Four Week Reflective update on my State Library Victoria Fellowship to 27 January 2023
One month into 2023 and it’s time for me to reflect and take stock. I’m penning what follows for several good reasons. Firstly, it helps me keep track and record progress and think about ‘where to next’. Second, it helps inform the many stakeholders in this Six Peaks Speak research and writing project who are keen to advise and assist me about where some of the the missing bits or ‘lacunae’ currently are.
In case you’re not familiar with the Six Peaks Speak Project, you’ll find my ‘big picture’ plan for the State Library Victoria Fellowship during 2023 at https://barrygoanna.com/7-2/
If after reading this update you have ideas and suggestions in relation to any other the six peaks, please contact me!
Two days each week during January I’ve spent ferreting through whatever resources come to the surface, by searching the names and obvious thematic connections to the six mountains (Kooroocheang, Beckworth, Greenock, Tarrengower, Alexander, Franklin), mainly in the State Library Victoria (SLV) collection but also the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) in North Melbourne.
I’ve also accessed the available historic Crown files for the five mountains surrounded by public reserves. These files are mostly held in the Ballarat ‘Glass House’ and Epsom (Bendigo) regional land manager’s offices. And I’ve put out feelers to eight local historical societies and people with a local knowledge of and interest in each of the Peaks, including the Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owners.
Importantly, I’ve also had time to think while travelling up and down to Melbourne on the train, and particularly riding my bicycle and walking along quiet backroads in the vicinity of the two Peaks closest to home, Mounts Beckworth and Kooroocheang. In the process, I’ve sought distant lines of sight from elevated spots along the way to the other four peaks, Franklin, Tarrengower, Greenock and Alexander. In the process, I’ve come up with tentative new ideas for introducing others to each of the six Peaks.
I penned this reflective note offline in the Top Deck Lounge of the Spirit of Tasmania in Bass Strait heading north for home via Geelong. Being at sea without the internet, my notes or my usual references was actually quite liberating. I’m reminded of one of the 1850s Eureka Rebellion heroes, Raefello Carboni who began penning his Italian opera, Gilburnia, inspired in part by his First Nations experiences near Mount Tarrengower in Dja Dja Wurrung Country. It was amongst the flying fish in the Bay of Bengal on the way back to Italy that Carboni’s acknowledged that his ideas for the opera actually started to take shape. There were no flying fish in Bass Strait.
Getting my head around the practicalities of searching for and extracting original records, as well as sifting through and storing the evidence I’ve collected, including via online searches, have been challenging. Given it takes at least 4.5 hours of travel each day from home in southern Dja Dja Wurrung Country to and from Melbourne, working out efficient ways of preordering and accessing resources via libraries and archives online was an essential first hurdle. So too was starting to understand the vagaries of the rabbit warren of offices and collections that comprises SLV, and also the rules and regulations for safe handling that underpin original document accessibility.
At this early stage, my search strategy is deliberately wide. While I know several mountains and their crosscutting themes, particularly Franklin and Kooroocheang pretty well already, others, particularly Tarrengower and Beckworth, are much less well known to me, and the Crown files available to me are far from complete. As might be anticipated, some leads have proved fruitless. Others, like the 1870s photo of old growth eucalyptus forest within the Larnibarramul Crater (at Mt Franklin) and the PROV file about the former Victorian Ladies Sericultural [silkworm] Association reserves in Mount Alexander, are serendipitous, highly informative and insightful.
Beyond the uneven and inevitably patchy evidence that is emerging about each of the mountains themselves, there is the important question of what is of interest and importance to me and also to prospective readers. How might others use my book to gain new insights and to explore more? How might the evidence I find be ordered and presented? Why am I interested in peaks? What is distinctive about each peak? What should I put in and to leave out? Whose story and voice is more important? In what circumstances should the narrative become autoethnographic? What is different about my book and other product dissemination strategies that has not already been attempted?
I have had several timely and important practical breakthroughs. Procuring and setting up a laptop after eight years in ‘retiremen’t without one (I’ve previously used an iPad when on the move) was made easier with advice from our son, Karri. So too was the usefulness of the OneNote application made clear via sound advice from our daughter, Tanja. The wisdom and experience of Sarah, my SLV mentor librarian has gently and ably steered me to several new and positive sources, places and in new directions.
Aside from copying, note taking and transcribing, I have taken lots of photos on my phone and scanned images of original documents, maps and historic photographs. I sense that these images have the potential to lift’ and illuminate my book as well as critically inform the historical narrative. Photos and maps in particular have the potential to subvert the dominant paradigm about what the country was like as well as how and why it has changed. In a similar way that Von Guerard’s painting of Tower Hill helped restore and revegetate the iconic crater, there is the potential for images and maps of all peaks in this project to reshape the way we perceive, revegetate and acknowledge First Nations people’s Voice and ongoing contributions to our own peaks and landscapes. Importantly, they will also point to better and more sustainable ways of managing them, inclusive of First Nations values, interests and imperatives.
So what do I know or perceive after one month of researching that is new or different from what I originally proposed? First, I have become acutely aware that the six peaks I have chosen to feature circumscribe a broad and relatively fertile oval, volcanic plain, previously grassland or woodland, and that what has happened within the oval below the peaks is also an important, relevant and interesting part of my narrative. Second, there are at least a dozen other secondary peaks within ‘the oval’ whose presence in the landscape might also form part of the story. The oval and these secondary peaks might sit in a separate additional book chapter, and provide waypoints relevant to my book’s invitation for people to come and explore and make sense of the remarkable area themselves.
