Regeneration and the
formation of FOOPs: 1972 to 1980
Following its declaration as a National Park, the area required extensive work to mitigate the effects of invasive pests, repair the extensive ecological damage and allow recovery of the natural ecosystem. There were very few native trees and animals remaining in the area: a 1972 bird survey found only 30-40 species, compared to the nearly 200 species recorded by grazier Isaac Batey in the mid 1800s. Work within the new park began: dilapidated fences were replaced to secure the area against rabbits and foxes, and to enable invasive species populations within the park to be managed more effectively. The park’s first ranger, Jack Lyale, employed labourers to undertake the fencing work along steep rocky slopes and remove huge quantities of invasive African boxthorn and artichoke thistle. The National Parks Service also poured vast quantities of herbicide onto parts of the park to control horehound and thistles. An entrance road, carpark and a small shed office were established to cater to the rapidly increasing number of park visitors.
In 1972, the Maribyrnong Valley Committee (MVC) - a local conservation group founded in 1969 by Don Marsh, Bob Osborne and Lawrie Groom - also became involved with the new National Park, with a focus on restoring the land to its pre-colonial state. The group would go on to become our group today, the Friends of the Organ Pipes National Park (FOOPs).
The most immediate issue for the group’s attention was the severe, ongoing soil erosion linked to denudation of the land. Working in cooperation with Ranger Lyale, the MVC surveyed local valleys for remnant vegetation, collected seeds and propagated seedlings, and started planting trees on the understanding that establishing plants with large root systems would quickly stop the erosion. They also made efforts to establish herbs and grasses, and Marsh maintained a bird survey ultimately spanning 15 years to chronicle the slow return of indigenous species to the area as the flora recovered.
In 1973, the group was joined by amateur botanist Barry Kemp, who undertook revegetation planning and developed a zoning system based on both published works of earlier botanists and his own surveys of the area. Through Kemp’s tireless efforts, a planting program was established, and a nursery seedbank would eventually be set up at the park in 1985.
The group’s initial planting efforts were foiled when the first seedlings were eaten by rabbits, and it became clear that new plants would require ongoing maintenance and the construction of protective frames to provide shelter from pests and the elements. Ranger Lyale, a long-time scout master, encouraged scouts to help the FOOPs group at planting days, and they were joined by other local groups.
Within six years, the FOOPs group was awarded the Institute of Architects Robin Boyd medallion for landscape, and in 1982, won the Garden State Award for improvements to the park.
When the Sydenham growth corridor was approved by the Cain government in the mid-1980s, FOOPs made an effort to transplant as many grass tussocks as possible from this rich grassland, and to harvest kangaroo grass to spread the seed-rich hay around the National Park and start native grass patches.
FOOPs founder Don Marsh also pushed for the release of sugar gliders into the reafforested park, which was eventually achieved in 1989-90 with the first ever release of wild-captured gliders into a National Park.
In the late 1980s, VicRoads began to convert the Calder Highway into a freeway by duplicating the existing two-lane road into two separate two-lane roadways. Knowing that such works typically involved planting trees along freeway verges, Marsh contacted VicRoads in the hope that species indigenous to the Keilor Plains would be selected. With VicRoads’ cooperation, the species list was set and Ranger Lyale’s successor, Ranger Matt LeDuc, arranged for appropriate seed collection within the National Park. Ultimately this led to over 20 000 young trees being planted along an eight-kilometre segment of freeway in 1991-92; an area that has effectively become an extension of the park. The entire process began a general program of selecting indigenous species for freeway plantings, made possible by FOOPs committee member and Western Plains flora expert Ian Taylor.