Collateral Damage: How the Willow War Kills the Bushcraft Culture.

As a collaborative exercise in open Landcare discussion, Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare is keen to accept guest posts from contributors. See our collaborate—contribute page for suggested topic areas.

Below is a new post from Peter Marshall. Peter and Kate Marshall are Upper-Shoalhaven Landcare ‘Champions of the Catchment’. They live near Braidwood on their diverse forestry and truffle farm enterprise. For a more complete introduction check Peter’s earlier post.

Collateral Damage: How the Willow War Kills the Bushcraft Culture.

Thoughtful people mourn the loss of minority languages and cultures in Aboriginal lands, the Amazon and rainforests of Borneo. When the language that describes the ethnobotanicals of the rainforest dies, humanity loses that wisdom for ever. Yet the Willow War is complicit in the death of a culture right here at home. Wisdom we need more than ever.

Once upon a time Kurt Kremer got himself upset by the fiction of mass hybridisation. Mostly fantasy, as it turns out. Yet the simplistic call to war had appeal. Now it is near impossible to hold a sensible, nuanced discussion about Salix.

In not talking about Willows (and by association Poplars, then all exotics), one can’t talk about the whole Northern Hemisphere technology of woodland craft, based on deciduous tree resources. A cultural heritage some 10 thousand years in the making. As we can’t talk about its antecedents, we can’t talk about Australian bushcraft, with its European roots, and its role in creating contemporary landscape and economy. And so a whole field of human competency in working with nature is being extinguished. That language is no longer spoken and will soon be forgotten.

I am accustomed now to the blank look on the faces of NRMs when I attempt to talk the old tongue. Coppicing, pollarding, form pruning, daylighting, beating up. How old fashioned is this fellow?! The little wry looks of superiority. We modern managers don’t talk of those things. We have GIS.

As the language dies the capabilities die. We become more dependent on the hierarchy and its new language of acronyms, grant applications and big one-shot jobs.

An example from the discussion of the Inglis River, if I may:

The declaration of war on Willows has had terrible consequences at Flowerdale. Willow removal left a huge actively-eroding cliff, dropping hundreds of tons of soil into the sea. The original combatants have departed the battlefield, leaving the medics to treat the casualties. These medics are untrained in battle trauma and don’t have the words to diagnose, let alone prescribe treatment.


A snag is in the stream and felt to be in need of removal. Let us contrast two cultures, with two languages to define the treatment:

—Landcare Orthodoxy Language.

“Apply for a grant. Wait for ages (whilst erosion gets worse) for approval from funding authority. Bring in excavator, remove snag, dump, dry and burn.”

Resources required: Office staff, thousands of dollars, hundreds of litres of irreplaceable fossil fuel, site managers, volunteers, half a million dollars worth of Kato and truck.

Result: Snag is removed and turned into greenhouse gas. Volunteers have learnt they can’t do the work without approval and oversight from experts. Experts learned nothing. Budget exhausted.

—Old Time Woodcraft/Bushmans Language.

“Get the Trewhella or the Wallaby Jack out of the shed. Wheel it off the trailer. Wade out and put a choker and lead on the snag. Haul the snag off the river bed and monkey it to shore at the third quarter of the outside bend. Snub tight with a couple of Deadmen (or Duckbill, or Hulk if you have cash) back to solid ground. No unsafe metal sticking above ground please. Dog the snag down with live stakes and Queensland hitch. Wire in the black, not gal. Cut coppice/suckers and make up fascines. Using snag as a holdfast, revete them on upstream side. Make up tea tree brush-bundles and drive into crumbling bank behind fascines. Live stake and tie down everything. Build some cribs and plant species of your choice. Or don’t bother, because the ducks will do it for you.”

Resources required: old tools, old terms, second hand wire rope from the yacht club, sharp hand tools and a few volunteers.

Result: Snag is removed and turned into the strongpoint for a bioengineered self building sieve system which cleans the river, arrests erosion, captures carbon and makes habitat. Volunteers leave the job empowered and enthusiastic .

