting.

When:   Sunday 9 October 2011
Time:   10.00am onwards
Where: Enter site from Red Gum Bridge over the Coliban River, Kyneton-Metcalfe Rd, in the middle of the township of Metcalfe. Look for the flags to guide you.
Wear:   Suitable clothes, gloves and sturdy boots. Gum boots might be useful if we need to bucket water from the river.

BBQ lunch served on site.

Deb from Metcalfe Landcare writes that this will be a great day for families as the planting sites are all fully fenced with stiles for getting in and out. The group would LOVE to see everyone helping out on the day. The weather is expected to be sensational and the setting is beautiful at the moment.

For further details, ring Deb on 5423 2030.


Reminder about Connecting Country’s AGM and Family Fun Day

Posted on 20 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

This is a reminder about two significant Connecting Country events that are coming up soon.

The first is Connecting Country’s 2011 Annual General Meeting will take place on Monday 26 September at the Ray Bradfield Rooms, Castlemaine. The evening will begin with a presentation by Ann-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs from Sutton Grange Organic Farm (producers of Holy Goat cheese) and the election of the next Connecting Country committee. This will be followed by a project update from Coordinator, Chris Timewell, and the presentation of Victorian Landcare Grants to local recipients by Jodie Odgers (North Central CMA).

For catering purposes, please RSVP to or call 5472 1594. For more details about this event, including links to membership forms and the full agenda, click here.

The second event is the Family Fun Day which will take place in Victory Park on 25 September between 11am and 2pm. For a number of months, a small committee with representatives from Connecting Country, Trust for Nature and the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, has been meeting regularly to plan activities related to the theme of ‘nature in your backyard’. A large turnout on the day is expected and the park will be alive with all sorts of happenings.

Click here to view the Family Fun Day website.




Posted on 19 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The Tarrangower Cactus Control Committee and Parks Victoria will hold their next community field day on Sunday 25 September starting at 10.30 pm.  The field day will be held near the intersection of Watersons and Tarrengower School Roads.  Follow the signs from the intersection of the Bridgewater-Maldon and Watersons Roads, Maldon.

 The field day is an opportunity to enjoy some time outdoors while helping to eradicate Wheel Cactus from our district.  No experience is necessary and everyone concerned with the natural environment is most welcome.  Dress for the occasion in warm clothes and sturdy footwear.  The day will conclude at about 12.30 pm with a free sausage sizzle and cuppa. For more information, contact

Wheel Cactus from the Tarrengower area (Photo from DPI).


Farm Tree and Landcare Association News

Posted on 19 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The lastest news update for FTLA includes information on funding, submissions and opportunities, events and resources. It can be downloaded here.



Researching Forest Creek

Posted on 19 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Historian, Robin Ballinger, at Campbells Creek Community Hall

Sixty-five people turned out at Robin Ballinger’s talk on the environmental history of Forest Creek on 8 September. Robin used many early documents and maps to demonstrate the interaction between the indigenous people, squatters, goldminers and the local environment.

She outlined the early geological history of the Forest Creek and the relationship between the Aboriginal people, the Dja Dja Wrung, and the land prior to white settlement. Robin then described the impact on the landscape and the Jarra people of the mass influx of squatters which followed the 1838 publication of Major Mitchell’s diaries.

This pastoral development was followed by the gold rushes and the devastation of Aboriginal life continued. Gold mining had an enormous impact on the landscape in a very short time. However, while in 1852 there were 25,000 people, by 1854 Forest Creek was virtually deserted. The easily-obtained gold had all but gone.

From the 1850s onwards, the actual course of Forest Creek was changed. The creek was straightened to facilitate mining operations and reduce flooding in the town. The emphasis continued to be on controlling the creek, not controlling mining.  An 1871 report emphasised this utilitarian approach to the environment. Revegetation was advocated to address the forest devastation noted in this report but only because future mining operations would need timber.

Robin also drew attention to the conservation efforts that began in the 1930s and continue to this day.  She concluded by raising the question of what exactly are we trying to preserve given that we cannot hope to restore Forest Creek to its original state.

The talk was the last of the three formal Connecting Country educational talks for 2011, although details are soon to be published on a revegetation evening to be held on 13 October and a series of Eucalyptus identification workshops in Oct/Nov. However, Connecting Country is now also planning its 2012 educational program. If you have any comments on this years’ program or suggestions for next year, let us know by calling Chris or Krista on 5472 1594.


