Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Temperature impact on Flies and Mosquitoes

Last week we bought one of those plastic bottle fly traps that you put a packet of pre-mixed stuff and water into, and thought we'd give it a go on the farm. About a fortnight before this I'd noticed how at sunrise there was no flies, but by mid morning they were pretty active - and suspected that they needed temperatures of around 15 degrees C to get them going. The instructions that came with the new fly trap set me straight. Flies get active when the temperature reaches 18 degrees, and begin feeding at 20 degrees C.

I decided to see whether temperature has a similar impact on mosquitoes. A quick surf of the internet took confirmed this is the case. Their activity kicks in at 7-8 degrees
C (Alaskan research). Curiously they don't function well in temperatures above 43 degrees C but neither do we! A couple of other things that were of interest - mosquitoes are very slow flyers (1-2 km/hour) and can thus be kept at bay using an electric fan; and mosquito screens on windows were first introduced in the 1880's.

Back on the fly trap - the instructions also suggested that the container would need to be emptied every 2 weeks or so. In our experience, try 1.5 days. This then begs the question of what the natural predators of flies are and what the ecological impact would be of us using the trap. Maybe I'll research this one day as well.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Bird Species Seen on Ochre Arch

Below is the list of all the bird species seen here on Ochre Arch to 31st January 2017.

The vast majority of species were seen and identified by us since buying the farm in 2003. Other identifications have been carried out by professional ornithologist Tony Saunders (9 new species were identified on 8 February 2011, some by sound ... these are marked with the letters TS) and representatives of Birding NSW (these are marked with the letters BNSW). On the latter, our nearest town of Grenfell is recognised as an 'Important Bird Area'. Two locations on our farm are now surveyed each six months by Birding NSW members and we receive a full list of species seen following each survey. For those interested you will find more information on the Grenfell Important Bird Area here.

The bird species are listed in the order they appear in the bird book we use extensively, “Field Guide to Australian Birds” 2000 edition by Michael Morcombe. For each, the Common Name appears first, followed by the Scientific Name (in brackets), the page number in the book, Date First Sighted, and ‘level of threat’ categorisation if on the NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage Threatened Species website. Those found here and listed in the DEH website are highlighted in bold. 

There are 101 species in the list below, 7 of which are ‘vulnerable’ and 1 is ‘endangered’.

The List of Birds Seen So Far
Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) Page 14 15/11/2007 Endangered
Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis) Page 18 26/11/2004
Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) Page 18 12/2/2008
Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) Page 24 21/09/2005
Grey Teal (Anas gracilius) Page 24 2/10/2005
Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoids) Page 26 9/8/2015
Hardhead (Aythya australis) Page 26 2/10/2005
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) Page 26 21/09/2004
Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) Page 30 15/10/2004
Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) Page 66 22/03/2006
White-faced Heron (Ardea novaehollandiae) Page 72 15/10/2004
White-necked Heron (Ardea pacifica) Page 72 12/04/2006
Rufous (Nankeen) Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) Page 72 12/10/2004
Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) Page 76 30/12/2009
Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) Page 76 28/09/2004
Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) Page 84 6/04/2004
Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis) Page 86 Vulnerable
Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) Page 88 5/5/2008
Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides) Page 92 5/10/2007
Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis) Page 92 3/11/2007
Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) Page 94 26/6/2008
Black Falcon (Falco subniger) Page 94 14/12/2007
Black-fronted Dotterel (Charadrius [Elseyornis] melanops) Page 138 26/03/2005
Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) Page 138 15/12/2005
Banded Lapwing (Vanellus tricolour) Page 138 25/01/2005
Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) Page 158 22/09/2004
Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) Page 158 21/09/2004
Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) Page 164 20/10/2008
Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) Page 166 10/6/2007 Vulnerable
Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) Page 168 22/10/2017
Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) Page 168 27/09/2004
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) Page 170 20/09/2005
Galah (Cacatua roseicapilla) Page 170 22/09/2004
Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) Page 176 18/09/2005 Vulnerable
Eastern Rosella (Platycercus exemius) Page 180 22/09/2004
Mallee Ringneck (Barnardius zonarius barnardi) Page 182 23/09/2005
Red-rumped Parrot (Psephotus haematonotus) Page 184 29/09/2004
Blue Bonnet (Northiella haematogaster) Page 184 28/11/2004
Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) Page 186 11/01/2006
Pallid Cuckoo (Cuculus pallidus) Page 190 20/9/2008
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantus flabelliformis) Page 192 22/7/2010
Barking Owl (Ninox connivens) Page 196 30/09/2004 Vulnerable
Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) Page 200 29/7/2010
Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramplus sanctus) Page 208 11/11/2016
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Page 210 21/09/2004
Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) Page 210 15/10/2004
Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) Page 218 22/03/2006 Vulnerable
Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) Page 220 8/2/2011 TS
Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus) Page 230 8/7/2010
Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus striatus) Page 230 29/3/2008
Speckled Warbler (Chthonicola sagittata) Page 236 15/10/2004 Vulnerable
Western Gerygone (Gerygone fusca) Page 238 3/11/2012
White-throated Gerygone (Gerygone olivacea) Page 240 12/10/2013
Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris) Page 242 8/2/2011 TS
Yellow Thornbill (Acanthiza nana) Page 242 8/2/2011 TS
Buff-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza reguloides) Page 242  29/3/2014 BNSW
Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa) Page 242 8/2/2011 TS
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis) Page 242 8/2/2011 TS
Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla) Page 244 16/9/2006
Inland Thornbill (Acanthiza apicalis) Page 244 29/3/2014 BNSW
Southern Whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis) Page 246 24/02/2006
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) Page 248 18/12/2008
Striped Honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata) Page 248 9/12/2008
Noisy Friarbird (Philemon corniculatus) Page 250 5/7/2006
Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis) Page 252 24/02/2006
Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) Page 252 25/09/2004
Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata) Page 274 25/03/2005
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) Page 276 22/03/2005
Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) Page 278 19/6/2016
Jacky Winter (Microeca fascinans) Page 280 22/03/2006
Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis) Page 282 29/09/2004
Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) Page 292 14/04/2006
Grey Shrike-Thrush (Colluricincla harmonica) Page 294 16/2/2007
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) Page 298 10/9/2006
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa) Page 300 29/3/2014 BNSW
Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) Page 300 25/09/2004
Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) Page 302 25/09/2004
White-winged Triller (Lalage tricolor [sueurii]) Page 302 13/10/2004
Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae) Page 304 31/8/2006
Ground Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina maxima) Page 304 26/09/2005
Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus) Page 308 15/10/2004
White-browed Woodswallow (Artamus superciliosus) Page 308 15/10/2004
Black-faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinerus) Page 308 12/10/2013
Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus) Page 308 14/04/2006
Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) Page 310 13/10/2004
Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) Page 310 27/09/2005
Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) Page 312 19/09/2005
Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) Page 314 20/09/2005
Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) Page 318 13/10/2004
Little Raven (Corvus mellori) Page 318 8/2/2011 TS
White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos) Page 320 13/10/2004
Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea) Page 320 13/10/2004
Australian (Richard's) Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) Page 326 8/2/2011 TS
Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) Page 330 20/03/2006
Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) Page 334 15/10/2004 Vulnerable
Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) Page 338 8/2/2011 TS
Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) Page 338 22/09/2004
White-backed Swallow (Cheramoeca leucosternus) Page 340 22/5/2016
Rufous Songlark (Cincloramphus mathewsi) Page 344 8/2/2011 TS
Brown Songlark (Cincloramphus cruralis) Page 344 28/8/2007
Sivereye (Zosterops laterilis) Page 346 29/3/2014 BNSW
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) Page 350 12/7/2006

