A Photo Essay
Snobs, The new Franklin?
Snobs Creek rises at the base at Lake Mountain and plunges into the steep sided valley that runs in a straight-line north to meet the Goulburn River below Eildon, located in central Victoria. Steep contours fall from the ridge at either side as it cataracts down in a series of steps. Halfway down its length it falls over the side of a tilted strata of bedrock to form the highest vertical falls in Victoria.
This cliff is formed as part of an ancient caldera of volcanic activity where huge lenses of magna pressed upwards and then ruptured and collapsed in on itself to form the Cerberean cauldron. The boiling lake of ancient Greek myth that was guarded by the triple headed dog Cerberus. Three rivers flowed into this lake; The Acheron, The Rubicon and the Styx. Here the souls of the dead had to pass through the stygian lake assisted by the ferryman. Coins were placed on the eyes of the dead as payment for the journey.
The falls are part of the ring dyke which surrounds the ancient caldera. Visible from the road, the strata form the landscape of Mount Cathedral, Buxton and Marysville and the circle passes around to the gold bearing contact zones of Big River, Kevington and back to Eildon and Snobs Creek.
This is our county. This is our whitefella dreaming. Anyone with eyes can see …large upon the landscape. The Blue Range is the final bulge of magma Granodiorite, dark and dense with fine crystals of zircon. Trapped in the origin of these rocks are the fundamentals of life, minerals and nutrients. They are not inert but are rather the ingredients of life on this living planet. All they need is water!
The epidermis of living organisms that combine the nutrients, water and atmosphere, are the forests of diverse plants, mosses, ferns and understorey layers of Acacia and Dogwood, Myrtle Beech and hardwoods, that trap moisture from the atmosphere. The pendulous leaves of eucalypts hang down to a point to gather dew and cause droplets to fall in an interconnected microclimate to charge the porous humus that is the forest floor.
The trickle from aquifers of soaks, springs and reserves of permeating water, store and distribute the source of the rivulets, creeks and streams that are the catchments of our rivers. The fungi and the living bacteria recycle the nutrient to make them available over and over again in an endless cycle. A constant water supply makes this possible.
Seasonal snow and spring rains are stored and redistributed through the dry times. The stream remains constant
Snobs Creek is uninhabited by humans. There exists no industry nor agriculture to pollute. It remains intact: A rare quality. Consequently, it flows cold and clear and pure. A few platypus and in the trees, some greater gliders. On the ground the black wallaby and the lyrebirds.
The pristine quality of the water has and always will, remain paramount to the success of the Snobs Creek Fish Hatchery.
Carefully selected for this quality, the hatchery was the vision of fisheries managers over 70 years ago and it now occupies a site at the bottom end of the creek, prior to it discharging into the Goulburn River.
Many locals are employed producing the fish stocks that are distributed across the entirety of Victoria for recreational anglers to enjoy with their families.
Deep in the shadows of the Snobs Creek Valley runnels of water converge to form a stream, only small now, but joining with others to create the constant flow of a creek, a tributary – one of thousands, which by gravity, form into Snobs Creek. Boulders here in the steep valley tract can be as big as houses, having tumbled down the sheer slopes to end their journey in the creek.
Gravity is relentless. The water now increased in volume, makes its way over, around and under the boulders, dammed up only to plunge over in a cascade. Submerged rocks grow a biofilm of algae that feed the aquatic insects a that inhabit the interstices and spaces created by the rounded cobble.
A chorus of frogs inhabit the damp shaded banks, safe in the mosses and beds of rotting leaves. Tiny fish, rare and endangered are protected in the bathtub sized pools. The air is damp with only dappled sunlight penetrating through the canopy and the steep sides of the valley.
The bushfires of ’39 leapt across the ridges, taking the lives of the loggers in the Rubicon. They burned down from the ridge tops leaving pockets of wet gullies to survive. Eighty years of regrowth has restored the mosaic of old and new.
Timber harvesting with bullock teams or later, tractors and bulldozers, selected the best accessible trees, but only the ones they could reach. Only the best sawlogs were taken, leaving the immature trees to grow on. The peace of the valley returned. The fish hatchery grew and the families of workers sent children to local schools and some stayed.
The proud tradition of timber workers of the Rubicon Valley was scarred by the fires, yet innovation and ingenuity saw steel cables and winches lift selected logs out of the valley and onto the trollies that ran on wooden rails, drawn by horses, or later diesel engines.
The tracks ran beside the road to the mill in Alexandra. Then for years the forest remained quiet. The Snobs creek leapt over the falls and the Rubicon ran.
