Sunday, 23 December 2007

A new page

My trusty friend, the Nikon Coolpix 995, is out of action because I carelessly dropped it. I'm told it may not be a fatal condition but because it's Christmas, and even camera repairers take holidays, I have to wait to find out. So there was the horrible possibility of going away for two weeks without a camera!! So I bought a Sony W55.

I haven't had a chance to play with it much yet but the photo (above) of the grevillea in my garden is very sharp so I think all will be well. I'm looking forward to tesing it out. Happy Christmas.

Monday, 17 December 2007

A productive hybrid?

Fifteen years ago I planted Grevillea 'Winpara Gem' in my garden. This grevillea is a hybrid, a cross between G. olivacea and G. thelemanniana. It has flowered prolifically every year and has never set seed. I thought that was because it's a hybrid. So why has it set seed this year? The bush is covered in fruit, beautiful little shapes with long tails. I wonder if the seed will be viable and if so which parent will it follow?

Friday, 14 December 2007

A rescued plant

When my daughter moved interstate a year ago some (OK, a lot) of her stuff ended up in storage in our house and garage. And I also inherited her pot plants, including delightful Chocolate Lillies and a Flax-lily. She had rescued the Flax-lily from a housing development site, legitimately, because it's a Threatened Species. Dianella amoena Matted Flax-lily grows in grassland and grassy woodlands in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland Plains and around Melbourne and is under constant threat from land clearing, urban development and grazing.

Dianella amoena

'My' Flax-lily is currently flowering beautifully, and seems to thrive on greywater. I'm wondering whether to plant it in the garden but in its natural state it can spread quite a bit so I'm hesitant.

Last summer I caught these two butterflies from the Skipper family, Yellow-banded Darts Ocybadistes walkeri , 'in the act' on a leaf of the Flax-lily. In fact, the Flax-lily is one of the food plants of the caterpillar of this species. As you can see, the butterflies are tiny. This particular species can be identifed by the little hook on the tip of the antenna and, in common with other Skippers, often bask in sunlight with the forewings open over the body and the forewings held flat (see second photo below).

Mating Yellow-banded Darts

Yellow-banded Darts

Reference: Geelong Naturalist, May 2007, p 3

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Just bluffing

It seemed that I'd chosen the wrong time to go out to the Bannockburn Cemetery (see previous post), but this threatening cloud came and went without leaving a drop of rain. I haven't absorbed enough information from my new cloud book yet to be able to identify it. (Did you know that clouds have scientific names like plants and animals? It could be a Cumulus congestus, for example.) It was good to see the Richard's Pipit on the gravel road, the White-necked Heron on the dam bank, and hear the Stubble Quails calling from the wheat crop. It's summer.

Monday, 10 December 2007

A plot reserved for the future

This afternoon I went out to the Bannockburn Cemetery, west of Geelong, to see what was flowering. The cemetery land was reserved in the 1800s, a large block for what turned out to be a small population, and most of the land remains as a remnant patch of what the volcanic plains grassland once was. It is now a protected flora reserve as well as a cemetery. All the vegetation in the photo below is natural to the area and the reserve is almost weed free.

I was very pleased to see Blue Devil was flowering, also Pink Bindweed and Lemon Beautyheads as well as wallaby grass and kangaroo grass - all are plants typical of the plains.

Blue Devil

Pink Bindweed

Beetle on Wallaby-grass

Saturday, 8 December 2007


My friend Marilyn suggested I read The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. I resisted for a while because since she read it earlier this year she's become besotted by clouds and has neglected her older passions for birds, butterflies, orchids, rocks, stars and bullants (to mention a few). As I, too, tend to unexpectedly head off in new directions I thought I could do without having to read up on yet another subject in the natural world.

But then a few weeks ago I posted a blog about a beautiful cloud I had seen, and Marilyn sent me several photos of clouds she was excited about, and when I was in the bookshop the other day looking for Christmas presents I bought the book on the spur of the moment. I'm glad I did.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney runs a webpage for cloudspotters and his book about clouds is amusing and informative. It has become a Sunday Times bestseller. One reviewer wrote: 'It is possibly the most entertaining textbook ever written.'

