In recent years, a large part of FoE Melbourne’s forest campaign work has been focused on gaining protection of high conservation forests in the Victorian high country. One of the three priority areas identified is the headwaters of the Little Dargo river.
The Little Dargo is located on Gunaikurnai country just south of Mt Hotham and is a special, unroaded headwater area that contains old forests of mountain gum and recovering alpine ash. Unlike much of the surrounding area, it has only been lightly burnt in recent decades.
Over the long weekend in early November 2023, FoE held it’s fourth guided walk to visit this remote area.
The Little Dargo: a natural and cultural treasure
The campaign to protect the Little Dargo has seen a collaboration with the Treasure family, who have grazed cattle on the Dargo High Plains since 1879. The Treasures have a connection to this country that stretches over 145 years, and which has included a number of business operations, including cattle grazing and running the local post offices when there were several thousand miners living in the area.
In the 19th century, the mail service was vital to miners and graziers who lived in the high country. Mail was carried on horseback from Harrietville to the township of Grant, via the settlement of Mayford and the Dargo High Plains. Mail was incredibly important in those days and provided a connection to home. In 1886, the mail run was done by Harry Treasure, who was 9 years old at the time, who would do a two day ride to Harrietville to collect the mail before returning to the high country to deliver it to the various post offices in the mountains. The route came to be known as The Mailman’s Track. It continued to be used by the Treasures long after the mining days and the mail service was closed down but fell into disuse in the latter part of the 20th century.
One section of the old Mailman’s Track went from the Rock Alpine building on the Treasures property on the Dargo High Plains, down into the Little Dargo River, up onto the Kings Spur (now in the Alpine national park) and into the Dargo River before climbing to the St Bernard hospice which was a popular hotel which was built in 1863 and burnt down in the fires of 1939. In recent times the area that the track passes through has been threatened by logging.
Under the direction of the Treasures, a section of the Mailman’s Track between the Rock Alpine homestead (site of the post office) and Fred’s Flat on the Little Dargo has been re opened. Fred’s Flat is named after Fred Treasure, who died after he was injured while mustering cattle on the Dargo High Plains in 1921. He was only 17 years of age. As Christa Treasure notes, “when my father’s elder brother died, the family named the pretty flat on the Little Dargo River in memory of Fred’. A plaque in memory of Fred was taken in and placed on a large rock outcrop on the flat during the previous walk to the river.
This section of the Mailman’s Track has been threatened by a series of logging coupes which would dramatically impact on this special area. Apart from its high conservation values, which includes its intact forests of older Mountain Gum and Alpine Ash, its connection to the adjacent Alpine national park, the presence of a type of rare native fish in the river, it has strong cultural connections for the Treasures. Logging of these forests is likely to yield mostly low value products like pulp. How can the destruction of a pristine catchment be allowed for pulp and pallets?
The Treasures have joined with environmental groups like FoE to defend this area from logging. As Christa Treasure says “our aim is to stop the devastation by VicForests of the Little Dargo River Catchment. In this beautiful valley is one of the last stands of old alpine ash in the Timber Release Plan (TRP). The family has conserved this area for the last 140 years, it is our homeland”.
“The Valley has been untouched by fire since 1921 and recently fire dribbled over the edge of the Long Spur, only in a few places. The Valley has been untouched and creatures undisturbed since the mining days”.
FoE has worked with the Treasures and other environmental groups to raise the profile of the Little Dargo. Now, with native logging in the east of the state due to end on January 1, 2024, the Little Dargo is looking safe. As part of the campaign, we have now hosted a number of free guided walks into Fred’s Flat to allow people to see what is at risk from logging. The November 2023 event saw an enthusiastic group walk in to the river. The walk co-incided with a Treasure family gathering, which allowed us to learn more about the history of the area and connection of the Treasures to this wonderful place.
What happens next for the 1.8 million hectares of public land currently open to logging will be determined by a state government process. The Treasures will be pushing for the area to be protected due to its cultural values.
Further information and resources
Please support our campaign. While logging is ending in the high country, there is lots of work to do. If you like what we do, please consider providing a tax deductible donation here.
You can find out more about the campaign to protect the Little Dargo here.
Thanks to Bill Jackson for some of the information used here.
ABOVE: Fred's Flat on the Little Dargo.