Alternative burn theory

A SCIENTIST who turned prescribed burns on their head over east by finding fires there make forests more likely to burn is in the Great Southern to see if he can help reduce bushfire risk here.

This week, University of Wollongong fire behaviour specialist Phil Zylstra has inspected tingle forest at Douglas Hill, beside Frankland River, and met with conservationists and senior Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions staff.

“My research contradicts one of the central assumptions in Australian fire management – that forest simply accumulates fuel over time and becomes increasingly flammable,” Dr Zylstra said.

He looked at the Australian Alps bioregion, from the highest mountains down to sea level.

“For close to 100 years, graziers and naturalists have been saying you shouldn’t burn snow gum country there because it makes it thicken up and become more flammable,” he said.

Dr Zylstra focused on the bioregion’s fire history, not on theory.

“I found it wasn’t just snow gum forest, it was all forest, so everything from low dry woodland to tall wet forests and right up to the treeline, all areas were far more flammable when they were in a regrowth phase,” he told The Weekender.

“There has been a consistent pattern there where straight after fire it’s not very flammable for a little while because you’ve cleared a lot of the vegetation, but you also germinate a lot of shrubs and you cause that regrowth to happen.”

He said that as the forest was re-building, it was a lot more flammable.

“It’s not until it gets to that stage when you’ve got a well-developed tree canopy and that initial flush of shrubs starts to thin out again that it becomes less flammable then as a mature forest,” he explained.

Denmark landholder Tony Pedro, instrumental in Dr Zylstra’s visit, has been a member of the East Denmark Bushfire Brigade since 1970 but does not participate in the brigade’s prescribed burns.

“My interpretation of it all came from my first-hand experience as a child living there in the 1960s and being able to easily walk and sometimes run through that forest down to the river to catch marron,” he said.

“And once prescribed burning started, I found that it was this impenetrable thicket.

“I then moved to Denmark in the 1970s to where I’m farming now and found exactly the same phenomenon in the jarrah forest.”

At Mr Pedro’s Denmark property there are about 400 hectares of uncleared land, most of which has not been burned for 60 years.

“The long unburned country opens out into a parkland,” he said.

“I think what’s happening there is that evolution over hundreds of thousands of years has worked out a system to learn to manage itself.

“It doesn’t need to be constantly fired.”

Dr Zylstra said he was “intrigued” by what Mr Pedro had told him.

“It seems like a very, very similar scenario to what’s happening in the Alps, but I don’t just want to go off hearsay, so we will go through this very thoroughly,” he said.

“I’m hoping with these surveys [at Douglas Hill] to fill some gaps in the knowledge that we’ve got, and run it through some intensive analysis to see whether that is what’s actually going to happen.”

He considered recently expressed opinions that Aboriginal people burned forests more than the farmers who followed to be misconceived.

“Indigenous people did burn very often but their fires were very controlled, so even in areas say in the Western Desert, The Pilbara, where there is still fully intact burning traditions, they’re burning less than one per cent of the landscape,” he said.

“You’ve now got people lighting up tens of thousands of hectares at times from helicopters, people buying vehicle-mounted flame-throwers to be able to light up as fast as they can from roadsides.”

Among Traditional Custodians in the Great Southern and Southwest who Dr Zylstra has consulted is Menang man Harley Coyne.

Mr Coyne said he wanted to see the forest preserved but was “not dead against” prescribed burning.

“The issue around tingle forest is that, if it’s going to be managed with fire, they need to be managed intimately,” he said.

“And that, itself, is the difficulty because there can’t be any guarantee that if a prescribed burn went through there that those trees wouldn’t be affected.

“As a Traditional Owner, I welcome any research that will add information and help protect those areas.”

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Shire goes solo with CEO

WOODANILLING has appointed a new Shire CEO but not before considering an overture from a municipality outside the Great Southern to jointly appoint a boss.

On November 16 the Wheatbelt Shire of Wagin wrote to its southern neighbour Woodanilling seeking to hold talks about sharing a CEO.

