Buddy benches and reflection ponds are just a couple of the bright ideas Bombala students have come up with as part of their studies into playground design.
Students from St Joseph’s Primary School have just presented a range of thoughtful and captivating 3D playground models, paving the way for future playground construction in Bombala.
Following months of hard work, their final playground designs have been pitched to staff from Snowy Monaro Regional Council – Major Projects Manager Linda Nicholson, and Recreation and Property Technical Officer Jane Kanowski, as well as family and friends.
“All the students should be very proud of their efforts,” Linda says.
The students designed and built a playground space that incorporated elements of physical, social, mental, and spiritual well-being for people of all ages and abilities – community gardens, slides, handball courts, picnic areas, and bright, colourful equipment, were all part of their vision.
“The designs are very exciting, it was a pleasure working alongside the students – a great community partnership,” Linda says.
A number of valuable skills were picked up along the way, including team work, communication, public speaking, engineering, and building.
A terrific example of project-based learning.
Council staff presented students with a certificate of achievement for their outstanding efforts.
The students will continue their involvement throughout the design and construction of an all-abilities playground in Bombala during 2018.
European Carp have been using the warmer water temperatures of spring to move across the Snowy Monaro, bringing their destructive ways into new habitats.
Since the 1850’s, Carp have been spreading out into low land waterways like the Murray-Darling Basin, but in the last ten years, these ferals have been moving into higher elevations, places once thought too cold for them.
Carp were introduced to Australia in an attempt to imitate a European environment – some nice cheese and wine could have done the job!
Despite being a native of Central Asia, carp are extensively farmed in Europe and the Middle East and are a popular angling fish in Europe. Eating carp is also a Christmas tradition in some cultures.
Carp in North America and Canada are also considered a significant pest.
Cooma Region Waterwatch Coordinator, Antia Brademann has eaten carp but doesn’t recommend it. Her interest is working with the community to build knowledge and share information and use it as part of locally tailored control programs.
“Carp have a temperature trigger, so as water temperature gets to 20 degrees, that’s their spawning trigger, they need (and indeed love) that nice warm temperature,” Antia says.
Cooler water temperatures have perhaps slowed the pest’s progress across the Snowy Monaro, that is no longer the case with carp fanning out through the Upper Murrumbidgee River Catchment including the Bredbo and Numeralla Rivers, Cooma Creek, and into Canberra.
“They are moving, looking for suitable spawning habitat, “Antia says.
Locally that habitat looks different to what has been considered normal or ideal carp spawning areas – off stream wetlands, like those of the Lachlan River system, where large amounts of water gathers in shallow areas.
“In the Upper Murrumbidgee, we don’t have those big off stream wetlands, so we weren’t sure what the ideal spawning habitat looked like locally,” Antia says.
“Unfortunately from Carp Love 20 over the last three years, we are finding that carp spawning locally is opportunistic and variable.”
A 6kg female can lay up to 1.5 million sticky eggs, attaching them to submerged vegetation or rocks in shallow water where they wait for a male to fertilise.
“We think that carp in this part of the world might have a number of spawning runs outside the traditional October to December window, because of the variability of local temperatures during spring,” Antia explains.
“And in the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment, carp spawning is unlike the spawning of any other fish.
“You are listening for vigorous splashing, it will be very noticeable,” she says.
Fishing clubs at Numeralla and Bredbo have also been important players in the citizen science underway.
“We’ve found schools of carp that are less than 10cm long in Cooma Creek which tells us that’s a nursery habitat,” Antia says.
“By recording all these sightings and the anecdotal information, we are starting to build a picture of what’s happening in our catchment.”
Apart from scientific satisfaction, those taking part are also encouraged with free Carp Love 20 t-shirts!
Sadly, carp are now the most abundant large freshwater fish in some areas, including most of the Murray-Darling Basin. They have contributed to the degradation of large sections of natural aquatic ecosystems.
The NSW Department of Primary Industriespoints to the species destructive feeding practices leading to increased turbidity which in turn reduces light penetration, making it difficult for native fish that rely on sight to feed.
“Carp have this way of eating called, mumbling,” Anita says.
“They tear-out a bit of mud, and they suck out the macro-invertebrates and algae, and then they expel that mud out of their gills.”
Reduced light decreases plant growth, while suspended sediments smother plants and clog fishes’ gills.
Anita describes them as “ecosystem engineers” who undermine river banks to create the shallow sludgy environment they prefer.