Symposium – Major Mitchell: Australia Felix

Posted on 14 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

September marks 175 years since Major Thomas Mitchell traveled through our region, Jaara Country, Central Victoria,  Mount Alexander Shire. To recognise this event a  symposium and exhibition entitled Major Mitchell: Australia Felix has been organised. It will take place in the Castlemaine Town Hall on 24 and 25  September 2011 between 10 am – 4 / 5 pm. The exhibition will include paintings and prints by Eliza Tree and Major Mitchell and guest speakers at the symposium will include Dr Ian Clark, Gregory Eccleston, John Tully, Gerry Gill, John Read and  Ian Higgins. Click here for more details.


25th Anniversary Landcare Grants

Posted on 9 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Community groups in North Central Victoria interested in enhancing or protecting the natural environment have until Monday 10 October to apply for funding courtesy of the Victorian Government’s 25th Anniversary Landcare Grants.

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Landcare, the Victorian Government has announced $60,000 of funding to assist local community groups.  The grants of $1,000 – $5,000 (ex GST) are for groups to hold events and undertake on-ground activities that will benefit the health of the region’s land, water and biodiversity – a mandatory component of the funding.

Attached are the guidelines and the application form. For further information, contact Jodie Odgers, Regional Landcare Coordinator, on (03) 5440 1883.


Connecting Country Annual General Meeting

Posted on 9 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

When: 7:30pm, Monday 26th September
Where: Ray Bradfield Room, Castlemaine

Please join us in some wine and cheese and celebrate our previous 12 months of the Connecting Country project. We shall be electing the committee for next 12 months, receiving a project update from Coordinator, Chris Timewell, and Jodie Odgers from North Central Catchment Management Authority, shall be presenting the Victorian Landcare Grants to local recipients.

In addition, we shall be getting inspired by our guest speakers, Ann-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs from Sutton Grange Organic Farm (producers of the award-winning Holy Goat Cheese). Having gained experience on farms in Australia and overseas, Ann-Marie and Carla’s organic cheese-making skills reflect their respect and care for the natural environment. With the wellbeing of the goat herd and an integrated holistic farm management taking priority, animals and their pastures are maintained at a level of optimum health.  They are involved in Connecting Country’s Yellow Box Woodland project with supplementary plantings of native mid-storey shrubs within the fenced remnant areas of grassy woodland.

The full AGM agenda can be downloaded here.

It’s also time to renew your membership for the 2011-12 year! Although membership is free, Connecting Country memberships for groups and individuals still need to be renewed on an annual basis.  New memberships for individuals and groups are also encouraged.  In order to do this, the following documents can be downloaded:

If you are interested in being on the Connecting Country Committee of Management, the committee nomination form can be downloaded (which must be posted to The Public Officer/Secretary, Connecting Country Inc., PO Box 347, Castlemaine VIC 3450 prior to the 26th Sept 2011).

For catering purposes, please RSVP to or call 5472 1594 by Thursday the 22nd of September.


Brisbane Ranges Wildflower Show

Posted on 8 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

There will be a Wildflower Show on 9 October between 9.30am and 4.30pm at Anakie Hall, Staughton Vale Road, Anakie. The event is organised and supported by Friends of Brisbane Ranges and Parks Victoria. For further information and online bus bookings visit Enquires can also be made by phone: (03) 5366 0000 and by email:


Taradale Planting Day

Posted on 7 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The final planting day organised by Taradale Landcare will take place on Friday 9 September 2011 from 9.30am. The planting will be along Back Creek adjacent to Barkley Park. For further information contact Kate Smith on 0427 315 963. Click here to download a flier with the details.


Moss Field Day

Posted on 7 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

Fifteen people took part in a fascinating moss field day at Clinkers Hill Bushland Reserve on 27 August. This was part of the Moss and Liverwort project that is working towards producing a brochure about local mosses and liverworts. The group spent two hours identifying, photographing and recording ten varieties of moss.

Beth Mellick from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation supplied magnifying glasses and recording materials for everyone.

The afternoon was led by postgraduate student Cassia Read who is currently doing a PhD at Melbourne Uni on biological soil crusts of the Mallee and Wimmera.

Cass comments that “crusts are intriguing communities of moss, lichen and fungi that live at the soil surface in arid environments. These crusts have an important role in ecosystem function. I’m particularly interested in how they influence seed germination and survival and how they recover following livestock exclusion, as stock with hard hooves remove moss and lichens and expose the top soil to erosion.”


