Mt Toorongo is a magical spot: it is a mountain in the Central Highlands to the east of Melbourne. If you drive to the Baw Baw ski village from Noojee, it is the steep dark mountain that fills the skyline above you as you head through the last of the farming country at Icy Creek.
Not many people go there. It’s a bit off the track, but is accessible quite easily via a number of dirt roads. As I understand the ecology of the mountain, it was burnt twice in close succession (in the 1920s and the infamous 1939 fires). So the eucalypt forest on the summit was replaced by a remarkable ‘cloud forest’ of what are normally understorey species. The summit itself is a long ridge which offers wonderful views of the Baw Baw Plateau, the Latrobe Valley and distant Strzelecki Ranges to the south.
Like many forests in the region, the mountain has been relentlessly logged. Much of the cloud forest was chained down by bulldozers in the early 1990s and planted with Shining Gum (which is not actually indigenous to the area as I understand it).
But there are still pockets of cool temperate rainforest, and the forest at the treeline, composed of old wattles and myrtle beech, is a delight. It still harbours endangered animal species, too.
Recently, WOTCH (Wildlife of the Central Highlands), a volunteer group which focuses on ‘citizens’ science’ like animal surveys, identified Leadbeaters Possums on the Toorongo Plateau, the northern slopes of the mountain. It is hard to overstate the importance of Toorongo Mountain and the plateau. Like the Errinundra Plateau, it has acted as a ‘refugia’ in times of climate variation and climate change in the past, providing a place for the old Gondwanic species to retreat to when temperatures are warmer and fire regimes are stronger.
The Leadbeaters Possum was found in an area that was scheduled for logging and the discovery of the individual means that this particular section of forest will be protected. This is a great outcome, won by an inspiring group.
You can find out more about WOTCH via their facebook page.