But carp aren’t the only creatures responsible, poor catchment management practices by people have had a more substantial affect, carp have been clever and have been able to move into already degraded environments and build a lifestyle.
Many native species, including Golden Perch, Murray Cod, Silver Perch and Freshwater Catfish were already in decline before the introduction of these ferals into Australian waterways.
The presence of carp in terms of competition for food and the damage they inflict on freshwater habitats makes it difficult for native fish to re-establish.
In the man-made world, carp are also famous for choking water pumps and swamping irrigation channels.
The mapping of carp hotspots across the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment is important for understanding behaviour and identifying opportunities for control.
The annual Mud Marlin (AKA carp) Fishing Competition run by the Numeralla Fishing Club is a great example of the control effort to date. Over the 13 years of the event, thousands of carp have been fished out of local waterways and disposed of humanely.
Similar events have also been held at Bredbo and Cooma.
Carp warriors across the Snowy Monaro are now gearing up for the next phase in their attack – the carp herpes virus, which will bring on a “carpageddon” according to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“Research from the CSIRO over the last eight years has looked at all sorts of different fish species, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans – the only thing that gets disease from this virus is the common carp.”
The $11 million program will culminate with the release of the virus towards the end of 2018, the aim is to reduce carp density below levels known to cause environmental harm.
The NCCP is about to undertake a community briefing session flagging a possible local release. South East Local Land Services is co-hosting a session at Goulburn Soldiers Club on Monday, December 18 from 6-8pm.
In the meantime, Antia Braddeman is calling on the community to continue making their contribution.
“Certainly if I am fishing I would not put a carp back, if people do catch carp we just ask that they humanely dispose of them,” Anita says.
“We are certainly finding out some interesting stuff about carp through community reports and observations, which helps with the control programs to come.”
Download the Feral Fish Scan App HERE to add your sightings to the database.
*About Regional stories happen because people become members – thank you to Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Robert Hartemink, Maureen Searson, Bruce Morrison and Kerry Newlin, Julie Klugman Jeanie and David Leser, Maria Linkenbagh, Jenny and Arthur Robb, Nigel Catchlove, and Cathy Griff.
The roadworks at Dignams Creek, south of Narooma are a real talking point for motorists negotiating the Princes Highway at the moment – the scale of the project is epic.
Twenty-five large pieces of machinery are currently onsite supporting the work of 80 people, who during August, September, October shifted 100,000 cubic meters of earth.
At one point in your journey north or south, you end up in the middle of the worksite under the control of high-viz lollypop people who are dwarfed by the massive wheels and earthmoving blades cutting a wider, safer, straighter roadway through what was once a lush floodplain and a forest of eucalypt and tree ferns.
“This section of road was identified by the State Coronial Inquest 10 years ago as having a very real need to be upgraded,” Member for Bega, Andrew Constance says.
“In that 10 years there have been 26 accidents on this section of highway and unfortunately one life has been lost.”
The end result of this $45 million upgrade will be a widening of the current highway for about 800 metres leading into two-kilometres of new roadway built to current highway standards. There will also be new bridges erected over Dignams Creek and Dignams Creek Road.
“The narrow approach to the bridge and the twists and turns of the road where built to standards that are 70 years old,” Mr Constnace says.
“Modern-day traffic travels quicker and there are more heavy vehicles on the road – it’s important we get on and fix roads like this.
“To see the project progressing now is very pleasing,” he says.
The signs you whizz past on either side of the road point to competition in mid-2019.
In the run-up to Christmas 2017, extra hours have been added to the work schedule, a move welcomed by residents keen to see the finish flag fall.
Crews are now working 6 days a week including Saturdays from 8am till 6pm.
John Cursley and his partner Maggie live 200 metres from the new section of highway, “It’s dusty and the noise at times is quite disrupting, but in defense of them [York Civil Road Engineers] they have tried to address the problem,” Mr Cursley says.
“They changed the beeper on the reversing trucks to a squawker.
“These trucks don’t seem to ever go forward,” Mr Cursley laughs.
Paul Munro and his partner Sally are 100 meters away and pump drinking water from the creek, “Our pipes and basins have been turning blue,” Mr Munro says.
“I think it points to a change in the pH and acidity of our water.
“We’ve been here over 30 years and its the first time we’ve seen these signs,” Mr Munro says.
Rising water levels downstream in the salty Wallaga Lake might also be influencing the water table and makeup of the Munro’s creek water.
Mr Munro doesn’t believe the water is toxic or harmful and has consulted the project’s environmental officer.
