Tuesday, October 3, 2023

25 years of conservation at Mt Elgin swamp reserve

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The Mt Elgin reserve is regionally important not only for its biodiversity, but for its cultural history.

This Swamp was an important place for the Traditional Owners, the Wotjabuluck people, as well as providing a seasonal food source, such as waterfowl and their eggs, and freshwater mussels; it had a permanent spring, which, in dry years, was essential for their survival. Evidence of their occupation over thousands of years can be found in stone scatters, burial sites and from over 65 scar trees.

In the early days of European settlement, Thomas Grant, who hailed from Elgin, Scotland, pegged the 122,560 acre run in April 1844 and he ran flocks of thousands of sheep on the property then known as Mount Elgin Run. Over time Mount Elgin was subdivided into smaller farming allotments and in the 1920’s the estate was cut up into allotments under a government scheme for settling soldiers after the First World War.

Mount Elgin homestead was like a small township with a house with a separate kitchen, a stable and stores, a spring at the home station and 2 draw wells for watering sheep and cattle: One of the pioneering owners of Mount Elgin, James and Jane Little built a new homestead of 9 rooms from local pit sawn and adzed red gum slabs at a cost of ₤150.

This homestead was occupied until 1960 and remained intact until 1981 when it fell into disrepair and was dismantled.

Behind this building stood a 2 storey sandstone kitchen, a shop for trading with aboriginals, shepherds and station hands, log cabins, shepherds huts, blacksmith shop, horse stables, a coach shed and a woolshed for 23 shearers.

The gold escort route ran past Mt Elgin and horses were taken to the big tree at the rear of the swamp for exchange on the coaches travelling through to Adelaide. Mount Elgin was a stopover point during the early years for many as they made their way east and west.

It’s thought in the 1850’s and early 60’s, more than 20 thousand men, women and children, with hope in their hearts, camped in and around Mount Elgin as they headed east. Some of the Chinese stayed to take up market gardening.

A resident of Mount Elgin was Yanggendyinanyuk (Jungad- jinganook), also known as Dick-A-Dick or King Richard, said to be the eldest son of ’Chief Balrootan’ of the Nhill Tribe worked as a boundary rider. In 1864 he was the Aboriginal tracker who found the Duff children lost in the Natimuk scrub. He won further fame in 1868 as a member of the first Australian Aboriginal cricket team to tour the United Kingdom.

Mt Elgin was on the road between Lawloit and Dimboola…. there was no Nhill…. just a place called “Melbourne Swamps”.

There was a Nhill pastoral run, but the new town wasn’t established until Frank Oliver built a flour mill, others followed and Nhill rapidly grew from 1880.

It should be noted that Oliver built in Nhill because he had been refused permission to establish a flour mill at Mount Elgin.

In 1942 one quarter of the swamp was cleared and a levy bank placed around this portion to keep the water out in order to grow crops on this land, but it was found to be unproductive and the levy bank failed on many occasions.

The Mount Elgin Swamp Reserve was purchased by Trust for Nature in 1998, comprising 300 hectares. A local committee of management was set up soon after, which is responsible for maintaining and enhancing, the ecological values of the swamp, particularly through suppressing pest plants and animals, but also through the revegetation of some of the areas that were impacted by the management of previous owners.

Since the purchase of the land by Trust for Nature, the levy bank has been breached and water now flows freely over the entire swamp when water is available. Natural regeneration is occurring across the entire swamp, particularly by River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Tangled Lignum Duma florulenta.

Some deep depressions have been created to help provide water for birds and animals for longer periods and bird drinkers have been installed at several locations.

A 25-year celebration and open day will be held at the Mt Elgin Swamp Reserve on Sunday June 11th from 10:30am with a BBQ lunch provided. Enter the property via Dufty’s Road and then Mallee Dam Road. Balloons will be put up on the day. Please RSVP to Jennifer on 0428 593 351 for catering purposes if you would like to attend and take the opportunity to have a look around the property and spend time enjoying the natural beauty of this pristine bush reserve. It has never looked as good as it does now.

If you are interested in conservation and would like to be involved in looking after this regionally important reserve, you are encouraged to come along and talk with members who help manage this beautiful property.

Nhill Free Press & Kaniva Times 7 June 2023

This article appeared in the Nhill Free Press & Kaniva Times, 7 June 2023.


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