Creekside beauties

There are many small birds here but they do NOT stay still for photos for me to share them with you. Swallows, Willy Wagtails, honeyeaters, finches… I will have to take to sitting outside and waiting, with camera poised. I think that’s called birdwatching.

Thankfully the flora here is slower moving.

Alongside the small creek is a narrow strip of beautiful remnant rainforest. Yes, there are too many weeds and invasive trees like Camphor Laurel, but looking up to admire one large indigenous tree, just look what I saw.

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When I returned to show friends, the orchid’s flowers had disappeared. So the flora may be slower than the birds, but I’ll have to be fast to catch their stages.

I’ve tried to identify this orchid, but I’m lost amongst the Dendrobiums; could it be Dendrobium monophyllum, also known as ‘Lily of the Valley’? The little finger petals seemed distinctive to me and closer to the drawings of this one than any other.

I have so much to learn about this new place and its inhabitants.

Of bulbs and birches

After a few days of welcome (if inconvenient for moving house) heavy rain, the bare trees are glistening in the morning sunlight, and the bulbs beneath them are struggling to lift their heads.

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I love winter birches: for their bark and the lichen it attracts, for their bobbles and fine branchlets and twigs and the raindrops they cherish.

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Some of the fat snowflake clumps are flattened…

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…the first shy daffodil heads are about to unfold, and the fallen autumn leaves escape the wind by huddling amongst new iris leaves.

Seeing beauty

As I pack and move out 36 years’ worth of my magpie collection, the cabin is far emptier than ever since it was built. I am appreciating the texture of the more revealed expanse of mud walls, freshly emphasised with the repainting (with natural paints of course).

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I am admiring each treasure before I pack it away, and loving the flowers that winter here gives me for brightening indoors.

Sometimes I’m almost too late to catch a fleeting beauty on offer…

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…like the last low rays of the sunset through my front door leadlight…

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…or the coloured glass window in front of my desk.

Who needs Spring?

Fortunately some of the most sweetly scented bulb blooms are at their best in Winter. Erlicheer are my favourite, on the plant and in a vase. They have naturalised and multiplied here, need no care, and the critters don’t eat them. In other words, a wonder plant!

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Next to my bird bath I planted this Lilli-Pilli to provide some cover for the sipping or bathing birds. The bonus for them — and me — is its abundant crop of pinkish-mauve berries. They make a great ‘flower’ arrangement indoors too, keeping their colour for weeks.

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But even the bare vines on my Winter verandah are beautiful in their shapes. The wisteria and the ornamental grape intertwine and twist around themselves and each other to provide a decorative lacework that’s better than any static iron verandah ‘lace’.

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I suspect it won’t be long before I lose that linear treat, as the wisteria seems about to bud. Hang on, there’s still a whole month of Winter to go.

Winter appetites

As the grass grows more slowly, the wallabies and roos are being driven to eat plants they don’t regularly fancy. 

This wallaby was being very intense about one of the rosemary bushes, which are all grotesquely pruned each winter to leggy topknots.

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Several branches were held firmly together in his paws while he stripped them. Still holding these, he then stretched up to seize yet another with his mouth. ‘Greedy beast!’ I muttered through the window.

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Hearing me, he dropped the branches and turned around with an expression of great innocence.

H-mm. I wonder if rosemary-fed wallaby would be a gourmet dish like rosemary-fed lamb?

Just kidding.

Summer Surprises

After so much rain, the early summer heat is encouraging growth and blossoming and inviting birds and bees to sample the offerings.
It doesn’t seem to bother the plants that this heat alternates erratically with chilly mornings and nights.

And of course these are all plants blessed by being despised by my munching macropods!

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My most spectacular summer surprise is always the clump of Spider Lilies. From nothing they arch forth their broad straps of leaves and then their extravagantly designed flowers, trailing enticing scarves of white and extending shamelessly come-hither stamens.

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A close second are the Lilliums, heading for the sky afresh each summer and making at least two metres before they trumpet their bunches of elegant bells.

