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August 09, 2022

Exploring Guy Fawkes

The Guy Fawkes wilderness area is 134,000 hectares in size and characterised by a large network of gorges. Following the geological weaknesses created by the Demon Fault, the Guy Fawkes River and its major tributaries, the Aberfoyle and Sara Rivers, have cut gorges up to 1,000 metres deep into the Dorrigo Plateau.

The Demon Fault system is located on the junction of two major geological blocks. The older western sedimentary and metamorphic rocks located to the west of the fault consist of greywacke, slates, siliceous argillite and mudstones. To the east are younger Carboniferous turbidite sediments, intruded by Chaelundi adamellite (a granitic igneous rock).

Flora

The area’s unique topography, geology and east-west rainfall gradient have produced a mosaic of vegetation types. The gorge’s steep slopes feature diverse dry sclerophyll forests. Areas of dry rainforest are also found in protected gullies and gorges of easterly and south easterly aspects. 

Above the gorge to the east are dry and wet sclerophyll forests, with sub-tropical and warm temperate rainforests found in protected gullies.

Of particular interest are the tall forests in the north-eastern corner of the wilderness, in what used to be called the Chaelundi State Forest. Here, you can explore old growth forest and gaze upon stands of Tallowwood, New England Blackbutt and Silvertop Stringybark.

Fauna

The well-developed, nutrient rich and old-growth forests and rainforests in Guy Fawkes feature high mammal diversity. Surveys have recorded 43 species of native mammals. So, here you may happen upon a Spotted-tail Quoll, Brushtail Rock Wallaby, Rufous Bettong, Parma Wallaby and an Eastern Great Pipistrelle.

Over 150 species of birds, 16 species of frogs and 42 species of reptiles have also been documented, but more animals are likely to be present and yet to be discovered. Endangered bird species present include: the Powerful Owl, Masked Owl, Sooty Owl and the Glossy Black Cockatoo. Seven threatened amphibians, including Fletcher’s Frog and a White-crowned Snake, have been found as well

Arboreal mammals are plentiful. Three unlogged coupes of the former Chaelundi State Forest contained approximately 399 to 2,857 arboreal mammals per square kilometre. So don’t be surprised if you see a Koala, Yellow-bellied Glider or a Squirrel Glider.  

Indigenous significance

The Gumbaynggir people are the traditional owners of Guy Fawkes. The Gumbaynggir nation stretches from the Nambucca River in the south, to around the Clarence River in the north, up on the Great Dividing Range in the west and across to the coast, Coffs Harbour. 

Archaeological evidence indicates that the valleys of Guy Fawkes’ gorges were occupied by Aboriginal people for over 10,000 years. Important traffic and trade routes followed the Guy Fawkes and Boyd rivers and linked the tablelands to the coast.

The gorges were also where hunting and initiation rituals took place. William Gardener, an early historian of the New England area, observed that “several tribes” of Aboriginal people “visited this unfrequented land, for the game it afforded and here they held their boras.” 

Conservation

In 1994, the first inroads to the conservation of this spectacular area were made when 29,625 hectares were protected. Since then, the 45,000 hectares have been added through land acquisitions by the Dunphy Wilderness Fund, along with the incorporation of 20,000 hectares of old growth from state forests.

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) fought hard for these additions. In 1990, a court injunction brought illegal logging to a halt but logging of old growth recommenced after due process. A series of forest blockades were undertaken culminating in further successful legal action by NEFA to protect what Justice Paul Stein described as a “veritable forest dependent zoo”.

One consequence of the case was the establishment of threatened species legislation for NSW and a further delay of logging plans through special legislation that placed a logging moratorium on wilderness and old growth logging. These tactics helped ensure important old growth forests were reserved as wilderness.

Current threats

The presence of historic stock and stock routes from pastoral use ultimately led to a growing feral horse presence. The problem was worsened by local landholders who had been illegally running horses in the park and using it as a breeding ground for brumbies.

From 1992 until 2000, only 156 horses were captured and removed from the park by local horsemen and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff using trapping and mustering, and a number of horses were killed and injured in the process (English 2000).

As feral horse management mustering efforts failed, and wildfires had stripped the fragile gorge soil of cover, the horses were starving. So, in 2000, the NPWS aerially shot 617 horses that were wrecking the environment and suffering cruel deaths by starvation.

As reported in Bulletin 273, this aerial culling was reviewed by Dr English of Sydney University and found to be effective, efficient and humane. Yet, the media beat up that followed triggered a ban on aerial culling. This is unfortunate as shooting horses from helicopter is far less stressful and dangerous than chasing them down on horseback across the rugged wilderness.  

Sadly, the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 ravaged the Guy Fawkes wilderness area. Once again, feral horses are now likely to be facing starvation and wreaking havoc on the recovering landscape.

Wilderness Australia strongly supports a policy of total eradication of feral horses and cattle from this important and vital wilderness area. We join with NSW environment groups that maintain that the government must restore humane aerial culling of feral horses in national parks to protect natural heritage values.

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Australian Foundation for Wilderness Limited
ACN 001 112 143
ABN 84 001 112 143
Advocating as 'Wilderness Australia'
Formerly The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd
Registered Office 10/154 Elizabeth Street Sydney NSW 2000
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