Monday, 22 October 2007

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 7

Welcome to the seventh edition of ‘Ochre Archives’, our farm newsletter.

Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 6
Aboriginal archaeologist, Sue Hudson, let us know that False Sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia violacea) was used by both pre-European Aboriginals and Europeans. It tastes something like Sarsaparilla (hence its name) if you soak the leaves in water and cool in the fridge. The early settlers boiled water and added torn leaves to make a tea substitute. Sue’s tried it this way but “was not too rapt”, stating “tea is much nicer but if you are stuck for tea leaves, anything will do I suppose. It is incredibly hard to grow in some gardens as it only likes gravel, dry conditions and no competition but does make a pretty rockery plant!” We’ve found 3 more plants on the farm. Here’s a photo of another one recently in flower.
On Wedge-tailed Eagles and other topics - An organic farmer (who wants to remain anonymous) recently went to Taronga Zoo in Sydney. They have an amazing bird show where an eagle flies less than a metre over the assembled crowd [in an outdoor amphitheatre]. Females are the bigger of the species.

On the subject of erosion control, he says they recently put in a control bank and were going to cover it in hay to give some short term ground cover and to get some native grass growing. They’ve now learned that many 'pioneer' (first to colonise bare ground) native species don't like heavy mulch in any form. “It is better to cut native grass with seed heads and lay this on the ground allowing seeds to fall out and the grass to transfer necessary soil micro-organisms to the soil.” We’ll give this a go as well. The photo below shows the results on some bare ground were we’d placed a thin section of square section baled straw. We’re not sure what species are in the photo (probably all exotics) but the vegetation cover is not bad given the entire area was totally bare beforehand.

On the subject of fungi - our anonymous organic farmer friend recently attended a two week course on soil micro-biology at Lismore presented by Elaine Ingham who is head-honcho of the Soil Foodweb Institute. Elaine explained that four organic acids are the result of creating in-soil anaerobic (no air) conditions, each with a distinctive bad smell: Acetic acid is like vinegar, Butyric acid is like sour milk, Valeric acid is like vomit and Putrescine smells like decaying flesh! These anaerobic conditions cause minerals that would normally be converted to plant friendly compounds to be lost to the soil, and in some cases add to global warming gases. Our friend suggested that where the Dogs Vomit fungi (a.k.a. Slime Mould) was growing – was probably a sign of bad things / anaerobic processes happening. He’s spot-on, we reckon.

We’ve been accused of name-dropping in our Newsletters. ‘All feedback is good’ as the saying goes. We were remiss in not explaining that we only include names of people who we believe are highly competent in their chosen vocations or have given us express permission to share the feedback. This serves two purposes: giving credit where credit’s due’ and enabling readers to directly contact them if they so choose. Of course we are not responsible for any negative outcomes resulting from such contacts!

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs
There is a very large vine immediately to the west of Lookout Rock which we now know is a Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana). This photograph was actually taken at Jan’s brother’s place at Trundle. We’ve used this one as the plant was in flower at the time.
A Dawn Magazine article on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website states that “In the Central and Western Deserts the Wonga-wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) was regarded as the best wood for woomera-cast spears because of its high flexibility. In fact, the mechanical properties of this woody vine were so suitable that short pieces were spliced together if long ones were not available (Cleland and Tindale 1959:139). It was such an important species that a group of mythological women, who had slender and flexible bodies, was named after it (Strehlow 1971:469).”

We have discovered a Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) plant growing on the place.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens website explains that the botanical name means:
• “Solanum - from the Latin, ‘solamen’, meaning to solace or comfort, referring to the narcotic properties of some species; and
• ‘laciniatum’ - from the Latin, lacinia, meaning a lappet or flap of a garment, referring to the lobed leaves.”
From what we understand the Aborigines used the fruits of these plants to trigger abortions!

The shrub you can see to the right in the following photograph is a Showy Parrot-pea (Dillwynia sericea).
These are only evident in a small area of the property, are leguminous and a strong high-protein ‘diet of choice’ for livestock.

If anyone knows what the insect species are in the following three photographs please let us know!

The bird in this photograph is a Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) and the picture was taken in what we call the Native Pasture Paddock.
They feed mainly on the seeds of native grasses and acacias collected from the ground and were themselves popular for hunting and eating during the early days of European settlement (but are now protected).

We’ve identified 2 new bird species:
Brown Songlark (Cincloramphus cruralis) – Exceptional in that the male is much larger than the female. They are nomadic, don’t hang around in drought affected areas and males have a very distinctive call during the mating season.
Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides) – A slender falcon with a very distinctive black band at the end / underside of the tale. One of the most commonly seen bird species in Australia due to its “tolerance for a wide variety of habitats and its ability to feed on a variety of foods and nest in a range of sites”.

Grasses and Forbs
In a previous edition we mentioned finding Rock Isotome (Isotoma petraea) on various outcrops. From what we now know it seems these are actually Showy Isotome (Isotoma axillaries).
The accompanying photograph is of one of these plants (with the blue flowers - whichever species it is!) together with some Native Plume Grass (Dichelachne) – a most promising species for pasture grass.

The Plateau Paddock is now almost totally covered in Native or Blue Crowfoot (Erodium crinitum). Several locals have told us that this winter and early spring have produced close to ideal conditions for the growth of this species.
The lack of recent rain means that the Plateau Paddock (and most others) have hayed-off and now look very different to what’s below. The roots of these plants are supposed to be edible.

