It’s easy not to fully appreciate the geography of a place, even one you’ve visited for over 40 years.
Of course, having crossed the bridge over the Painkalac Creek between Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven hundreds of times I had seen the transformation of the inlet and estuary from a degraded, treeless landscape to the wonderful wetland area it is today, a transformation due to the commitment and hard work of many members of the community over a long period. What I hadn’t really noticed was how, hidden from view when crossing the bridge, there was also an upper part of the Painkalac Valley, a flood plain skirted by Bambra Road running from the bottom of the Aireys Inlet hill to the meandering edge of the Painkalac Creek.
This flood plain, despite having been cleared over a hundred years ago, still contains a series of remnant water features: ephemeral lakes, billabongs, watercourses and small tributaries to the main creek, despite the limiting effect of the Painkalac Dam upstream. Around the world it is these wetland habitats, so important for birds, animals and plants, that are most under threat from human activity. The Painkalac Creek is such an important environment that it has recently been listed by the Federal Environment Minister as one of twenty-five ‘salt wedge’ sites around the Australian coast worthy of special protection.
Having seen the successful rehabilitation of the lower valley, I joined The Painkalac Project (TPP), a local community group committed to finishing the project by extending the rehabilitation of the Painkalac flood plain to the upper valley. After a busy two years working with this wonderful and committed group of volunteers, my wife Jacinta and I bought an area of approximately 11 acres in the upper valley on Bambra Road near Old Coach Road. We were particularly interested in this site as it included a large old drained series of billabongs.
The billabongs are visible in a 1930s aerial survey photo but were drained and back-filled several decades ago. Still working with the TPP, AIDA and ANGAIR, we aim to revegetate the block and reinstate the billabongs and ephemeral lake that still frequently form over winter and spring (as seen above in the drone photo taken after heavy rain in September 2017). The wetlands will provide not only habitat for birds and native animals but also improve the water quality of the creek.
Work on the land has already started with the removal of some fencing and extensive weeding. This year we also plan to reinstate the billabongs and lake, plant and, of course, do more weeding. ANGAIR and AIDA will be helping to organise planting and weeding working bees, so if you’re interested in helping we would love you to come along. Both AIDA and ANGAIR will advertise dates in their newsletters.