Little Fella details

In the Big Fella Gum Forest Reserve, whose mighty trees I admired last post, I was also intrigued by many of its small details.

Like the beautifully delineated shield-like leaves of this young Prickly Supplejack (Ripogonum discolor) which starts out looking as if it’s a shrub then becomes a strong climber. The sailors/Jack Tars on early voyages called it Supple Jack because of its climbing ability, and many parts of the plant are useful.

The few bright new leaves of this tree, Maiden’s Blush, (Sloanea australis) caught my eye several times. The name refers to the colour of its heartwood as well as its young leaves.

Even brighter were these very, very tiny red fungi hiding amongst the deep leaf litter. The water-logged ground beneath was soft, especially near the creek, and I sank several times… but I only attracted one leech.

Other fungi were larger and in the less-noticeable shades of brown.

Although this shelf fungus was so large that it drew attention without vivid colouring except for its white underside.

The extended roots of the big Turpentine were mostly buried under leaves, but this noticeable hump in its progress is clearly being used as shelter.

Unusual shapes and patterns in Nature always fascinate me, as did this small ladder of bark mouths or kisses, the origin of which nobody knew.

And if one tree was puckering up, another was choosing to send its green passenger growing sideways.

This palm chose to cascade its moss from a slit in its decorative lichen-splotched trunk.

And as a final show, in the unbroken depths of this rainforest pocket, a fallen giant lay shrouded in rich green velvet, decaying in beauty while nourishing the earth beneath.

No wonder my spirit itself feels nourished after such an excursion, fed with new sights and understandings, enlightened by others who know so much about our flora.

Secret survivors

Tucked away behind Kendall is an almost forgotten green wonderland, the Big Fella Gum Forest Reserve. Under the management of the Forestry Corporation, it is neither easy to find nor to find your way once inside it. There are small decaying timber markers at ground level, marked with arrows, once red… and an occasional red tape marker, but you have to find them. We were being guided by someone who knew this rainforest and its hidden treasures.

And there were many. 

Like the strange narrow plate buttresses of the Yellow Carabeens (Sloanea woollsii).

Some of these were wavy-edged, knuckled, undecided.

There were many palms here, and many vines, some as thick as the palms…

…and some so festooned with searching roots that they seemed bearded.

Surprisingly, some of the looping vines bore epiphytes, as if they were actual tree trunks.

A stunning feature tree was this ancient Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys), where the gnarly convolutions of its base denoted its age and secured its position.

Another giant was this Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) whose bark bore scorch marks but it had not burnt, being one of the most difficult timbers to ignite. Highly durable, it is much sought after for poles and wharves, as it resists marine invertebrates and termites.

Apart from the famed Big Fella Gum, once deemed the tallest tree in NSW, there were other impressive Flooded Gums (Eucalyptus grandis).

This forest is  impressive in itself, keeping these mighty survivors safely ensconced in their green realm for us to marvel at today.

Long-ago luxuries

I have finally been sorting through the saved flood-damaged files and photos, not without much regret and a few tears, throwing out many, reviving some and surmising what must have been deemed beyond hope and tossed by my helpers in the flood aftermath.

My daughter had dried these curling and stuck-together remnants; I just have not been able to face them.

I came across this drawing, intended for what I can’t recall, but it did set me reminiscing on just how primitive were the bathing facilities … and the leaky tank water supply… with which I grew up.

No shower, a once-a-week bath in inches of water, daily face and hands washing in a basin on a chair, which was then set on the floor for feet washing while one sat on the chair.  And we did not get a bath or a basinful each, but shared it: Mum first, then down through the sisters, with Dad last.

The once-a-week hair washing was done over the cement laundry tubs, with a jug of warm water for rinsing. For years I was too short to do this comfortably, as the drawing shows!

The wood-fired copper heated the water for Mum’s washing, with a water-furred stick for stirring the clothes and for lifting them out to the adjacent tubs for rinsing.

Mum did have a small cloth bag of Bluo for special whites and a slab of rough sandsoap for Dad’s really dirty work clothes.

But overall one soap did all this, plus being grated into the wire mesh soap holder for dishwashing: a plain yellow bar of Sunlight, the sort that would now be considered only fit for the laundry. 

The dishwashing was done in another dish, on the kitchen table, with a metal tray beside it for the brief draining of dishes before our tea towels seized them. There was no hot water on tap in kitchen, bathroom or laundry. The kettle on the fuel stove heated the washing-up water, while a ferocious and highly unpredictable chip heater loomed at the end of the claw-footed bath for the daring to light.

