When I was a little girl, Dad taught me to look for this giant as the mark of our boundary with the neighboring dairy farm to the west as well as the river on our north. As farms have grown, this majestic gum now sits halfway along our river frontage but remains a landmark.
To its east, remnant native trees and shrubs hold the riverbank together but, to the manna’s west, the river is almost entirely edged with basket willows. Only a couple of generations ago, planting willows was considered best practice for erosion control but today they’re regarded as invasive weeds.
Unlike the evergreen natives, willows carpet the water every year as they drop their leaves en masse and have the nasty tendency to grown in the river as well as around it. Both habits, science tells us, is bad for native fish.
Ridding the river of willows is not easy. Each has to be removed with an excavator and regrowth poisoned every year. We have not tackled ours yet. It’s too expensive for one farmer to bear and the once-abundant funding for this type of work has evaporated. Instead, we are picking the low-hanging fruit, planting at least 1000 trees or shrubs on the farm each year.
This year, though, we have been able to get a small Landcare grant that will allow us to fence off the manna and just over a kilometre of the river bank in the next two weeks. I suspect the native veg that’s already thick and healthy down the bank itself will creep up thick and fast but, next Spring, we will add another thousand or so plants to a 10-metre strip that extends onto the flats.
I’m a bit excited, to be honest. The kids and I love exploring sections of the river and gully and can’t wait to add some more wild spaces. While I worked on one of the plantation fences yesterday, Zoe and Alex splashed about in the water and found a colony of freshwater mussels.
It’s a good sign, especially given that our river flows into the internationally-recognised waters around Wilson’s Promontory.
We may be milking cows but those who farm the sea – both with nets and beaks – depend on us doing the right thing upstream, too.