Tower Hill State Game Reserve is a unique volcanic formation enjoyed by thousands of tourists, but a new push to ban hunting ignores history and would exclude duck hunters, the very people who voluntarily helped to rescue it from a century of environmental decline.
An e-petition sponsored by Victorian MP James Purcell gives a brief, and misleading, history of Tower Hill in the ‘grievance’, stating: “It was declared a National Park in 1892, but after years of degradation from clearing, over grazing and quarrying it was classified as a Game Reserve in 1961. This classification remains in spite of years of planting to revegetate the grounds, plus construction of a visitor centre designed by Robyn Boyd and run by the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative.”
A more fulsome history would include the enormous amount of work done by hunters following the 1962 SGR declaration to restore Tower Hill based on Outlook, an 1855 painting by Viennese artist, Eugene von Guerard.
Barry Quigley, a life member of Warrnambool Field & Game, was one of those early volunteers.
“We did a lot of tree planting. I also helped organise the building of some islands; we had a number of working bees to do that,” he recalled.
Barry said that as well as restrictions on hunting times, access to some areas had been made more difficult by track closures.
Instead of locking out hunters, he suggested opening up access, not only for hunting but for conservation works in areas most people never get to.
“I’m not a big fan of National Parks, it tends to be a lock and leave situation,” he said.
“I’m well out of hunting but the restrictions on Tower Hill came in because it has become a bit of an icon as far as tourism is concerned. But the closure of tracks that were used for hunting years ago has meant people don’t see problems developing.”
Tower Hill, a volcanic formation created 30 000 years ago, is the largest nested maar formation in Victoria but as it pushed through the earth’s crust it also forged a shallow crater, which later filled with water to create the lake.
The importance of the site was recognised by hunters and soon after Field & Game formed in 1958, Max Downes, then superintendent of Game Management, made it abundantly clear in a report that hunters were needed to save Tower Hill.
“In summary, it is suggested that a State Game Reserve is the best way of developing the unique wildlife management potential of Tower Hill,” he wrote.
“This development could not be achieved under any other system. From a wildlife aspect, it is unnecessary to prohibit shooting on the lake since this will achieve no conservation purpose, yet considerably restrict public use of the reserve.”
The question being asked now, in light of the latest push, is what has changed?
“There are still people who use it for hunting despite the restrictions and there should be more input from the hunting fraternity on what happens and how it is managed,” Barry said.
“I still visit two or three times a month just to look through and it doesn’t appear to have the management it needs, most of the focus seems to be on the visitor centre and tourism,” he said.
“I can’t see any benefit in removing hunting as an activity there or turning it into a National Park.”
Warrnambool Field & Game president Geoff Morris said the branch put considerable money into the visitor centre, funding the planning and design costs to get it built.
“This latest push to take it away from being a State Game Reserve has been done very quietly,” he said.
“Not once have we been invited to go to one of the meetings or debate the issue.
“We deserve the right to be included in any discussion about reclassification; we were there right from the start and our members put a lot of time, effort and money into the volcano.”
The argument that Tower Hill should have been one of our first National Parks and that making the change would correct the historical record has little merit.
When it came to the time of gazetting, Tower Hill was considered to be so degraded it was left out. It was only in the 1960s after declaration as a State Game reserve that hunters and field naturalists joined together to rehabilitate the landscape.
The attraction visitors enjoy now exists in large part due to the volunteer conservation efforts of hunters.
“We had a lot to do with bringing the bird populations back and we put money into the information centre; we paid for the plans to be drawn up, it was called the Natural History Centre then,” Geoff said.
“As much as it is a tourist attraction, there has been very little money spent on it in recent times.
“We were there right at the start when they were crying out for people to help, and while it isn’t the easiest place to hunt ducks, if they want to change it, they should invite us to the table.”