How did we survive without the hundreds of options in personal soaps, bodywashes, shampoos, conditioners, water softeners, pre-washes, stain removers, laundry powders or liquids?

How did my mother?!!

I can still recall the wonder of my first shower, elsewhere, as a late teenager. 

So my years of outdoor bush showers and washing at the kitchen sink at the Mountain were not hard; they were luxuries!

Stony surprises

On a very stony headland the profusion of spring flowers is surprising. Flannel flowers en masse of course, as everywhere here on the mid north coast right now, but many others too.

These mini flannel flowers manage to survive, if not exactly thrive, on almost nothing but stones.

On Diamond Head, the sight of a single flowering Xanthorrhoea was heartening, rising tall and proud amongst the still very evident carnage from the bushfires that had raged through here.

Less dramatic were the dainty five-petalled purple blooms of Scaevola ramosissima, looking as fragile as ground orchids.

A double treat presented where the purple Dampiera was growing amongst the woolly pink-budded Xanthosia pilosa.

There were only a few of these straggly shrubs of Kunzea capitata with their fluffy pink blooms.

One I did recognise was this clump of cheery yellow paper daisies or everlastings. They at least seemed tough enough to cope with the stony seaside ground in which they were growing.

Peeping through my fingers

Glimpses of childhood, old age – and the dangerous bits in between

As followers of this blog, most of you know me as a nature writer, the author of The Woman on the Mountain and Mountain Tails. Basically I am an observer of the world around me, whatever that happens to be.

In this collection of short stories, I turn from peeping on my wild animal neighbours to peeping on my fellow humans in their hopeful stumble through time — ‘life’ — and then imagining a story about what I saw. Fiction, based on a germ of real life.

Since my third book, Rich Land, Wasteland, I have been totally involved in battles for our environment and communities and for action on climate change — lately dominated by the fight to save Bimblebox Nature Refuge from Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal.

Meanwhile I have neglected my fiction, and yet short stories are my favourite writing genre. So, after a few health scares, and facing turning 75 next birthday, I realised I might run out of time to remedy that neglect. 

This collection of stories, grouped into three sections – Growing Up, Grown Up? and Growing Old – is linked by short commentaries on my own evolving life, as candid as my readers have come to expect. Many of these stories are award-winners, but here brought together for the first time. I want them read more widely! 

I aim to continue with both storytelling and activism. Your support will help me do that.

Please spread the word amongst your friends and groups. I am happy to come and speak to a gathering, and talk to me if you want to use the book as a fundraiser.

The book, ISBN 978-0-6456106-0-4, is distributed to bookshops and libraries by IngramSpark and is now available.

True colours less

Much beauty can be found in restricted colour palettes in Nature, like this cloud-embellished early morning skyscape.

Brown is not usually a favourite colour of mine, but here, decorating tree trunks in elaborate patterns of cinnamon, cocoa and cream fungi, it is.

White always draws me in, and fungi can do that beautifully too, studding this slim tree with a constellation of tiny moth-like fungi.

The bush offers fascinating shapes in its restricted colour work too, as here in this water-washed path, where, as my walking companion noted, the tree roots made a perfect natural staircase.

Who needs gaudy colours when such subtle artistry abounds?

Resurrection reds

In many Australian trees and shrubs, new growth is heralded by reds, from pinkish red to orangey red.

Often these fresh leaves are more colourful or noticeable than the flowers, and are usually softer than the older leaves.

Red is even implied in the common name of this Bleeding Heart tree (Omalanthus). I loved that the small flower spikes were all curving as if posing for a Leunig cartoon.

In the areas devastated by bushfire two years ago, any new growth is welcome, but so is seeing the repurposing of trees burnt beyond resurrection as they host healthy fungi.

This one has become an arresting sculpture, while also nurturing small ferns in its hollow and a series of fungi steps on a limb.

Nature wastes nothing.

Discovering the new

I know well the glory of flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi) in bloom, especially en masse, as they are here, forming a guard of honour, contrasting gaily with the greys and duller greens of the ti-tree bush, dead and alive.

But on this walk, I saw plenty that was new to me.

Like this pretty lilac-flowered small bush, likely Kunzea capitata.  I only saw two examples on the whole walk. And spot the ubiquitous pink boronia in the background on the upper right?

A sole orchid declared its presence with one red flower out and several in waiting above: the Large-tongued Orchid, or Duck-billed Orchid, Crystostylis subulata. I will have to return to see the cluster above when open. My first sighting of this orchid!