We watched this Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) blissfully wandering around the Middle Hill Paddock for about 20 minutes or so.
A new-born is called a puggle and is smaller than a jellybean. Echidna mothers don't have nipples so the puggle prods a small patch of skin inside the pouch which causes thick milk to ooze out which it licks up. When it is too big for the pouch and starts to get spines its mother leaves it in a burrow (sometimes ex-rabbit burrows) while she looks for food. From about 7 months old it fends for itself.

The dead tree you can see below is home to some type of furred animal, most likely a possum but we’re not certain. We could see the animal through a very small hole in the trunk but could not identify it properly.
One way to accurately identify animals in these situations is to place double-sided sticky tape at the entrance to the hollow. A few strands of fur are all that is needed for DNA testing, which is carried out by environmental scientists.

Rock Formations
We came across the rock formation (below) in Ghost Valley, which has a shelter in it used frequently by a Red-necked Wallaby which we often see in the vicinity.
Also suitable for a small wife!!!

Commercial Activity
For 2 months we had over 600 sheep on Ochre Arch on agistment. For the trivia-minded, the dry matter consumption of the animals would have been just less than 60 tonnes. The factors used to determine animal dry matter demand include species, age, weight, growth rate, sex, state (pregnant, lactating, or ‘dry’) and number of offspring.
The sheep had a very positive impact on the land, including weed control, mineral cycling and trampling. Some of their diet of choice included the core of growing Patterson’s Curse and the stems, flowers and seed pods of the Wild Radish.

Community On-farm Event
On 11th October we hosted a ½ day visit to Ochre Arch by about 20 members of the Lachlan Grassy Box Woodlands Conservation Management Network who came to see some of the Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) remnants of White Box and Blakely’s Red Gum Woodlands on the farm. The main speakers on the day were local nature guru Mikla Lewis (who organised the whole event) and Sue Hudson (Aboriginal archaeologist).

The highlight for us was Sue’s discovery of 2 scar trees, where bark had been removed by Aborigines to manufacture coolamons. The picture shows Sue with one of the trees.

In Memoriam
Jan’s mum, Shirley, passed away on 5th September from uterine cancer. It was all quite sudden really, and we will miss her greatly.

In Closing
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to

Kind regards .... Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 6

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Creative Bush Tucker Cooking

We attended the Trundle Bush Tucker Day on 1st September 2007, and were among other things extremely impressed with the variety of cooking apparatus. Here's a selection for you to check out.
First up we have what could be described as a on oven made out of fencing wire and foil, covering a hunk of beef on a spear - in the format of a cooking spit.

Next is the Trundle equivalent of a New Zealand hungie. The cook wrapped a chunk of beef in foil, and this in turn was pplaced in a hessian bag and burried under the ground in some coals. Three hours later out came one of the most succulently cooked bits of beef imaginable.

And here's the Trundle equivalent of a Chinese restaurant, complete with dual plough disc woks.

To finish off, here is a quite unique structure for cooking kebabs ... a large C section piece of black steel on a stand, filled with coals at just the right height to keep turing the kebabs until cooked to taste.
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Monday, 6 August 2007

Update on Ochre Arch Monitoring Sites

In Feburary I psoted an article describing the establishment of 4 monitoring sites on Ochre Arch. See

It's now almost 6 months since the photographs in the above blog site were taken. Since then we have had no stock on the place and there have been several rainfall events - resulting in the growth of various grass species coupled with a substantial increase in the level of groundcover. Given this I've taken a new set of photographs, some of which appear below.

For each of the 4 sites (sequentially 1 through 4) I've included below a landscape view looking east from exactly the same location as those taken in February. When looking at the landscape views it needs to be borne in mind that the seasons are totally different - now winter as opposed to mid-summer, and as I say there has been no stock on the property. Thus it is not reasonable to directly draw conclusions based on comparisions of the photographs.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 6

Welcome to the sixth edition of ‘Ochre Archives’.

Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 5

Sue Hudson, Indigenous Archaeological Consultant, let us know that “both Sida corrugata and Hopbush were used by Aboriginal people as bush-tucker. The roots of Sida were used as a vegetable (roasted in ground-oven like parsnip) and the seeds from around ant nests were collected, ground and turned into flour-like consistency for cakes. With Hopbush (D. boranifolia, D peducularis and D. truncatatiales) the fruit was dried (easier to carry) and reconstituted in water and either eaten or used for flavouring as a drink.”

Alanna Moore from Geomantica suggests that “you can also try adding crushed basalt to algified waters or organic barley straw-bales around where water runs in (could be expensive!). With Matt Rush, the base of the leaf, was chewed as an important carbohydrate source in the Aboriginal diet plus they were woven into articles. A most useful plant!"

An organic farmer has let us know that de-stocking only damages the land in brittle environments [as per Savory] where it is for an extremely long period. Peter Braden wanted to understand the underlying causes of how this can occur where native animals are still in the environment. The answer is quite involved. It’s probably best that I refer readers to the book titled Holistic Management – A New Framework for Decision Making by Allan Savory. Peter also asked whether Biodynamic preparations are effective in the home garden. In short - most definitely - based on our own experience.

Jacqui Stol from the Agricultural Landscapes Research Group within CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems noticed the photo of one of the white fungi in the newsletter and a couple of days later was shown a similar photo by one of the CSIRO researchers, Sonia Graham. Jacqui referred the photo to her mycologist friend Professor Jim Trappe, from Oregon State University who responded “the fungus is a slime mould, Fuligo septica. Its common name is the ‘Dog Vomit Fungus’. At early stages it is soft and slimy, later it dries out and forms a mass of dark spores. It is closer phylogenetically to animals then to plants, and the mass when soft moves slowly across the substrate, engulfing organic matter and stuff to digest like an amoeba, except it is multicellular. A weird but cool organism”! We fully concur with Jacqui’s closing comment - “What a fascinating thing - being closer to the animal kingdom than the plant kingdom”. A Google search brought to light an article on slime moulds by a bloke by the name of Tom Volk. Curiously he mentions that it was slime moulds that inspired the science fiction movie, "The Blob." (1958 with Steve McQueen, remade in 1988).

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs

We’ve now found 2 native False Sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia violacea) plants growing on Ochre Arch. They are leguminous and don’t like frosts.
During a 30 mm rainfall event in May we had some Giant Swift Moths (Trictena Argentata) flying into the glass on the front door of the house on the farm. They are also known as Rain Moths because of their habit of emerging from the cocoon (brown pupal shells) in the earth following late autumn rains.

To quote from the South Australia Museum website: "Waikerie" on the river Murray bears the Aboriginal name for this moth whose emergence in great numbers at this place provided a seasonal feast for the Aborigines” and that the “grubs feed on bark of gum trees.” The Waikerie website explains that the Aborigines “dug them from the ground or caught the emerged moth as they flew around their camp fires at night”.

