By Mike Purtell, a founder member of the bushcare group
At the 2019 Blue Mountains Bushcare Picnic the Deanei
Reserve Bushcare Group received its well-deserved 25 Year Certificate for bushcare
in Springwood’s Deanei Reserve.
What an achievement! Congratulations to the many people involved at different times in different involvements throughout this quarter-century. Also, a huge thank you to the Blue Mountains City Council for excellent management of the reserves and parklands over such a long and stable period of time.
Way back in 1993 Virginia Bear was the sole Bushland Manager
for the whole local government area of the Blue Mountains. Virginia was keen to
make her mark and immediately embarked on applying for an $80,000 Environmental
Trust Grant for the Deanei Reserve and Else Mitchell Park. The Deanei Reserve
was recognised as an important ecological community for many years, while Else
Mitchell Park was a smaller area with similar ecology.
The Grant was approved and so began the first major
Environment Grant to be served in the Mountains: $20,000 to be allocated for
Management Plans for the reserves and a $60,000 Bush Regeneration Contract. Rob
Agars and myself were asked to become involved in the application of the grant
as community representatives. This eventually led to the formation of a Deanei
Reserve Bushcare Group in 1994.
The contract for Management Plans was awarded to Roger
Lembit and the Bush Regeneration Contract was awarded to the National Trust
over a period of five years. Unbeknown to us, this created pressure on Council
to employ staff to service the grant.
At the same time, bush regeneration groups were starting up
throughout the Mountains, and the Deanei Reserve Bushcare Group and Else
Mitchell Park Bushcare Group were formed. Both celebrate 25 years in continual
The Genesis of Regen
The awarding of the Environmental Trust Grant was an
important catalyst in the creation of a whole new bush regeneration industry in
the Blue Mountains. To service this need, Blue Mountains TAFE initiated a Bush
Regeneration course, now called Land Management.
With the formation of Bushcare Groups in the Mountains,
Council needed to employ more staff to manage these groups. The Environment
section in Council went from the employment of a sole manager to a team of
Environment Land Managers.
None of us at the time could have envisaged such a wonderful
development. At the same time, the Blue Mountains Bushcare Network was formed
to lobby Council and community on the importance of continued weed management
in the Local Government area.
Thousands of Years of History
The Deanei Reserve has an interesting history. We know that
the Darug aboriginal tribes managed this area so well and co-existed with these
beautiful forests for many thousands of years. Indeed, evidence has been found
of occupation in one of the large overhangs within the Reserve. The aboriginal
certainly used Fitzgeralds Creek as an access route and probably what is now
Hawkesbury Road. It is thought that these Blue Gum forests would have been
utilised as hunting grounds because of the high mammal populations that existed
at the time. Sadly, in the 1880s shooting parties coming up from Sydney wiped out
many of these native mammal populations.
It is thought that the Reserve’s location of Shalecap and Shale
Sandstone Forest gave native mammals a large variety of food in which they were
able to support large populations.
It seems that the land was part of the original land grant
handed out to the explorer Lawson. This large land grant was then divided up and
it seems the land was used for farming, but also, apparently, a portable saw
mill was set up to saw up the gums.
The saw mill doesn’t seem to have been a success, and the
land then seems to have become vacant and weeds gradually took hold. Among the
many weeds were Small and Large Leaved Privet, Lantana and African Boxthorn. These
had become so dominant that it was difficult to see the landform in the
Saving the Land
By 1978 the land was privately owned (freehold title) and
plans were drawn up to place apartments on the land. However, the locals along
Hawkesbury Rd were up in arms that such wonderful large gums were to be trashed
The locals must have had powerful contacts for requests were
made to the then NSW Labour Government that the land be saved from development.
The NSW Attorney General Mr Paul Landa flew up by helicopter and declared the
land to be a Reserve and thus the development was stopped – developers must surely
have been compensated.
This is truly amazing as we could not imagine it happening
today. Yet nothing was done with the land and it quickly became overgrown with
In the 1960s sewer mains were laid through the Reserve and
this was most disruptive to the forest, with drilling and blasting into rock to
create the sewer lines with regular manholes. Many trees have been lost along
this sewer route due to dieback or alteration to their roots from trenching.
These sewer lines are now very old and a new aerial sewer pipe was installed in
the lower portion of the Reserve to shorten distance of the sewer. However, the
old manholes still need to be gas proofed as sewer gases still exist at certain
In 1996 the National Trust Bush Regeneration Team quickly
established themselves. The Management Plan allowed for a strategic plan of
weed removal to be put in place and weed clearance was carried out on a large
scale. Large trees were drilled and poisoned but small privets were removed by
hand. Possum dreys were common and bush regenerators worked around these trees,
but sadly the many possum dreys disappeared and have not yet returned.