Not pretty, but certainly notable and new to me, was this young tree, bearing the toughtest, most leathery leaves I have ever felt. Their edges were very stiffly serrated.

I am told it is a common small rainforest tree, Veiny Wilkeia or Wilkiea huegeliana.

As always, I am agog at how much the NSW Native Plant Facebook group members know… and how much I have to learn!

Wet weather birds

Not all birds like this wet weather.

Noticing two fat birds hurrying across the sodden grass in a manner that struck me as different, I went outside to see where they went.  No luck, so I returned to my desk.

And they were right in front of my window’s view.

Books out; what were these very handsome birds?

Clearly they were not always so fluffy, but those distinctive collars decided me: Spotted Turtledoves.  Found in coastal and urban areas, they were introduced to Melbourne in the 1860s, but are natives of India and South-east Asia.

The business of cleaning and drying soon made them less easy to identify, and my brief sighting was a boon, as they flew off soon after.

Next day, waiting in an industrial area for my vehicle rego check, I was treated to the sight of a family of Maned Wood Ducks, parents and five chicks, who came waddling swiftly across the grass at a distance from me.

No camera, but I did have my phone. It does not render zoomed shots very well, unfortunately.

They disappeared into a hidden and rather dirty flooded creek nearby and I had trouble spotting them at first.

Wavering amongst the tree reflections, the family was safely swimming away, much happier with the wet weather and the abundance of water than my Turtledove visitors.

You never know where or when Nature will reward your observance, so keep your eyes open!

Spring stunners

My second masked venture into sunshine and Spring, this time at coastal Kattang Nature Reserve. And look at this surprise!

Never seen before, and the only one visible to me on the walk.  It did look a bit like a grass tree or Xanthorrhoea, but the flower spike was too fluffy and there was no trunk. There are none of the common Xanthorrhoeas in the reserve, or none that I have seen.

But I am told by the always amazing Facebook group for NSW Plant Identification that this is Xanthorrhoea macronema, or bottlebrush grass plant, and the trunk is below the ground.

What a special solo Spring surprise!

Also new to me was this shrub, where the yellow flowers cluster at the ends of the branches, many with a green cone above their modestly folded golden skirts. The Facebook boffins tell me it’s Phyllota phylicoides, or Common Phyllota. Only it’s not common here, and amongst the thousands of other different yellow-pea-flowering bushes here, its other common name of Yellow Peabush has me laughing aloud.

Another less common shrub here, with most un-pea-like flowers, was partly familiar, as I could see it was an Isopogon, but which one? Could be anemonilfolius or petiolaris, the experts say. With so little information, I am always surprised any identification is possible.

Of course there were many other flowers out, as well as the masses of yellow pea shrubs like Dillwynias, but it seemed that whatever other shy flowers apeared, a pink boronia was nearby.

Their vivid deep pinks were in such profusion amongst all the greys of fallen timber and dead bracken that it was almost an embarrassment of boronias. Such beauty, freely offered…

Several clumps of our dainty Native Iris or Flag, a Patersonia, seemed to be preferring the sunnier open track edges, serenely showing their yellow centres from each three-petalled purple bloom.

And a boronia not far away…

Surprise visits

I knew there were Tawny Frogmouths in the bush beside me, but hardly expected one to come calling on me.

Yet one night, as I descended the stairs and the sensor light in my carport came on, there it was. On my van’s awning canister.

My favourite bird then gave me the benefit of its profile of bristly ‘whiskers’.

The other visitors came on a wet day, levering themselves along, looking about but only between grazing. Not too wary.

I miss my macropods of the Mountain, so seeing these two Eastern Grey Kangaroos was a treat.

One came very close to my deck and as we locked eyes I thanked him for visiting my patch, reminding me of the real world where animals are represented by more than dogs!

Glory days

Having finally got out in the bush to catch up on Spring (nose duly covered by a mask), I have been treated to a glorious shower of yellow flowering shrubs, from lemon to orange-tinged.

This pale beauty is aptly named the Golden Glory Pea, or Gompholobium latifolia.

It grows on the prettiest arching shrub, very different from the stiffer majority.

And now that the wattles are done, the job of carrying the gold throughout this coastal bushland is being borne by a variety of pea-flowering shrubs, too many for me to suss out, like Dilwynias.

In lesser numbers, the Hop Bushes or Dodoneas are flaunting their bunches of soft green flowers.

But the winner for dominance is a shrub or small tree called Satinwood (Nematolepis squamea), whose starry white flowers formally stud its branches throughout the bush, at all different heights.