—River Rafters Language.

(Speak this dialect if the river is up.)

“Ferry glide out to the strainer. Tie on a bowline. Eddy it out with a triple Prussic Z-Drag.”

…..Then, proceed as with Old Time Talk.

Different Languages. Different capabilities.

One is Politically Correct. The other one works.

—Hierarchy Speak.

Yet another kind of dumbing down of language can be found in recent official releases. This one is an attack on contemporary science, not just quaint ancient practises. It is the redefinition of some very important modern terminology to make it more acceptable to the internal administrative ethos.

For instance the word ‘Bioengineering‘ has been redefined to mean ‘planting a few native seedlings’. Which is like throwing a shovel full of gravel into a pudddle on the road and calling yourself a “Civil Engineer”. Attempts to rectify factual errors become a lack of ‘courageous listening‘. Reasoned explanations of geomorphology and hydrodynamics become contentious talk.

—Real Bioengineering Language.
Specify 480 gsm 8 mm Window Raschel Knit Geotextile. Melamine and Azo free. Underlay to fascines. Fold over 2m on upstream side. Secure to batter with xxx type 12 guage black iron U pins at xx centres.

Next episode one hundred words which ‘professional’ NRMs don’t speak and techniques and capabilities they don’t have.


4 responses to “Collateral Damage: How the Willow War Kills the Bushcraft Culture.

  1. Yes, hybridization is one of the boogey-men of nativism here in the US as well, where it is often called “genetic pollution,” bringing to mind the eugenics that spawned invasion biology.

    Here is an article about a local manifestation of this particular obsession, which led to the destruction of a field of California poppies:

    That was a relatively benign episode. A much more harmful project that was motivated by an attempt to prevent hybridization is the spartina eradication project on the entire West Coast of the US: This project is decimating the population of an endangered shore bird.

    An even more extreme case is the demand of a few fanatical nativists that all of our London Plane Trees be destroyed. This is our predominant street tree throughout the country and its loss would be devastating to urban wildlife. It is in the genus sycamore which is a freely hybridizing genus and there is a California native in that genus. Therefore, extreme nativists believe the California native will be lost by hybridizing with the ubiquitous street trees. The native lives in riparian corridors, nowhere near the urban street tree. This is typical of the nightmares the nativists fabricate in their gloomy world.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  2. Lying down in front of the landcare bull dozers has a certain appeal to me…
    they are driven by such lovely people.
    I’m continue to be excited by the inclusive nature of this experiment in communication and action. I was offered a spot of my own to promote community energy; not renewables only, but have decided to crash this conversation instead Otherwise I could be ignored. so it will appear here when I work out how to attach something.

    Proliferation: diversity or just frustration bursting out. The senate is an example of those with the leavers being ignored instead of fought. But is it the optimum way to go. Does it pass the sustainability test.
    Talk about Killing me softly with your song. Where are you reactionary bureaucrats.

    • Yes Robbo, nativist bulldozer drivers are really the most caring people. They’re passionate individuals, very concerned about the environment, that’s why they took up driving bulldozers in the first place. You may scoff, but where would “the environment” be without bulldozers? Remember, they’re out there caring right now so that you can sleep safe from ‘The Wrong Forest!’

      Re the community energy discussion, I don’t think an attachment will work in the comments section. Send it to me and I’ll post it as its own thread. That way subscribers get a notification. Looking forward to it.


  3. Regarding bulldozer drivers.

    We know of at least three dozer / excavator operators in this district who are
    dead set artists .

    These blokes understand the landscape and how to bring it back to life. They get vast satisfaction in wetland restoration , gully repair , island building ( bloody foxes aren’t killing our wildfowl ) .

    Each has had plenty of practice on the Woodford Lagoon major billabong works . Such a pleasure to watch their different styles with a big digger . Astonishing what they can create in a day or two .

    An exceptional local resource . Call me if anyone needs a referral .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s