We now regularly see a pair of Wedge-tail Eagles.

During the June long weekend we watched this solitary Glossy Black Cockatoo blissfully crunching its way through a mass of seedpods on two of the She-oak trees on the farm. We’d never seen these before, and now know they are listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW Threatened Species database.

Erosion control
We are reducing soil erosion risk and activity through encouraging increased organic matter ground cover (addressing the root cause - bare ground) and taking steps to slow the speed of water runoff where it’s practical to do so. Organic matter ground cover is being increased through (continuing to keep stock off the place) allowing the grass to grow and physically placing organic matter on bare ground. On some of the tracks we have been strategically placing a shovel full or two of grass with soil in the (mini) emerging gullies (for want of a better term) to slow the water down during rainfall events. You can see in this photograph how effective this can be. What is also obvious from the photograph is just how much soil is being washed, and how some of it is being trapped and retained.

We have quite a few smaller trees growing through some of the fences. Rather than have them further damage the fences as they grow we are removing them and placing the organic matter on the larger patches of bare earth. Positive results are apparent after as little as 3 weeks, evident through the backing up of soil against the on-ground branches, growth of grass adjacent to the organic matter, and reduced rate of soil loss. There’s still a huge way to go.

Tips and Hints
Our thanks go to Wayne Lavers and Mikla Lewis for sharing with us what we think is a fabulous tip when planting trees and shrubs. Rather than buying special guards and protectors just place some thick fallen branches over the seedlings. The branches keep native herbivores such as Kangaroos away, provides protection for the plant and habitat for small critters, and avoids the need to outlay $’s for the guards.

In Closing
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to

Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 5

Monday, 4 June 2007

Area of Australia Covered by the Great Artesian Basin

A few days ago I did an internet search to try and ascertain the area of Australia that covers the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). It just so happens that the Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Water Resources published on the 7th May 2007 a new map addressing this very question, which I found at the following web address:

There are many people who believe that underground water can be found at any location in Australia if one drills deep enough into the earth’s surface. After seeing just how extensive the GAB is it’s easy to see how this view can be formed. In a recent discussion with the wife of the bloke who did the drilling on our place to try and find bore water she suggested that a large percentage of the underground water in Australia come from the rainforests of New Guinea to the north. The map of the GAB actually appears to support this theory.

A few days ago I was speaking with a bloke who works for one of that northern NSW Catchment Management Authorities. He told me the following:
1. In most parts of South Australia the bores to the GAB are only around 200 metres deep, at which point the water level is reached.
2. There is a project underway that will see 1200 open GAB bores capped, and that this project is well advanced.
3. In NSW bore depths to the GAB range from 300 metres to 1400 metres
4. The current problem with bores accessing the GAB is not a fall in the level of water but rather a substantial drop in the pressure … which means that some bores now have to be pumped, rather than it naturally coming to the surface.

On another matter connected with underground water, I was talking to a bloke from near Adelaide the other day and he told me about the mountain range that is just to the west of Adelaide which rises to over 1200 feet above sea level quite quickly. There is a narrow strip about 400 metres wide just to the east of the top of this ridge that gets about 54 inches of rain per annum due to the topographical impact connected with air carried moisture and weather patterns. The geology along the ridge where most of the rain falls is sandstone – quite porous. A great deal of the water that falls along the narrow strip goes straight underground and rapidly recharges the local water table, from which many of the local source water for vegetables and fruit trees and such like. Apparently this is one of the few water tables in Australia that are in fact recharging regularly. Those living as little as 500 metres away from the edge of the ridge receive annual rainfall around half or what falls along the narrow strip. Pretty neat I reckon!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Global warming and heat island effects

Since writing my last blog on climate data available from the Bureau of Meteorology I’ve had some correspondence with Wilma Keppel of the US based website. Wilma highlighted the impact of what are termed ‘heat islands’ on temperature and climate. In short, heat islands are built up areas such s towns, cities and even road-ways where the temperatures in and around them tend to be above that of the surrounding areas. It’s not hard to conclude that these must play a role in increased air temperatures more widely than just in those areas.

Here’s an extract from Wilma’s last email that I thought was worthy of sharing more widely.

“The heat island effect can be significant. The northernmost native persimmons that John ever found were in the heat island of central Omaha, Nebraska (almost exactly in the middle of the continental U.S.). This city of about half a million is 3-4 degrees C warmer than the surrounding areas.

As you can imagine, heat island effects greatly increase people's perceived need for air conditioning. Using air conditioning increases outdoor air temperatures -- both by pumping heat outdoors, and by running compressor motors. And when outside air temperature goes up, air conditioner efficiency goes down.

A big part of the problem is pavements and roofs that absorb heat. Installing high-reflectance roofs can have a HUGE effect. (On chicken coops, too -- see my chicken tractor article on Managing Wholes).

Another significant effect comes from big trees that shade roofs and pavements. This is also a significant effect on heat buildup in the countryside. I well remember driving through eastern Iowa, which used to be home to the western edge of the eastern hardwood forest that covered most of the east half of the temperate parts of North America. Sensible states like New Hampshire allow trees to grow right up to the edge of the roads, shading them and keeping them cool. Iowa has a policy of cutting trees within 10 meters or so of the road, which means no shade. And since most of the country has been plowed into farms with huge fields, cutting down the roadside trees has gotten rid of a large proportion of the remaining strip woodland windbreaks, so soil erosion has gone up. Cutting the trees also drastically decreases habitat for the remaining native wildlife. All this so drivers going too fast on icy road D/S won't spin off and hit a tree. (New Hampshire has narrower, steeper roads, and gets more snow, but expects people to drive sensibly.)”

Wilma’s comments also reminded me of a conversation I had not so long ago with a mate, Garry Coates, who used to (and probably still does) tour widely throughout Australia on a motor bike. When riding during the heat of the day out on the western plains areas throughout New South Wales he found that the temperature difference between heavily treed and open areas was significant. In the open areas he’d find himself suffering, and close to heat exhaustion. In the treed areas he was cool and not sweating at all. Garry’s view is that a lot of the Australian areas with large treed canopies (such as around Heallsville, Narbethong, Toolangi etc) are naturally drought resistant. Plants and animals survive there OK because the moisture gets locked in. Take away the large trees and the moisture goes as do the animals.

With regard to Garry’s observations Wilma mentioned that Peter Donovan (also of the US based website) told her that in researching tropical rain forests, he discovered that they typically occur in at least somewhat brittle climates, and it's the tree canopy that keeps the forest underneath moist throughout the dry season.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Bureau of Meteorology On-Line Climate Data

Today Jan gave me a copy of “The Australian Fruit and Vegetable Garden” book which was published in 2006 by members of The Digger’s Club. This is an excellent publication, and details the types of plants that are suited to various areas of Australia based on different climates. We will use the book as part of planning what vegetables, and fruit and nut trees to grow on Ochre Arch.