Clear-fell logging is total Armageddon. Giant machines tear down the trees, docking them to size on site and stripping off the bark in a continuous motion of industrial efficiency. To keep this machine running, it must take everything in its path. The tops and stumps come out and are piled in rows. This is called trash. Every tree regardless of its size is harvested and the ground is stripped bare. The machine cuts a swathe through the forest leaving only piles of trash to be burned. It must take everything for it to be economical.
Only 12% are suitable for sawlogs. 88% of the timber is processed into woodchips ready to be pulped. The ground is rendered bare, ready to be eroded at the first rain event. Sheet erosion and gullies deliver the silt and caustic ash laden sludge into the streams, choking everything in its path. The giant ‘B Double’ trucks roll out of the forests in an endless procession on their way to the paper mill in Gippsland or to Geelong for export as woodchips to Japan.
The Snobs Creek Valley is the last bastion. Confined between two high ridges, it remains largely intact surrounded by ‘harvesting and scorched earth. The pressure to gain access to this precious pocket of resource is palpable. The timber industry is finding itself being locked out of more and more access to areas because of over exploitation of native forest in the Central Highlands.
The inevitable move to plantation timber from otherwise degraded farmland is clearly the way of the future. A last ditch desperate move into the source of our rivers is essential unless people of good faith speak up!
This is a contest of ideas. Companies driven by profits for shareholders, contractors and unethical business structures designed to exploit this timber resource, are driven by notions that survival depends on profit. There can be no other way than to exploit the resource to the maximum and then leave.
The bigger picture on the other hand is often based on less tangible and quantifiable values that are unable to be listed as bottom line profits. Who pays for the resultant water loss? Who pays for the next 80 years of degraded logging coupes and eroded hill sides? Is the environment of value for its biodiversity of animals and plants? its greenhouse store and oxygen breathing microclimate? All of which mitigates warming and drought?
No logging company I know of factors these concerns into a profit and loss assessment.
Who is it that is responsible for oversite? The Catchment Management Authority? These bodies can only advise. They have no power to act. They can only alert and monitor. Who will then make a determination in policy as to how these conflicting issues are resolved? Political considerations take precedence. Unions will protect their member’s jobs. Agriculture, which comprises fisheries, forestry and DELWP managers, all belong under the ONE minister’s portfolio. All are compromised by each other in the contest of ideas, unable to take a clear-eyed view.
The Snobs Creek continues to plunge over the waterfall. The oxygen rich pristine water continues to supply the fish hatchery which employs more people than the forest operation. The fish that they produce from this pristine water are the very stock distributed across Victoria that generates an economy of 30,000 people employed as a direct result, with turnover of Billions. The catchment remains for perpetuity continuing its function – unless of course its integrity is degraded for a few lousy dollars: Dollars that are driven by an unregulated neoliberal, insatiable urge for profit at any cost, for the selected few.
So much for despair and pessimism!
There is hope. REAL people who can see the wood for the trees. We saw it in the fight for the Franklin River. This battle became a watershed in Australian politics.
Is Snobs the new Franklin? Can an alliance of fisherman, tourism operators and conservationists who wish to retain the values of Snobs for their grandchildren, prevail?
Water supply advocates, those who see this as a precedent for the threat to the headwaters of every river in the State, say ‘STOP! ENOUGH’! Clear-fell logging in the Central Highlands is over and we need to think again’.
Melbourne has one of the world’s best water supplies. There is no clear-felled logging in its catchment and the reasons for this are obvious. The catchment may undergo challenges in a dry year or after 12 years of drought, however throughout these challenging times, it remains clear, clean and drinkable: The life blood of our great capital city.
The Snobs Creek is the same. Clearly defined by its contours, it can be preserved for its life giving and unique properties.
I urge the reader to drive to the falls and revel in its majesty. Stand on the escarpment and where the rocks form the contact between the ancients volcanic and the sedimentary rock. Imbibe the feelings of the explorers who gave the classical names to the local landforms and streams. The Rubicon; The Acheron; The Cerberus. Fall in love with this landscape of Mt Cathedral and spot the ring dyke as you take your journey into this unique landscape.
The fight has begun. This is the new Franklin! Victoria has got to have this fight: This contest of ideas.
Written by Geoff Hall
Photos by Rod Falconer
Graphics by Anj Falconer
If after reading this essay, you – like the author- feel passionate about the uniqueness of the Snobs Creek Valley and protecting our water catchments, we urge you to act on these convictions and make your concerns known to your local politician and any one of the relevant stakeholders listed below.
The Hon. Jaala Pulford MLC
Minister for Agriculture
The Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister for Suburban Development
The Hon. Lisa Neville MP
Minister for Police Minister for Water
The Hon. John Eren MP
Minister for Tourism
The Hon. Daniel Andrews
Fishing and Water Catchment Key stakeholders
Victorian Fisheries Authority
Target 1 million Plan
Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority