Grassy Woodland is probably the loveliest Australian vegetation to European eyes. Wonderful trees – but not so close together you cannot see the sky. Bushes and smaller trees. A carpet of shrubs, flowers, and grasses.
And great for EXPLOITATION:
-First for wood for buildings and the fireplace (eliminating the trees),
-Second for grazing (eliminating most of the plants),
-Third for development (eliminating what’s left).
That was the fate of almost all of Melbourne’s grassy woodland.
No one knows why the Highett Grassy Woodland survived – the CSIRO site was never sub-divided. Even botanists overlooked it until, in 1939, T.S. Hart published an article about ‘The Yellow Box – and a Lost Vegetation’ mainly about a woodland half-a-mile south of the Highett Railway Station. You have to read it to share his amazement.
The photograph from the corner of Highett and Graham Roads in 1932 shows the Highett Grassy Woodland on the distant skyline and the aerial photo from 1941/2 confirms there was a 3-hectare woodland with about 50% canopy cover. The rest of what is now the CSIRO site was presumably mainly for grazing although in the late 1930s the owner advertised it for sale as ‘Williams Aerodrome’.
Hart’s article also lists other Yellow Box gum trees – with their rough barks peeling higher up to reveal a yellow tinge and their blue-green leaves with distinctive pale edges – in the sandbelt country and almost all on the “red beds” where wind had swept sand from the tops of the ancient dunes to reveal sandstone. Perhaps 50 mature trees survived then outside Highett. By the start of this century there were fewer than ten and all have now gone except one behind the old Moorabbin Town Hall. There is also one by the Observatory Gate of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens on a different soil surrounded by about 30 square metres of remnant and planted woody grassland plants.
After 1939 Hart’s “Lost Vegetation” at Highett was largely forgotten except by a tiny number of botanists, some of whom encouraged the Bayside Community Nursery to collect and propagate the Yellow Box seed for about 20 years.
Meanwhile the site was being degraded with buildings, roads, drainage, and a rough kikuyu soccer pitch where sun orchids grew. Compare the 1940s aerial with what you see on Google today.
View an aerial-animation which ‘transitions’ from 1945 to now… and back again:
1945 to Now… and Back Again
It took the threat of the CSIRO site being covered with housing to get the vegetation properly recognised.
FIGHT for THREE Hectares of Woodland… a potential ‘Wonderland’!