Roger Lembit completed the Management Plan and a Native
Plant List was compiled with a total of more than 140 native plant species. We
quickly learnt that the Reserve was positioned on Blue Mountains Shalecap, essentially
a clay-based ecology (10%), as opposed to the sandstone ecologies (90%) of most
of the Blue Mountains. Clay-based communities are the first to degrade with
weed invasion, but if they are worked then they will quickly rebound with the
This was certainly true for the Deanei Reserve. The first
rains saw a large area of native plant regrowth reestablish, and over the years
of the contract the forest ecology firmly reestablished itself, with the weeds slowly
The scale of the privet infestation was so large that locals
living around the Reserve said that we would never get on top of the massive
area of weeds. However, today it is largely back to pristine stable forest and
only the edges pose a continual threat. Bush regeneration is indeed a worthy
There have been some interesting incidents over the years. In
the Lawson Road industrial precinct a plumber placed an eel down a stormwater
drain only to unblock years of backed up old motor oil in a mechanic’s property
in Lawson Rd. This released huge volumes of trapped motor oil which flowed
straight into the creek within the Reserve.
Luckily, a bush regen team saw the event happen and called
the EPA who then employed this team to remove and clean up the incident.
Urban Runoff Programme
In the mid-1990s NSW Minister for the Environment Bob Debus
announced the Urban Runoff Programme – a $5 million strategy to clean up the
mountain’s catchment – to improve water quality and remove invasive weeds in
priority catchments. The Deanei Reserve and Else Mitchell Bushcare Groups made
applications to request that the Fitzgeralds Creek and Springwood Creek be
nominated as priority catchments. We were successful to get both catchments
nominated as priority catchments, which meant that further environment
strategies and finance would be spent in both the Deanei Reserve and Else
This large state-based Urban Runoff Programme was overseen by
the State Public Works. However, the Public Works had never initiated any bush
regeneration contracts in the state and were reluctant to do so.
Eric Mahony from Council and Sue Morrison from National
Parks were co-opted to compile bush regeneration contracts. This happened at
lightning speed with the contracts served in a matter of weeks. These two
people were just amazing at getting these bush regen contracts out so
Large drainage works and bush regeneration contracts were
written and committees established to implement these large-scale environmental
works. The three-year electoral cycle is always a problem in pushing works too
Large silt traps were installed at Deanei and Else Mitchell,
and a $1 million sediment basin implemented at Fairy Dell in Springwood, and
bush regeneration contracts commenced. Again, Blue Mountain TAFE would need to
train the large workforce required to service these works. The Council’s
environment department expanded to service all these works.
These large silt traps have been quickly superseded by new
sand/rock/vegetated channels to act as stormwater filter systems that are much
more effective in cleansing stormwater before it enters into the catchment. At
the time, however, the Public Works could only offer silt traps that don’t
Council has been pioneering in trying out water cleansing of
stormwater and we now look forward to one of these effective systems being placed to capture stormwater
coming from the highway, rail line, and Springwood Town Centre ino the Reserve.
Defining the Shalecap Community
At the time the Local Environment Plan (LEP) was being
revised so a review of native plant communities was required in around 1998.
Ecologist Steve Douglas won the contract and immediately embarked on a radical
revision of these native plant communities. Steve made contact with the Deanei
Reserve Bushcare Group, stating that he believed a new plant community could be
defined as Blue Mountains Shalecap. The Blue Mountains Conservation Society was
involved and a successful submission was made to the NSW Scientific Committee
to have the Blue Mountains Shalecap ecological community listed as threatened
and endangered: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspeciesapp/profile.aspx?id=10095
This listing was successful and a second community was
nominated – the Sun Vally Cabbage Tree ecological community – which was also
successful. This meant that the Deanei Reserve now contained a threatened and
endangered ecological community, which made it one of the priority ecological communities
to be protected in the LGA, which led to many more funding rounds. The Blue
Mountains Council has shown excellent support for our efforts over many years.
In 2001 the Deanei Reserve was affected by a bushfire
burning back against the wind. It eventually burnt out 90% of the Reserve with
only the area above the top track not being burnt. The RFS were getting ready
to carry out a back burn but were urgently called out to Winmalee to fight
another serious fire. Locals took seven links of garden hose and put the fire
out. The fire effectively killed off the
many potostrum undulatum which were becoming dominant in the mid storey, and
many very old trees were also lost.