But Woodanilling had already started recruiting after CEO Belinda Knight’s recent departure broke a 17-year partnership with Shire President Russel Thomson that had been the longest in Western Australia (‘Pulling up stumps’, 1 November).

On Friday, Mr Thomson confirmed that, barring an unforeseen circumstance, former Kojonup and current Derby-West Kimberley CEO Steve Gash would start work as Woodanilling’s new CEO in April.

“He’ll bring a good deal of experience,” Cr Thomson said.

“He wanted to come back to the Great Southern.”

Until Mr Gash starts at Woodanilling, relieving CEO Sean Fletcher will continue to act in the role.

At a Woodanilling council meeting on December 18, councillors unanimously agreed to thank Wagin for its offer and “hold broad-ranging discussions” with its northern neighbour about “the possibilities” of sharing a CEO some time in the future.

The Woodanilling position was advertised with a remuneration package of $126,956 to $198,210 a year.

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What’s in a moniker?

THE term ‘Albanians’ as a collective noun for residents of Albany has caused a bit of a stir recently, so The Weekender decided to dig deeper into the moniker’s origin.

In conjunction with Albany historian Malcolm Traill, The Weekender found what is believed to be the earliest mention of the word ‘Albanian’ in relation to Albany residents in Perth newspaper The Inquirer in its September 29, 1852 edition.

The news story details communication from correspondents in Albany and mentions “…all first-class passengers and Albanians” in the saloon aboard the steamer The Australian.

Mr Traill said he believes the nickname began around the time of Albany becoming a mail port.

“It was known as King George Sound, mainly,” he said.

“It was also known as Sleepy Hollow in the 1840s and 1850s, because not much happened.

“So Albanians was a step up from Sleepy Hollow!”

Mr Traill pointed out that the European country of Albania was not officially independent of the Serbian and Ottoman Empires until 1912.

“So, we were Albanians before Albania was independent,” he said.

“We were also known as Albanyites during the 1890s, but that was mainly by Eastern-staters during the gold rush.”

Further Weekender research found more than 10 references to the phrase ‘Albanians’ in various circumstances.

A correspondent report in the September 14, 1870 edition of The Inquirer described a “slight gold fever at Albany” and that “the Albanians, however, could not believe in the fact, and rumours were rife to the effect that gold had been found”.

A piece written by ‘Bald Head’ in Perth publication Daily News on July 11, 1889 showed dislike to the term.

“Sir,” it reads.

“The people of Albany – not the Albanians – as they are not unfrequently styled even in the news- paper of the place – the people of Albany, let me say again, sir…”

Cricket reports from the Albany Advertiser and Katanning’s Southern Districts Advocate regularly used the phrase.

“In the Albany Week programme was included a cricket match…between players from Perth and Albany,” the February 18, 1903 Advertiser reads.

“Albanians were looking forward to the event with interest.”

“The Katanning cricketers met the Albanians on the ground of the latter on Saturday afternoon last, and had a very good win,” the February 21, 1921 Advocate states.

A conversation between Albany mayor CH Wittenoom, H. Parker MLC and Cr Paul on the controversial topic was penned by the Advertiser on April 21, 1949.

“When the visiting Fire Brigade Officials met in the Lower Town Hall last Saturday morning, His Worship the Mayor (Hon. C. H. Wittenoom) brought up the old controversy in pronunciation ‘Al-bany or Awl-bany?’,” it reads.

“He noted with amusement that Hon. H. Parker MLC favoured the latter.

“‘The reason is simple,’ Mr Parker retorted.

“‘I made no reference to Albany as I knew local inhabitants objected to being called Albanians!’

“Cr Paul with an adequate reply: ‘With the way we’ve been massacred by previous Governments, it’s an adequate term!’ he exclaimed.”

Mr Traill said one of the most recent print examples he could find of ‘Albanians’ was in Donald S Garden’s book, Albany: A Panorama of the Sound from 1827, published in 1976.

