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

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