Six Foot Track heritage bulldozed

Six Foot Track being bulldozed into a two-laned RFS Fire Trail
(Photo by Daniel Kelton, 20120802)

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News is filtering out that a large section of the iconic Six Foot Track has been bulldozed and vast swathes of forest destroyed.

The Six Foot Track starts from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney near the famous Explorers’ Marked Tree on the Great Western Highway near Katoomba and traces through wild gorges, forests and over ridges to the famous Jenolan Caves, some 42km to the south-west.

‘The Track descends via Nellies Glen to the Coxs River and then climbs Blacks Range before descending again to the Jenolan River by way of Binomea Ridge.  In traversing The Track walkers cross a number of distinct cultural and physical landscapes.

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[Source:  ^http://www.adventure.com.au/SixFootTrack.asp]

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William Cooper was instructed in 1884 to undertake a survey of a bridle track between Katoomba and Jenolan Caves.  Cooper also supervised the construction of a track which had a width of six feet following approval by the New South Wales Parliament.’     [Source: ‘Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan’, 1997, Foreword, prepared by Integrated Site Design Pty Ltd in association with Jim Smith for the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust].

The 19th Century Heritage of the Six Foot Track
(An old photo at the information shelter at the start of The Track)

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Aug 2012:   Track Bulldozed

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Two weeks ago, on Thursday 2nd August 2012, an Outdoor Recreation Lecturer leading a group of students along the Six Foot Track happened across a crew of construction workers driving bulldozers and in the process of destroying the Six Foot Track.     The section of the track affected is situated between Allum Creek and the Black Range Campsite.

When challenged, the construction workers said that the work had been approved by Oberon Council and Kanangra Boyd National Parks Office.   They were calling it “road maintenance“.

So much for the Six Foot Track and its 19th Century heritage.  It is now a six metre wide road so that fire trucks can hoon along ringing their fire bells in the middle of the forest.  In some places the Track has been bulldozed it to 30 metres wide!

Six Foot Track bulldozed beyond recognition
(Photo by Daniel Kelton, 20120802)

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Daniel Kelton, an Outdoor Recreation Lecturer at TAFE and a Bush Walking Guide for a regional commercial company leads regular walks along the Six Foot Track more than twenty times a year.

“I saw numerous earth moving machines blocking the iconic track, doubling the width of the original fire trail in places, I saw many old growth trees bulldozed and pushed into the bush in piles, I saw water drains driven excessively into the vegetation on each side of the track.  I witnessed stunned native birds walking amongst the newly felled trees.  The impact is over a 15km section of the 6ft Track and has impacted up to 30 metres each side of the original fire trail”, Mr Kelton said.

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Initial investigation has revealed that the earth works were given the go ahead by Oberon Council Engineering Service’s works manager, Ian Tucker, and the Oberon Area Manager with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Kim De Govrik, apparently without any environmental, hydrological, or cultural heritage assessments or supervision.

After initial complaints being made to National Parks and Wildlife Service office and Oberon Shire Council from Friday 27th July, road works where substantially decreased, yet Aboriginal sites were damaged after these concerns where raised.

NPWS Oberon Area Manager, Kim De Govrik, in mock bandage leading a protest rally last June
[Source: Western Advocate newspaper, Photo by Chris Seabrook,
^http://www.westernadvocate.com.au/story/96608/riled-rangers-target-national-park-hunts/]

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Wanton Destruction of Habitat and Cultural Sites

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Initial onsite investigation has confirmed the following damage caused along the Six Foot Track:

