Judy Vizzari visited Mt Dandenong in the autumn of 2022.
With an elevation of 633 metres, Melbourne’s nearest ‘mountain’, Mt Dandenong, has the highest peak in the easterly Dandenong Ranges. Its Aboriginal name is Corhanwarrabul and it is approximately an hour’s drive from Eltham.
The Dandenong Ranges have volcanic origins (they were last active over 300 million years ago) and the legacy of their past is rich, fertile soil. That soil, plus a moist, misty climate support beautiful, cool temperate rain forests through which winding roads now meander. Stands of enormous mountain ash, grey gums and manna gums reach sky high (50 to 80 metres), in some places reduce the light to misty, glowing green. Beneath these trees, there are dense layers of broad-leaved shrubs and tree ferns. At ground level, brackens, sedges, wire grass, herbs and smaller ferns carpet the earth and creeping clematis is everywhere. Streamlets mark gullies and border walking tracks. Within the forests, bushwalkers may even sight lyrebirds (if they’re lucky).
In the mid-1850s, and then again in the 1870s, Mt Dandenong experienced two gold rushes. During this time, trees were cut and utilised by the miners and, when they left, the open tracts were occupied by farmers. They introduced plants sourced world-wide, including many deciduous species which thrived in the mountain soil and climate. Today, they are a distinctive feature of the area and provide striking displays of autumnal colour.
Amongst the introduced trees are oaks, poplars, cypresses and maples. Camellias and rhododendron bushes thrive. During a visit to the mountain last year, I was impressed by a species of the beech family, Castanea sativa, commonly called the sweet or Spanish chestnut, for their enormous size and edible nuts. They spread their branches wide and are laden with spiny green balls (from golf to tennis ball sizes) that hang heavily on leafy boughs until autumn, when the leaves turn golden and fall and the balls brown before dropping to carpet the ground below them. It’s then that the spiny outer coatings split to reveal richly shining brown nuts packed within their protective coats.
‘The Patch’ is an area of rolling hills and hobby farms on Mt Dandenong and, during our stay, we visited a property there. It was off a side road, perched near the top of a hill and it consisted of around 20 acres of forests, horse paddocks and gardens. It was partly clothed in stands of mature chestnut trees – over 100 on the property. There were also rows of enormous cypress trees and many varieties of indigenous and introduced species which dress the lush garden beds. The owner, Sylvia, kindly allowed us to visit by arrangement to collect recently fallen chestnuts.
Sylvia took us to a stand (one of several) of around 18 trees, where we thrilled by the quiet, almost church-like, calm beneath them. In the half-light of heavy branches, green yellow leaves and the spiky chestnut ‘balls’ hung like baubles. We collected as many nuts as we wanted (for the low price of $4 a kilo), nuts that were fresh from the ground, shining and healthy, just right for roasting. How pleasant it was to enjoy the beauty of the trees, to see the view out over the mountain and to breathe the clean, fresh air. The outing was definitely a highlight of our stay on Mt Dandenong.
While chatting with Sylvia, she mentioned that she was considering building a series of cabins for tourists. She hopes to use an unusual material – hemp, which is a relatively new plant based material here in Australia, one with some structural and environmental benefits. Around the cabins, she will plant citrus trees.
Visitors to Mt Dandenong can contact Sylvie by email (email@example.com) so, why not make an autumnal visit (March to April) to Mt Dandenong, collect some chestnuts and absorb the calm and quiet of this beautiful place?