Friends of Melaleuca WILDCARE

Working Bee at Melaleuca

Janet Fenton (Friends of Melaleuca)

March at Melaleuca is working bee time. From Friday 20 to Sat 28 the place was a hive of activity for FoM’s 7th working bee. Our Ranger Ian Marmion was whisked away on a helicopter to supervise the dismantling of MONA’s controversial installation near Forest Lag, so Brett Knowles (PWS Field Officer) conducted the safety briefing, dealt with the JRAs and discussed equipment set-up for roof work. We were very pleased to have three volunteers trained in safe work at heights this year, especially as Brett was required at the airstrip to unpack PWS heli-lifts. To make use of our all too short fine weather window, the first priority was painting corrugated iron roofs and walls of the two heritage Nissen sheds at the mine site (the red Engine shed and the green Loader shed), making use of the few fine days forecast. We were rewarded on the Saturday morning by a close view of a curious sea-eagle which swooped low over the red shed roof. Ian Ross, roped on the roof, evidently did not constitute breakfast, and the majestic bird perched in a tree nearby. Last year wet weather and lack of heights trained volunteers meant that we were unable to complete these painting jobs, so it was great to see work on both sheds completed on Sunday. The red Engine shed is destined to house displays for the mining trail extension of the museum, while the green Loader shed now houses the PWS tractor.

The place was abuzz with other tasks too. Volunteers could be found scattered about Melaleuca, engaged in all manner of maintenance jobs. Mark Holdsworth did a sterling job on the brush-cutter. Brush-cutting at Melaleuca is no stroll in a park—it is heavy work. Sedge and tea-tree flew as he cut firebreaks at the bushwalkers huts, Kings’ and Willsons’ leases. There are many items of heritage mining machinery and other infrastructure at Melaleuca which FoM helps to maintain. Desley, Judy, Deborah and Barbara, armed with wire brushes, scrapers and fish-oil, treated eleven large pieces of standing machinery. Andrew, Chris, Rik and Barbara carried out varied maintenance at Rallinga Mine site and Willsons’: re-digging and deepening drains at the smelter shed; replacing wheels on the smelter’s kettle; stablising the ‘control tower’ at Rallinga Mine separating plant; maintenance on sheds, including replacing roof nails with screws; plumbing; and replacing a part in the washing machine. Desley got stuck into some gardening and Deb, armed with a camera and note-pad, documented items of interest for the Deny King Heritage Museum.

Timber for the museum, gas bottles and other equipment had to be unloaded from boats. Thanks to Andrew on Juliet and Richard on Easting Down for shipping the cargo to Melaleuca. The Juliet crew did some preparation at Claytons for hanging the new display panels, and repaired the shelf in the little wooden ‘safe’ in the Claytons pantry.

Chris, with other machinery buffs, replaced the foundation bearers under the historic Southern Cross on the Kings’ waterfront. This is a one-ton twin cylinder diesel engine, formerly used by Deny King to power a docking saw. The old Oregon bearers were rotting, and the motor, on metres of soft peat, had that sinking feeling. The heavy engine was levered off the old timber beds and onto a piece of plate steel while the old Oregon logs were dug out, and Chris and Geoff built up a new ‘pig-sty’ foundation from treated pine. Once the new bed was complete, the old engine was levered back into place. Amazing what a few keen blokes can do with crowbars and grease! Once the motor was bolted onto its new bed, Chris turned its crank-handle, and amid clouds of smoke it chugged into life for admiring onlookers who had gathered for the fray.

Ranger Ian was able to join us on Tuesday, and volunteers assisted him with moving building materials from the bushwalkers hut sites and airstrip to the PWS works depot and museum; removing and docking dangerous trees near the campground; and lowering the airstrip windsock for repairs. After a hard morning hunting for an Allen key to undo the windsock, Peter was elevated to polishing brass—on a gimbal lamp given to the King family by author Nevil Shute in the 1950s. Another wet day job was organizing a display folder and mounting small photos in frames for the Claytons mantelpiece. After making Craig’s memorial seat, Kevin replaced a window in the ‘First Camp’, one of the 1930s mining huts in the Kings’ garden, where museum objects are currently stored. Other volunteers did sundry painting and varnishing jobs; pulled foxglove seedlings; did other garden tasks; sanded and re-painted the old windmill rotor-blades and tail fin. Kevin sharpened tools and Ian Ross sharpened saws—rare skills, but important for a remote area. What a bonus! Meanwhile fine joinery (Ian Ross), painting (Deb Taylor) and site preparation was in progress for re-installation of the heritage Stevenson screen. But that is another story!

The creation and installation of a seat at the camp-ground in memory of Craig Saunders is also a story in itself (see ‘Craig’s Seat’), as is the Claytons interpretation project (see ‘Claytons Corner’).

Thanks to the enthusiasm and considerable skill of volunteers, this year’s working bee was most productive. After the first couple of days Huey’s mood changed, but by then we had the roof painting jobs done, so who cared! We ticked off most jobs on our 3+ page list. The caretakers, Ian Volpi and Diana Hammond, pitched in with some of the jobs, and Ian filmed our activities. It turned out that Diana could play piano, so we were treated to music, Diana on piano and Ian Ross on mouth-organ. Lovely! Thanks to the chefs who produced delicious meals to share each evening. With a different person cooking each night, meals were never dull.

We appreciate the great working relationship we have with Ian Marmion (PWS Ranger in Charge, Huon and SW) for his support during the planning stage as well as with work on site, and Pip Gowen (PWS Volunteer Facilitator) for her support and advice. And thanks to The Wildcare board for granting the funds to undertake this working bee.


Mark brushcutting. Photo Janet Fenton 153#1838This is home for the week. Deb Taylor. Photo by Kevin Perkins IMG_1317r