I’m still trying to unravel the story behind this tree’s …

Comment on Another river giant goes up in flames by Mike Gillam.

I’m still trying to unravel the story behind this tree’s ignition, probably from an existing basal hollow, but this is not always the case. Yesterday at sunset we returned to this magnificent tree and an old fire scar (dead timber on the north side of the tree) was alight. Fanned by a strong wind this decaying section would have burned through and formed a new entry hole to the centre of the tree, full of cavernous hollows.
The importance of returning to ‘extinguished’ tree fires regularly cannot be over emphasised. Tragically, when people actually see smoke/fire coming out of hollows in the canopy it is often too little, too late. The expense of calling out the fire brigade (who may be otherwise deployed) to deal with an obvious flare up combined with the massive risks of losing the tree, make close monitoring vital and cost effective by a country mile. Unfortunately, this ‘community’ monitoring is ad hoc at best.
Incidentally, the most recent flare up was caused by a patch of compost, very fine vegetative material mixed through soil that had continued to smoulder unseen 100 – 200 mm underground, shielded from the fire hoses. Hot dry winds on Saturday had dried out the ground surrounding the tree trunk and the smoulder zone had crept about 1.5 metres to ignite the tree trunk.
Bob Taylor’s right, couch grass Cynodon dactylon is responsible for a great many tree losses in desert rivers. In the past this was the main problem for fire managers working in the Todd River. Couch remains a great threat but for the time being buffel is ascendant. Land care volunteers give no quarter to either of these invasive grasses. The tree in question had couch grass on the underhanging banks but buffel, including numerous woody rhizomes just below the surface and mixed with leaf litter, formed the greater fuel load in this case. Occasionally, subsurface smoulders can travel many metres through termite hollowed tree roots and cause the ignition of nearby trees. Moreover, the ferocity of buffel fuelled fires often dries out and ignites the leafy Eucalypt regrowth, a stress response from one or more previous fires, that grows around the base of too many river giants. In combination these fuels can flare into the higher canopy where terminal hollows are also catching alight. Fuel reduction is key and our proactive efforts across the government and community sector are woefully inadequate, a dire situation that will be further highlighted in coming months.

Mike Gillam Also Commented

Another river giant goes up in flames
I know this tree very well. Full of hollows that provide vital shelter for owls and microbats it’s arguably the most important for 100 metres in any direction. We greatly appreciate the efforts and inventiveness of fire-fighters in saving this highly valuable giant. This river red gum was identified as very high risk and volunteers recently slashed the waist high buffel and raked away the deep accumulated leaf litter in an effort to improve its chances of survival.


Recent Comments by Mike Gillam

Raising the bar: the art of keeping your shop safe
Alan Thorpe is right, there is great energy in Alice Springs.
There’s also incredible generosity within our immediate neighbourhood. Once again we are indebted to Alan, Wayne McLean and Judy Barker for their engineering advice.
Anton of Anton’s Recycling was immediately fascinated and receptive of our plans for his old steel battery boxes.
We’re especially grateful to our boilermaker, David Boffie, for his trust in our plans and efforts to deliver the exacting craftsmanship we wanted.
It took us three months, working side by side, to refurbish the public face of 8 Hele, a rigorous process that certainly tested and strengthened friendships.
David’s capacity to weld materials collected over many years, often rusty, of almost any gauge and variable metallurgy, was truly remarkable.
Many claim the ability to weld but his skill enabled us to achieve a high degree of strength and safety in all the right places while retaining an overall sense of lightness and transparency.
Maria and I are blessed with a brilliant brains trust, too many tradesmen and women to mention here, who have supported us over the decades.


Senior Arrernte men take a stand: time to do something about young people causing trouble on their country
I applaud these men for their initiative and hope they’re soon joined by Arrernte women as they bring cultural respect and authority to the fore.
Theirs will be a HUGE undertaking and David Price is absolutely right when he says they will need ALL our support.
Most in our community will show these mentors and role models the respect they deserve.
Drawing on the past experience of night patrollers however, they will be confronted on occasion by hostility, belligerence and potentially violence.
It’s true, in many situations they will be much more effective than police. Culturally they are university trained but some will need more training to apply these skills in a challenging urban environment, where they will be exposed to all manner of human complexities, vulnerabilities and mental illness.
Existing service providers can’t relax and expect Arrernte men to make a substantial difference without support. They will need basic insurance cover because they’re taking personal risks for the benefit of this community.
To go the distance and be effective this initiative will need paid coordinators at the very least.
Like Tangentyere, that operates a service focused on town camps, they will need vehicles.
Finally, I do hope they can retain some elements of volunteerism in their ranks because those driven by a sense of cultural or civic duty can help to protect such endeavors from the corrosive potential that money alone can bring.
Equally, adequate funding is vital to protect organizations that rely on a largely volunteer base from member burn-out. Surely the NT Government, Alice Springs Town Council and Tangentyere are already stepping up.


Land rights campaigner, atomic blast survivor remembered
A remarkable blend of peace-maker and warrior; one who could recognize so many people in an instant by their voice, even after years of absence.
We will think of him often, especially when that old Ngintaka reveals himself. Condolences to family and friends.
Maria Giacon and Mike Gillam.


‘Inheritors of our ancestors’ voices’: writers festival opens
Considered theme and brilliant programme. Live streaming around the Territory. The event’s organisers have done us all proud.


Elders appeal to respect sacred sites
Smithy, you’ve introduced fresh innuendo and new gripes here including rubbish removal!
Seriously, give it a rest – I hardly think anyone is going to be concerned with you picking up rubbish unless your actions threaten a sacred site.
Now you add Aboriginal people “who want to be proactive in the management of their country”.
So, let’s assume it’s about your weed control on a sacred site without permission, a concern I’ve already responded to.
I’m sure your conscience is clear and you believe in the value of what you’re doing but Government agencies must be made accountable first and foremost.
I think sacred sites are far too important to be left in the hands of proactive individuals, all free agents and uncoordinated.
The system is far from perfect but try harder Smithy.
Ideally, work with Landcare and make a determined approach to AAPA and/or the agency responsible for land management at the site of your concern.
Write to the board if necessary and ask the director to waive any processing fees.
Hopefully you realise that AAPA are not land managers. In the town area most sacred sites are located within Lot numbers, each land parcel is managed by the Crown Lands section of DLPE or the Alice Springs Town Council.
On the subject of bush-fires I wrote a lengthy submission to the enquiry that followed the destructive fires in 2011.
Amongst other issues, I raised the need to engage Aboriginal people in fire management.
Clearly there is plenty of work to go round and also scope for volunteers working alongside bushfire specialists in what could be a community building exercise.
In Alice Springs, too many commentators indulge in blame-shifting and excuses while our magnificent natural monuments burn.
I’d like to see these individuals slashing grass around trees and showing us what they can do instead of moaning about the limitations apparently placed upon their boundless energy and brilliance.
The chronic lack of visitor accommodation gets a mention during election campaigns and is quickly forgotten, one of the many political and organisational failures that rebounds negatively on sacred sites.
Yes, visitors from bush communities do start many of the fires that damage sacred sites and contribute to the atmosphere of anarchy and inertia that harms this town.
The status quo is not working. We need leaders who are prepared to address the institutional and cultural blockages that are holding us back.


Be Sociable, Share!