Tough and tricky

The cliffs here are rough and rugged; not sheer drops, but lurching staggers and slides.

One has a stern Old Man of the Sea orating to the endless waters.

As you walk along the clifftop paths, lined with Casuarinas and Banksias, their sharp drop-away edges are usually hidden, until suddenly a bare opening seduces you to edge closer, to slip down its loose gravelly slope.

We don’t, watching for whales from well back…

But is from here that we see across to the next cliff, and spy a large bird busily feeding on something; what, we can’t see, even with the help of my camera zoom. The bird is totally preoccupied, does not even look over to our voices.

I think it is an Osprey, that most specialised fisher raptor, so its dinner is likely a fish, caught in one its spectacular feet-first plunges into the sea. 

The water here is so clear that its hunting would be easy. Perhaps it has its large stick nest somewhere in that rugged cliff face. Binoculars needed, I remind myself.

It’s not only the rocks that act tough and take on strange shapes. Termites have given this dead Banksia a head to surpass any of May Gibbs’ Banksia Men.

A vine forms a perfect circle before beginning its climb to the light. Why?

I know Spotted Pythons exist; is this a Mottled Python, or more muscular vines tricking us with their beautiful intertwined shapes and lichen blotches?

Next post I must praise the many wildflowers out now in this Kattang Nature Reserve, but as you see, have had trouble getting past its more solid features.

I love them all.

Ain’t Nature grand?

Mighty mangroves

The tidal rivers and creeks here, close to their ocean destination, are edged with mangroves and mud. Despite growing up near mangrove-fringed Erina Creek on the Central Coast, I had never thought them attractive, never stopped to look more closely. I knew almost nothing about mangroves.

Now they are my neighbours, I need to learn.

Until I came here I hadn’t thought of mangroves as actual trees; the only sort I knew grew low and dense like big shrubs. These clearly are trees, stretching and arching out for long distances.

In fact, mangroves come in trees and shrubs.

We have at least five species in NSW; here they are the taller Grey Mangroves, and perhaps the fringing shorter River Mangroves.

I used to wonder about all those short spiky things that you saw when the tide was out. ‘Ouch’ was my first thought! Shoots, I imagined. But they are ’peg roots’, the air-breathing roots of these plants, so cleverly adapted to tidal inundation and salt.

You can see the mangrove fruits fallen amongst the peg roots, as well as the resulting young seedlings.

These residents of the zone between land and sea are essential: as buffers protecting coastal land, as filters and carbon sinks, as habitat and food, as breeding grounds for many species of, for example, fish or prawns and crabs. 

They and their accompanying salt marshes are too often considered ’wastelands’ and cleared and filled for development.

While we have ‘lost’ about 17% of our mangroves since white settlement, the salt marshes have fared worse, with around 30% gone… and now listed as ‘vulnerable’.

Next to this salt marsh is an isolated mature mangrove, surrounded by its roots and its seedlings: I now see it as a mother tree.

Not pretty… pretty scary, actually! Bare feet not advised.

I haven’t seen the little crabs that must live in these mangrove mudflats but their patterns are as artistic as their beach counterparts, if a little murkier.

I promise to pay more attention to my front yard, come high or low tide!

Mirrorland

It’s not very often that this river is still enough to be a perfect mirror, but as I was out early after sunup this morning, I was treated to perfection.

The mountain usually takes my eye above all, but today the ‘mackerel’ sky of altocumulus cotton buds and its watery reflection was the most impressive.

At my feet, the clouds dissolved into oyster-studded rocks, blurring perceptions.

The she-oaks lean over clouds… and rocks.

The mountain narrows to meet itself in water image.

How fortunate I am to be in lockdown in a place where it’s so worth rising early!

Beach or bush?

I do love my new area, but I have one gripe: too many of the councils allow 4WDS on their beaches.

My heart sinks when I walk out onto such an uninhabited beach as this early of a morning and find it unnaturally defaced, scored with tyre tracks running the length of it …just for fun, just because they can.

The footprints of people, dogs, birds and crabs do not distress me; they belong or have earned the right to be there by being amongst Nature to get there.

I face south and it is the same. Indeed, worse, as I can see vehicles parked there. But perhaps they are there to fish… does that make it OK?  No, past generations of fishermen would have walked, or known where the bush access tracks where to the best spots along that beach. 

I’d better look down, between the tyre tracks, at what the tide has left; I am somewhat heartened that there does not seem to be plastic pieces amongst the shell fragments. Or are they so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye? Pessimism, or realism?

I think I’d better take to the beachside bush instead…

There are three access or picnic spot tracks to this long Dunbogan Beach, each named after a tree, although at these mainly unburnt spots those trees are not obvious to me nor marked: Blackbutt, Cheesetree and Geebung. The signs at these spots tell only of the battle against the invading Bitou Bush all along the coast.