“He often refers to Albanians, even to periods as early as the 1830s,” Mr Traill said.

“On page 96, it reads: ‘Albanians have always been proud of their town and staunchly patriotic, while the climate and environment have been conducive to a tranquil and pleasant way of life’.”

Mr Traill said he had never heard the word used as a derogatory term or insult, and that the Weekender’s joint research with him about it had inspired an upcoming project of his.

“I think it’s nice to continue tradition,” he said of using the word ‘Albanians’.

“And it gets people interested in history.

“So much so, it gave me an idea for my upcoming curatorial.

“I was going to talk about Albany in an international context but now, I’m going to do the history of the name Albany – ‘What’s in a name?’

“Albany’s had many names – King George Sound, Kinjarling, Frederickstown…”

Mr Traill’s curatorial will be held on February 5 in the old co-op building at the Museum of the Great Southern.

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Cafe ‘above board’

A SENIOR official has refuted conjecture that a barista was handed the keys to Albany’s airport cafe as compensation for being denied a coffee kiosk in York Street’s new visitor centre.

Last Thursday, The Weekender revealed barista Chris Saurin had secured 264 signatures supporting a coffee shop that on November 27 was rejected by a slim majority of Albany city councillors (‘Coffee double shot’, 3 January).

Not long after, two Albany residents, who cannot be named, accused the City of handing the airport cafe to Mr Saurin by way of recompense.

However, the City’s Executive Director Corporate Services Michael Cole said Mr Saurin’s recent take-up of the airport cafe lease was a short-term interim arrangement only.

“This interim arrangement was agreed well before the Council decision of 27th November 2018,” Mr Cole said.

On November 27, an officer’s recommendation that Mr Saurin be granted the right to operate a small cafe at the visitor centre was refused six City councillors to five.

After being the only respondent to the City’s request for proposals, Mr Saurin had been named preferred operator at York Street subject to public consultation.

During public consultation, Albany’s chamber of commerce objected.

And on November 27, acting Chamber CEO Michael Clark and representatives of two nearby cafes opposed the kiosk.

This week, Mr Cole said the City had no alternative plans for the 14.25sqm space at the visitor centre, but options would soon be reviewed.

He said Mr Saurin was now running the airport cafe on a short-term contract basis to continue the service after the previous lessee in October asked the City to terminate her lease early for personal reasons.

“The City valued the service she had provided airport users over a number of years and was agreeable to her request,” Mr Cole said.

“With Christmas approaching there was insufficient time to open expressions of interest for a new Airport Café operator.

“To ensure ongoing cafe services, the City approached Mr Saurin seeking a proposal to operate the Airport Café on a short-term interim basis as he has the required experience and relevant insurances in place following the library coffee kiosk process.”

Mr Cole said the short-term arrangement did not require Council approval.

“The successful application of the yet-to-be-advertised expression of interest process to operate the Airport Café will be presented to Council in due course,” he added.

He said that under a lease approved by the Council in August 2017, the previous cafe operator had not been paid.

“The cafe was being leased at below market value rental that did not cover the utilities expenses being incurred by the City,” he explained.

Asked whether Mr Saurin was being paid to operate the cafe or for providing any service at the airport, Mr Cole was tight-lipped.

“This is a commercial arrangement and the terms are confidential,” he said.

“It ensures the cafe at the airport is operational for all outgoing flights seven days a week until an expression of interest process to operate the cafe on a lease arrangement is complete.”

Mr Cole said the $3012 + GST annual lease agreement with the previous operator had ended.

“The Airport Café provides a valuable and welcoming service for air travellers and the general aviation community,” he said.

“The City looks forward to considering expressions of interest from any person interested in providing the valuable service when we go to the open market over coming weeks.”

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Karri trees spared axe

KARRI trees along McLeod Road in Denmark that were in limbo over the Christmas break thanks to impending roadworks now look like they will be saved.