Here are several examples of Gavin's style.

Compared with the frenetic and capricious convection clouds, the Stratus is a ponderous individual. It rarely bothers to shed much of its moisture – never managing more than a light drizzle or gentle snow. It takes its time arriving, and generally outstays its welcome when it does. This is not a cloud known for its spontaneity – it isn't the type to cause a commotion at picnics with a sudden downpour the moment the sandwiches are out of their foil. When there is a thick layer of Stratus above, people are just more likely to forget the picnic and opt for the cinema instead.

…the Nimbostratus is quite simply a thick, wet blanket, whose base is ragged and indistinct on account of its continually falling precipitation. It might be able to beat most of the other types in a fight, but it wouldn't get far in a cloud beauty contest.

Marilyn also gave me a software program that stitches photos together to make a panorama. She said that sometimes the full scale of a cloud can't be encompassed in one photo so several have to be taken and combined. Oh dear. I'm already torn between flowers and insects at eye level, and birds above my head. Now I have to look to the sky as well. And spend even more time on my computer playing around with images. There goes the ironing. The floors went long ago.

And I'll have to find time to check out the Cloud Appreciation Society's webpage

Sunday, 2 December 2007

See through to the sea

Yesterday I was part of a team trying to find as many bird species in one day as we could. We were competing in the annual Challenge Bird Count against other teams in other areas doing the same thing.

At Point Addis, while my team members were trying to locate the Rufous Bristlebird, I got distracted by the metal, two-dimensional, see-through sculpture on the information board. It depicted Victoria's floral emblem Pink Heath Epacris impressa.

Epacris impressa

Point Addis

Recently we visited Geraldton, Western Australia and I was very taken with three instances using the same technique. One was of a wall depicting a school of fish on the boardwalk on the sea side of the Geraldton Museum. Another was the memorial to the ship Sydney that went down with all hands off the coast near Geraldton in World War 2. On the dome there is a bird for every lost sailor. And the third was a lookout that had been installed at Greenough in memory of a child who had drowned.


Sydney Memorial, Geraldton


By the way, my team found the Bristlebird. It called beautifully for us and wandered out onto the carpark. What a stunning bird it is.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Feeling blue about the Blue Gums

Southern Blue Gums Eucalyptus globulus are magnificent trees, fast-growing and tall. The bark at the base of the trunk is rough but on the higher trunk and branches it is smooth and peels in strips, revealing a range of beautiful colours. The juvenile leaves are blue, hence the name. The 'southern' in this context refers to Tasmania and Otways and South Gippsland on the south coast of Victoria.

This tree, of all the eucalypts, is the one selected by the plantation forest industry and in the last few years thousands of acres of cleared pastureland in southern Australia has been planted to Blue Gums, with many more to come.

It's having a huge effect on the social environment. Farmers sell to the plantation companies because they are offering good money so communities are diminishing. Where will they find a tennis team, enough kids to keep the school open, volunteers for the fire brigade?

It's having a huge effect on the economic environment. A plantation is a monoculture, and fewer hectares are available to local dairy cows, flocks of sheep and herds of beef cattle.

And it's having a huge effect on the natural environment. This is where I am ambivalent. Research is being done on the biodiversity within the plantations – they're not environmental deserts – but a lot of grassland and woodland species may be reduced in numbers. On the other hand, swamps within the plantations are no longer being grazed by cows or sheep so they will return to a more 'natural' appearance. And, (don't tell the plantation companies this), I feel comfortable about wandering in a bit of bush or swamp on a plantation property whereas I wouldn't dream of doing so ordinarily without getting the owner's permission.

In October 2005 I took a photo of the Darlot Creek at Homerton. The years of drought meant that the water level was low.

Darlot Creek Ovtober 2005

In January this year I took another photo from the same spot. A Blue Gum plantation now occupied what had been the productive pasture of a dairy farm.