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  1. Aboriginal Sites have been destroyed at Mini Mini Saddle, Kyangatha Station and Alum Creek along the Track
  2. Road works have been bulldozed to within less than a metre of watercourses along Little River  (large piles of dirt waiting to be washed into the river in the next rain)
  3. Counted 213 mature native trees pushed over with a 300 mm or more Diameter at Breast Height (DBH)
  4. At least 23 hollow forming (habitat) trees pushed over
  5. Heritage listed fence post and gate from the old Kyangatha Station knocked down and has disappeared.
  6. The Six Foot Track has been widened, up to double its original width, “For fire trucks to pass” as explained by NPWS Oberon Office
  7. Water mitre drains have been pushed into the bush up to 50 metres in length
  8. Considerable destruction of native vegetation and top soil removal through wetland areas, which may fall under the ecosystem classification of a Montane Peatlands (Temperate Highland Swamps on Sandstone?)
  9. Water drains have been created in inappropriate or unnecessary locations
  10. Piles of soil have been graded into Spring Gully at Grid Reference 2234450E 62603500N, with no silt trap to prevent siltation of the watercourse
  11. Vast areas of exposed soil left will inevitably attract weeds
  12. Large amounts of non-road or safety related impact on vegetation stretching up 50 square in some areas.
  13. There appears to have been no consultation with land owners, or the Aboriginal Land Council, or Gundungurra people of the region
  14. The damage will cause serious adverse impact on tourism appeal of The Six Foot Track
  15. Since the Six Foot Track is now no longer a walking track, vehicles will use it and present a hazard to bush walkers walking along the new road.

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The Aboriginal site destruction and massive Native Flora impact was which committed by a contract road works gang, who where engaged to undertake the works without any impact statements, by Ian Tucker of Oberon Shire Council.   The destruction has occurred between Grid Reference 2236590E 6262500N at old Kayangatha Station Ruins and Grid Reference 2269000E 6260600N at the edge of the Pine Forest.

Aboriginal Sites that have been destroyed by machinery are at the following grid references:

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  • Kyangatha Station: 2236590E 6262500N on the right edge of the road 50m North of the cattle grid.  Two chert flakes, and one quartz flake
  • Mini Mini Saddle: 2235850E  6261700N on the flat cleared ground opposite the un-used cattle grid.  Six chert flakes, a direct impact break in one of the flakes from a heavy machine rolling over it
  • Alum Creek: 2234900E 6260500N on the Little River side of the road opposite Tree of Heaven cluster.  One white chert flake.

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All sites are comprised of small chert and quartz flake material of varying colours and sizes.  The size of the materials vary from 10mm to 50mm.  I was led to believe that the site in which heavy rolling machines have rolled over, and broken some of the chert flake pieces, at Mini Mini Saddle was a pre-recorded camp site.  This directly breaches Section 90 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, whether the sites where identified prior to the works or not.

In an undated Archaeological assessment of the Six Foot Track by Hooper and Marloo, which ran numerous predicted modelling of Archaeological significant areas it was interesting to note that the Black Range was mentioned as a possible route to the West from the Megalong and Kanimbla Valleys.  The significance of the ridge as a travel path remained un-assessed, although it was noted as a highly likely area for Aboriginal sites.    It is also interesting to note that the only two site areas in the West of the Six foot track that where impacted by the recent works, were listed in the article.

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Why?

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The unsupervised construction workers called it “routine maintenance”.   Crap!  Clearly, this is illegal land use development.  It is wanton irreverible vandalism of important New South Wales natural and cultural heritage.

Oberon Man?
 

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It appears the Oberon Council was in a hurry to spend “a big payout from flood relief money” according to one of the construction workers, and that they fast tracked the earth works.  They told National Parks and the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust that the works where only minor and would fall under the banner of “routine maintenance“.

But how can flood relief money be connected to converting The Six Foot Track into a two-laned fire trail?  Has the funding been misappropriated by Oberon Council?

In the past two weeks, many of the so called ‘improvement areas’ have subsequently
returned to their original boggy state even after little to no rain.
This begs the question:   Why the works where carried out in the first place?

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National Parks seem to have agreed with the works, so that they can now drive two fire trucks along it – hooning along a nice wide speedway two abreast.

You reckon?

