Field naturalists from across Victoria arrived at the Campbells Creek Community Centre on Friday 4th October for the South East Australian Naturalists Association (SEANA) weekend of talks and excursions, hosted by Castlemaine FNC. Seventeen of the 21 FNC member clubs of SEANA were represented, from Portland to Albury/Wodonga, Bendigo to Sale, with 115 visitors and 18 CFNC members registered – significantly more than initially expected. The previous gathering of field naturalists in Castlemaine was in September 1998, when many members of the Victorian Field Naturalists Association (which became SEANA in 2003) attended.
Most visitors had arranged accommodation in town at motels, caravan parks or B&Bs using the services of the Castlemaine Information Centre. A few parked their RVs at the Community Centre where basic facilities were available. Buffet meals were provided at the Community Centre on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Community Centre was an ideal base for the weekend, with a large hall for meals and talks by our guest speakers, commercial-type kitchen for caterers, and adequate parking.
After the meal on Friday, our President George Broadway opened the Gathering, introducing local Dja Dja Wurrung Elder Uncle Ricky Nelson, who welcomed our visitors to the country his people had nurtured for millennia before the changes wrought by pastoralists and gold miners. The guest speaker was Tanya Loos, who first showed a video about the work of local organisation Connecting Country in supporting the region’s Landcare groups and landowners in habitat restoration. Tanya then outlined the way in which the organisation’s Woodland Bird Monitoring program has been used to assess the impacts of habitat restoration.
On Saturday evening, after the buffet meal, the guest speaker was Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, who also spoke at the 1998 gathering. Tim was taught chemistry at Castlemaine High School by Ern Perkins and George Broadway but studied Botany at Melbourne University. His topic was “Joseph Banks and his Collection”; we followed Banks, a wealthy 25 year old, on his journey around the world, collecting a vast number of plants species, all carefully pressed and stored by the scientists he supported on the journey. Extracts from his journal (now available online) revealed fascinating insights into Banks’ attitudes to the peoples, places and environments visited on this historic voyage.
Thirty excursions, many repeated, had been arranged from Saturday morning to Monday lunchtime – half day sessions and 3 full day tours, with a maximum of 18 people per excursion. The excursion program covered many of the special places in our region, with an emphasis on wildflowers and birds – regrettably, the long dry period had prevented inclusion of a fungi outing. The half-day tour along Fryers Ridge, led by George Broadway, repeated the excursion George led the last time field naturalists gathered in Castlemaine, in September 1998. On excursions to the Box-Ironbark woodlands at Smith’s Reef and Kalimna Park over 70 plants were identified, about half in flower. The complex geological history of the region was demonstrated in a walk around the town, and a tour of the volcanic plains to the west. Several excursions examined the results of dedicated habitat restoration by Landcare groups and Connecting Country. Our visitors remarked on the range and numbers of flowering native species, and several of the birding sessions recorded over 30 species.
Other activities over the weekend included the SEANA General Meeting on Saturday afternoon, where plans for future gatherings were considered, and the Hamilton FNC announced some details of the Autumn 2020 meeting. Notable all weekend were the many conversations over lunches and dinners, with friendships developed over many SEANA camps renewed in enthusiastic discussions. SEANA meetings require a great deal of planning and organisation, and the small CFNC team were greatly helped by the detailed guidelines provided by SEANA. The assistance of many CFNC members who worked over the weekend at the Community Centre, and in leading or assisting with excursions, was essential and is acknowledged, as is the efficient service of the caterer and her staff. And we are all indebted to the local experts who agreed to lead excursions, and to our two guest speakers.
These gatherings of natural history lovers from across the state, in different regions once or twice a year, are a stimulating way to learn from local experts about the diversity of landforms and natural environments and ecology in Victoria, and to make new friends amongst a large group of like-minded people.
Thirty excursions were arranged from Saturday morning to lunchtime Monday, with six repeated. Three were all day sessions.
Only a few full reports were prepared, with plant and bird lists recorded for a number of other excursions. Two detailed reports are included as examples of the range of activities covered through the weekend.