Ben Rudd was a hermit living from the 1920s on the back of Flagstaff, a hill on Dunedin’s skyline. The early Otago Tramping Club (OTC) befriended him. After his death the club was gifted his land. An objective of the gift was that the club would resolve to help keep the skyline hills un-roaded as an asset for future trampers and walkers of Dunedin. Noble work. This is a story about a tramping club community’s evolution.
At the time, the land was snow tussock grassland with patches of kānuka, mānuka and other woody natives. A line of broom and gorse followed the former Mountain Track that was the historic route along the tops between Waikouaiti and Dunedin.
It was 1950s fashion to plant conifers as a cash crop if you had suitable land. Active trampers dreamt that the OTC would one day be very wealthy, maybe own its own clubrooms and a truck for taking them into the mountains. The old-timers asked young members to look after and prune the plantation so that ‘one day the Club would be the richest tramping club in the country’. We did, going up to Rudd’s was a nice Saturday thing followed with an ‘after- working party’.
The Club found it was able to buy its own rooms in the early 1990s. We decided not to buy a truck, renting vans instead. The trees had been harvested by then, fetching reasonable cash which had no immediate Club use. In due course, that fund was set aside for managing Ben Rudd’s land. We recognised conifer plantations as an embarrassment . . . conifers were spreading, including from nearby city forests.
In 1989, we had a vast area of stumps, slash and pine needles, surrounded by encroaching gorse and broom. The club, now the OTMC, with mountaineering recognised, and had less time for weed control, but local advisers told us how to quickly stomp on unwanted plants where the conifers had been, planting native seedlings among the emerging weeds. About sixty of us set to and yanked out anything not native, sprouting in the pine duff. We gathered about a hundred silver beech seedlings from a remnant streamside cluster in a nearby pine forest, put them carefully on a flat deck truck and shifted them to the Club’s land. Within hours we had them all bedded into the duff. With their own mycorrhizal bugs they established very successfully in the new landscape: higher altitude, full sun and wind, and soon to be exposed to frost.
Members later were less keen to work there like we had. Some wanted rid of the land, but others wanted to retain it because of that original commitment made by the previous members (some of whom were now life members and held some mana). A Trust was formed to look after management of the land and some members did some extra silver beech planting, from the same source, as a second main phase towards the end of the 90s.
A QEII covenant had been arranged for the whole property. The club was making the land a Dunedin asset with free access to walkers. Pest control was still a burden, and many funding agencies helped us. We arranged to fly drone flights to check vegetation trends. A third phase was planting to suppress or contain broom and gorse along tracks, through trees gifted by ‘Trees That Count’: more local-source silver beech.
When Trust and OTMC members go to do any kind of work, passers-by tell us how great we volunteers are: ‘What an asset for Dunedin this is’. Consequently, there is no shortage of funds from organisations, very happy to help us out: the Dunedin Amenities Society, DCC Biodiversity fund, Cleveland Charitable Foundation (Les Cleveland had been among our early advisers). We continue to be fuelled by the dreams of those life members – we have freehold clubrooms, and we still have the revenue from the sale of the trees.
So, our story is one that evolved. Volunteers feeling obliged to work on their own land, pruning the previous members’ conifers to achieve their dreams, have become new old-timers, putting in permanent trees that will support natural biodiversity. It has gone from production forest to a native carbon-sink, with associated noxious plant suppression and containment.
It has not been without set-backs to our vision, however. Earthworks along the road a few years ago to upgrade the firebreak to make it easier to drive and later, to stall a tussock fire’s possible spread, chopped into painstakingly created weed-free areas, turned over or buried recent plantings and exposed soil to invasive seeds. This was hard on the volunteers who had worked to control noxious plants, especially on tussock grassland areas the Club undertook to retain, and to keep the land without a busy gorse and broom-spreading vehicle track through it.
But, more precious than any cash, we have a piece of land to be proud of, now with an added viewpoint amenity area. As well, the Club has all it needs to thrive, and on Flagstaff there is our very own ‘noble’ new forest beside a busy walking track.
Sometimes, we new-oldies find the only ‘tramping’ we are doing is the short walk up to our own land to bend our backs digging planting holes and yanking out young broom, gorse, rowan and blackberry. The work is mutually inspiring though, and challenging in attaining goals, so is a bit like tramping in the way that it builds the team. The Ben Rudd’s camaraderie and sense of achievement feels a bit like summitting a peak together.