From a temperature perspective the book refers to the following ‘growing range of food plants by air temperature’:
* Tropicals CZ 11, 12. Growing range; +5 degrees C to +35 degrees C
* Sub-tropicals CZ 10, 11, 12. Growing range; -1 degrees C to +35 degrees C
* Temperate fruits CZ 8-9a. Growing range; -15 degrees C to +25 degrees C
* Hardy annuals. Growing range; +5 degrees C to +25 degrees C

The book also uses the terms:
* ‘growing days’ which are defined as where the maximum temperature is equal to or greater than 15 degrees C
* ‘hot days’ which are defined as where the maximum temperature is equal to or greater than 30 degrees C
Among other things it is also important to look at minimum winter temperatures.

The above prompted me to figure out what climate zone Ochre Arch fell within, in the context of the various bands that the book discusses. I ended up getting onto the Bureau of Meteorology website to see what data is available, and it just happens that they’ve added an excellent new feature which they’ve titled ‘Climate Data On-line’. To quote directly from the website: “Climatology maps, prepared using data collected over a long period of time (generally 30 or more years), show the variations in climate across the country. Other maps show a range of weather, hydrological and climate information.” In short, one can source average, mean and specific (e.g. minimum and maximum) information for each month of the year since recording commenced by location.

The 3 nearest weather recording locations to Ochre Arch are at:
~ Grenfell (410 metres above sea level, and approximately 20 km [direct] south west of the farm),
~ Forbes (240 metres above sea level, and approximately 35 km [direct] north of the farm) and
~ Quandialla (250 metres above sea level, and about 45 km [direct] south-west of the farm).

The following data was gleaned from the Bureau of Meteorology website:

Long term data – Month by month since Bureau of Meteorology records commenced:
The Bureau’s database records for the long term statistics start from 1965 for both Grenfell and Quandialla, and 1873 for Forbes.

1. Highest ever recorded temperature in degrees C
Grenfell = 43.9 on 15 January 2001, Quandialla = 45 on 31 January 2001, and Forbes = 47.8 on 11 January 1882.

2. Mean number of days (in a year) where the temperature is equal to or greater than 30 degrees C
Grenfell = 66 days, Quandialla = 90, and Forbes = 92

3. Lowest ever recorded temperature in degrees C
Grenfell = -6.5 on 15 June 2006, Quandialla = -5.8 on 21 July 1983, and Forbes = -5.6 on 11 July 1958

4. Mean number of days (in a year) where the temperature is equal to or less that than 0 degrees C
Grenfell = 11.6, Quandialla = 21, and Forbes = 20

5. Mean annual rainfall in mm:
Grenfell = 609, Quandialla = 509, and Forbes = 521

Annual data – past 12 complete months i.e. 1 May 2006 to 30 April 2007
6. Number of days during the period where the temperature is equal to or greater than 15 degrees C
Grenfell = 313, Quandialla = 331, and Forbes = 329

7. Number of days during the period where the temperature is equal to or greater than 15 degrees C (See point 6 above) LESS Mean number of days (in a year) where the temperature is equal to or greater than 30 degrees C (from point 2, above):
Grenfell = 247, Quandialla = 241, and Forbes = 237

The figures show some (to me) significant differences, especially between Grenfell and the two other towns of Quandialla and Forbes.

Quandialla and Forbes have almost twice as many frost nights (where the temperature is equal to or below zero) each year than Grenfell. Grenfell’s higher altitude (410 metres V 240 & 250) could be one of the key factors, as could the fact that the location of the Grenfell weather station is on the top of the main hill in the town whilst (the topography of) Forbes and Quandialla are quite flat. Cold air is heavier, so the temperature on the top of hills is as a rule warmer than in the gullies. Curious that Grenfell has actually recorded a lower minimum temperature than Forbes and Quandialla (and that is occurred only last year), presumably due to the higher altitude?

Quandialla and Forbes both have almost 50 % more hotter days (greater than 30 degrees C) than Grenfell. My theory is that altitude has the biggest impact. Forbes and Quandialla have both recorded higher maximum temperatures than Grenfell. It’s also interesting to note how hot it was at Forbes in 1882 (and a pity I don’t have comparable data for the same year for Quandialla and Grenfell).

I’m not sure whether it is valid to do the calculation I’ve done in point 7 above (deducting ‘hot’ days from ‘growing’ days to in effect come up with a ‘net annual growing days' number), but if it is then the result effectively means that all 3 locations have about the same number of net growing days. Grenfell is renowned as one of the best dryland cropping regions in Australia. The above statistics would suggest that this is driven by comparative altitude (less hot days to knock the crops around), comparable growing days and higher mean annual rainfall.

Ochre Arch’s altitude varies from around 315 metres to 415 metres above sea level. This provides us with some excellent opportunities to site different species of fruit & nut, and vegetables to suit their natural requirements. For example, we’d place plants needing more frost on the lower areas near the gullies; and those plants that do not like frost toward or on top of the hills. From a ‘human habitation’ angle it would seem that given the house is on the lowest part of the property it will be subjected to the coldest nights and hottest daily temperatures. Perhaps we need to relocate it to the hills! It’s also my gut-feeling that the amount of rain that falls on our higher country is higher than on the lower. In time I hope to prove or disprove this as we now take rainfall measurements at both the house and near one of the high points on the property.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 5

Welcome to the fifth edition of ‘Ochre Archives’.

Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 4
Blue-green alga
Biodynamic agriculture consultant Cheryl Kemp suggested that with blue-green alga we “spray biodynamic preparations around the water and some in, and you could even put some Manure Concentrate in the water and that will help it to bring in the good bacteria and microorganisms and clean up the water. You could try it in the brown algae as well. It would be a good experiment, and might make the water more palatable for the animals.”

Defoliated Kurrajong Trees
Cheryl advised that we could assist the Kurrajong trees that had defoliated by “spraying biodynamic soil preparations around the trees, right out to drip line, or you could just mix up some (biodynamic preparation) 500 and pour in a cut ring into the earth around the drip-line to support the tree roots and bring in the soil micro organisms below to enliven the soil. Some good rain would do the best, but this could help, especially when the rain comes, it can instantly jump back to life.” We’re pleased to say that the two Kurrajong trees appear to be re-foliating naturally.

