I deduce that before Victoria was grazed and mined our waterways were very different. Early surveys seem to affirm this: maps of the plains and broad valleys often include the italic notation ‘chain of ponds’. Doubtless, dense or very mature riparian vegetation lined their banks.

In my youth I roamed the reaches and cut-off bends of the straightened-out, de-snagged Latrobe River, cleared from time to time of their numerous stands of silver wattle, and eventually I read Peter Andrews’ thoughts on Australian flood plain management. (Basically he says: Hold water as long as you can, where it falls!)

Then, perusing Google Earth some years ago, I noticed unusual features along Middle Creek - 10 km SW of St Arnaud. As you moved upstream the raw gullies, so characteristic of northern Victoria, gave way to – yes!!! – a chain of ponds. On-ground examination later with the landowner confirmed my assumptions.

I could see that, once hoofed animals such as sheep and cattle displaced the gentler indigenous grazers, the newcomers, tracking in and out to drink, broke down the intervening earthen barriers between the pools, over which runoff had for millennia more or less gently trickled. Continuous gullies soon opened up.

Here is part of what I saw, thanks to Google.

Note the creek is still fairly intact where the cover is better - obviously there’s been less grazing here of late - but to the east where the land is hammered even today, the creek is a gutter. All the way more or less to the Avoca!

Here are several other images of Middle Creek from above:

That led to work on our 95 hectares at Adams Road, where there are now 100 waterholes (we call them gilgai), mainly small water bodies - cf the original 10 ‘traditional’ farm dams – that we are slowly ‘decriminalising’! In other words, converting them to wetlands. See below:

John Douglas of Stuart Mill constructed these ponds on our land around 1983. There are 19 altogether over some 150 metres down a slope.

Adams Road – 2016 – 11 ponds in a row, thanks to Aaron Watts. We no longer leave banks on the downstream side. Since we seeded the bare areas a few totem-poles have germinated. We readily transplant sedges from existing dams.

Here’s my recent (experimental) painting on the subject:

Here is a new ‘chain of ponds’ on a Bendigo property, S of Whipstick Forest

So, what next?

A modest gully runs SW-NE through our block of box-ironbark country below near Stuart Mill. In parallel is a non-eroded grassy drainage line. I want to try to restore the former to a chain of ponds.

This means, I think, getting an excavator to reshape the bed of the eroded gully into a series of terraces, rather than the present constant fall, and filling the channel with as much natural debris – especially branches and heads of tree – as possible.

It might also mean an inconspicuous series of upslope riplines. And maybe judiciously thinning 5-10 percent of the vegetation within say 40 metres of the creekline - across the slope, not up- or downhill – to ‘roughen the catchment’, as a friend once put it.

Thinking broadly, the pre-European waterways of our state would have been full of large- and medium-sized debris.

During the heaviest floods, such as we had in 2010-11, this debris would have been swirled around like an auger, and the resulting silt continually flushed out, thereby keeping the holes deep, and rich in habitat and organic matter, as in food, or riparian wildlife. Remember, some holes along the Murray were apparently 40 metres deep.

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