Recently a proposal to provide a shorter road access from
the Highway to Winmalee was proposed and approved by Council. This would have
been devastating for the Reserve, as it would have been surrounded by busy
roads and the Blue Mountains Shalecap community would have become isolated from
the larger bushland area of the Lower Mountains. Luckily, it proved far too
expensive ($15 million) and the state government wouldn’t support the
initiative. The proposal was dropped which was great for the future of the Reserve
as it would have become cut off from bushland further down the creek.
Still, the Reserve sadly is dominated by noise from the Great
Western Highway and the peace and quiet of the forest occurs much further into
the Reserve. The Fitzgeralds Creek has its origins in the Deanei Reserve.
Growing the Deanei
The Deanei Bushcare Group has a long history of collecting Eucalyptus
deanei seeds and propagating for planting out. However, we lost many trees due
to poor root development. Glenn Parry suggested potting up into larger pots so
the trees could develop a much larger root base, and this has led to many more
trees surviving in the wild.
However it seems that the swamp wallabies – there are many
wallaby tracks visible within the Reserve – love to eat the fresh young leaves
and will strip a sapling very quickly. We have had to place tree guards to help
young trees grow to be mature.
We have also improved our watering regimes to help in the
survival of these newly planted trees.
Nuns and Convicts?
The Deanei Reserve is an interesting site for many reasons.
It seems the area was once part of an old convent (Sisters of St Joseph) that
still exists in Railway Parade. The land extended into what is now the Deanei
Reserve but when the rail and highway went in the land was cut in half.
Many of us have wondered why three dams have existed on the
site, though only one now holds water. These dams are stone-lined around the
edges, suggesting perhaps a pool for the locals. Megan Birmingham, the bush
regen Site Foreperson now living in Nowra, once travelled to north Sydney and
discovered that indeed this land was once owned by the nuns. So perhaps the
nuns used the dams for swimming.
It is interesting to an observer today that not much water
at all flows down this part of the Fitzgeralds Creek. So why place dams on the
creek? Springwood was once known for its springs. It exists on shalecap which
is made up of thin layers of shale and clay, and these clay bands act as seals
that prevent groundwater from soaking in. When the water hits these clay bands
it travels, so a few weeks of soaking rain can cause “springs” to flow. This
could have meant that Fitzgeralds Creek may have had a continuous flow while
the springs were running.
But the development of the railway and now the highway has
meant that the shalecap formation has been cut through by excavating for rail and
road, thus cutting through this shalecap and perhaps stopping the flow of
springs into the creek. The bowling club today still has a bore into these
underground water supplies.
There are numerous stone-lined tracks in the Reserve. What
are the origins of these tracks and what were they used for? Were the roads made
by convicts? When were the dams constructed? They are cut stone – were they
made by our first convicts?
There are stone overhangs where Roger Lembit found stone
chips, presumably from aboriginal tool-making in these overhangs.
The Bell Miners
There is a large population of Bell Miner birds in the
Reserve. However, it is thought that these birds farm the lerps that grow in
the Blue Gum forests. These are thought to cause the trees to become stressed
and many trees have died due to dieback. We look forward to a possible study
into the forest’s Bell Miner population; they create a wonderful and poetic
ambience because of their high-pitched whistle.
The Deanei Reserve Bushcare Group has been involved with the
Land Manager Blue Mountains City Council in numerous activities to raise
awarenesss of the importance of the Reserve. This has included numerous Open
Days, bird watching, fauna and flora surveys, school planting days, and a children’s
map of the Reserve.
We have also taken part in the Bushcare Conference in which
the Reserve hosted a bird survey. 37 bird species sighted in two hours. Just of
late, a local preschool has been making use of the Reserve for bush kinder, where
preschool children construct a Gunya bush shelter. This can be seen in the
Over the 25 years we have achieved a lot and continue to
improve the ecology of the Blue Mountains Shalecap/Turpentine Ironbark Forest.
Our Bushcare Group continues to go from strength to strength with new members joining the group.
By Mike Purtell, founding member of the Deanei Reserve Bushcare Group established in 1994
An enthusiastic team got stuck into planting young Deanei trees on the south side of the reserve. Grown and nurtured by Mike at home, the trees were given the best chance of survival, with deep holes, wallaby guards, and water.
A fantastic effort and a great morning’s work by all involved, with a special welcome to Bree and Amy for their first session.
For the last work session of the year, Monica led the group on a walk-around of the reserve.
The team noted some interesting plants, as well as a glimpse of a fast-moving swamp wallaby.
One of the issues seen was a drainage problem by the highway, with storm overflows having an obvious impact on the landscape. On the other hand, the dam was full and many of the deanei plantings were healthy.
The team capped off a great year with a generous Christmas lunch.
Colour in Deanei Forest: Hyacinth Orchid (Dipodium roseum)
Rasp Fern (Doodia aspera)
A walk in the forest… …followed by a Christmas feast.