For thousands of years the Torbay catchment was home to the Minang people, part of the much larger Noongar Aboriginal tribe. The variety of landforms and diversity of vegetation provided them with abundant food sources and shelter. By the late 1700s, the south coast with its rich marine life and unspoilt land had become a drawcard for British and French sealers, whalers and explorers. And in 1826, just a few kilometres to the east of the catchment, the settlement of Albany was established. This small outpost was the first British colony in Western Australia.
The catchment itself remained largely as it was until 1886, when the Millar brothers from Victoria signed a contract to construct the Great Southern Railway. They needed timber to build it and there was no shortage of that in the untouched forests of the south. They had concessions to log west of Albany and built their first mill at nearby Cosy Corner (Torbay). Just three years later, a new railway beginning at Elleker was up and running. The local hardwood timbers, being both strong and durable, were sought after and shipped around the world. With the forest canopy removed, tracts of land became available for farming by the new settlers. The new gold mining town of Kalgoorlie provided the opportunity for trade and cabbages were the first crop destined for the boom town.
Even in the 1930s, the catchment was still not well developed and the population was isolated. A trip from Redmond in the upper catchment, to Albany, a mere 20 kilometres, took five hours by motor car. And the southern parts of the catchment were proving difficult to farm. These areas were seasonal wetlands and impossible to crop year round. Engineering was seen as a way to overcome this problem and during the 1950s, an extensive network of drainage channels was dug, which drastically altered the area. Land certainly dried out more quickly, but other problems emerged, some of which are still being felt today. One unfortunate side effect of the drainage works was the discovery of acid sulphate soils in the catchment. The Torbay catchment has the dubious honour of being the first place in Australia where these were found.
In spite of the problems, the catchment is still largely a farming area, and one that continues to change as the economic climate dictates. Today, beef cattle grazing has largely replaced vegetable growing as the main farming activity. Other enterprises include dairies, potatoes, vineyards and more recently, tree plantations. Nearer to the coast, tourism is growing as a major source of income with more and more farms offering accommodation to tourists.
The Torbay catchment is on the south coast of Western Australia, and on the western outskirts of Albany. The catchment contains mostly rural land with just a few small settlements, the largest of which is Elleker (population about 100). Other settlements include Torbay, Torbay Hill, Redmond and Cuthbert. The Albany Highway is the main route connecting the region with the state capital, Perth.
Marbelup Brook sub-catchment:125 square kilometeres (38%)
Five and Seven Mile Creeks sub-catchment: 60 square kilometeres (18%)
Torbay Main Drain: 115 square kilometeres (35%)
Coastal streams draining dunes: 30 square kilometeres (9%)
Total catchment area: 330 square kilometeres
Remnant vegetation: 108 square kilometres (33%)
Open water and wetland: 5.2 square kilometres (1.6%)
Grazing:170 square kilometres (51%)
Timber Plantations: 17 square kilometres (5%)
Other land uses: 29.8 square kilometres (9%)
Future increases in tree cover will come from tree plantations, fencing of remnant patches and streamlines, and revegetation by farmers. Losses are likely from further clearing and due to lack of recruitment in areas where stock have access and where weeds and pasture grasses have invaded.
A, B, C, and D grading is a widely accepted method of foreshore condition rating, based on the method developed by Dr Luke Pen who carried out surveys on many south coast rivers. Drain (DR) and pasture swale (SW) ratings have been included in subsequent foreshore surveys to take into account local differences in the topography.
A Grade foreshore – Pristine/near pristine/slightly disturbed. Native plants dominate. Complete native understorey and overstorey.
B Grade foreshore – Degraded. The native understorey is degraded and weeds start to dominate.
C Grade foreshore – Erosion prone and soil exposed and eroding. Some trees but little ground cover.
D Grade foreshore – Freely eroding ditch with no remaining fringing vegetation.
DR – Artificial drain varying in condition from excellent (resembling a healthy, natural vegetated watercourse) to very poor (severe erosion, slumping, and deposition with no vegetation cover).
SW – Pastured swale. The area above the stream headwaters where surface runoff collects and runs into stream channels.
The results are used to identify threats to the waterways, set priorities and plan remedial action.