Matt Rush
A reader from Port Macquarie let us know that Matt Rush (Lomandra longifolia) which we’ve found on the farm is common on the north coast of New South Wales, used in highway medians as it doesn’t need a lot of attention and can also be used to minimize soil erosion.

Risks in totally de-stocking land
Cheryl Kemp cautioned that the work of Allan Savory has proven that totally de-stocking in ‘brittle tending’ environments can lead to desertification. This is absolutely true – and explains why fencing off some areas in the hope of increasing diversity and regenerating land fails in many cases. Many well-intentioned environmentalists have yet to learn this unfortunately. Ochre Arch (and most of Australia for that matter) is located within a brittle-tending environment. Our decision to de-stock was made in the context of this knowledge, balancing our desire to allow the land to rest and avoid the cost and effort involved in substitution feeding stock. De-stocking to us means removing domestic herding animals such as sheep and cattle. There is still plenty of other native fauna on the property, including kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, rabbits (numbers are under control), and a myriad of pasture eating birds such as Australian Wood Ducks (around 2-300 in one group) and Red-Rumped parrots.

Findings from recent trips to the farm
We sent Grenfell resident Mikla Lewis the accompanying photograph for plant identification.

She responded: “The yellow flower is Sida corrugata – its common name is ‘corrugated sida’. It is a lovely groundcover in spring and summer and seems to disappear in winter. Ants love to collect the seeds and surround their nests with them in mounds. The seeds are sort of diamond shaped with little corrugations around the edges. Sida is in the Malvaceae family which includes hibiscus and marshmallow.”

Trees and Shrubs
Mikla also identified the following plant as Hopbush,

“which is Dodonaea. The species is probably viscose and ours is probably the Wedge-leaved Hopbush. The shrubs are much enjoyed by wild animals and were used by the early settlers to make beer (hence the name)!”

One of the branches on this Australian White Cypress Pine (Callitris) has been rubbing against the main trunk for a very long time, to the extent that it has almost completely worn through the bark.

The vertical opening evident in the bark is, we assume, the result of a recent lightning strike.

The fungus in the photo below was in one of the creeks following rain. It is about 25cm long, soft to touch on top and like hard plastic around the edge.

The bell-shaped fungus below is growing about 2 metres from ground level on a red-gum tree.

Here is an ant nest, with a large number of seeds spread around the entrance. The nest was in amongst ‘Corrugated sida’ plants (mentioned under the ‘Grasses’ heading in this newsletter), so it’s possible the seeds were from these plants.

Here’s an ‘old-man’ Red-Necked Wallaby’.

The Magpie in the top right was flying up from the ground to access the Kurrajong seed pods.

In Closing
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to

Until next time!

Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to Ochre Archives Newsletter No. 4

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Rain Water Absorption Rates on Bare Soils

In Darryl Cluff’s booklet titled “Farming Without Farming” ISBN 0-9751118-09 Published in 2003 and available through Stipa Native Grasses Association, Inc. he comments at one point that as a genera rule on land which has an effective water cycle in operation one should expect to see 1 cm of soil profile moisture created from every 1 mm of rainfall. Thus where the soil profile is dry and 5 mm of rain falls there should be 5 cm of soil moisture in the soil, after allowing time for infiltration.

Recently on Ochre Arch we received 9 mm of very gentle rain over a period of 5 hours. Pretty much all of the soil on the property had zero grass ground cover, and prior to the rainfall event the soil profile was extremely dry. Approximately 1 hour following this event I headed off across a couple of paddocks with shovel-in-hand to see how much moisture had been absorbed by the soil.

On the flatter country in one place where the soil surface was not capped I dug down to find that there was about 9 cm of moisture penetration – consistent with Darryl’s comments, and evident in the accompanying photograph.
At another place on the property I dug to see what the soil moisture profile was underneath one of the well-worn sheep tracks. The results here were markedly different, and the moisture profile was only around 1 cm – almost 90 % less than on the flatter country. See second photograph. This was despite the fact that there had been considerably more water in the sheep track, what with the runoff of water along the sheep-track that had occurred. On reflection, the primary feature of the soil surface in the sheep-track was compressed / capped soil, making the bottom of the track very much like an impervious trough. The underlying cause of the compaction was over-grazing.

The other critical factor in rainfall effectiveness is retention of water in the soil post the rainfall event. Given there is was no ground cover on Ochre Arch the loss of moisture in the days following was extreme (especially given hot weather) and pretty much all of the moisture had evaporated within 48 hours.

For those wishing to learn more about the basics of the way the water cycle works, there is an excellent presentation on the website. Click HERE to go directly to the presentation.

Unexpected Results from Feral Cat Trapping Attempt

Recently on Ochre Arch we noticed some feral cats near the house and shearing shed, so I decided to have a go at trapping them in the interest of encouraging birdlife around the place. As a ‘lure’ to the trap I placed a rabbit that I’d shot earlier in the day inside the trap, and set it about 20 metres from the house closest to our bedroom. The theory was that when and if we did catch something we’d hear it in the trap, and I’d be able to quickly and humanely deal with whatever was caught.
It transpired that the night in question was incredibly windy and noisy. We heard nothing during the night other than the wind belting through the trees near the house. In the morning I ventured out, and was bewildered to see that the trap had been moved about 5 metres, turned end-over-end and on its side, and that that the trap door was open and the rabbit had gone. Close inspection of where the trap had been set revealed substantial scratch marks on the ground, which to me were most probably made by a fox. Whatever it was that managed to do what it did to the trap and remove the rabbit certainly deserves respect for cunning and persistence if nothing else.
The next day I was recounting the above to my mother, who explained that my father used to use milk in a bottle lid to lure feral kittens from their hides. After several days they became accustomed to the practice and could be approached and trapped. Armed with this information I decided to set the cat-trap up in the shearing shed (not accessible to foxes) with a bottle lid of milk in it. On the first night the trap was untouched. However on the second morning when I entered the shed the trap had been triggered but at first glance appeared to be empty. On close inspection I was amazed to find a large and healthy Blue-tongue Lizard near where the milk had been placed. It quickly scampered away to safety on release.
Some days later I shared the above information with a neighbour who explained that snakes love drinking milk, so it’s possible all reptiles do.

Needless to say my feral cat trapping exercise did not produce the results I’d hoped for, but most certainly added to my own knowledge, not to mention respect for the ingenuity of foxes!

Friday, 16 March 2007

“Blue Tardis” Camp Shower Successfully Constructed

Our farm is bit light on in terms of some of the ‘normal’ facilities most people expect to see on a farm, or house for that matter. We’ve not had a shower set up, so have tended to visit family or neighbours places or alternatively shower in the open using the Coleman Camp Shower we bought some years ago. The challenges with this latter option include lack of privacy, wind chill factor and rapid evaporation.
On our last trip we got a bit creative and have now constructed what I’ve named the “Ochre Arch ‘Blue Tardis’ Camp Shower Extraordinaire” as you will see in the photographs.
The "ingredients" and construction process is outlined in the following ‘recipe’.