Darlot Creek January 2007

And several weeks ago I took another photo because the river was 'running a banker', meaning that the water level was as high as it could be without flooding out onto the pasture. And note that the Blue Gums have grown extremely fast in the previous ten months.

Darlot Creek November 2007

I'll continue to take photos from this spot in the years ahead. I'm not looking forward to the devastation that is inevitable when the company harvests the Blue Gums for their timber in the next ten to twenty years.

Monday, 26 November 2007

One for The Road

It was a beautiful day today, and I had lots to do inside and there were lots of tempting things outside. But what was I doing? Sitting inside reading a book a friend gave me to read.

Every now and again I find a book that I literally can't put down, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of them. I was mesmerised by it.

McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year with this book and I can see why.
The setting is a post-apocalypse world, and a father and his son are on a journey. The story is harrowing, shocking, terrible but also beautiful and moving. The prose is sparse and poetic. His descriptions of landscape are also haunting.

Get hold of a copy.

Save the platypus

A textile artist in the Otway Ranges posts about her beautiful fabric art and occasionally her environment. The two links lead to a campaign to protect the home of the platypus.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Pieces of colour

The group of friends meet at my house each week to quilt and chat, discuss new projects, show progress in current projects, share ideas. We've all known each other a long time, and we hate to miss a week of getting together. My current project is a wallhanging and its working title is Azolla on the Pond. The three layers are now tacked together and I'm hand-quilting it, so it's not far off binding to finish and hang.

Unfinished quilt

I was starting to think the colours were a bit dramatic but then yesterday I saw this little lake of still water at Gateway Sanctuary, Leopold. Azolla is a tiny free-floating aquatic fern that multiplies very quickly in its favoured still water. Its leaves can be green through to red in colour. This patch was a lovely red-purple and completely covered the lake.


Thursday, 22 November 2007

A surprise in more ways than one

The Annya State Forest north of Heywood is a favourite patch of bush, and I visit it every time we go down to our farm nearby. It's a sandy heathy woodland, rich in flora, and even though I've explored parts of it many times it still has the capacity to surprise me.

Last weekend I found three species of plants in 'my' patch that I've never seen there before – maybe I've just never been there when they're flowering.

Most colourful and impressive was the Lax Marsh-flower Villarsia umbricola, growing in a very damp and swampy area, the yellow flowers held well above the leaves. This plant only grows in the south-west of Victoria and across the border in the south-east of South Australia.

Lax Marsh-flower

The second new plant was Pale Grass-lily Caesia parviflora var. parviflora. It too was flowering, tiny pale flowers, and would be easy to miss if not in flower because its leaves are grass-like.

Pale Grass-lily

The third was an orchid. I was wandering along a track in the bush on my way back to the car, tired because I'd been out all morning taking photos on a hot day. I spotted a late flowering orchid, the common but pretty Pink Fingers Caladenia carnea, and grabbed a quick photo without troubling to do it properly. The photo below is one of Pink Fingers taken on another day.

Pink Fingers

When I looked at the (blurry) photo on the screen later in the day I realised that the 'Pink Fingers' was in fact a Black-tongue Caladenia Caladenia congesta, a plant I'd never seen before and in fact not often seen growing in the wild. So, I got in the car and drove the 15 km back to have another look. (Yes, I'm worried about climate change, but sometimes I have to break my own rules about petrol consumption and greenhouse gas.) I found the original plant and another one nearby that I'd missed seeing first time. This time I made sure I got a good photo of the beautiful orchid.

Black-tongue Caladenia

Now I'm back home in Geelong but I'd love to be back in the Annya forest to see if there are any more surprises.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

It's all on the nose

Koala researchers in the Brisbane Ranges have discovered that they can identify individual koalas by the pattern of dots on the nose. This last weekend we went down to our farm at Heywood, and discovered a noisy male koala in a tree near the house. Next day he had gone from the tree but then we found another one nearby. By comparing photos I think I can say with confidence that it's the same individual because his nose pattern is identical.