In December, Kordabup resident Miguel Pez told Denmark shire councillors and staff that 26 karris were imperilled.

Mr Pez said 11 of the karris had a circumference of greater than two metres.

On Tuesday, Shire CEO Bill Parker told The Weekender the Shire had been negotiating with Main Roads on a design compromise that would save the vast majority of the trees.

Main Roads had agreed to fund the road widening provided certain road design standards were maintained.

“We’re just working through some engineering solutions at the moment,” Mr Parker said.

“And we’re looking at potentially narrowing the road in sections and putting barriers and those sorts of things in place to try to protect the trees.

“There may be two trees that require removal, and that’s basically where somebody’s driveway enters McLeod Road and there’s some site issues, basically you can’t see the road from their driveway, so it is quite dangerous, so we may have to remove those.”

Mr Pez told The Weekender he was satisfied with the tree-saving solution described by Mr Parker.

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Fire centre shortlist

A SHORTLIST of bids for a State bushfire centre of excellence that a troika of Great Southern councils has applied to host has been finalised for Cabinet consideration.

The first edition of a newsletter of DFES’ recently formed rural fire division reports that a selection panel has “reviewed and submitted shortlisted local governments to Government for final determination”.

It was recently revealed here that Albany, Denmark and Plantagenet had jointly lodged a proposal to host the centre (‘Centre shot fired’, 15 November), but that competition would be hot.

Now, The Weekender has asked DFES which local governments have been shortlisted, on what date was the shortlist submitted to the Government, whether shortlisted local governments have been advised, and whether DFES had anything else to add.

In response, DFES said: “details of the recommendations to Government regarding the Bushfire Centre of Excellence are subject to Cabinet in Confidence”.

“A decision will be announced in due course,” the response concluded.

The City of Albany said it had not been advised whether it, Denmark and Plantagenet had made the shortlist.

On the Friday before Christmas Eve, DFES released a report prepared on September 26 into circumstances that led to the escapes of planned burns in the Great Southern and Southwest in May 2018.

The report says the centre of excellence will provide “an opportunity to achieve improved bushfire risk management outcomes for Western Australia”.

“Opportunities for locally-delivered training for local people, including volunteers, state and local government employees and Aboriginal Ranger Trainees are being explored through DFES and the Bushfire Centre of Excellence,” the report continues.

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Hotel hits the spot

A HOTEL designed to the specifications of Hilton’s Garden Inn brand has been unanimously approved for a block owned by Albany business identity Paul Lionetti across the street from his Due South tavern.

In October, it was revealed here that an application for the $17.2 million hotel’s approval had been lodged, with Mayor Dennis Wellington saying Mr Lionetti wanted the inn built by Easter 2020 (‘Marina hotel ‘by 2020’’, 11 October).

On Monday, Chair of the Southern Joint Development Assessment Panel, Gene Koltasz, told The Weekender his committee had just approved the 108-room hotel.

“It was unanimously approved today that the conditions, as recommended, be adopted,” he said.

“The Council and the developer spent a lot of time working through the application and the outcome was one which was considered to be appropriate for the site and addressed a number of the concerns that people and organisations that made submissions on it had raised.”

Urban planner Neil Smithson, beaten by Mr Wellington in a two-horse race at the 2015 Albany mayoral election, was at the panel meeting in Perth.

“I think it was an excellent outcome,” Mr Smithson said.

“Basically, result is an excellent decision by the group and that’s the way the presiding member ran it.

“I think he was always looking for a unanimous decision.”

Mr Smithson said there was a “lot of good discussion”, with construction management, dust abatement and landscape management plans put on the table on the meeting.

If built by Easter 2020, the five-floor hotel will be Albany’s first international inn since The Esplanade was demolished at Middleton Beach in 2007.

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Jamaica jobs

COFFEE giant Jamaica Blue is seeking a franchisee for a cafe that could employ 20 people in Albany.

