Summer is here once again. By the end of December, South Australia had already had dozens of grass, crop, stubble and bushland fires. In rural areas, roadside verges also provide a generous source of flammable materials.
Let’s now go back in time. In 1839, William Randell, an employee of the South Australian Company, wrote to his bosses. He said that, in the warmer months, the view from the Mt Torrens village was of undulating fields of green kangaroo grass, the summer-active Themeda triandra.
Now, summer-active native grasses aren’t the dominant species in the area. Bob Myers, however, hopes that, one day, these native grasses might return to some of the area’s roadsides.
Bob is part of a multi-agency project – the Roadside Fuel Reduction Initiative – that is trialling some of these perennial grasses. A year into the project, another season of weed-control is needed before sowing of the eight trial sites near Woodside, Mt Torrens, Birdwood and Forreston can go ahead.
The Adelaide Hills is believed to be one of the most densely-populated, high fire risk areas in the world. Its roadsides contain summer-dry grasses and weeds such as phalaris, wild oats and cocksfoot that could be up to 2 m high. These introduced grasses can have summer fuel loads of 17-30 tonnes per hectare. Native grasses, in comparison, have fuel-loads of only 2.5–8 t/ha. The Adelaide Hills Council spends big money each year on roadside slashing and mowing and other bushfire-prevention work.
Bob says that, in Victoria, local Councils and the CFA have successfully replaced phalaris with native grass species that stay green over summer, and which grow only to ankle or calf height. He firmly believes that the aim to change the roadside vegetation in the Hills from introduced, high-fuel-load pasture grasses to native, lower-fuel-load, summer-green perennial grasses is definitely practicable.
The above and the previous article are based on material that was published in the Mt Barker Courier in November 2013. Thanks are due to journalist Genevieve Cooper.