A fine autumn day out between Stratford and Bairnsdale

Sunday 2 May 2021

I received a call from Ross VK3NRB during the final week of April. It had been a while since we last caught up. Ross suggested heading out for some radio fun on Sunday, a suggestion I was happy to confirm. The plan was for me to pick up Ross from home in Maffra and to then head out to the area beyond Stratford.

I was on the road by 0800 local time and drove past the Loy Yang power stations to reach Rosedale with a brief stop at the bakery to grab some lunch. I then headed east to reach the Tinamba Road, north to Tinamba then east to Maffra and around to Ross’ house. We then headed to Stratford and around to the first stop for the day.

Swallow Lagoon Nature Conservation Reserve VKFF-2199

I have previously qualified this Park. The easiest access is at the junction of Swallow Lagoon Road and Andrews Road. You will find a locked gate, with a pedestrian access gate on the northern side of the vehicle gate. I parked close to the main gate and we unloaded the gear and set up just inside the gate. I soon had the antenna in the air with a line tossed over a tree branch.

Swallow Lagoon Nature Conservation Reserve is just under 193 ha in area. It contains “Plains Grassy Woodland, Lowland Forest, (potentially) Damp Sands Herb-rich Woodland and an undescribed EVC. The reserve also includes areas of derived native grassland”. (Swallow Lagoon NCR Management Statement, DSE (2005)). The Reserve contains the Forest Red Gum Grassy Woodland Community, which is listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

The Reserve has essentially no visitor facilities.

We set up the station on a table, with the IC-705 and AH-705 connected to a ZS6BKW doublet. On switching on the radio, we heard Gerard VK2IO/p operating on 7.144 MHz and we soon had VKFF-2018 in the log. I then moved down to work Warren ZL2AJ on ZL1/WK-142. I moved back up the band to find a clear frequency which would be clear of the WIA News broadcasts and spotted myself. I worked eight stations in the next 8 minutes. Just before UTC midnight, I swapped to 20 m SSB and worked John ZL3MR on ZL3/OT-354.

Ross at the operating table VKFF-2199

After UTC midnight I first worked Gerard VK2IO/p for another Park to Park contact, followed by Mark ZL3AB on ZL3/CB-471. I returned to the 40 m frequency used earlier and worked another six stations b efore I had no further callers. I then chased four ZL SOTA activators on 40 m, 20 m and 17 m. We shut the station at around 0030 UTC with 23 contacts in the log. Before we packed up the station, I returned to the car and worked Ross inside the Park for a new hunted reference. We were not worried about qualifying the Park for WWFF, only for VKFF, so we both had at least 10 contacts in the log.

We packed up the station and headed east to Munro, then south to the Princes Highway and then east again to the Fernbank turn-off, where I turned right. I then drove along the very sandy track parallel to the highway until I reached the old and rusty open gate which provides easy access to the next Park.

The Billabong Flora and Fauna Reserve VKFF-2449

This small Park is only 20.47 ha in area, located just west of the “Billabong Roadhouse”. The Reserve contains a large permanent waterhole, which provides good wetland habitat for water-birds. It is surrounded by a white stringybark open forest-woodland.

After reversing the vehicle so that the rear half was inside the reserve boundary, I tossed a line over a tree branch and set up the station on the tailgate. This time I used the KX2 transceiver.

After spotting, we first worked Gerard VK2IO/p, still in VKFF-2018. We had a steady run of hunters calling, with the log showing 20 contacts logged in 18 minutes. I grabbed the IC-705 and an unshielded dummy load and exited the Park to work Ross for another new reference hunted. We then closed down and packed up. We then visited the Billabong Roadhouse to purchase some insect repellent – the mosquitos had been a prominent feature of the first two activations, and were to again plague us later in the day!

I then drove around to Fernbank, past the Fernbank Nature Conservation Reserve, and around to Fernbank Lindenow Road to reach Collwells Lane and drove a short distance north to reach our next target.

Saplings Morass Nature Conservation Reserve VKFF-2434

I had visited this Park once before and needed another 15 contacts to reach the WWFF quota of 44.

The Reserve is small, only 9.62 ha in area. It contains portion of a large open swamp thick with sedges and rushes, and is fringed by a stand of forest red gum.

The parks sign at Saplings Morass NCR

I parked just east of the track where we had a little shade. I soon had a line of a tree branch and the antenna hauled up. We again set up the station on the tailgate. We had a pleasant breeze and no mosquitos during this activation.

We found 7.144 MHz was free, so spotted after checking that the frequency was not in use. We had a steady stream of hunters calling, and I made 46 contacts in only 35 minutes. We then closed down. I again left the Park with the IC-705 and worked Ross for another new reference hunted.