The Weekender has learned that an 87sqm Jamaica Blue cafe with its own seating area is advertised for sale in the Albany Plaza Shopping Centre at the main centre entrance from the car park, facing Coles.

But New South Wales and Queensland Foodco Group regional leasing manager Greg Tiddy said “nothing has been finalised” yet about a possible location.

“We are negotiating with lessors on a number of potential site opportunities,” he told The Weekender.

“But Albany is on our radar.”

Mr Tiddy said potential franchisees did not need to do anything prior to applying, as a “detailed process” would follow an application.

He said the investment necessary for a franchisee is not known while location negotiation is ongoing, but that a cafe could create many jobs.

“The cafe could potentially employ 15 to 20 staff,” Mr Tiddy said.

“This would be a mix of full-time and part-time positions.”


Photo: illustrative only. Courtesy Jamaica Blue.

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Heat on fire report

SOUTH West Liberal MLC Steve Thomas has described the report into the maelstrom of fires across the South West Land Division eight months ago as “underwhelming”.

In his assessment of the 64-page report prepared by the Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM), Dr Thomas also questioned the “bureaucratic blockage” that prevented improvements suggested by the report from being made earlier.

The report was published online on December 21 with an 18-page review from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

The documents identified a lack of landowner fire risk appreciation, inadequate firefighting resources, pockets of old fuel and “no one source of truth” of information as some of the points of contention during the fire event.

The documents specifically discussed the Chester Moonah, Torndirrup, Stirling Range, Peaceful Bay, Redmond and Napier bushfires that occurred across May 23, 24 and 25.

Dr Thomas said the nature of the report might have been the reason it was released in the lead up to Christmas.

“While the report correctly identifies the critical issues – those of inadequate communication between DFES, DPaW, local government and local volunteers; the need for additional fuel reduction burning; and better coordination of training between the various stakeholders – none of these issues are new,” he said.

“The report calls for improvement in all these things, but is stunningly silent on why none of this has already been done.

“The question remains as to why all of these things weren’t done already, and what bureaucratic blockage has been preventing this.”

The OBRM report review team, consisting of OBRM director Tim McNaught, Sandalwest director Kevin Haylock and fire and land management consultant Roger Armstrong, identified a total of 16 “opportunities for improvement”.

Top of the list was for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, via the State Bushfire Advisory Council, to develop a strategy to support the reduction of fuel on land.

The report stated a trend of fire managers “abandoning” landscape scale risk treatments in favour of relatively small fuel-reduced zones around assets.

“The option of applying less fire into the landscape and being more heavily reliant on suppression was without exception seen as foolhardy and unreasonably costly by contributors to this review,” the report reads.

“Of all the fuel management options available, only planned burning (in conjunction with vegetation modification where appropriate) is cost effective at a landscape scale appropriate for the South West of WA context.”

Absentee landowners and bushfire risk appreciation were also discussed in the report, as the Redmond and Napier fires were the result of escaped private burns and destroyed more than 2000 hectares of land.

Emergency services minister Francis Logan said trying to reduce the threat of bushfire was not an easy task, but a necessary one.

“I would encourage private landowners to keep up their mitigation efforts, but to be extra vigilant when conducting private burns and consider whether other methods may be an alternative,” he said.

“If burning is necessary, landowners must fully appreciate the local fire conditions, have the necessary equipment in place, heed the warnings and advice of their local governments and notify them of their burn.”

Resourcing was also suggested as an opportunity for improvement, as contributors to the review said current resources limited their ability to safely achieve the required fuel reduction burn program.

“In retrospect, the review acknowledged that greater resourcing would have enabled the completion of the edging of the fire prior to deterioration of the weather,” the report says, regarding the 18,000-hectare Stirling Range bushfire that escaped control.

“This would have reduced the likelihood of an escape.”

The DBCA’s own review into the Stirling Range fire said it was “evident that prescribed burning has long been conducted in the Albany District in a manner quite different to the adjoining forest regions, using primarily local resources.”

