By Jackson Russell
TOOBORAC and Pyalong residents’ concern about the fire risks created by overgrown roadsides along the Northern Highway is growing, with some taking it upon themselves to clean up the roadsides.
Following a small fire at the intersection of the Northern Highway and Majors Line Road, the amount of growth on the roadside increased dramatically and was estimated to reach up to five feet in height.
The same intersection has been the location of several high-speed collisions, including one fatality, in recent years due to the lack of a turning lane, with cars often having to move almost into the roadside to see oncoming traffic.
Tooborac Fire Brigade member Andrew Thompson said a community working bee attended by two dozen volunteers made the corner much safer.
“We put a tractor and slasher down there and some whipper snippers and cleaned it up and it’s a lot safer corner now than what it was, but it shouldn’t have to be that local persons do that out of their own generosity,” he said.
“[Regional Roads Victoria] said they’ve slashed hundreds of kilometres of roadsides for fire risks, but they slash about a four-foot cut on the side of the road and in a normal year, it regrows, and they don’t even slash hard at the ground. It’s virtually bloody useless.”
Pyalong Fire Brigade Member Pat Ryan called the roadsides along the Northern Highway from the Pyalong Recreation Reserve to Mollison Creek ‘disgusting’ and a fire risk.
“It’s going to come in from the north-west, through [the pine plantation], down the highway and it’ll just work like a wick like it did on Black Saturday when the freeway took the fire virtually into Broadford,” he said.
“A lot of people on these five-acre blocks, they’ve all got to get their blocks slashed, they get an order from the shire every year to slash their blocks… but you look at the government agencies and it’s disgusting that they don’t do their side of it.”
Tooborac farmer Bill Chisholm questioned the lack of action despite a horrible summer of bushfires last year.
“I’ve been on council for nine years and I think Pyalong now is probably nearly the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
“It’s just a mess, but especially down in front of the school and near the pine plantation. It’s a real disaster waiting to happen.
“We’ve had the biggest fires last year we’ve ever seen and no funding increase from any of these government agencies.”
Regional Roads Victoria said it regularly inspects its road network to identify defects, treat any hazards and maintain arterial roads in a ‘safe and acceptable condition’ and undertakes roadside grass slashing, weed spraying and tree maintenance to help reduce potential fire risks and ensure detour routes and vital entry and exit points are clear of obstacles.
A RRV spokesperson said its responsibility for grass cutting extended to three metres of roadside vegetation from the guideposts that lined arterial roads, unless a roadside identified was a priority area, in which case it cuts boundary to boundary to provide a strategic fire break.
In Tooborac, RRV is responsible for the 100km/h sections of the Northern Highway with Mitchell Shire Council responsible for the sections in the 70km/h zone. RRV is also responsible for slashing along the entire Pyalong stretch of the highway.
RRV crews slashed grass along the Northern Highway in Tooborac and Pyalong from the end of November to the beginning of December, with a second cut to be carried out in the coming months.
Acting Department of Transport director for Loddon Mallee Barry Green said the safety of all Victorians was a priority for Regional Roads Victoria.
“Each year, we mow tens of thousands of kilometres of grass and our crews have been out in force over the past few months grass cutting across the Mitchell Shire,” he said.
“Safety is our priority and anyone undertaking work on arterial road reserves must be permitted and suitably trained to do so – to ensure not only their safety, but the safety of everyone on our network.”