What follows summarises how I anticipate each Peak Chapter might be shaped and the order they might be introduced, moving in an anti clockwise direction around the oval commencing with Kooroocheang.
Kooroocheang is qualitatively different to the other five peaks. Being in private ownership it is much less well known or interpreted. Its physical presence, status and importance as a Dja Dja Wurrung ceremonial site encircled by nearby oven mounds and the swift and brutal nature of dispossession and unsettling by John Hepburn and others will lie at the heart of the Kooroocheang narrative. This chapter will paint a picture of and emphasise the disconnect between what was a diverse, productive and complex ecotone (juxtaposition of different ecosystems) in Southern Dja Dja Wurrung Country, inclusive of the uncomfortable and unsettling legacy of Hepburn.
Mount Franklin’s story which will follow is tragic on a number of levels. It is a narrative about loss of a classic and relatively young volcanic crater, its flanks and crater stripped bare, commencing with loss of its original status as a First Nations gathering and ceremonial site, the development and demise of the genocidal Aboriginal Protectorate on its flanks following Alexander Mollison’s brief unsettling, the creation of a Town Common, the loss of a nearby unique and ancient Mineral Spring, and the recent invention of Mount Franklin as an iconic Australian brand once the spring had been destroyed.
The loss of Mount Franklin’s original vegetation will be about ‘death by a thousand cuts’, from grazing, timber removal, wildfire and rabbit infestation, to the final 1950s Forest Commission indignity: being totally and deliberately replaced by exotics including pines. Being high, like several other peaks in the set, Franklin also has communications and fire spotting towers on the summit.
Mount Alexander, with its similarly rich First Nations connections, unlike its nearby, eponymous, incredibly rich gold diggings, was relatively fortunate to be spared the indignity of mining, only to be completely cleared of trees for fuel and mine timbering by the 1870s. Over the next century it was a dogged battle, initially between local farmers using it as a Common for grazing and timber removal, granite quarrying in at least eight sites, pine and other plantations, attempts by an 1870s women’s collective to create a sericultural (silk) industry, and later land managers attempting to encourage alienation, grazing or palm it off to other government agencies. More recently, the mountain has become a tourist destination for an ill fated koala park, bushwalking and rock climbing, with its highest point now bristling with communication and other towers.
Mount Tarrengower I plan to link by physical and historical association to the nearby Neereman Aboriginal Protectorate on the Loddon, a largely untold story of colonial folly which preceded the better known Protectorate story near Mount Franklin. Tarrengower I know less about, mainly because the land manager file in Epsom is only partial and recent. I’m planning on leveraging next off local and district long time friends and experts. Peter Skilbeck lives nearby at Joyces Creek and knows heaps from his summer fire spotter experiences on the summit for 26 years until 2022. I’ll also tap into the deep local knowledge of mining archaeologist and friend, David Bannear about the associated Tarrengower diggings. Similarly, Clive Willman, a friend and geologist knows lots about the mountain and its very ancient history. I do know the steep road up to the summit intimately, from riding to the top on a bicycle, but there is a lot more to learn, as for all the Peaks, from discovery on ground and on Country with local experts.
Mount Greenock is in the six peak set largely by virtue of its serendipitous history. Major Thomas Mitchell stood on and renamed the summit in 1836 as he waxed lyrical about his ‘discovery’ of a well managed Aboriginal grassland he took to be a biblical and unpeopled biblical Eden and called it ‘Australia Felix’. The volcanic mountain and breached crater straddles a once rich deep lead which was mined for gold into the 1900s, and later became a Town Common for Talbot and District. Fast forward to the present day Geological Reserve, appallingly managed largely in the vested interests of local cattle graziers. By virtue of all these associations, the evidence base about Greenock and the former township of Dunach on its flanks is relatively extensive.
Finally, Mount Beckworth whose distinctive lollypop tree (Aleppo Pine) in its summit tells its own story and tale of survival, on a weathered granitic range also subject over decades to licensed and unlicensed grazing, tree and woodland removal, wildfire and rabbits, extensive mining of its sand aprons, and numerous attempts at private alienation. In the process, bird observers and orchid lovers aware of the peak’s many other values resisted many of these incursions.
Originally renamed by Mitchell as he passed by, the Mount Beckworth peak and area also lost its original trees to service the nearby Clunes Goldfields mines and boilers from the 1850s. More recently, the mountain and particularly its relatively low granite cliffs and boulders have quietly become regionally important for rock climbers, walkers and picnickers. As with Tarregower, the available Crown files forMount Beckworth are relatively thin and recent. Thus much effort will go during February into finding local people in the Clunes area who know and love and enjoy the mountain and its former community and settlement of Glendaruel on its southern flanks.
My intention is to pen a second update in late February, just before I disappear, mostly ‘off the radar’ for a month until resuming work on the Fellowship from 27 March. First, I head to Tasmania with friends for an 85km, 8 day backpack walk along Tasmania’s remote south coast. This will be followed soon after by walking the 260km Great South West Walk in far western Victoria. It’s a symphony in four natural acts: the Cobboboonee forest behind Portland, the languid lower Glenelg River, the wild sandy beaches east of Nelson along Bridgwater Bay, and the rugged coast around several capes back into Portland.