One of the mosses, Breutelia affinist, examined by the group . Photo by Bronwyn Silver

This project is supported by the Norman Wetttenhall Foundation, Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests and Connecting Country.

If you would like more information contact Beth Mellick on 5472 1316.





Rehabilitating Clinkers Hill

Posted on 7 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The Victoria Gully Group is being assisted by Connecting Country and Parks Victoria to rehabilitate Clinkers Hill Bushland Reserve, which is at the southern end of Preshaw St in Castlemaine.

Working bees take place regularly on the second Sunday of the month from 9.30am to 11.30am followed by a cuppa.  The next one is this Sunday 11 September when hand weeding and planting shrubs will be the focus of activities.

If you have any enquiries about this project, or would like to participate in future working bees, ring Elvyne Hogan on 5472 4171.

Volunteers at the first weeding workshop at Clinkers Hill, July 2011


CFNC meeting on Shorebirds

Posted on 6 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

At the next Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club meeting on 9 September there will be a presentation by Mike Weston on Shorebirds.  The evening will begin at 7.30pm and the venue is the Uniting Church Hall. All are welcome.

Mike currently works as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. His interests are diverse but centre around wildlife and people, and working constructively to solve potential conflicts for the benefit of both people and biodiversity. His particular passion is the conservation of beach-nesting birds, and how they might be able to coexist with extremely high numbers of recreationists. To find out more about Mike Weston click here.

To see an example of local migratory waders have a look at this post on Geoff Park’s Natural Newstead blog where he records his recent observations of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on Moolort Plains.


Looking at the fire record

Posted on 4 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

A solid crowd of about 80 rocked up to the second talk in the Connecting Country 2011 education program at Campbell’s Creek on August 25.

Arn Tolsma at Campbell's Creek: intervals between fires should be between 20 and 100 years, if ecological health is the prime consideration.

Dr Arn Tolsma gave a deeply engaging account of fire history in Australia, and in particular the South Eastern corner of the country.  He showed evidence from analysis of peat cores that over thousands of years until about 1800 the incidence of fire has varied according to climate, not from human action. Incidence of fire increased dramatically in the 19th century. In particular there is little evidence of widespread Aboriginal burning. Early settler witnesses of Aboriginal fires are extremely vague, and suggest that it was limited in extent, and largely confined to grassland and grassy woodland.

On the subject of our region, he referred to the 1853 Selwyn map, which showed that river and creek lines were open and grassy, but ridge country wooded with scrubby box and stringybark: in other words, the idea that the forest was open country before settlement is false. He showed that there is no strong evidence that Box Ironbark environments must have fire to regenerate. Using the concept of ‘tolerable fire intervals’ he argued that fires at intervals of a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 50-100 years might be beneficial for these environments. Any use of fire should be carefully planned with very clear objectives established after site, vegetation and fire history analysis.

Dr Tolsma emphasised that he was speaking of fire as a management tool for the environment, a separate issue from the use of fire as a fuel reduction method. It is clear from his talk, however, that fuel reduction zones burned, say, every five years, will  suffer ecological damage. This is consistent with the position of DSE fire managers, who frankly admit that ‘asset protection zones’ are ‘sacrificial zones’, ecologically  speaking.

A summarised version of the slide show for the talk can be found here (6 MB). Dr Tolsma is co author of the DSE/CMA publication Ecological burning in box ironbark forests [2007]. The two volumes can be found online here and here

In the third and final talk in this series, Robyn Ballinger will discuss the environmental and social history of Forest Creek in European times. The presentation will take place on 8 September at the Campbells Creek Community Hall.  All are welcomed and encouraged to attend.  Click here for more details.


Native Grasses and Forage Shrubs in Farming Systems Field Days

Posted on 2 September, 2011 by Connecting Country

The North Central CMA are hosting two Native Grasses and Forage Shrubs Field Days.  These will take place in September at Lake Charm and Marnoo. Graeme Hand (CEO of Stipa Native Grasses Association Incorporated) and Jason Emms (SARDI Senior Research Scientist for the Enrich Program) will present and discuss information on a range of topics relating to utilising native grasses and forage shrubs in local productive farming systems.

The field day is a free event with lunch provided to those that RSVP.  Click here and here to see more details.

To register your interest in the field day please RSVP to the North Central CMA by 5 pm Monday 12 September 2011 on (03) 5448 7124 or