Koalas can be very noisy. Several times I have been wandering in the bush, alone, watching for birds or flowers, jumpy about the possibility of stepping on a snake, wary of leeches climbing my boots, and nearly jumped out of said boots when a, previously unseen, koala has bellowed immediately above my head. They are very very loud. My immediate thought always is that somehow the neighbour's bull has crept up behind me. The Australian bush has nothing in the way of ferocious non-vegetarian mammals to be scared of so this reaction must be built into me/us genetically from the hunter-gatherer days of our ancestors in Africa.

Missed again

This is what I get for going away for the weekend. The Field Nats had an excursion on Sunday that I missed of course. And what did they see at Jerringot? A BAILLON'S CRAKE! RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE BIRD HIDE! (I feel a bit like Danny Katz – he shouts all the time in his column in The Age).

Read my previous entry if you want to make sense of this blog .

Monday, 12 November 2007

Jerringot - an urban swamp

When you live in a city it's great to be able to visit a birdy spot within a few minutes from home, and you never know what you're going to find.

Jerringot, on Belmont Common, is an urban wetland that gets a mention occasionally on the Eremaea webpage because a birder has seen something interesting there. It is next to a busy road and small industries in the middle of a suburb of Geelong. The whole of the Common along the Barwon River has been highly modified since European settlement - market gardens, farms and air strips in the past, playing fields, golf courses, playgrounds and walking trails at present and continual threats from road construction, rowing tracks and changes in drainage.

Jerringot itself is highly modified and unnatural but is in an area that would always have been swampy. It has areas of reedy swamps, low woodland and open water. A birdhide has been constructed and there is a walking track. For the last 35 years the Field Naturalists Club has planted, weeded, cleared rubbish, put up interpretive signs, installed seats, communicated with council, constructed the birdhide and nesting boxes, compiled bird and plant lists. A few people can make a difference. Valda Dedman's photo below was taken at the first tree-planting in 1973. Valda is still a passionate guardian of Jerringot.

Jerringot 1973

When the water dried up completely earlier this year the council was able to get in with an excavator to dig out some of the silt and clear some of the reed beds and at the water levels are high again because we have had a 'rain event' recently. The levels will drop over the summer and we get excited about the possibility of seeing crakes and rails feeding on the exposed mud near the reeds.

Jerringot, Belmont

Jerringot, Belmont

The bird list for this small reserve is impressive – over 130 species. It includes Freckled Ducks, seen there last month, Red-kneed Dotterels, Magpie Geese, Cattle Egrets that come in to roost, Royal Spoonbills and Little Bittern. Land birds such as Olive-backed Oriole, Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, White-winged Triller, Grey Shrike-thrush and Grey Goshawk have been seen there. Jerringot is a site of State significance because of the number of Latham's Snipe that feed in the reed beds each summer (more than 200 in some years). Crakes and rails find the exposed mud near the reed beds attractive. We have seen Buff-banded Rails, Spotted Crakes and Spotless Crakes and Baillon's Crake (The latter is a bird I have yet to see – my excuse is that it's tiny and my eyes aren't what they used to be!)

If you're passing through Geelong take the time to visit Jerringot, Barwon Heads Rd, Belmont. I'm glad it's in my patch. I'm told that a Growling Grass Frog Litoria reniformis was calling there this week so I'm heading down there to check it out.


Yesterday the sky was clear on a warm day, then these clouds came up quickly and filled half the sky, and then they were gone. It looked stunning. I know nothing about clouds but I suppose there is a catagory for this type.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Feather-heads and Pussy-tails

It is always a surprise to see the feathery heads standing above the vegetation on the volcanic plains. And I'm not talking about birds.

The flowering stems of Feather-heads Ptilotus macrocephalus are about 60 cm tall and the flowers look a bit like bottlebrush flowers from a distance, but up close they have a beautiful woolly appearance. The long leaves are wide and strappy. The genus name Ptilotus means 'feathered wings', and the specific name macrocephalus means 'large head'. The fabulous Jean Galbraith in her book Wildflowers of South-East Australia said:
All eastern species [of Ptilotus] have large (1-6") terminal flower clusters like fluffy cylindrical brushes. Narrow shining flower segments are just visible through a mist of long hairs growing beneath them. Texture of segments usually everlasting-like.