“Somethings changed, but there is a lot happening in the catchment – dust, earthworks, new drainage, so its hard to know where the change has come from, we’ll be keeping an eye on water quality,” Mr Munro says.
Both men also have concerns about flooding while works take place, worried what will happen if an East Coast Low forms and drops a lot of rain while the ground is open and exposed.
“The quicker they get the job done the better,” Mr Cursley says.
“It is what it is, we just have to see it out,” Mr Munro says.
Andrew Constance says he is particularly grateful for the input and understanding of local residents.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to put community safety first, and I am confident the end result will address all concerns,” Mr Constance says.
“Look this work needed doing, the bridge is too narrow and the corner too steep,” Mr Cursley says.
Motorists will be moved to a new 800-metre temporary road at the northern end of the project from Monday November 27 until mid-2018, and work will be put on hold between December 16 and January 8 in order to keep holiday traffic moving.
“And motorists need to remember there are 80 people working on this site, and they need to go home to their families each night,” Mr Constance says.
“So please drive with patience, observe the reduced speed limits and traffic controls.”
*About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members, thank you to – Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Fiona Cullen, Nancy Blindell, Jo Riley-Fitzer, Jenny Anderson, Ali Oakley, Julia Stiles, and Patrick Reubinson.
“They’re actually a colony of several animals, all with specialised functions – feeding, catching prey, and reproduction.
“Fascinating!” Kerryn says.
According to the Australian Museum, the Bluebottle is a colony of four kinds of highly modified individuals known as zooids, and come from the same family of life that includes coral and sea anemones.
“The zooids are dependent on one another for survival.
“The float (pneumatophore) is a single individual and supports the rest of the colony.
“The tentacles (dactylozooids) are polyps concerned with the detection and capture of food and convey their prey to the digestive polyps (gastrozooids).
“Reproduction is carried out by the gonozooids, another type of polyp,” The Museum says.
Generally speaking, northerly winds bring Bluebottles onto local beaches.
“There have also been some pretty big seas lately,” Ms Wood says.
The Bluebottles famous float can grow to over 15cm, it’s job is to sail the colony across the ocean surface capturing the breeze with its aerodynamic shape. A degree of muscular contraction in its crest gives the Bluebottle a sense and skill similar to a holidaying windsurfer.
“The float may project either to the left or to the right; the left-handed forms sail to the right of the wind and vice versa,” The Australian Museum explains.
“Thus, if the sailing angle of one form leads to its stranding on the shore, the others sailing to the opposite side of the wind may escape.”
A neat survival trick that maintains the population even when Far South Coast beaches are blanketed in dried and popping specimens.
Food and reproduction drive life and Bluebottles have some impressive tools to call on.
Their stinging tentacles drift downwind for up to one metre capturing food in their wake, responding swiftly to the presence of food, they twist and tangle prey, and “become all mouth” to digest their meal.
A range of enzymes are deployed to break down proteins, carbs, and fats across a menu of small crustaceans and surface plankton.
Reproduction is another impressive Bluebottle trick that helps it’s species survive on the high-seas.
Bluebottles are hermaphrodites, they carry female and male parts.
“Awesome, I love that so many marine creatures are hermaphrodites,” Ms Wood says.
“And sometimes they’ll wash up on the beach with a variety of other really beautiful ‘blue’ animals like Glacus atlanticus or the Blue Sea Dragon – also hermaphrodites.
“The Glaucus atlanticus actually eat blue bottles and ‘steal’ their poison, making them even more poisonous!” Ms Wood says.
All this is very interesting but from a human perspective, avoiding the stingers and knowing what to do if stung is front of mind during a day at the beach.
“Avoiding north-east facing beaches in those conditions might help families dodge Bluebottles,” Mr Edmunds says.
“The best treatment for a sting is hot water, a shower as hot as you can without burning does the trick.
“And if hot water isn’t available ice is a good alternative in relieving the pain after you have washed the tentacles away,” Mr Edmunds advises.
“Swimming at a patrolled beach this summer will ensure that first aid is close at hand from lifesavers.”
And be aware beachcombers, as thousands of Bluebottles lay shipwrecked on local beaches the toxic mixture they use to immobilise and digest their prey is still active and can sting you, however the contractions that trap their marine victims becomes inactive.
Bluebottles are awesome, the sting they can inject into a day at the beach instinctively demands our respect, but so to should their survival skills.
*Become a member of About Regional and support local news and stories, thank you to the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Linda Albertson, Julia Stiles, Ali Oakley, Rosemary Lord, and Simon Marnie.
*Large elements of this article originally appeared on Riot ACT.