We packed up and headed south and east to reach the Princes Highway, then towards Bairnsdale to reach Redcourt Lane, where I turned south and into the next Park.

Moormurng Flora and Fauna Reserve VKFF-2391

This was another Park which I had visited in the past and had qualified for WWFF.

The sign at the NW corner of Moormung FFR

The Park is 966 ha in area and contains the largest remaining stand of red gum forest in the Gippsland Plains. Sandy soils in parts of the reserve support open forests and woodlands of white stringybark, shining peppermint and saw banksia with a heathy understory. There are small areas of freshwater swamp communities. More than 90 bird species have been recorded.

I found a spot with some shade and soon had a line over a tree branch. We again set up the station on the tailgate. We again found that 7.144 MHz was free, so I spotted and started working hunters. I worked 30 hunters in 26 minutes, including Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-1881. I then moved to 40 m CW and worked six hunters. We then packed up and headed out of the Park, but made some further contacts with Ross before I drove out, with Ross outside the boundary. I also worked Ross inside the reserve whilst I was outside the boundary for another new reference hunted.

We headed east to reach Bengworden Road, then south to Boundary Road, then west to the next Park.

Bengworden Nature Conservation Reserve VKFF-2045

This reserve is just under 107 ha in area. It contains a number of endangered grassy ecosystems of very high conservation significance.

We set up a short distance inside the park, on the narrow track. We soon had a line over tree branch and the antenna up at good height. We first worked Ian VK1DI/2 in VKFF-2653 on 40 m SSB. I moved up the band and found 7.144 MHz was now free, with Daryl VK3AWA in Holey Plains State Park apparently having closed. I worked Peter VK3ZPF, who had also been trying to work Daryl. I spotted and started working Hunters, making 39 contacts in 26 minutes. I tried 80 m SSB and worked two stations. 2 m and 70 cm FM yielded some more local contacts, bringing the tally to 46. I worked Ross inside the Park on 70 cm FM after I had crossed the boundary on our way back to the car.

We drove west and then north to return to the Princes Highway and then west towards Stratford before heading south on West Boundary Track to enter the next park.

Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve VKFF-2425

This reserve of approximately 1650 ha is located on Quaternary sand dunes, with open forest and woodlands with heathy understorey. More than 100 faunal species and approximately 100 native plant species are represented in the reserve.

I again tossed a line over a tree branch to raise the centre of the doublet. We again set up on the tailgate. On switching on the radio, I saw a spot for Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-0558 on 40 m CW. Gerard was my first contact in the Park. I then moved to 40 m SSB to find the usual area for Parks activators rather crowded with DX stations. I moved down the band and spotted on 7.090 MHz SSB. Gerard was the first caller….. I then worked another 33 Hunters over the next 30 minutes, including Ian VK1DI/2 in VKFF-2653. I moved to 40 m CW and worked three stations. I then moved to 20 m CW and worked two more Hunters. During the second contact, another station was sending on the frequency seeking a confirmation of a 339 report. I never caught the callsign of the sender and had no response to repeated “QRX?” signals. I finished the activation with some local contacts on 2 m & 70 cm FM. My last contact for the day was to chase Ross inside the Park whilst I was outside.

The Providence Ponds FFR sign taken as we exitted the Reserve

We packed up and headed back to the Highway, then drove back to Stratford and to Maffra to drop off Ross. We had travelled 144 km since picking up Ross in the morning, and activated six references, one more than originally planned. I then headed home, a trip of just under 80 km.

A view west from between Munro and Stratford.

As you can imagine from the number of contacts made in short time periods, we had significant pile ups at times during the day. I would try to capture several callsigns and then work my way through the list before calling again. Our usual pattern was to “pass the microphone” between operators for each Hunter until Ross had at least 10 contacts in the log. Once Ross was happy he had the Park qualified, he would sit back and listen. Thanks to all the Hunters for your patience during the day, and a very big than you to all for chasing us. I did note that a small number of stations were caught a little short with our at times rapid change of location to a new reference…… The area visited has several Parks relatively close together, making for easy access to another reference with only a short drive.

References

Swallow Lagoon NCR Management Statement, DSE (2005)

Gippsland Lakes Hinterland Area Final Recommendations, Land Conservation Council (1983)

Fitzsimmons, JA, C Williams, V Walsh, P FitzSimons & G U’Ren, Ecological attributes of strategic land acquisitions for addition to Victoria’s public protected area estate (2006-2007), pp 140-149, The Victorian Naturalist, 125 (5), October 2008.

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