Thursday, 2 October 2014

A western district landmark

Mount Elephant is a landmark that stands above the volcanic plains of western Victoria. It is a breached scoria cone 240 metres high, a site of National Significance.

In 2000 the local community (Derrinallum and Lismore) as well as Trust for Nature raised the funds to purchase the mountain when it came up for sale. Since then there have been rehabilitation works, an information centre constructed, surveys and revegetation and the site is open to the public on the first Sunday of each month. You can read more about their work here. And there is really informative webpage about the volcanoes in western Victoria here.

There are some photos of what the mountain looked like 100 years ago. The photographer was Gabriel Knight. They show sheoaks and several types of trees and shrubs (possibly Tree Violet and wattles). The recent surveys have revealed the remnants of some of that vegetation. There are no remnant trees now because there were two fires, one in 1944 and another in 1977.

Mount Elephant crater in about 1910. [State Library of Victoria Image H87.52137]
Gabriel Knight's photos of Mt Elephant, Gippsland and north-east Victoria can be viewed online at the State library of Victoria. Von Guerard sketched the crater in 1857 and you see see that image online at the State Library of NSW.

In 2008, at the height of a drought, I took these photos of Mount Elephant from various viewpoints.

Last week I took these photos from the entrance to the information centre. One day soon I'll visit when it's open so I can climb up to the crater.

Note the quarry. This one was a railway ballast quarry and it closed in 1913 because someone finally realised that scoria is too light for ballast. Gabriel Knight photographed some of the workers.

SLV image H87.52141
There is another larger quarry on the west side of Mount Elephant. It closed in the 1990s and there have been rehabilitation works but there is still a very large scar clearly evident from the highway.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

RIP Bluey

In 2009 I wrote here about a Blue-tongue Lizard resident in my garden in suburban Geelong. Since then we've regularly seen it or heard it in its favourite areas of our garden. Sometimes we wouldn't see it for several months and just as we were beginning to think it had disappeared it would rustle under a pile of rocks or a shrub.

Yesterday we returned from several days away from home and discovered the lizard dead on a pathway with claw marks along its back. We suspect the 'murderer' is the cat from next door that regularly stalks in our garden.

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


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.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


I am totally impressed with the rock and the way the crowds of visitors are controlled so that damage to the environment is minimised. Phil was here in about 1969 with some mates and they camped at the base of the rock. I was here in 1972 and there was little infrastructure here then either. Now visitors are housed at Yulara, there is a combined entrance fee to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, there is a fantastic cultural centre, you have to exit the park by a designated time, parking is more or less under control although people still stop to take photos in odd spots, the climb itself is discouraged for cultural reasons and closed altogether when conditions are dangerous (it was closed this afternoon when it was too windy). the only thing lacking at both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are information boards about the geology.

We (and hundreds of other tourists, I'm not joking) sent to see the sunset colour on Uluru last night and it happened to coincide with a moonrise as well. And then today we hired bikes and rode around the rock on the walking track. We had both forgotten just how immense Uluru is.

6.17 p.m.
6.49 p.m.
7.06 p.m.
7.18 p.m.

Done with the cliche. Now for the interesting stuff. There is a lot to see and do at Uluru.

We ate our sandwiches while we were entertained by the climbers trying to descend.

It's a great way to circumnavigate Uluru.

Tawny Frogmouths gave away their position by hooting quietly.
These marvellous seats have been installed at both Kata Tjuta and Uluru.

Desert Sheoaks of various ages.
Just mucking around with reflections in our kettle. Uluru in the background.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta
This place will always be special to us because while we were here our new grandson, Angus, was born.