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“I feel very hurt, and disheartened by the damage to the Track, and I have many unanswered questions”, says Mr Kelton:

  • ‘How can Oberon Council claim that the large amount of impact was only routine maintenance?’
  • ‘Why where local Aboriginal Land Council Members not consulted about the impact on potential sites?’
  • ‘Why was there no member from National Parks or Aboriginal Lands Council on the ground during the works to assess (supervise) damage?’
  • ‘Why where local businesses and tour operators not consulted or informed?’
  • ‘Why does National Parks need to drive two fire trucks along the track, as there are no residential properties along the Black Range Road, and fire trucks could not pass each other on any of the long hill sections anyway?’
  • ‘Would a more thoughtful, ongoing  fire control regimes negate the necessity for emergency fire truck access?’
  • ‘Was the impact to local tourism even considered?’
  • ‘What will be the safety and aesthetic impact of the widened road for bushwalkers, who share the track?’

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Aboriginal rock implements found along the bulldozed section of the Six Foot Track
 Aboriginal cultural sites have been reportedly destroyed
at Mini Mini Saddle, Kyangatha Station and Alum Creek.
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Oberon Man’s Day Off?

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History of Government Vandalism to Six Foot Track

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Destruction to The Six Foot Track is not new.  Back in June 2005, the Blue Mountains Bushfire Co-ordination Committee, under the chairmanship of Blue Mountains Councillor Chris Van Der Kley, subcontracted a similar bulldozing of  the Nellies Glen section of the Six Foot Track.  Again the earth works were unsupervised.  Again the earth works caused considerable ecological and riparian damage and again they involved reckless bulldozing through documented Aboriginal sites and cultural heritage – as in the case now, numerous ancient stone implements were discovered disturbed by the trail making works.

In August 2005, recent bulldozing of the Six Foot Track was inspected
by local Indigenous people and members of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society
(Photo by Liz Mitchell, 20050814)

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Subsequent remediation of the works involved a number of stakeholder meetings and the responsibility for environmental remediation was passed from the BM Bushfire Co-ordination Committee to the Blue Mountains Council to fix.   The earth works had resulted in significant disturbance of the road verge in several sections along the road.  Ultimately the remediation was carried out by a soil remediation consultant through the New South Wales Department of Lands Soil Conservation Service costing $27,000.

The Soil Conservation Service inspected the damage and created a rehabilitation plan and specification for a section of Crown Road and Crown Reserve (Nellies Glen Road and along the Six Foot Track) where fire trail maintenance works were implemented by the Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service.

The majority of the mitre drains installed typically exceeded the recommended amount of fall.  Many of the mitre drains have been extended into drainage lines and were already actively eroding.   There were several sections of track where mitre drains had been installed and there was insufficient drainage / fall causing water to build up and likely to erode the table drains and / or mitre drains down slope.    Several small culverts had been graded over limiting their capacity.   There were several sections of track where water flow would likely increase due to the slope and lack of drainage measures.  Several creek crossings had been graded over, potentially exposing the creek bed to scour.  There was also noted significant clearing and disturbance along the length of the roadside/track.

All sound familiar?   Read More:   >’Report and Specification for Restoration Works on Nellies Glen Road and the Six Foot Track (Aug 2005)  (PDF, 730kb).

The Department of Lands Soil Conservation Service is the New South Wales Government agency to which the custodial Six Foot Track Heritage Trust reports.

Back in 2005, a local Blue Mountains resident, Liz Mitchell, reported her similar shock discovery of recent bulldozing along the Nellies Glen section of The Six Foot Track to this Editor.  At the time, this Editor was acting in the capacity as Honorary Director of Colong Foundation for Wilderness.   Subsequent investigations were initiated including a walk down The Track to inspect the damage first hand.  This Editor wrote the following two articles in the Local Blue Mountains Gazette in the weeks following:

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Letter #1:   ‘RFS Bulldozes Six Foot Track’

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This is what a bulldozer can do midweek when nobody’s watching.  (Ed: See photo above)

The Six Foot (Bridle) Track is a State icon, first negotiated on horseback in 1887 as a shortcut from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. The track is ‘protected’ under the Central Tablelands Heritage Trust by the Department of Land and Water Conservation.  The area holds important Aboriginal cultural value.  The Track passes through a significant River Oak Forest vegetation community and the topsoils along this river valley are particularly sandy, and once exposed are highly susceptible to erosion and weed infestation.

