Connors Plains

Sid Cowling (bio)

This article gives an insight on some of the activities at Connors Plains during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

VSF Student Vacation Work Experience, January 1957

In the first week of January 1957, Darren Gribble and I, having completed our first year of studies at the Victorian School of Forestry, Creswick, boarded a train in Melbourne for Heyfield. Later that day we were greeted at the Forest Office in Heyfield by Val Cleary, the DFO before being driven to Connors Plains, north of Heyfield, by Ken Nichols.

At Connors Plains there was a substantial FCV camp with 50 or so road construction personnel as well as Foresters and Forest Foremen. The camp had a large mess hall and staff quarters as well as numerous Stanley huts for the workers.

Grib and I were assigned to a Stanley hut, about 2.4m x 3m, with two beds and a basic stove, which looked like a biscuit tin with a chimney. Not even the much better Backwoodsman stove which we had in our studies at Creswick. And the fuel was mainly Alpine Ash which burnt quickly without putting out much heat, so I was pleased I brought a good sleeping bag which I had bought from Gus Geary the previous year.

Mark Stump and Ken Nichols were the two Foresters at Connors Plains. Little did I know then that Mark would be my DFO at Corryong when Arch Shillinglaw sent me there in January 1960.

Grib and I were assigned to surveying and mapping the logging roads which were constructed to the log loading ramps from the main roads. Somehow the Forest District had assumed we had completed the surveying course at Creswick and could slip straight into this work. But surveying was a second year subject and we had only done the first year. So Ken Nichols instructed us in chain and compass surveying for a few days before we were left on our own. I guess my first year Engineering studies at Melbourne University in 1955 helped me cope with this introduction to surveying.

So each day we would be dropped off at another side road, with a cut lunch, and picked up late in the day. Later in the day, or perhaps on a day in camp, we compiled a map of each road we had surveyed. So some of the mapping skills I acquired in drafting in my one year of Engineering at Melbourne University and then in National Service in the army came in handy.

Since I had a driving licence there were occasions when I was sent on errands, including one trip to Sale to collect stores from the hardware store there.

Fortunately or unfortunately there was only one small fire (a lightning strike) during our time there, so we did not get much firefighting experience at that stage in our career. Nevertheless we came to realise how important the fire towers on Mount Useful and Mount Skene were to the region and the importance of radio communication with Heyfield and 3AA in Melbourne.

Some of the FCV personnel we met during our stint at Connors Plains were Bruce Day, the Engineer who would later lecture us in road construction at Creswick, and “Sailor” Myers, one of the road foremen whom I remember well and was to meet again later.

So Grib and I returned to Creswick in February a little wiser and with some money in the bank from some (I think) well earned wages. And little did I know that I would be back at Connors Plains in 1963.

One notable memory is the visitors book which was in the Mount Skene Fire Tower, and which may or may not now be in the forestry archives. One entry related the experiences of a Forest Assessment team which was working from the Howitt Plains area some summers before, one of whom was Mark Stump. As these foresters were driving over Mount Arbuckle one Friday afternoon to return to civilisation they found themselves beset by a violent dry lightning thunderstorm. They observed four smokes coming from where lightning had ignited the forest and they split into groups of two and walked into each of them, probably driving as close as they could get. I recall Mark Stump and a companion walked into the Butcher country to their fire and did not return until a week later when all was clear. Obviously in the meantime FCV fire crews had been despatched as well, but this is a prime example of the training and dedication of FCV staff.

Regeneration Surveys, 1963

After completing the further 2 years at Melbourne University for the Bachelor of Science Forestry, I was assigned to the Research Branch under Ron Grose’s leadership. I was to take over the Tree Breeding programme initiated by Leon Pederick whilst he returned to Melbourne University to undertake his PhD studies.

However my first task was a regeneration survey of the Alpine Ash logging areas around Connors Plains north of Licola, using the methodology developed by Ron Grose in his pioneering studies of Alpine Ash. Unbeknownst to me this seemed to initiate a turf dispute between Ron Grose and Murray Paine who was in charge of the Assessment Branch, and who considered that vegetation surveys were his responsibility. So technically I was now in the Assessment Branch although I had a desk in the Research Branch, and both Ron and Murray jointly (and in a friendly manner) briefed me and supervised the field work. My assistant was Roger Cowley, who worked with me until University resumed in March, when others including Brian Fry were seconded to the survey until the field work was finalised.

Roger and I settled into a weekly routine which involved driving from Melbourne in a short wheel base Land Rover each Monday morning, picking up a week’s supplies in Heyfield, driving to Connors Plains and staying in the staff quarters, the only building left after the logging and associated road construction works finished. We would return to Melbourne the following Friday afternoon unless we decided to spend the weekend in the area. Most Monday afternoons and Friday mornings were spent on short surveys near the camp.

Our survey work involved counting how many Alpine Ash seedlings were growing in 1 square metre plots, which were every 10 chains along compass survey lines 10 chains apart in designated logging coupes. Each day’s traversing was planned out the night before and we would drive along a ridge to the next survey site. Roger and I would then separate and follow a compass line down either side of the ridge and up again a further 10 chains over, and meet for lunch at the vehicle. And then repeat it again in the afternoon. I don’t remember whether we had a TRP radio in case of problems but we avoided (or escaped) any accidents. That night we would write up and map the day’s data and prepare for the next day.

The daily traverses along a strict compass bearing were sometimes challenging. The terrain varied from relatively mild sloping plains to steep slopes and the occasional gorge. I can recall one traverse down to the Serpentine Creek when it took me the best part of 2 hours to go down 14 chains, having to climb over the remnants of very large logs with a 10 or 12 foot drop to the ground on the other side, and some rocky screes. The vegetation post-logging varied, with areas of open snow grass, dense hopbush which we had to squirm between, or wattle and understory; some with few or no eucalypt seedlings, others with abundant regeneration.

One weekend we drove to Licola and over Mount Arbuckle and Trapyard Hill to the Moroka Hut and returned after walking from the Riggals Spur Track down to Lake Tarli Karn (in which I caught a trout on a spinner, having carried in a fishing rod). At the time the Tamboritha Road had not been built and the track up the Wellington River had many fords to cross before the climb to Mount Arbuckle. Other times we also went down to Rumpff Flat on the Barkly River, and down the Lazarini Spur track to the Goulburn River, so overall we gained a good appreciation of that part of the Victorian mountains.

By about April 1963 I had finished the report on the Connors Plains regeneration survey and submitted it to Murray Paine, and rejoined the Research Branch to get stuck into the Tree Breeding Programme, but that’s another story.