Ptilotus macrocaphalus

Ptilotus macrocephalus

We found the Feather-heads growing on open grassland when we were doing a plant survey on private property at Bannockburn yesterday. Grassland is a word used to mean an area with very few trees or shrubs. There were indeed many grasses – Kangaroo Grass, poas, spear grass and wallaby grasses - but we also found many species of herbs growing amongst the grasses – lilies, daisies, peas, orchids, pimeleas, goodenias, wahlenbergias. The grassland was looking very colourful.

After surveying the grassland we moved into an area classified as grassy woodland, and we found the Pussy-tails Ptilotus spathulatus. These are much harder to see because the leaves hug the ground and although the flower heads are vertical they are quite short. As their name indicates the leaves are spoon-shaped.

Ptilotus spathulatus

Ptilotus spathulatus

Galbraith's illustrator was Camilla Jakobson, and this is her drawing of the Ptilotus spathulatus.

Apparently both species of Ptilotus have huge taproots. I'll have to bow to the authorities in my reference books on this, because I haven't actually dug one up. But I have bought one. Today there was a Waterwise Expo at the Geelong Botanic Gardens, and the Friends had a plant sale. I couldn't walk past the Pussy-tails for sale. Now I have to decide which spot in my garden most replicates a 'grassy woodland'.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Happy birthday to me

As far as birthdays go it wasn't up at the top of the excitement list. For one, I'm getting way too close to moving into my seventh decade; two, I had to work all day even though it was Cup Day; three, I had to rush home from work, cook a meal and then go out to chair a meeting.

But, two things happened that made my day great. When I got home this afternoon I found Phil and our neighbour weeding my back garden. (They didn't have to go to work on Cup Day.) I manage to keep the weeds at bay in the parts of the garden that are on show but the back is a bit of a disaster. It's looking quite respectable now. And, the second great thing that happened was that while they were weeding they found a Pobblebonk Frog Limnodynastes dumerili, burrowed into the soil under the mulch. We have never, ever, heard a Pobblebonk (I love saying that word) calling from in our yard, but we used to hear one calling from a pond that was briefly in the houseyard next door. Maybe it's the same frog. Normally our garden is very dry because we live on a north-facing slope – it's wet at the moment because we have had a lot of rain over the last few days - but this frog didn't look like he was passing through. Of course I had to take his photo, even though I didn't really have time and it was getting dark.
Pobblebonk Frog

Friday, 2 November 2007

Revisiting favourite places

I’ve learned a thing or two over the last few years. One is never to brake quickly when I see an interesting bird. The driver behind usually (never!) has the same appreciation of the natural world. I now slow down gradually, keeping my eye on the road instead of the bird.

This lesson held me in good stead this morning. I was driving to work thinking about the priorities in the day ahead when I noticed something that had me looking twice. All thoughts of work disappeared. The wattle with the beautiful mistletoe (that I wrote about in May) is no longer in existence. The bulldozers working on the Geelong freeway have now moved on the Stage 3, in my part of town, and even though I knew where the roadworks were going to be I wasn’t expecting so many trees in the paddock to be cut down.

My mind went back to the time (nearly 20 years ago) when I revisited my parents’ farm after it had been sold. The gully that mum and dad had fenced off and nurtured for years, the beautiful tree-filled, ferny gully with a little creek that was home to native fish, had been destroyed by the cattle allowed in by the new owner. Only the trees remained -- everything else had been ruined by cloven hooves and grazing, and the water was muddy instead of clear. I still feel sad when I think about it.

Fortunately the nearby Darlot Creek is still in reasonable condition. It has one stony bank, the result of a lava flow from Mt Eccles, so the land on that side has only ever been lightly grazed. But lots more could be done to restore the health of the creek. Getting rid of willows would be a good place to start.

