VICTORIA Police, the Victorian State Emergency Service (VICSES) Foster Unit, and VicRoads’ contractors turned out very early on Friday morning October 8, 2021 to a landslide at Nelsons Cutting on the South Gippsland Highway at Foster North.
Tonnes of sandstone and loose earth from the cutting’s northern side had collapsed on to the highway at about 12.30 am, completely blocking the eastbound lane and obstructing almost all of the westbound lane and its associated passing lane.
The landslide took place about halfway between Lundstroms Road, and the Foster township turnoff at the intersection of South Gippsland Highway and Fish Creek-Foster Road (known locally as Toora Road).
A Wonthaggi Police spokesman said the incident was reported soon after 12.30 am by a passing motorist who, fortunately, had avoided being involved in the actual landslide itself.
“Four police officers from Wonthaggi attended the scene of the landslide, which was located at 3675 South Gippsland Highway, Foster North,” he said.
“When the officers arrived at the scene they found that the three lanes of the highway was almost entirely covered by rock and soil.
“They were assisted with initial traffic control by Foster VICSES Unit members who also set up emergency lighting,” the spokesman said.
“VicRoads contractors were also in attendance from about 2 am with signs and road diversions to slow and direct traffic.”
Traffic was initially detoured around the scene via the Meeniyan-Promontory Road and the Fish Creek-Foster Road.
No injuries or accidents
The police spokesman said the officers and the emergency service responders were surprised that there had been no injuries or accidents as a result of the landslide, considering the volume of material that had fallen.
The VicRoads contractors worked through the night to remove the rocks, temporarily closing the highway to all traffic while a 15-tonne excavator shifted the larger boulders onto the shoulders of the road while scraping the road surface clean.
Eventually a single lane was re-opened to allow vehicles to start moving again.
Soon after daybreak, the contractors had re-established two lanes marked with witches’ hats allowing traffic to travel in both directions at a speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour.
Shortly after the incident, VICSES warned the general public to “stay away from the landslide, as the slope may continue to move for hours or days afterwards”.
VICSES Foster Unit Duty Officer David Bartley said volunteers received a call for help at 12.30am in relation to the landslide.
“Each dispatching in a vehicle, the three VICSES volunteers arrived before police to establish traffic management and set up a lighting tower.
“The landslide was estimated as being the size of a double-storey house and, by the time police arrived, debris was strewn across all three lanes,” he said.
“Within two hours, Regional Roads Victoria arrived with heavy equipment to remove the rubble, with our volunteers staying to provide the lighting as they worked through the night to clear the large quantity of debris,” Mr Bartley said.
“The volunteers, returning to their unit in the early morning, completed the job seven hours after receiving the initial call.”
Local anecdotal reports indicate that small stones and clods and clumps of earth have been seen falling from the cutting’s walls in recent months.
Heavy rains received throughout South Gippsland during winter and early spring, as well as the 5.9 magnitude earthquake near Mansfield in the central Victorian highlands in September, may have contributed to the cutting’s evident instability.
Victorian Department of Transport Gippsland Region Acting Director Henry Lam, said, “We’ll continue to monitor the site under the guidance of geotechnical experts to ensure safety on the road.
“A geotechnical assessment of the site will also be undertaken to determine the nature of any further works,” he said.
VicRoads’ Transport Operations Centre (TOC) is located in Kew, Victoria and swung into immediate action after receiving notification about the landslip.
TOC information states that “incidents on the arterial road network are identified by TOC using cameras, traffic detectors and information provided from emergency services and the public.
“Communication facilities link the TOC with VicRoads Incident Response Service (IRS), police, emergency services and maintenance personnel to ensure there is an immediate response to incidents that may affect the safety or flow of traffic.”
Nelsons Cutting history
Notes written by early Foster general practitioner and local historian Dr HC Wilson around 1900 show that the name Nelsons Cutting comes from Nelsons Hill.
In Dr Wilsons’s view though, “Nelsons” should have been “Neilsons”, after the old gold prospector who worked there.
Shire of Alberton minutes dated May 15, 1889 however stated that “Works already passed for cleaving road from Foster over Nelsons Hill to Leongatha turnoff to be processed with.”