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FINIA Tour of K’gari

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Fraser Island Natural Integrity Alliance (FINIA) is justifiably proud of its status as an inclusive alliance of stakeholders who share an interest in that wonderful sand island off Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach (increasingly known by its Butchulla name of K’gari).

FINIA members gathered to hear about the new development planned for Central Station from the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation (Photo FIDO)

Readers of this newsletter may well have been part of the diverse group gathered on K’gari from 17-18 May. Groups represented included the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation (BAC), Butchulla Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (BNTAC), Cooloola Coastcare, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation (FIDO), Fraser Island Association (FIA), Eurong and Happy Valley Community Associations, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships (QPWS&P), Queensland Department of Resources (DR), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Sandy Cape Lighthouse Conservation Association (SCLCA), and the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC). A meeting also occurred with representatives from the Fraser Coast Regional Council. Fire expert Winston Williams from Orchid Beach was also present. All these groups have a lot in common and strive to coordinate the best outcomes for K’gari.

Linda Behrendorff from QPWS talks about the use of acoustic listening stations (Photo: FIDO)

This particular meeting was timely because several initiatives have been started in response to the very severe fires which impacted K’gari in late 2020. The fires started on 14 October 2020 after campers near Ngkala Rocks left an unextinguished campfire. Coals reignited, fanned by the wind, and the fire spread into the adjacent vegetation. Strong winds drove the fire across the Island, and within a day and a half, it had reached the Western shore. After almost eight weeks, the blaze was eventually controlled by a substantial fire-fighting effort involving more than 90 firefighters, a dedicated Incident room, 17 water-bombing aircraft and finally, the arrival of rain on 8 December. By the time the blaze was brought under control, it had burnt about one-third of the vegetation of K’gari. The fire also threatened townships, but fortunately, they were defended in a dramatic series of events. Over the weekend, several first-hand accounts were shared, showing just how close the fires came! 

Participants stayed in the University of the Sunshine Coast’s K’gari-Fraser Island Research and Learning Centre, Dilli Village. The centre has cabins, bathroom facilities, a catered camp kitchen, and shelter sheds close to the shores where waves can be heard crashing on the beach. Presentations were the order of the day and included: the fantastic journeys of migratory shorebirds, measures being taken by the Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers (BLSR) to control myrtle rust, the successful use of acoustic recorders by QPWS&P rangers to gather evidence about rare, elusive species such as the ground parrot, and first-hand accounts of the defence of Happy Valley from the fires. 

Visitors view a demonstration garden created by FIDO members to show residents that a beautiful garden can be created using local native plants (Photo: FIDO)

The tour visited several significant sites on the Island. The BAC is currently developing a cultural centre at a former logging settlement in the rainforest area, which fortunately escaped the fires, known as Central Station. This will become a future education centre and tourist attraction. The group also visited Eurong village, where FIDO has been conducting working bees to control the spread of invasive species plants and create demonstration gardens to show residents the beautiful native plants they can grow. FIDO concentrates on this activity as historically, decorative species brought over to the Island for home gardens have spread and become extremely problematic weeds. FIDO mainly works in Unallocated State Land (USL), which is intended to be a buffer between freehold land and the national park, making up the bulk of the Island today. FIDO groups go over several times a year, stay in local accommodation and work to remove weed species and prevent them from getting into the national park.

The Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation auspices the Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers who work on various projects, including controlling the Jamella bug, an invasive pest that causes dieback among the Pandanus, one of the very iconic trees coastal trees of K’gari. There has also been a concerning outbreak of Myrtle Rust, which attacks tender young growth, impacting fire recovery. Participants learned more about this issue from a presentation about this from the BAC’s Biosecurity Officer, Tilly Davis. Resident Russell Postle’s talk about the dramatic actions taken to protect Happy Valley during the fire also covered some of the measures taken to safeguard the village. One positive outcome was an increased appreciation of the work of the Butchulla rangers.

BAC Biosecurity Officer, Tilly Davis, talks about recovery after the fires and the compounding problem of Myrtle Rust (Photo: FIDO).

The FINIA group also visited the newly opened Discovery Interpretive Centre, which is part of the complex at Kingfisher Resort. This project showcased a partnership between the BAC, Kingfisher Resort and the University of the Sunshine Coast. The centre includes striking photographs, information about the ecology of K’gari and why it is so special.

One section chronicles the lifetime contributions of John Sinclair AO, who took a leading role in protecting the Island from extractive industries. It aims to educate those who visit the Island to take precautions to protect the Island’s delicate ecosystems and how to ensure their safety, especially concerning beach driving and animal encounters. QPWS rangers report that, unfortunately, some tourists still try to touch, pet or feed wongari (dingoes), making management much more difficult.

On day two, FINIA chair Sue Sargent facilitated a far-reaching discussion on the Island’s future, during which many projects were discussed and updated. Again, all groups had a chance to contribute, and some exciting networks and connections were generated. This annual field trip showed FINIA operating as intended and highlights the effectiveness of ongoing communication between groups and individuals who care for K’gari.

Contributed by Zela Bissett, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation

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