It also stated the prescribed burn, which was meant to burn 3400 hectares, was conducted by hand – an unusual method for the area’s size.

“In other regions, aerial ignition is likely to be used for burns of this type and size and it is highly recommended for the future conduct of such burns in the Stirling Range,” the DBCA review says.

“It would be preferable for the conduct of large, complex and remote burns to have sufficient resources to be able to continue operations when necessary while standing down some personnel to ensure their availability to return to work the next day.”

The OBRM report stated contributors to the review relied on multiple weather sites and teleconferences to make decisions, providing too much information to choose from.

“It was apparent that there was no one source of truth and an increasing volume of ‘information’ available to them,” the report states, regarding Community Emergency Services Managers’ decision making.

“This ‘volume’ has the disadvantage of swamping decision makers with detail rather than providing a concise level of meaningful information with a high degree of confidence to inform their decisions.

“As more organisations and contractors utilise fire to manage fuel on the land, providing access to meaningful information that could assist in their management of fire related risk would be important.”

The full OBRM and DBCA reports can be viewed on the DFES website under the OBRM Publications section.

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Surf funds granted

A $400,000 grant for a new surf-club house and a $500,000 contribution for a public space upgrade have been tentatively approved by Denmark council but not before a long debate about toilets.

In August, The Weekender revealed that stunning plans for a new clubhouse at Ocean Beach had been published on the website of Denmark-based PTX Architects.

At a council meeting on December 18, all Denmark councillors except Rob Whooley approved in principle a $400,000 grant to be borrowed from the State Treasury.

A $500,000 contribution toward an upgrade of public areas around the club was also approved in principle.

But it was not plain surfing for the funding, with Councillor Jan Lewis noting planned ablution facilities were smaller than public toilets and showers at the current clubhouse.

“My issue is that the public realm part of the building has no public ablutions,” she said.

Club spokesman Wayne Winchester said that with modern design, including putting hand basins outside, the ablution blocks did not have to be as big.

“It’s a really exciting project,” he said.

“It wasn’t just dreamt up overnight.

“It leverages up $4.7 million in [planned] Federal and State funding.”

Mr Winchester said the project budget was flexible enough to address any concerns the Shire might have about bathrooms.

But Cr Rob Whooley, formerly chief Shire engineer, questioned whether the cost of providing sewerage, water and power had been factored in.

With the meeting’s quorum questioned after three councillors simultaneously departed for a loo break after a marathon public question period when one ratepayer told of tourists defecating in scrub near the Harding River, toilets were the hot topic of the night.

Peering into the 48-strong gallery, 18 of whom were wearing surf club attire, Cr Whooley predicted his vote would be unpopular.

“A $5 million [project] for [a] $400,000 outlay would be absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“[But] when something sounds too good to be perhaps it is.

“Two male and two female toilets available to the public … is completely nuts.”

He said the Shire had a history of budget blow-outs, and he wanted to ensure costs were contained.

Supporting the grants with speeches were club members Billy Collin (16) who said he’d been a Denmark clubbie all his life, and Jorja Williams (17).

“I have never seen a place with such good relations between a wide range of ages,” Jorja said of her beloved club.

She said “as much as we love our now vintage club[house]” it was now inadequate and a new one was needed.

Cr Ian Osborne said the business case for the clubhouse was very strong, and the project was still at conceptual stage.

“Why are we fiddling around [at this early stage] saying they need to put in another men’s toilet?” he posed.

Cr Kingsley Gibson said the business case put to councillors lacked “robustness” but the clubhouse would be an “iconic building and a great asset for the whole community, undeniably so”.

Cr Mark Allen said the project would be the most important piece of infrastructure he was likely to be involved with as a Denmark councillor.

Cr Roger Seeney said the clubhouse would have “knock-on effects” for Denmark’s builders, shopkeeps and innkeeps.

“I can see a million dollars going back into this community from this project alone,” he added.


Image: PTX Architects

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