"Ingredients" for constructing the shower surround
* Flat impervious surface on which to locate the structure.
* Second-hand overhead tank stand (doesn’t everyone have one of these!)
* Material for covering the tank-stand (in our case, blue tarpaulin)
* Fencing wire & pliers
* Soap / shampoo shower accessories rack
* 3 clothes pegs
* 1 clamp, large enough to go over the pipe of the tank stand
* Scissors
* Wooden wedge
* Bucher’s hook (again, doesn’t everyone have one of these!)
* Tape measure or string (for measuring tarpaulin)

Instructions or constructing shower surround
* Place tank stand upright on impervious surface, and stabilize using the wooden wedge under one of the tank stand ‘legs’.
* Cut tarpaulin to size using scissors. The width needs to be sufficient to go from the ground to about 600 mm above the height of the likely tallest person to use the shower / the top of the top rail of the stand. The length needs to be long enough to go right around the outside of the tank stand, with about 300 mm overlap. Cut a section from the top of the overlap so that it can be folded over the top rail of the stand and pegged in place.
* Anchor the tarpaulin on one corner of the stand (at where you want the entrance point) by folding the overlap flap over the top rail and hold in place using the 3 clothes pegs.
* Wrap the rest of the tarpaulin around the stand, and anchor in place using the clamp on the pole where the overlap occurs.
* Use pliers and wire to install a hook on one of the poles inside the stucture
* Place soap / shampoo shower accessories rack on the hook
* Hang Butcher’s hook over one of the rails – for towel and clothes

"Ingredients" for the shower mechanism
* 2 X 20 litre plastic containers. In our case we sourced 2nd hand ones from our local Hammersley-Direct outlet, for the price of around $1 each. Select containers that have had ‘environmentally friendly’ substances in them, such as Eucalyptus based oils (Ask the supplier for advice here!)
* Coleman Camp Shower
* 4 X D Size batteries (to power the Camp Shower)
* Fresh water sufficient to fill one of the 20 litre container
* Cordless drill with 5 mm (or thereabouts) bit

Constructing the shower mechanism
* Install batteries in the Camp Shower battery container
* Use cordless drill to create 2 holes each abut 80 mm in diameter in the top of one of the 20 litre plastic containers

Water Heating
* Fill other 20 litre container with fresh water early in the morning, place screw cap on it, and leave it in the sun all day. This assumes evening shower use. From our experience 1 X 20 litre container is sufficient for 2 people to comfortably (separately!) shower.

Getting ready to use the shower
* Locate the plastic container with the 2 holes in the top in one corner of the shower structure.
* Poor heated water from the other container into the one with the 2 holes in the top
* Place ‘pump’ of the camp shower in one of the 2 holes in the container that now has water in it.

Using the shower
* Turn camp shower on via switch on the top of the battery holder
* Place shower nozzle in the other hole in the top of the 20 litre container when not actually using it for wetting i.e. leave the pump going but place the nozzle in the hole so that water can be recycled.

Other tips
* We use wooden slat ‘thingies’ to stand on whilst showering and another just outside the shower for feet draying.
* For nocturnal shower use we suggest the purchase of one of those solar powered garden lights. These cost about $10-15.

In closing
Patent pending - just kidding. If following the above instructions doesn’t work for you, don’t blame me! Enjoy!

Monday, 12 March 2007

Matching Stock Numbers to Available Feed - Outback Style

Last month I attended a friend’s “Surprise 60th” birthday party at which I had the pleasure of being re-acquainted with Barry Sommerlad, a great bloke who I had the pleasure of first meeting in late 1979 when I made my decision to enter the world of financial services (or just plain 'banking' as it used to be known then). During the course of our conversation at the birthday party Barry shared with me a fascinating experience he’d had in his “Bank Manager days” in connection with the word ‘perish’. After the party I contacted Barry and invited him to document his recollections in more detail, and invited him to send it to me for publishing as a guest blog article. Here is the content from what Barry has now sent to me. Thanks Barry!

“Approximately 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Isis Downs, near Blackall in central western Queensland.

The Isis Downs’ website details that in its heyday in 1912, the property comprised 2,340 sq kms and had a carrying capacity of up to 230, 000 sheep. Following the Second World War, the area was reduced to 1,227 sq kms as a result of soldier settlement. In 1987, the Packer family, through its Consolidated Pastoral Co., acquired Isis Downs and a further 9 surrounding properties to increase the holding to 2,327sq kms. It now has an estimated carrying capacity of up to 120,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle, or 17,500 cattle only. In more recent years, it is believed the focus has been on cattle due to the greater stability in that market sector.

My visit occurred just before the sale to CPC took place. The then owner gave me a run-down on the history of the property. It had boasted what was believed to be at one time the biggest shearing shed in the southern hemisphere, and for its time had state-of-the-art electric shears. There were the remains of an articulated truck/wagon/trailer for transporting a huge number of bales following shearing, to the nearest rail-head. The vehicle had an articulated driveshaft running from wagon to wagon, and while it had a huge carrying capacity, it was very slow and cumbersome and enormously heavy, and the merest hint of rain saw it sink into the ground, not to move until it dried out.

The owner had read all of the journals and diaries left by former owners and managers, and there were a number of entries in the earlier years that intrigued him. Some entries referred to the quality of “perish” that had been achieved during the year. The journals gave no hint as to what “perish” meant, and the owner had not encountered the description in his experience on other properties in other parts of Australia. He therefore sought assistance from neighbours who had had long-term experience in the area, and was given the following explanation, which is as I recall it.

If there had been a good start to the season, sheep numbers would be increased to the absolute maximum that the property could sustain, a figure well beyond, the normal carrying capacity. If the season was good enough to sustain the increased sheep numbers then “well-and-good”. However, if the over-stock number could not be maintained, then obviously sheep had to be culled and numbers reduced in a manner deemed at that time to be, on the balance of various factors, as humanely as possible. Due to the remoteness of the property, it was not practicable to truck the sheep elsewhere, and if the season was poor there then there would be little market for surplus stock.

The culled sheep were put-down in the following manner. A huge enclosure would be constructed with fences made of piled-up scrub and brush. The culled sheep would be driven into the enclosure, and the entrance filled in with scrub and brush. Over a relatively short time, the sheep would perish from hunger and thirst. Further “perishes” would take place as needed.