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Far less showy but making up for this lack in abundance is the Lilli-Pilli shrub, much loved by a world of insects. Who would miss Spring with such annual Summer surprises? It’s always incredible to me that these plants resurrect themselves, unaided and unreminded, every year.

Awesome, ancient Kaputar

Mt Kaputar National Park in north-west New South Wales is rugged, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. The mainly agricultural countryside here is very flat, so the Nandewar Range and its volcanic rock sentinels are distinctive — and old. It’s estimated that the volcanic activity that formed them was 17-21 million years ago.

At 1510 metres above sea level, Mt Kaputar itself has been calling to me for years as I drove along the Kamilaroi Highway to Narrabri or Moree for book talks.

I never had time to turn off for a few hours to answer that call.

But last week, in between protest actions against Santos CSG project in the Pilliga Forest,  I made time. My Gypsy camper and I wound our way up easily — caravans aren’t allowed — and spent two nights at the highest camping area, Dawsons Springs. I had to work, so only did a few walks one morning — but I’ll be back.

This is quite swish camping for $5 a night, with hot showers and flushing loos, but the site still feels high and wild, replete with browsing Eastern Grey kangaroos and many birds.

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Snow gums and silvertop stringybarks arch over soft mounds of Poa tussock grass and many small flowering herbs. I can’t decide whether to look up or down!

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There are an incredible number of fallen trees thoughout the forest, uprooted and broken. I can only imagine how strong the winds must blow at this height — and how fiercely this would all burn.

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From open forest to strange rocky heaths, this place has a spine-tingling presence and great cultural significance to the Gomeroi people.  When I return, I hope to be guided by them, as elder Alf Priestley, whom I re-met at the Pilliga Ten Mile Dam camp, has offered to do.

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As always, I am fascinated by the details of shape and colour, of natural artistry, from lichens to bark…

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My pleasure was only spoiled by the reality check of what I saw from one lookout. In an echo of the Hunter, the overburden scar of the Boggabri mine near Leard Forest was clearly visible. How much bigger will this be if the nearby Maules Creek mine goes ahead?

Flower balm

After last weekend, my spirit was in sore need of healing. Especially as I’d spent, not just Saturday, but the past week in town standing on hard cement all day each day, offering hopeful one-liners and how-to-vote leaflets for The Greens at the pre-poll booth too.

So getting back to the Mountain was urgent.

And no, I’m not going to comment on the election results, except to say that it is imperative now that we all get more active regarding climate change if our grandchildren are not to inherit a nightmare world.

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In the hot week away, Spring had forced many early flowerings: Jasmine, May, Wisteria, Pittosporum… scents and sights as balm for my soul.

The rock orchids above the outdoor loo were truly stunning — a frothing shower of white on one clump, while the other’s slight delay gave honeysuckle varied tones.

In the early morning light, as they caught the first sunlight, they were breathtaking.

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Unfortunately the warm weather had also brought increased bushfire worries, as escaped hazard reduction burns linger uncontrolled in difficult country. 

The air was smoky anyway but on this morning it mingled with early rising mist and this newly blooming camellia glowed like a beacon before it. As with all my camellias, it is unattractively swathed in netting to keep the wallabies and roos from eating it. The camellias were all grown from cuttings from an old garden, so are especially precious.

Even a few days there helped restore my positivity before I had to go to Sydney to speak at the 350º Divestment Forum. Always a boost to see so many people passionate about acting to save our only planet.

Rocks and revival

I had to spend a week in the Toowoomba region lately, so I shared the time between two national parks. I wasn’t really sightseeing, as I had to work, but I prefer a bush setting for my solar powered camper/office. 

Crows Nest National Park is about 50 km up the New England Highway from Toowoomba. It’s high, and ‘rocky’ is an understatement.

Huge granite boulders are stacked and tossed about in the creek and the gorge, with uprooted tree trunks wedged amongst them from past raging floods.

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The Bottlebrush Pool looked as blue as the brave kids who’d just hopped out when I arrived.