Darlot Creek

The (weekly) times they are a changin'

For our Eco Book Group meeting this month we decided to each buy the four issues of The Weekly Times published in October and see what was written about the natural world. When we all turned up with coloured plastic flags pointing to many highlighted paragraphs we realised that The Weekly Times and its readers actually have a lot to say.

The lively discussion ranged over the subjects of weeds, feral animals, water resources, native grasses, conservation of remnant vegetation, climate change, Landcare, Trust for Nature, alpine grazing, Red Gum forests, fishing and drought. We didn’t always agree with what was written but on whole we thought much of it was positive and informative.

In the last year we’ve read Maathai (tree planting), Flannery (weather), Pearce (water) and Pyne (fire). Next time we’d like to move away from the reference section of the bookshelf and into the realms of fiction. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Grassy woodland survey

A group of us turned up at the private property at Bannockburn, set to survey a selected area of grassy woodland. And survey it we did. It took all day. Some of us walked the area to see what was growing there, some sampled the water in the creek for saltiness and oxygen levels and dipped the water for its invertebrates, some checked the insect pitfall traps, the mammal traps were checked, we looked and listened for the birds. There were some friendly and interesting discussions during rest breaks about identification of particular species.
It was a hot day and the vegetation showed the effect of many dry years but we saw many different plants flowering, including the nationally vulnerable Clover Glycine Glycine latrobeana. Several orchid species were flowering well - the Tiger Orchid Diuris sulphurea looked very handsome and the Sun-orchids were fully open in the sunshine. (Its exact identity wasn't clear but I think we decided it was the Plain Sun-orchid Thelymitra nuda or a near relative.)

Sun-orchid Thelymitra nuda

Tiger Orchid Diuris sulphurea

A report will be given to the owners and the Catchment Management Authority, and results will be published in the Field Naturalists Club magazine. And the survey group will move on to investigate another private property in the near future. I'm already looking forward to it.
The aim is to build up the bank of knowledge about particular vegetation types on the volcanic plains. It's fun to do, and a terrific way for a novice to learn from the experts.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Grasslands Forever

Only 1% of the original vegetation on Victoria's volcanic plain remains, on roadsides, cemeteries, stock routes and in areas on private land that have been grazed but not cropped. Thankfully the volcanic nature of the plain meant that some areas have been impossible to plough.
The plains once supported a complex community of tussocks of Kangaroo Grass and other tussock grasses interspersed with a variety of lilies, orchids, daisies and other small herbs – 600 different species probably.
There is not enough effort being made to protect what we have left, and the loss of species and habitat is still happening. Even in reserved areas there are incremental losses of diversity over the years. Only the hardy plants are surviving because of changed fire regimes, weeds, man-made chemicals in soil and air, even climate change have an effect. And now we have machines that are capable of crushing the rocks on the plains, so we lose the fauna that use the rocks as shelter. Remnants need to be fenced and managed – strategic grazing, avoiding the use of fertilisers, weed control, a fire regime.
How can we make grasslands sexy? A lot of great work is being done by farmers, the Landcare organisation, Trust for Nature, Land for Wildlife. But a lot of the work involves planting trees and shrubs. Plains don't have trees and shrubs. And it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to re-establish a grassland. We have to put money and effort into preserving what is left.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Blog Action Day

Tomorrow is Blog Action Day and thousands all over the world are participating.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Cemetery visit