It is likely a good “perish” involved as few sheep as possible and a bad “perish” a significant reduction in sheep numbers. The practice at the time was regarded as an effective means of managing stock numbers and maintaining sustainability.

When this was explained to my host/owner, something else twigged with him. When he flew over his property to inspect dams, bores, tanks, windmills, fences etc, following rain he was intrigued by the large geometrically-shaped areas where the vegetation growth was much better. These had been “perish” enclosures and many decades later, the fertiliser provided by the deceased sheep continued to benefit the land.”

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Grenfell district in early European settlement & subsequent times

After reading my recent blog titled “Ochre Arch Land Monitoring Sites Established” one of my contacts in the USA asked that I create a blog giving more detail on the history of the Grenfell district (in New South Wales, Australia) where "Ochre Arch" is located, including information on the landscape, vegetation and fauna when Europeans first settled the area. I referred the request to my uncle, Peter Diprose, who kindly researched the topic and documented his findings for me. What follows is what he sent through to me, which I’ve made into a ‘guest blog’. Thanks Peter!

Grenfell is located 380 kilometers West of Sydney, and is 350 metres (1150 feet) above sea level. The average rainfall based on personal / family records over 120 years is 21 inches per year (535 mms), varying from 9 inches to 44 inches.

The area was first settled around 1835 by “squatters” (ranchers) coming west from the eastern seaboard. The area was open woodland – widely spaced trees including eucalypts, some acacias, pines (callitris calumallaris and callitris calcarata) with a range of woody shrubs. The trees were fairly widely spaced with good grass between. Water was supplied by springs and, in good years, semi-permanent creeks.

When the first settlers arrived they were gratified to find wide open grassland with a good sprinkling of shade for their stock. The indigenous fauna included red and grey kangaroos, various wallabies, koalas, wombats, bettongs and bilbies and occasional quolls. It must be noted that all Australian native animals are soft-footed, unlike horses, cattle, sheep and goats, so that over time what were useful pastures for stock began to deteriorate and only the coarser grasses remained. The softer, more nutritious varieties couln not stand the hard hooves of the stock. (Editors note: There are some who argue it is not the ‘hard-footed’ herding animals that caused the damage to pasture species, but rather the way in which they were managed).

The introduction of fences (and the arrival of land laws!) and the consequent ability to control grazing helped to maintain reasonable grazing. It was not until imported grass and legume species were introduced that stock husbandry was assured. When gold was discovered in 1865 the local stock industry received a boost – there were thousands of miners and the usual entourage to feed.

By the late 1800’s farming had begun – mainly wheat and barley. With the introduction of farming and as a result of the “Great Drought” (1895 – 1915) accompanied by an economic recession most of the large stations (ranches) had become uneconomic and if the owners did not voluntarily sub-divide the governments of the day resumed them for “closer settlement”, that is for farming. Thus the day of the large holding was over in the district. Even though the seasons were drier than usual, by 1900-1910 Grenfell had become known as the “granary of the Southern Hemisphere”. In 1901 Rail arrived in the area and this made transport of produce much easier, and farming became profitable.

After WW1 there was an economic boom in agriculture – felt through the larger world. More sub-division of property occurred to cater for the demand for farms. As a result, by 1930 and the Great Depression, many of these farms became untenable, and only the better managers survived. A similar situation occurred after WW2 and this put more pressure on the land. Although some farmers abuse their land, most of our problems have been a result of bad government policy. Currently, land is being aggregated by better managers, and this may ease the pressure on the land. Hopefully we will have learned a lesson – but one can’t help wondering if, as the world population continues to increase at an alarming rate, we will survive.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Managing blue-green algae in farm dams

In Ochre Archives Newsletter No. 4 I mentioned that we had blue-green algae in one of our dams. Toni McLeish, Coordinator of the Grassy Box Woodland Conservation Management Network has kindly provided me with a link to some very helpful information produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries on this subject.
Here it is:
At the above address you'll also be able to access a PDF on the subject.
Thanks Toni!

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 4

Welcome to the fourth edition of ‘Ochre Archives’. The Newsletter is a little later than we’d planned. On 1st February 2007 we assumed responsibility for directly managing the farm and Phillip has ramped up his activities in generating off farm income in the land regeneration arena as well. Here’s our latest batch of discoveries and actions.

Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 3
Our thanks go to Mikla Lewis for identifying the plant species with blue flowers pictured in Ochre Archives No. 3. It was a Rock Isotome (Isotoma petraea) which was used by Aborigines as a substitute or addition to 'Pituri' - "a highly valued stimulant used for ceremonies, operations, socially and for spiking waterholes to aid the capture of game".

Flora & Bird Survey November 2006
Tamsin Martin from Ecolens based at Millthorpe visited “Ochre Arch” and conducted a flora and bird survey. Tamsin’s visit was coordinated by Andrew Zelnik from the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. We have yet to receive the output from the visit, but were pleased that Tamsin was able to identify a species of plant located to the west of Lookout Rock. The plants are called Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia) and the reeds from these plants were once used by Aborigines for weaving.

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs

The 2 Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus) trees shown in the picture have shed almost all of their leaves except for some right at the tips of the branches. We suspect this is in response to the extended dry period, and hope they recover when we do get decent rains.

Rock Formations
We’ve come across the rock below in the Middle Hill paddock and named it ‘Bear Rock’. Wallabies & Kangaroos use it regularly for shelter.

We now know of two natural arches on our property. This one is located in one of the creeks in Ghost Valley, and is quite different to Ochre Arch.

Following rain in November we found this Eastern Snake-necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis) wandering along the creek in the Spring Paddock. It was about 500 metres from the nearest water point.

Last week this Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona Barbatawas) ‘sun-baking’ on bare ground in the Middle Hill Paddock.

Blue - green alga has developed in the Crayfish Dam.

Some other (less toxic) alga is evident in the Native Pasture Paddock dam.

We thought that the second spring on the farm had dried up, but one morning noticed the area surrounded by birdlife. On close inspection it became apparent that the birds were sourcing water from a small hole about 15cm below ground level. Amazing!

On 16th February 2007 with the help of some visiting friends we saw a Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica) near Lookout Rock, taking the total species count to 62 so far.
When we compared the Atlas of NSW Wildlife threatened species list against our ‘birds seen on Ochre Arch’ list we discovered that we have at least 7 species that are rated as ‘Vulnerable’ on our farm.

Small Scale Experimentation
Phillip read somewhere that worms love to eat cardboard. We’ve set up a very simple experiment, placing some cardboard on bare ground to see what happens over time.

In Closing
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to

Until next time!

Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to: Ochre Archives Newsletter No. 3