The drive to Blackbutt does wind through what I think is a Blackbutt and Banksia forest.

I am told at the Diamond Head camp National Park office that there are no brochures or leaflets anymore, on flora or fauna. Budget? What about the purpose of national parks to educate?

I suspect I am more in tune with bush than beach, and marvel at the lichen patterns on this tree trunk.

Then I turn and see this fine goanna sunbaking in the open. It hears my camera click on, and turns its head. ‘Hello, you’, I say, as is my wont with all the wild creatures I meet.

Once again, the intricate patterns that Nature has invented make all our human design attempts pale in contrast…

Diamond Head rocks

I have confessed my fascination with — and ignorance about — rocks before.

Cliffs are just bigger rocks.

At one end of Diamond Head Campground Beach these two striking sentinels called me closer.

But when I reach them I see one is a cliff, part of the land, and one is but part of a past cliff, so can I call this one a rock, albeit a very big rock? 

And did you spot the kookaburra poised at the top? On sentry duty on a sentry rock.

To reach that stunning slit to the sea, you have to make your way over a sward of tumbled rocks large and small, deceptively not fixed, ready to cause a grandma to twist an ankle.

Reaching the safety of sand again, I look back and marvel at how lucky I am to be near such a place of natural wonders.

I pass a nonchalantly lazing kangaroo mother and joey by a picnic table. This is a national park after all…

The beach isn’t bad either…

Diamond Head rocks!

Tuckeroo stone garden

I am slowly exploring this Camden Haven area of the NSW mid north coast, taking any turn-offs that catch my fancy. ‘Tuckeroo car park’ in Kattang Nature Reserve was one such. The word intrigued first, then the tree itself that invited me to the green tunnel ahead.

A large specimen with wrinkly elephantine bark, it was loaded with bunches of creamy-lemon blossoms, buzzing with bees.

It is properly called Cupaniopsis anacardioides, and also commonly known as Beach Tamarind, or Carrotwood. Birds love it too, because those flowers are followed by orange-red fleshy berries containing showy orange seeds.

The surprising reward at the end of the short walk was a rocky headland, the northern end of the long unbroken Dunbogan Beach.

I gravitate to small coves and clumps of rocks like this, but what was surprising here were the forms the rocks had taken…

Iron-rimmed geometric shapes, infilled with millions of pebbles…  what gardener had been at work here?

Some still held seawater; at a certain point of tide change the higher rocky rims would be stepped moats.

Other rocks ran in parallel like railroad tracks, or formed crosses in this pebble-crater’s garden.

Others formed backbones for arching ribs…

Or enclosed miniature sea lettuce pools and waterfalls, with small oyster-like shellfish…

Brooding over the stone garden was this ancient wrinkled giant lizard, its smooth head lifted, on alert for any misdemeanours — or for dinner?

Banksias and bijous

On such an exposed part of the Connors Track, the banksias grew low, their golden candles safe from being extinguished by the wind.

On the walk up to that headland other banksia species grew tall and woody, covered in an enormous number of dark seed cones like hairy hand grenades.

Other banksias in that coastal woodland were sized in between, sporting slim pale new candle flowers, older lemon and amber and woody ones all at once.

It is truly a banksia garden, all growing virtually on sand.

Around the Hungry Gate campground, hoary old paperbarks and strangely grown figs dominated, all reaching great heights just in sand.

On the walk, many tiny dainties graced the sandy banks, often making just one appearance. I had to be sharp to spot them; I am sure I missed many such jewels, as I only saw some on the way back.

On some it was the seed pods that caught my eye more than the flowers.

Others, like this vine, literally stepped in front of me, flaunting its curlicues and brilliant colours.

These Isopogons, also called Coneflowers or Drumsticks, are relatives of the banksia and also have woody seed heads.

This solitary large sample turned out to be a fungus, not a flower at all.

And these three were the only sundews I saw, boldly flashing their sticky red rosettes to lure insects.

The trackside bank held many surprises, from the tiniest mosses and flowers to virtual hedges of lilli-pilli.

But the whole walk was full of surprises. Next time I’ll go the whole way and be prepared for more…

Cold coastal wonders

Having moved to the coast, I expected warmer climes, tempered by the nearness to the sea…

But in this recent cold snap, apparently experienced in many places unused to such low temperatures, I find myself needing to rug up at night and early mornings as much I ever did at the Mountain. 

In 2007 I did this illustration for The Woman on the Mountain (the publishers didn’t use illustrations in the end) and apart from the ‘primitive’ desktop Mac instead of my present Mac laptop, I am wearing much the same now! 