There was a time when the only, apart from the obvious, reason I went into a cemetery was for family history research. I've spent a lot of time in cemeteries, checking out the headstones and burial places of my ancestors, transcribing headstones for databases, leading guided cemetery walks.
My fellow genealogists laughed at me when I occasionally took my binoculars to country cemeteries to observe interesting birds, but I never really noticed what was underfoot until after I became aware of the plant world (as opposed to the bird world). Then it gradually dawned on me that country cemeteries are often little remnants of what the vegetation used to be like in a particular district. They haven't been ploughed and planted with crops of grasses, they are usually far bigger than necessary for their designated business, they are slashed occasionally and that suits the Australian herbs and grasses. Neglect has been the perfect management tool. Now when I visit a cemetery I am more often there to look at the vegetation than for any other purpose.
Today I went to the Anakie Wildflower Show, a good display of the huge range of plants that grow in the Brisbane Ranges north-east of Geelong. With time to spare I, and many other visitors, decided to check out some of the wildflowers on tracks and roadsides. Almost the whole of the Brisbane Ranges has been burnt in the last couple of summers but the wildflowers have responded well. Many of the peas were flowering, as well as daisies, lomandras, orchids, bluebells – the bush was putting on a show.

Golden Grevillea

Then I went to the Steiglitz Cemetery. The fires missed this area and it has always been worth a visit. Today I found the lovely Golden Grevillea Grevillea chrysophaea flowering, Flying Duck Orchids, the pink-flowering Heath Teatree (growing along the ground because of the slashing), Many-flowered Mat-rush Lomandra multiflora, Tiny Drosera Drosera pygmaea, Bent Goodenia Goodenia geniculata and the white flowers of Blunt Everlastings Argentipallium obtusifolium.

Flying Duck Orchid

Tiny Drosera

Blunt Everlasting

Bent Goodenia

Friday, 12 October 2007

Grey's country today

George Grey (later Sir) was a fascinating man and his story is quite amazing. After he left Western Australia he became Governor of South Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony (South Africa) and again New Zealand. Then he became a member of parliament and severed a term as Premier of New Zealand. He was autocratic and radical but held a deep respect for indigenous peoples.

Here I mention only one incident in his life – an expedition along the coast of Western Australia when he was a young bloke.

After mishaps, miscalculations and misfortunes his party of ten men rowed in two whale boats down the coast from the Gascoyne River area (near present-day Carnarvon). On April Fools Day 1839 both boats were damaged beyond repair as Grey and his party attempted to land during heavy seas near what we now know is the Murchison River mouth at Kalbarri. They had to walk the 500 kms to Perth over unexplored country and they had very little food. Grey published an account of the whole experience, and described the countryside. His description of the Murchison:
…one of the most romantic and picturesque estuaries I have yet seen: its shores abounded with springs, and were bordered by native paths, whilst the drooping foliage of several sorts of Casuarina, the number of wild swans on its placid bosom … imparted to the whole scene a quiet and a charm…

Murchison estuary at Kalbarri

The Murchison estuary is still beautiful, but we didn't see any swans. The Kalbarri National Park preserves most of the country surrounding the lower parts of Murchison River but Kalbarri itself, on the estuary, is in danger of spoiling itself by allowing too much development. At nearby Red Rock we noticed a large patch of land cleared of native vegetation and landscaped for new houses.

Clearing for development at Kalbarri

Grey and his party walked south, often using Aboriginal tracks through the scrub, often desperately searching for water and food. Because of the difficulties Gray pushed the reluctant men to walk long distances each day – they wanted to walk and rest, walk and rest. Grey named this 'bare, sterile and barren' area Gairdner Range. It includes Mt Lesueur. His description of this area near Jurien and Cervantes:

…elevated undulating sandy plains, covered with a thick prickly scrub, about two and a half feet high; these plains were however occasionally studded with a few Banksia trees, but anything more dark, cheerless, and barren than their general appearance, can hardly be conceived.

Mt Lesueur

Mt Lesueur was one of most amazing places we visited. It does have the cheerless appearance that Grey talked about but it is now a national park, and is a mecca for botanists and scientists. It has a very diverse population of plants. On the sign at the carpark it stated that 60% of the plants recorded on Mt Lesueur are different to those on Mt Michaud on 1.5 km away. When we were there last week I was amazed at how many different species of plants were flowering, and that was just beside the road in and the track to the top of Mt Lesueur. I am definitely going back, and for longer.

Mt Lesueur

Reference: Grey (1841) Expeditions in Western Australia 1837-1839 Vol. 2