It is a pleasure to report, in my role as Working Party convenor, that the SEANA Spring 2023 Camp held over the extended weekend of Friday 20 th – Monday 23 rd October was judged a success, despite the wild wet and windy weather we experienced. Hosted jointly by the Latrobe Valley and Sale & District FNCs, 115 naturalists registered upon arrival at the camp (just 7 of the 122 originally booked people having subsequently withdrawn due to personal circumstances), making it one of the largest SEANA gatherings in recent years. They were drawn from 12 member clubs from as far away as Portland, Warrnambool, Timboon and Bendigo. The camp base was the Yarram Country Club, which proved to be an excellent, attractive venue with plenty of space for registration, dinners, socialising, evening talks, publication sales and displays.
This was the second jointly hosted camp for the LV and Sale clubs, that arrangement having worked well for the Autumn 2017 Camp based in Sale. For 2023, it allowed us to provide a program of 21 led half-day and full-day excursions across Saturday and Sunday, although the wild weather resulted in 5 of these being cancelled at the last minute. But, with the comprehensive range of excursions on offer, we were able to ensure that everyone affected by the cancellations could switch to an alternative field trip. An innovation in the camp program was the detailing of a large number of self-guided excursions, for folk who wished to do their own thing for part of the weekend, or else stay on for a day or two after the camp.
Most folk arranged their own accommodation, guided by a supplied comprehensive list of options in the Yarram-Port Albert region. We also group-booked a school camp, Forest Lodge Farm at Jack River, approx. 17km from Yarram, and 22 participants enjoyed its attractive location in undulating country on the edge of Alberton West State Forest – and also its welcoming open fire!
As part of the welcomes to camp on Friday evening after dinner, Professor Marlene Drysdale provided a heart-felt Acknowledgement of Country, in which she drew our attention to the various tribes of the Gunaikurnai Nation which spans a large part of what we know as Gippsland. Thus, for example, Marlene explained that we were meeting on the Country of the First Nations people of the Brataualung tribe.
On all three evenings, keen local naturalists gave talks. On Friday night, David Akers, the President of the Friends of Tarra-Bulga NP since 2014, spoke to the title “Tarra Bulga, its history and flora and fauna”. The origins of today’s 1522 hectare park in the eastern end of the Strzelecki Ranges lie in the first decade of the 20 th Century. In 1903, Alberton Shire Council asked the Victorian Government to set aside a small area of temperate rainforest with fern gullies near Balook as a public park. Then, in 1906, a Tarra Valley Park was designated. Much later, in 1986, the two small parks were joined through a land exchange with APM Forests to form Tarra-Bulga NP, smaller in area than today’s park. David gave particular mention of conservationist and naturalist Kara Healey, the first female NP Ranger in Victoria, who was ranger in the Tarra Valley Park from 1952 to 1963. The second part of David’s talk focussed on selections from his extensive photographic record of the park’s living organisms, including invertebrates, reflecting his membership of the Entomological Society of Victoria.
On Saturday evening, Mitch Smith, the President of the Sale & District FNC, gave a presentation “Sex, Lies and Photographs – A story of orchid pollination research around the Yarram area”. Mitch is an orchid enthusiast, a keen photographer and manages a native plant nursery. He has been photographing orchid pollinators for the last twelve years or so and co-authored a publication Orchid Pollinators of Victoria. He spoke about the unique relationships and interactions that occur between different insect vectors and their respective orchids, many of which are rarely observed. We could only marvel at Mitch’s patience and skill in capturing many superb images of those interactions.
On Sunday evening, Jenny Wolswinkel, the Director of Seeds of Gippsland, gave a presentation on her work to develop and publish the greatly enhanced 3rd Edition of her Identification Kit Eucalypts of the Strzelecki Ranges and Surrounding areas, originally published in 2016. Included are thirty-nine naturally-occurring and four commonly planted eucalypt species in the region that takes in the Mornington Peninsula, Wilsons Promontory, Gippsland Plains and Gippsland Lakes. A key feature of the kit is the inclusion of photographs rather than line drawings of the plant parts – life size for buds, leaves and capsules.
A comprehensive, diverse program of twenty-one led excursions had been planned across Saturday and Sunday. These included, firstly, a range of birding-focussed activities in the Corner Inlet Ramsar site and the coast between Port Albert and the northern end of Wilsons Promontory NP. A bus was hired to avoid the need for participants to drive from Yarram to the Prom, a distance of approx. 100km. Secondly, a number of more plant-focussed inland trips covered such important reserves as Tarra-Bulga NP and the Mullungdung, Won Wron and Alberton West State Forests.
The cancelled weather-impacted excursions included two of four shorebirds boat trips out from Port Albert, a Whale Cruise from Port Welshpool down the eastern side of Wilsons Prom, one of two Tarra-Bulga NP excursions and a night time spotlighting activity in old growth rainforest at Jack River.
Short reports prepared by excursion participants follow this camp overview, and are also available on the SEANA website at seana.org.au :
Regrettably we experienced a sharp reminder that we are still having to contend with the COVID-19 virus and its mutations when several participants tested positive in the days following the camp. As of the time of writing, at least fifteen cases have been reported, and there were undoubtedly more. A newly developed SEANA Guideline document Risk Management for SEANA Camps should assist future host clubs in planning for such adverse situations.
Phil Rayment, SEANA Spring 2023 Camp Convenor