‘Briny’ the young, male koala rescued by a Wapengo oyster farm last week was yesterday released back into the wild.
Chris Allen, Threatened Species Officer at the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) said the koala had made a good recovery in care at Potoroo Palace and yesterday clambered up a tree on a property north of Tathra.
“Briny, named by locals in recognition of his saltwater experience and after one of the people who rescued him, threw a few longing glances over his shoulder before scurrying high up into the tree,” Mr Allen said.
“He has recovered well from his ordeal last week where he was found clinging to an oyster bag in Wapengo Lake.
“When rescued he was found to be dehydrated but otherwise in a pretty good state of health considering his ordeal.
“This is only the second time a koala has come into care in the region in the past 20 years as the population is so small and widely scattered.
“That the local community could rally so quickly in so many ways to save the life of this animal is a testament to its commitment to support the recovery of these koalas,” Mr Allen said.
The successful rescue, recovery, and release of this animal is very much thanks to Wapengo Lake oyster farmers Brain and Carol Orr, who pulled Briny from the water into their boat, wrapped him up until he stopped shivering and took him to the Bega Veterinary Hospital.
Vets and the carers at Potoroo Palace Wildlife Sanctuary were exceptional in the way they provided quick treatment and closely cared for Briny through his recovery.
Mr Allen also said, “Thanks goes to the locally based koala surveyor Mark Lems who enabled the selection of an appropriate release site in koala habitat close to the rescue site and near other koalas.
“And the local landholders who have welcomed Briny onto their property that is managed under a voluntary conservation agreement.”
Work to better understand and protect the remaining koalas on the NSW Far South Coast continues.
Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.
While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.
Our growing knowledge…
The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.
Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.
Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.
“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.
That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.
“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.
“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”
Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.
Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.
“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.
Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.
“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.
Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.
“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.
“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”
Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.
“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.
Wildfire and climate change the big threats…
Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.
“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.
“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.
The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.
“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.
The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.
“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.
“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.
“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.
Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.
“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.
The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.
“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.
Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.
“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.
Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.
“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.
“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”
A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.
“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.
Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.
This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.
“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.
“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.
“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.
The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.
It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.
A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.
The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.
While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.
“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.
South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.
Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.
Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.
“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.
In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.
Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.
“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.
The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.
“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC
The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.
“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.
Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.
“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.
“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.
“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.
“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.
Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.
“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.
“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.
“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.
“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.
Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.
The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.
However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”
Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.
“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.
It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”
Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.
In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.
Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.
The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”
Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.
During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.
On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.
Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.
We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.
I hadn’t been underground for years.
I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.
Caves are like slow, slow gardens.
It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.
The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.
Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.
My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).
They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.
The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.
They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.
All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.
According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.
But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.
They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.
We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.
Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.
Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.
Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!
Thirty-two IT students from Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula were in the audience to hear Ms Carlson suggest that the technology behind Amazon Web Services allowed a regional community like the Bega Valley to develop a ‘Silicon Valley’ element to the local economy.
“They [students] are so important, they are the most important aspect of what we all do day to day,” Ms Carlson said.
“Which is creating an environment for job creation, which at the same time creates economic development opportunities for local communities.”
Speaking directly to the busload from Pambula, Ms Carlson said she wanted them to get the skills and opportunities they needed to come and work for Amazon.
“Amazon paid for the bus to get the kids to Canberra, it was so fantastic,’ Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi Software says.
Amazon is now the worlds largest provider of ‘cloud computing’.
Bega based Liam explains that Amazon AWS allows big companies and agencies to manager high volumes of online traffic.
“Amazon started out selling books, in setting up the systems for that they become very good at what are called ‘server farms’ or ‘virtual data centres’,” he says.
“So if you get a spike in traffic you can have a thousand new virtual servers created in a couple of seconds, its elastic, it just expands as opposed to building your own physical stand-by servers ready to meet increased demand,” Liam says.
At the extreme end, the crash that happened around the 2016 Australian Census is a good example of the problem this technology helps avoid and manage.
Google, IBM, and Microsoft also operate in this space using similar technologies.
Liam and 2pi Software were in Canberra to share in the love from Amazon as part of their work with students at Lumen Christi.
The recognition came after a visit to the Bega Valley by Amazon in August, meeting with businesses and organisations like Bega Cheese, the University of Wollongong, Bega Valley Shire Council, and Federal MP Mike Kelly, exploring ways regional enterprise can take advantage of cloud computing.
“They didn’t assume we were dumber because we live in the country, they even came to the Into IT Code Night and met the kids,” Liam smiles.
