Thursday, 21 August 2014

A flat worm

During the eight weeks we've been away from home the weeds in our garden have flourished but an hour or two restored order. The soil is beautifully damp and friable, many of the plants in the garden are flowering, the sun was shining and there was no wind. We really enjoyed working in our garden today. I don't know what my friends have been complaining about :) They say it's been a dreadful winter here while we've been away but today it was perfect.

Flat Worm
When I turned over a block of wood I found a little creature that also enjoys the damp friable soil. It's a flat worm. When I first saw it it was about two centimetres long and quite fat, like a slug. I could also see two feelers like a slug but, of course, after I went to get the camera they were tucked away again. As soon as it was exposed to the light the worm started to stretch and move across the wood to find a dark place of shelter. As it stretched out to about ten centimetres the flatness became less obvious.




Worms aint just worms. There are flat worms, round worms and ringed worms (like the common earth worm). My flat worm (or slime worm), is a terrestrial planarian - there are many more planarians that live in the sea - and its mouth is on the underside of its body. There are quite a few different species of planarian in Australia including some introduced species that have probably hitched a ride on potplants. They come in a variety of colours and are carnivorous, venturing out at night to feed on earth worms and slugs . They are also hermaphrodites and can also reproduce asexually.

This flat worm is possibly Australoplana sanguinea, the same flat worm that has been discovered in southern England and Ireland in the last decade or so, introduced from eastern Australia.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

North of Goyder's Line

In 1865 George Goyder was Surveyor-General of South Australia when he surveyed a 'line' that indicated reliable rainfall areas for agriculture. He advised against planting crops north of the line. His line has proved to be remarkably accurate.

The last couple of days have been a bit of a shock, weather-wise and visually. After seven weeks of travelling up and down the Stuart Highway through central Australia we reached Port Augusta then crossed the Southern Flinders through Horrocks Pass. Immediately we were in a different world. The small fenced paddocks were green and lush.

The weather was cold, bitterly cold, and wet - a shock after weeks of warm sunshine. We discovered some delightful towns as we moved down the Main North Road - Wilmington, Melrose, Murray Town, Wirrabara and Laura - towns we didn't know existed, set in rolling hills beneath the range to the west. The weather has been so cold and wet that we haven't dallied to explore (and there is a new grandson to meet) but we plan to come back one day and do so. We did manage two 'indoor' activities. We visited the delightfully creative couple at Walnut Tree Studio in Laura, and we spent time exploring the Steamtown railway museum at Peterborough and stayed to see their excellent sound and light show.

Mulga and termite mounds
Some thoughts on our trip north of Goyder's Line:

  • There's a lot of mulga vegetation in Australia. Let's hope it stays that way. And further north the mulga is replaced by fabulous open savannah woodland. Spinifex and saltbush and desert oaks and red sand dunes and ancient red rocks - all wonderful. Wow!
  • There are a lot of tourists and caravans moving through the landscape in northern Australia each winter. We waved to a lot of them on the road and we've met friendly and interesting fellow travellers everywhere we went. The grey nomads are spending a lot of money in the north.
  • Thousands of Black Kites populate the Top End each winter. They are ubiquitous.
  • Every hotel in outback towns employs backpackers from all over the world. The Chilean girl at the Oodnadatta Roadhouse had been there eight months and was leaving the following week. I asked her what the summer had been like and she shuddered and said 'Horrible'.
  • Termite mounds are amazing. All shapes, sizes and colours. There must be millions and millions of termites recycling organic matter throughout the centre and north of Australia. And travellers the length of the Stuart have delighted in dressing the mounds in old tshirts.
  • We geocached all the way - a delightful way to explore areas we wouldn't have seen otherwise, and a great way to break up those long stretches of highway to stretch the legs and the brain.
  • I don't think we have enough time left in this life to fully explore this marvellous country we live in.
  • Our biggest expense was diesel. There are a lot of kilometres between Geelong and Darwin!
  • We didn't explore the east and west Macdonnell Ranges at Alice Springs or Coober Pedy because we did that in August 2011. You can read my posts about our time there in the archive list in the panel on the right side of this blogpage.
Camping in the Mulga
Tomorrow we cross another state border as we move from South Australia into our home state of Victoria. I'm already looking forward to our next trip.

Sunset, north of Port Augusta.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Fire

We've been on the road about seven weeks, up and down the Stuart Highway. There's now a lot of the tourist literature stuffed into the pocket behind the passenger seat of our car. Some of it has been useful and informative, some is just advertising junk, some inadequate. I'll probably put it all into the recycle bin when we get home.



A fact mentioned in a lot of the material is that the environment needs to be regularly burnt, has been burnt for thousands of years by Aboriginals and lightning strikes, that many plants nee the heat of fire in order to regenerate. But, I have seen a lot of damage on our travels and I'm sorry now that I didn't photograph the ugly as well as the beautiful. I've seen many kilometres of roadsides where the plants have not recovered, I've seen mature trees burnt beyond recovery, I've seen Mulga trees completely destroyed by fire and no young plants growing to replace them. Maybe the fires have been too hot. Maybe they've been too frequent. Maybe they've been too large rather than a patchwork of small fires.

I think it's a big problem. Is it used as a management tool for weeds? Are the fires planned or random? Is it occurring just along the highways or is it happening on the stations as well? Where are the mature trees with hollows? Where is the biodiversity that used to exist? Where to the small fauna go when the fire is large? And if they do manage to hide underground what do they eat when they emerge after a fire? I need to do some more reading on the subject.

We saw a lot of fires through the Alice Springs area when we travelled through three years ago. This year we haven't seen any. But we did see a lot in the savannah woodland in the Top End.











Desert Oak

On this holiday through central Australia I have become fascinated by the Desert Oak Allocasuarina decaisneana, the only Casuarina that grows in the desert. It's a slow-growing tree of the dry and sandy areas and there is something quite beautiful about a stand of mature trees on a red sand dune. Spinifex plants often dominate the understory.

Mature Desert Oaks

The young trees are narrow in form with no branches. As they mature they start to branch out. It all takes a long time.

'Middle-aged' Desert Oaks
A stand of Desert Oaks - a mix of maturity



Follow this link if you want to read a delightful blog spot written by someone with more knowledge than me, Ian Fraser.