Nice weather for frogs

18 October, 2021

Day 18 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Excellent frog action today. All the waterholes – of which I come across more every day – are brimming and everyone in them is filled with the joy of spring rain (and maybe mating season may have something to do with it too),

No idea what frogs these are but they are going off.

I didn’t walk alone today. Instead, I was given a guided tour of frog hollows and tree hollows and the grasslands closest to the Darebin Creek, with Nangak Tamboree project manager, Tony Inglis, who kindly and possibly foolishly agreed to answer my million questions. We even ventured into the (cue dramatic music) Forbidden Zone.

Sign saying 'Authorised Access Only - Native vegetation'

Thrilling. Because this is the area in which the recent use of cultural burning by Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Narrap Rangers has led to the re-emergence of the endangered Matted Flax Lily. It’s also been discovered recently nearby – outside the fence, in a site where a new series of sports fields are planned – and so in the next few days those wild clumps will be removed, divided, propagated, and cared for in the nursery at the Wildlife Sanctuary. In time, those few clumps will become 250 plants, ready to be replanted in the revegetation area – that’s not a bad percentage of the 2,500 left in the state.

The involvement of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Elders and Rangers is central to Nangak Tamboree – after Tony finishes showing me around, he’s off to greet one of the Elders who is providing a cultural heritage briefing to new contractors. That’s important in itself, as a way of thinking for an institution as big as a university, but it also informs the planning for the grasslands. Often, in these kinds of projects, you might see plantings arranged in the same way we think of garden design: layers of ground cover, low shrubs and taller shrubs, in groups around major trees. But this is grassy woodland. And what the Narrap Rangers have shown, Tony says, is that if you let the burning do its work, the local plants that have adapted to the presence of fire for tens of thousands of years will come back. Introduced weeds might take a bit of burning off, but eventually they will vanish. The rangers usually burn in autumn and think it’ll take three to five burning seasons to fully spur this revegetation. It will still be grassland, with these widely scattered eucalypts, but instead of onion weed and Kikuyu, it’ll be flax lilies, wallaby grass and kangaroo grass.

Grassy woodland with trees
Nangak Tamboree revegetation area

Inside the fence is two hectares of woodland, undulating down to the creek. It’s the protected (and more glamorous) part of a broader ten hectare area, some of which, beyond the fence, includes an old golf range and building sites, and the dumping ground for old cars and fill I mentioned days ago. This is planned to include new sports facilities for the Matildas (Go, team!) and for Rugby Union in Victoria. I might come back to the details on that another time but in the few days since I was last here what looks like kilometres of fencing has gone up around the soon-to-be-construction zone.

And here’s the most fascinating thing. There’s a waterhole – naturally, full of frogs – by the golf range. It’s not old, and not always full, but it’s ringed with reeds that are apparently endemic to the area. So the Narrap Rangers, the Council, and the project crew are about to move the reeds, the water and the frogs to a newly made waterhole on the other side of the track – out of harm’s way and closer to the creek. A whole waterhole! I’m not sure they’ve given each frog an eviction notice yet, but they are confident if they move the water any stray frogs will quickly follow it.

Excavation for new waterhole
The new waterhole, waiting for its water

I’ll check on progress in a couple of days. But I kinda like that this is a construction site that bothers to move a waterhole.

Tony answers more of my questions than I can report here, and he reckons he’s trying to be vague sometimes because he likes me trying to work stuff out on my posts. Bless. I’ll come back to some of the issues and info later. After he heads off, I wander back to listen to the frogs a bit more. Up on the hillock of displaced dirt, I stand still, one arm outstretched towards Frog Central with my sound recorder, and a flock of red-browed finches flits about me. Fairy wrens dance on the new fence. Lorikeets screech overhead. It’s the first day of the Backyard Bird Count and I’ll have to record them in bulk.

I walk back through the existing sports fields. There’s nobody here at all besides a security guard on their rounds and a dozen silver gulls. The new pavilion and stadium stand empty. Dusky woodswallows sweep low in circles around me as I walk.

Empty football field

The sky threatens more rain. I just make it home in time.

At least the frogs will be happy.

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