Field Gnat Trip to Tiverton

During the Easter school holidays, the Woodleigh Field Gnats - a dedicated group of volunteer conservationists - visited Tiverton, a grazing property in Dundonnell, on the Victorian Volcanic Plains.

This unique property is the first regenerative agricultural operation in the world to combine sheep grazing with the preservation of threatened species. Here Eastern Barred Bandicoots and Eastern Quoll thrive alongside Merino sheep, in what is the largest feral-proof area in Victoria, with more than 1000 hectares behind a predator-proof fence. The diverse landscape also supports a variety of water birds such as Brolgas (which are vulnerable in Victoria) and the threatened Corangamite Skink. Since the property was established in 2011, the Field Gnats have helped in whatever way they can. Not having the opportunity to visit since 2018, the Field Gnats were extremely excited to return to Tiverton.

Only a small group of seven, made up of myself, Doc Simpson, Ms Taylor, Rani and Bec (Y10), Ava (Y11) and Milly (Y12), set off at 8:00am on Tuesday 18 April. Stopping in Inverleigh for morning tea, three and a half hours later we arrived at Tiverton to be met by Tim and his two dogs, Maya and Grace. Hungry after a long trip, we set to making sandwiches and wraps for lunch, as well as beginning to set up our bedding in the recently renovated woolshed. Once our bellies were full, we took a bumpy ride through the mud on the back of Tim’s old ute to the fence he needed help deconstructing. While it took a while to get the hang of, we completed it fairly quickly, before moving on to another section. After a long afternoon, we had completed twice as much as expected, so we headed back to camp to prepare for dinner.

After a delicious BBQ, we warmed ourselves by the bonfire that Tim had prepared in one of the nearby paddocks. Unfortunately, a short while later the rain hit, so we headed back inside to play a variety of card games, such as ‘UNO Flip’ and ‘Kabool’. As night fell, we all snuggled into our sleeping bags, keen to see what tomorrow would bring.

The next morning, we all woke from a hard night. The loud clicking and flashing lights from Tim’s battery system had kept most of us up, so we were all extremely tired. After some breakfast, we all seemed to have perked up a bit, ready to help deconstruct a long stretch of old barbed wire fence on the property. Once again, we surprised ourselves completing much more deconstruction than would ever have been expected of such a small group.

Lunch was leftovers from last night’s dinner, a scrumptious array of sausages, burgers, and salad ingredients. We then set to helping out in the remnant grassland area, by weeding and cutting down invasive species that had popped up. While it was tiring, it was a great opportunity to explore the property, particularly the wetlands area, which we hadn’t had the opportunity to see much of so far.

Once we arrived back at the woolshed, we started making dinner. Cooking pasta on a BBQ was a difficult business, but we persisted at it, and it ended up tasting brilliant! After wiping up the last of the sauce with bread, Milly treated us to a choc raspberry slice that she had made. We then headed to a huge bonfire, created by Tim, that warmed us all up nicely. While a few of us stayed to chat by the fire, others went frog hunting, or watched the stars while we lay on the rocks. The distinct emu shape of the Milky Way was as clear as ever, and remarkable constellations could be observed above. As the temperature dropped, we came together by the blazing fire. Due to our unexpected small numbers, Tim offered us the cabin to sleep in, so we could have a better sleep without the sound and light from the battery. Once we had all clambered in, we fell into a much-needed deep sleep.

The next morning, we woke early, and headed back to the woolshed to begin packing up and to have some breakfast. We were all very happy to report that we had slept well, without any disturbance. We took a quick visit to the remains of last night’s bonfire, collecting dry vegetation, to get it burning once again. We then spent the morning helping deconstruct one of the fence lines, weeding out invasive species to make room for the trees we planted later. After a productive final morning at Tiverton, we had some lunch and loaded our bags into the trailer, before filing onto the bus. We made the most of our remaining time together, playing road-trip games such as ‘Ping, Pong’, where you have to try to spot traditional windmills, and white horses, and be the first to yell ‘Ping!’ or ‘Pong!’, depending on what you’ve spotted. Two hours later we arrived at Queenscliff, where we jumped on the ferry for a change of scenery. An eventful ride home, we spotted a dolphin and a seal in the distance, as well as sharing the ferry with a pyrotechnics crew who were setting up a fireworks display. When we arrived in Sorrento, we hopped back onto the bus before arriving back at school half an hour later. While we were sad that our time at Tiverton had come to an end, we were proud of all the work that we had achieved.

Thank you to Doc Simpson and Ms Taylor for organising this trip, as well as my fellow Field Gnats, for making this such an enjoyable experience! We can’t wait to return to Tiverton in September!!!

Year 8