But I am near the coast so I took my new/old/2006 VW 4motion camper to Hat Head National Park recently to briefly test it out. I learnt it needs a lot of work to make it suitable for my off-grid type of camping…

While there we did part of the Connors Walking Track, along a stunning coastline where kangaroo-mown lawns slope down to dark craggy cliffs and an endlessly rippling sea.

It is always hard for me to lift my gaze from the ground, especially on an exposed headland like this, where treasures will be small and shy

Also, as I do not cope well with heights, I stay well back from cliff edges and admire the views from afar.

Up close, I could see hundreds of native yellow paper daisies, snuggled amongst the cropped grass and growing low to avoid the wind.

There were few rocks to afford extra shelter, but plants took advantage of those, with bright pigface and greener grass savouring the lesser evaporation.

Making it as far as Third Beach, I focused on the rocks there, black and round boulders, lichen-painted and dotted, multi-formed and -coloured as they were.

Yet again I wished I knew more of geology to understand how so many disparate shapes and patterns came to be together.

The tide had receded, leaving lines of tiny earth offerings… including hundreds of tiny bits of plastic, most too small for my camera to pick up. Plastic bottle tops were many and obvious, but it was these small bits that appalled me.

So it was a relief to see bird tracks large and small… although would their crops be full of such tiny plastic particles?

As we left the beach, I spotted an isolated clump of Pandanus/Breadfruit trees, propped on their sticklike legs amongst the rocks edging the sand. I am always amazed at the way small pockets of different ecosystems find their perfect niches.

And after the flood and the move, I found I’d needed that brief break as a reminder of the whole natural world of wonders out there awaiting me…

Caring for Nature takes work!

Bimblebox Nature Refuge occupies 8,000 hectares. Not huge by western Queensland measures, but by NSW coastal standards it’s almost inconceivably vast.

 My Mountain wildlife refuge and conservation property was only 64 hectares, and I know how much work was involved in trying to keep an eye out for new invading plants and then to try to keep them in check, year after year. Weeding, weeding, weeding…

My place was remote from agriculture… and people… so there were relatively few feral plants or animals. But even now, when I see paddocks full of fireweed and Crofton weed in vast amounts in national parks and state forests… I sigh, and groan inwardly.

What I did on my little patch may not have made much difference overall, but it meant that one forest ecosystem had the chance to regenerate as it should and not be choked by a feral understorey. And indeed to be as ‘natural’ and in balance as it could be.

As Archie Roach sang, ‘The Australian bush is losing its identity…’

For the 22 years since the gazettal of Bimblebox Nature Refuge, it’s been mainly Ian Hoch doing that neverending work on those 8000ha. Paola is often needed on their sister property, and since 2007, greatly occupied with the fight to save the place from the coal threat. Occasional volunteers have helped, but there have never been enough.

Many who visit have offered advice on how to run or improve Bimblebox, often with grand plans, especially since that coal threat reared its head higher in late 2019.

 The other day I read the following  words of Ian’s; they struck me as expressing so well the many and varied needs of caring for the Refuge there… and why at least one other person helping would make a big difference. So I asked his permission to share extracts from them.

As Ian says, we need these visiting people to see:  ‘the Bimblebox paradox  – it’s everything and it’s nothing’.

‘Change comes one step at a time.’ If people can ‘…see this situation from the resident’s perspective, or at least some of it, or at least to think more about the reasons for historical failure rather than the prospects of future success. I could then say to each as they departed – rather than all the fanfare, the best way you can help is look out for that one person. Now you know how it is here and what’s missing. It’s not at all the postcard depicted by the artists and for the media or government or EDO. 

‘The missing bit is out there somewhere in the suburbs and you might be in a position to fill the gap. One person who can handle this domestic situation, and has a similar interest and has nothing better to do – that’s all we need right now, so starting today we go systematically around the property and catch the coffee senna and parkinsonia and this latest ghastly interloper with thorns to puncture a bullock hide, before they shed their 20 years worth of seed, and of course the horrid harrisia can’t be far away and with the advantage of bird dispersal in this jungle we’ll have a veritable nightmare when it arrives. 

‘After that we might even get some fencing in, secure the hotspot boundaries to avoid more strife with the neighbours, and run electric wires along roads so we can graze to reduce fire, or control burn without having the stock flog the pasture in that critical recovery phase. We might manage to rabbit proof this nursery, and make a start of thinning the century of thickening and ultimately show results to make developers everywhere wish like hell they’d never cleared their land. That’s when we arrive at the irrefutable conclusion – conservation pays, i.e., we’re far better off working in conjunction with nature than fighting with it. It’s an obvious and oft recited axiom but almost meaningless. We don’t see it around us. 

Guess which side of the fence is cared for?