RFS choice of contractor has bulldozed the heritage Six Foot Track out to a 66 foot speedway and fresh mitre drains to channel the new runoff problem into Megalong Creek.  Once the rains come and the exposed topsoil’s washed into the creek, flat chance the bush’ll come back.

This is not fire trail ‘maintenance’. This is road making.  How ‘strategic’ anyway is a track deep in a bush valley over two kilometres from Katoomba?  Strategic for arsonists perhaps.  Anyone else would need development consent to bulldoze bush – and probably would be rightly rejected.  The privileged exemption status granted to the RFS is for times of emergency.  It is not a carte blanche for cowboy contractors.

This sad muddy bog left at the Corral Creek crossing is testament to the loose procedural controls of the bushfire committee.  Such actions cannot help the RFS’ otherwise high community standing.’

[Source:  ‘RFS Under Fire’ (title changed by newspaper),  Blue Mountains Gazette, 20050727, Read previous article on The Habitat Advocate: >’RFS Bulldozes Six Foot Track‘]

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Letter #2:    ‘Six Foot Track Abused’

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‘The June bulldozing or grading of the Six Foot Track near Megalong Creek was not only wrong, unnecessary and excessive; it breached the statutory provisions of the Crown Lands Act 1989 under Crown Lands (General Reserves) Bylaw 2001, which prescribes rules for the Track’s environmental protection, heritage and public recreation.

For instance, By-law 23 (2) (n) prohibits conduct in the reserve involving defacing or removing or disturbing any rock, sand, soil, stone or similar substance.  It appears no written consent was provided by the Trustee of the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust to the RFS.

The bulldozing also breached the Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan of 1997 (two volumes totalling 279 pages).  Section 2.1.1 prescribes the need for ecologically sustainable development principles to be followed for all management and planning associated with the Track.   Bulldozing or grading is not ecologically sustainable.  Policy Statement (7.2) (d) states that the physical elements of the Track including examples of the original alignment, works and sites of Aboriginal and European significance and remnant stands of vegetation should be retained and conserved wherever possible.  Numerous threatened species of flora and fauna are recorded as likely present in the Six Foot Tack environs and are listed in Volume I of the Plan.  The Plan also states at Section 8.2.5 that “Where development consent is not required an environmental impact statement should be undertaken where there is likely to be an adverse impact on the environment.”

The Plan proposes the following general management objectives for the Six Foot Track:

  1. To ensure that all management decisions fully recognise the considerable cultural and heritage significance of the Six Foot Track
  2.  To seek to recover and retain the Track’s original character by the preservation and restoration of identified sites and Track features.’
[Source:  ‘Six Foot Track abused’, by Editor, (letter to the editor), Blue Mountains Gazette, 20050831, p.12]

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Oberon Man after a big night out?

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Letter #3:   ‘RFS Strategy Misguided’

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It has been revealed that the June bulldozing or grading of the Six Foot Track near Megalong Creek was a mere drop in the RFS Bushfire Mitigation Programme.  Across the Blue Mountains, some twenty natural reserves including the Six Foot Track were targeted under the RFS 2004-05 fire trail strategy – Edith Falls, McMahons Point, Back Creek, Cripple Creek, plus some 95 hectares inside our National Park.  According to the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) website, $151,195 was granted to the RFS in the Blue Mountains alone, bulldozing 144 hectares of bush in the name of “addressing bushfire mitigation risk priorities.”

The Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan 1997, Vol II lists numerous vulnerable species of fauna recorded near Megalong Creek – the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Clyptorhynchus lathami), Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) and the Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus).  The RFS contractors wouldn’t have had a clue if they were within 100 metres or 1 metre of rare, vulnerable or threatened species.