The lifestyle and environment of the region is a key driver in the budding relationship between Amazon and the Bega Valley.
“Canberra based Amazon staff are already coming here to go fishing, they get it,” Liam says.
“But this isn’t a token affair, they see the Bega Valley as a showcase for what this technology can do for regional areas.
“Brian Senior, from the AWS team in Canberra speaks strongly of their interest in exploring what can be done here, and if it is successful, replicating it in other parts of Australia, and potentially back in the US too.”
Time is now being invested working out how Amazon, 2pi, and local school students can build this Silicon Valley future in a landscape that has traditionally supported dairy and tourism.
One thousand local tech jobs in the Bega Valley by 2030 is the vision, which is supported by Into IT Sapphire Coast, a community based interest group supported by 2pi that holds weekly Coding Nights, Gamer Dev Jams, and Hackathons – as an outlet for local youth with a flair and passion for tech, computing and the creative arts.
“For the last seven years we’ve been building the skills and community needed to work in the Amazon AWS space locally,” Liam says.
Springing from the trip to Bega and conference in Canberra, more formal educational opportunities are now being investigated between TAFE, the University of Wollongong, and Amazon.
“These opportunities broaden the choices for our young people,” Liam says.
“This is not just about NAPLAN achieving students, in our industry its not always the person with first degree honours in computer science that drives it forward.
“It’s often the the guy or girl who failed their HSC who is so driven that nothing stops them,” Liam says.
Bega Valley based virtual server farms catering to global and local enterprises are the fruits of this growing relationship.
“We are looking to validate the rasion d’etre of Amazon, which is to free you from the tyranny of geography.”
“That’s a powerful message for regional Australia as a whole.”
Senior Amazon staff will visit the region again in October to take the discussion further.
“This a very good time in the Valley and we mustn’t let it stop,” Liam says
However, it is another indicator of the commitment and dedication of the Rural Fire Service in South East NSW and a reminder of the devastating potential that exists in the environment we live in.
Where ever I travel these signs of green, blue, orange, and red catch my eye, a marker of dry times and wet times, and different geography. There is something universal about them, like a pot hole on the main street – every town has one.
And so simple, clear, effective – survivors in a high tech age.
When I started to see their arrows change and move up a notch or two with the changing season I was reminded of a long held mystery. Who changes them? How do they change? Never have I seen one being changed.
Asking that question of locals on Facebook prompted a range of creative answers.
Mixed with obvious affection for this service, it was suggested different mythical creatures, along with squads of ninjas, and ‘invisible people of the dark’ were all responsible for this very public but seldom seen work.
After at first suggesting goblins, trolls, and pixies changed the signs, one of the region’s fire chiefs revealed the secret.
“We get the ratings through and then we hit the pagers and one of our dedicated volunteers goes out and makes the change to the sign,” Marty explains.
“It happens when ever there is a change to the rating, typically over the winter months they’ll stay on low – moderate, moving into spring is when they start fluctuating, and over summer they can change daily.”
Marty says each RFS brigade is responsible for the signs in their patch, and often it’s the volunteer that lives closest to the sign who will go out, undo the padlock at the back of the pointer and move the sign accordingly.
When it comes to working out which of the six fire danger ratings the arrow will be stuck to, a range of factors are taken into account.
“Humidity, wind speed, temperature, and the state of the fuel – quite a complex algorithm that the Bureau does for us,” Marty says.
Each step along the way points to the predicted intensity of a bushfire if one was to start on that day.
“So at Low – Moderate, fires under those conditions will be fairly easy to contain,” Marty explains.
“At Very High, fires can be really unpredictable and there is a significant risk of house losses.
“Severe is where we hit Total Fire Ban, and then we move up to Extreme and Catastrophic, by the time we get to Catastrophic we are basically saying – no houses are designed or prepared well enough to withstand fire under those conditions,” he says.
What is of some comfort is that those days at the high end don’t come out of the blue and tend to be forecast days ahead.
“Certainly at Very High I’d be really encouraging people to look at their level of preparation,” Marty says.
The Community Safety Officer suggests that people use the fire danger rating signs as part of a Bush Fire Survival Plan.
“They are really valuable trigger points, so for example on a day of High Fire Danger people should start monitoring the RFS website more closely and as the fire danger rating increases or the situation changes other actions and decisions can be initiated,” Marty says.
The official bushfire season started on September 1 through the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla meaning fire permits are now needed. Landholders on the Monaro and in the Snowy Mountains have until October 1 before permits are needed.