‘You have either production land or recreation land. One stripped, one struggling. Already the health and vitality from retaining diversity is becoming apparent driving around the boundary, but that’s due to the neighbours’ actions, or you might say overaction, rather than our deliberate or constrained inaction.

‘We haven’t done anything yet, and that’s a big part of the aversion and resistance. Whereas with a few years of interaction, or what we now call regeneration, where we check the spread of exotics and enhance floral diversity (with controlled grazing) and redress the pasture/woody imbalance (with herbicide, because we’ve learnt that fire can’t and bulldozers make it worse) would turn everything around. In that regard one able bodied person with nothing but work clothes and willingness is worth more than a thousand novel proposals, as clever and well intended as they are. We could start our on the boundary where the contrast is most telling.

‘We’ve been here 22 years now, longer than anyone since the first people were turfed out, or at least I have, and in that time have actually come up with a few worthwhile undertakings myself and it’s amazing how many think you’re short of  ideas and direction. Art camp’s a case in point.’

It was built from ‘recovered and repaired materials’, mainly by Ian and son Karly. As TBA said in their Chuffed campaign, it needs an upgrade, and the funds are there, thanks to supporters’ generosity; COVID stopped one capable and keen helper from coming over the border when the weather was cool enough to start the work last year, and now it’s that time again.

Despite funds and advice, ‘nobody bends over and picks up the pieces.’ Ian is about to start the camp work, although he has so much to do already. He now urgently needs that helper. Weeds don’t wait while he is busy elsewhere! Then he could keep up the daily work of caring for Bimblebox and make the camp fully functional again for September, when the rains have come and the heath is a mass of colour. Then artists or visitors who want to come and camp and be energised and inspired by Nature at Bimblebox can do so again.

So I am pleading with you all to think hard whether you know someone who might be able to fill that volunteer role very soon and help Ian with this camp and other work. Caring for Nature takes work!

If you do, or may be able to volunteer yourself, please email Paola on bimblebox@gmail.com or call her on (07) 4985 3474

Waterbird welcome

I have yet to get my head around the different range of birds I will be treated to here. 

By the sea, I expect seagulls of course, but fussing about in formation on the wet sand at Diamond Head were flocks of these small birds that I know should be Little Terns on this part of the coast. But they look more like Fairy Terns, given the lack of black in front of the eye.

Any ideas?

And then, on the waterlogged riverside where I now live, from a distance… and without my glasses… I saw what seemed to be a flock of white sheep grazing.

With glasses, I saw they they were White Ibis, poking about with their long curved bills in the grass where caravans would normally be parked.

Early next morning, in fine drizzle, they were back, but this time in the company of several Royal Spoonbills, who flew off as soon as I and my camera came too close. So apologies for the fuzzy pic from too far away, but it gave me a thrill to see other waterbirds here.

From the river’s edge, I could see a flock of Pelicans far out on an oyster platform, preening and stretching their wings.

Not that I need my bird reference books for Pelicans, but I did for Terns, and thankfully they were on high shelves, so not ruined by the flood. 

Only yesterday I sought my Australian native flower I.D. books for extra info on the Bimblebox Frogs Friday Bluebell… and realised they had been on the next shelf down, so had become sodden pulp.

I daresay I will have more such jolts… oh dear, my fungi books were there too…!

Bells of hope

One year since the total burning of the Crowdy Head National Park in last summer’s bushfires, I drove – inched?–over potholes and washouts and corrugations and roadside drain overflows. The coast here has had a month of daily rain.

I was worried my old AWD Subaru was not adequate, as I met bigger, higher, real 4WDS. You can never tell how deep a hole is until you are in it…

The taller forests were blackened trunks, many with new shoots, but not all. As you can see on the higher land, where the trees are still a fringe of skeletons. Too depressing for a photo…

So hope for 2021 only came to me on the heathland, where colour other than green was bravely proclaiming summer.

Christmas Bells!

Uplifts

I have never been able to choose between the ‘real’ dramatic sunsets of a western sky and its reflected eastern sky glories, less often seen.

This golden cumulus cluster just on dark was a rare treat, just when I needed something to lift my spirits as the Trump rampage through what was once a great democracy continued on its mad way… and our heads-in-the-sand government goes for gas instead of the zero emissions way forward we need…

After untamed Nature, my garden has always been my next source of solace, where living things sometimes thrive under my care. This Crepuscule rose seemed to hold and reflect that fabulous sunset, further cheering me.

And then came the news of Jacinda Ardern’s re-election, a beacon of sanity and compassion, giving me heart and hope in an increasingly dark world. 

If only…

Her victory did lift my spirits, and they were further buoyed as my Lamarque rose seemed to suddenly burst into the most profuse flowering of its short life. Not golden, but purest white.

Maybe in honour of the integrity and genuine empathy that we can only envy from across the ditch: Yay for Jacinda!