The RFS is not exempt from destroying important ecological habitat; rather it is required to have regard to the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD). Yet the RFS policy on hazard reduction is woefully loose on the ‘Bushfire Co-ordinating Committee Policy 2/03’ on ESD – advocating protection of environmental values and ensuring that ESD commitments are adopted and adhered to by contractors.  Experience now confirms this policy is nothing more than ‘green-washing’.

The critical value of dedicated RFS volunteer fire-fighters fighting fires is without question. What deserves questioning is the unsustainable response of the RFS ‘old guard’ to fire trails and hazard reduction with token regard for sensitive habitat.  Repeated bushfire research confirms that bushfires are mostly now caused by arson and that the prevalence of property damage is a result of more residential communities encroaching upon bushland.’

[Source:  ‘RFS Strategy Misguided’ by Editor, (letter to the editor), Blue Mountains Gazette, 20051005]

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Recommendations:

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The management and conservation of The Six Foot Track  is guided by the aptly named ‘Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan‘ 1997, which comprises two volumes of a total of 279 pages.

However, on at least two occasions now this plan has been ignored and The Six Foot Track and its surrounding natural habitat and cultural heritage fabric have been extensively vandalised by government contractors.   This is unacceptable.  Enough is enough.  Some organisations are just either slow at learning, or more likely think they are above the law and somehow beyond community accountability.

We make the following recommendations:

  1. All earth works to be immediately halted along The Six Foot Track
  2. An immediate inspection of the damage to be made by Department of Lands and stakeholders including local indigenous peoples to be invited to inspect and comment
  3. Since the NPWS, the Oberon Council or the Trustee of The Six Foot Track can’t be trusted with environmental heritage, the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Barry O’Farrell, should order the Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Regulation to conduct a Parliamentary Enquiry with terms of reference to investigate:   (1) The extent of the damage to environmental and cultural values caused by the earth works, (2) The extent to which the damage has breached The Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan, (3)  The custodial failings by the trustee,  (4) Whether government flood relief funds have been misused by the Oberon Council, and (5)  Make findings and recommendations as to appropriate actions including environmental remediation and appropriate future governance of The Six Foot Track conservation, management and reporting framework and the delegation of its execution.
  4. Disciplinary action should be taken against NPWS Oberon Area Manager, Kim De Govrik; Oberon Council Engineering Service’s works manager, Ian Tucker; and against the Trustee of the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust,  Jon Guyver, or whoever is currently in the role.  If they are found responsible for the damage, then they should each be immediately dismissed from their positions and from their respective government employers.

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Is this the image of Oberon Tourism?

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4 Responses to “Six Foot Track heritage bulldozed”

  1. Jim Kelton says:

    Living up here in a montane forest along the western edge of another internationally iconic national park, Kosciuszko National Park, I have come to expect little else from successive incompetent, greedy and power-driven New South Wales (and Commonwealth) governments.

    They wont be happy until they complete their contribution to the rape of the planet.

    Well done Daniel in bringing this the latest of what appears a series of ongoing attrocious ‘management’ decisions in what were once OUR national parks, to our’s and the so called ‘responsible’ authority’s attention.

    Jim K

  2. Margaret Ning says:

    I’m amazed with what these authorities continue to be able to get away with. There is this immediate destruction, and, down the track, there is the destruction wrought by incoming weeds. When will they learn?

  3. Barbara Pelczynska says:

    Thanks for exposing the destruction done to the environment and contempt shown by the authorities to the Aboriginal and natural environmental heritage.
    Mr Kelton’s questions are very valid; unfortunately they have been asked and are being asked while the governments continue to ignore them because it obviously suits the vested interest in having the works done. I agree with The Habitat Advocate’s recommendations and the comments by Jim Kelton and Margaret Ning.

    “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment”- Ansel Adams

  4. Colin Walters says:

    Excellent article and research showing the continued contempt shown to our National Parks by Government Authorities and Utilities. It seems to me that NPWS is toothless to prevent Electricity companies, Rail Service contractors, and now the RFS from treating National Parks as their own personal domain answerable to no one. One upside is that the bulldozing might have cleaned up some of the garbage, toilet paper etc alongside the track left by thoughtless walkers.

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