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Apart from the occasional Weeping Bottlebrush in bloom, there were already quite a lot of shrubs or small trees in flower, many of which I didn’t know. Still don’t exactly, as the ranger’s promise of a flora species list didn’t eventuate.

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There’d obviously been fires through some of the park, and it was heartening to see the struggling new growth at the base of shrubs and trees. There may be more rocks than topsoil here, but nature’s programmed revival is under way.

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This magnificent grass tree in blossom was a stark lime green contrast to its surrounds.

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The rocks are beautifully bedecked with lichen here, and in the unburnt park, away from the turmoil of the creek’s history and the falls of the cliffs, their shapes are more gently rounded. Gentle too, are the softly curving small trees that form a matted forest, a guard of honour for the sandy path. 

I found Crows Nest National Park to be one of contrasts, from the lookout over the Valley of Diamonds to the creekside picnic ground, and clearly a tough survivor.

Who needs roses?

The resident macropods have killed all my roses bushes by their perseverance in eating every shoot or bud that dares to peek through the sad grey wood of the remnants.

But they do not eat bulb leaves or flowers. I don’t know why, but I am very, very grateful, because each winter I am treated to displays like these.

The Erlicheer jonquils (above) come first, forming a perfumed bank below my now bare verandah vines. Their dense clusters are a little like roses;  I love the deep buttery depths of their cream petals.

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The tall white jonquils of a simpler, more open design are less strongly scented, while the orange-hearted yellow ones are mainly there for colour and cheeriness — and because they keep coming back each year.

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My childhood favourite was always the clumps of snowflakes, dainty white bells whose picot edges are decorated with just the right amount of green.

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Before their flowering gives a lighter touch, there’s a different charm in the strong blades of the leaves as they jostle for space around the birch tree. I ought to be separating these clumps; people say they will flower more if I do, but when a clump like this comes out it is as bountiful as I can imagine.

Seeds of promise

The leaves have fallen from many of my garden trees and vines, so the seed pods are spectacularly visible. This White Cedar tree is a rare deciduous native, Melia Azedarach, often called Persian Lilac for its flowers, but also Bead Tree, for the now-obvious reason. They are indigenous to my region, amongst many others.

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I have just pruned back the vines on my verandah, to reduce the build up of woody old growth (for bushfires), to promote new growth in spring, and to let in maximum winter sunlight. Before I did, I captured some of the masses of seed pods.

These are from the Chilean ‘jasmine’ (which it isn’t), Mandevilla laxa, whose scented white trumpet flowers produce hundreds of paired long skinny seed pods, now ‘popped’ apart and bursting with tiny feather-winged seed darts. They obligingly self-propagate.

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These papery extra-terrestrials clawing skywards are from my very tall white lilliums.

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The fat velvety brown pendulums of the White Wisteria do the opposite, hanging heavy, pointing to the soil where they want to land and grow. But these I will collect and attempt to aid the process in my glasshouse. The flowers are so ethereal I want more.

Visiting the lilypads

I haven’t been down close to my small dam, my waterlily world, for months, mainly because I usually come across a red-bellied black snake there.

I’d only looked from a distance, as when the White-necked Heron came.

Today I took the camera and went there on purpose, to see how the lilies were growing and what was gadding about amongst them.

To my surprise the Heron was there! Does he visit far more often than I notice, or is this just coincidence?

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With several harsh croaks he flew up into a nearby tree and assumed an aloof pose until I should leave, which he’d have to notice out of the corner of his eye, as he wasn’t deigning to be seen watching me.

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But it’s no wonder he visits, quite apart from the aquatic tucker, as the little dam looks very pretty.

The two pots of waterlilies (one pink/white, one lemon/white were planted in separate spots. They are thriving, the pink spreading further than the lemon and indeed, jostling for space at its claimed end.

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As always, I see lots of tiny wildlife on and around the waterlilies; the more I look, the more I see: spiders, dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers. I see no frogs or tortoises but I know they’re here.