Cobboboonee Forest

Cobboboonee Forest

"Cobboboonee Forest" - photo: Warren Mars

Before white man arrived in the south west of Victoria there was a large forest named Cobboboonee composed of large eucalypts: primarily Messmate, Swamp Gum and Peppermint with middle storey of Acacia and Ballart and a vast array of species in the lower storey, especially low Acacias and Banksias, Xanthorrhoea Minor and Bracken. A great array of animal and bird life was also there.

A substantial remnant of this forest remains to this day, and until recently had been regularly logged, and maintained as a hardwood timber forest. This was not entirely bad since it meant that although the forest was maimed yet it was still there, something that wouldn't have happened had the land all been cleared for farms.

When I wrote this poem there had been great discussion between the declining timber industry and the local greenies and there had been much political posturing due to a state election, the upshot of which was the closing of the last local timber mill relying on the produce of this forest. There was still the possibility of outside operators coming in however at the time. More recently, after the Kevin '07 federal election, as part of the platform it was mostly converted to a National Park.

Although these most obvious of threats have disappeared for now, yet the forest is greatly segmented by farmland, making it less strong and resistant to weeds and other pests than it should be. Furthermore since pretty much all the really big, old trees have been logged and the growth rate in the forest is very slow, it will be a hundred years or more before there will be a plentiful supply of old trees with nesting hollows to support the wildlife in decent numbers again. Personally I would like to see the forest added to, with a government buy-back of enclosed farmland, the swamps reflooded and a serious weed eradication program implemented.

I wrote this poem to draw attention to the great richness of wildlife that the forest harboured and to some extent still harbours. Even though most of these animals are shy and are never seen by ordinary people, yet in the main they are still hanging on in the Cobboboonee and it is our responsibility to see that they do not become extinct.

In the times before now, the powerful owl,
once lived in a hole in a tree,
when the land was all green, and the forest serene,
covered the plains to the sea.

When the black phascogale, with its feathery tail,
watched bandicoots everywhere roam,
and the spotted-tailed quoll, and the mouse in its hole,
made all of this forest their home.

There were brown potoroo, and dunnarts there too,
and the east pygmy possum as well,
and the brown antechinus, and forest eptesicus,
as the old Gunditj Mara could tell.

The gliders could feed, on the sap that did bleed,
from the wounds that they made in the gums,
and the black cockatoo, and the grey kangaroo,
thrived long before there were sums.

Old Cobboboonee, slept in peace by the sea,
and nourished itself in its time,
where the messmates grew tall, and the old limbs did fall,
leaving hollows, and places to climb.

The fires came through, and they burned up the new
growth that littered the old forest floor.
But the big trees survived, and the woodland revived,
in a cycle true to its law.

Then white people came, who knew not the name,
of the forest, nor all of its laws,
and they chopped down the trees, and wiped out the bees,
and made their decisions indoors.

Nesting holes became rare, till few of them there,
could provide a safe home for an owl,
and the cycle was lost, to the forest's great cost,
for the burning, they didn't know how.

The swamps were all drained, for farms, they explained,
and the bitterns and crakes were moved on,
and the pastureland spread, till the brolgas had fled,
and the swamp rats and grebes were all gone.

Though the forest's been maimed, some has been named,
as some kind of woodland preserve,
but what does this mean, when they strip the land clean,
of old trees and the creatures they serve.

For Cobboboonee, I would like to see,
it return to its great days of yore,
let the big trees grow old, let them thrive in the mould,
from the river right down to the shore.

Warren Mars - February-September 2000