Green magic

In Tapin Tops National Park, near Wingham NSW, you are rewarded for a shady one kilometre walk — and several rock-hopping crossings on Little Run Creek — by Potoroo Falls.

The Falls are narrow and stepped, and the pool at their base is deep and wide — and extremely cold! Or it was at Christmas.

But it is edged on the lower side with amber pebbly ‘beaches’, where gold dust looks possible and the water is warmer. 

Little Run Creek is a delight to walk beside, with multi-coloured leaves trapped in tea-coloured eddies between mini-cascades. 

Creeksides are dominated by green life, with roots and trunks and fallen logs covered in moss and lichen. This tree had what seemed to be a rock growing up with it.

This one was spectacularly clad — until it was pointed out that some self-promoting vandal had carved letters in that green raiment. Sometimes I despair of people…

This one looked like it might take revenge for such an act, should it awaken…

And while green ruled, I was surprised at so few fungi jewels…

…until this one tiny patch in the darker shade!

Northern Nature

On the far North Queensland coast, evidence of Cyclone Yasi damage abounds, seven years later. On Dunk Island, the once-famous resort is still closed, unrepaired.

But even here natural survivors struggle on, like this coconut palm.

Years ago I had read Banfield’s Confessions of a Beachcomber about his time there. But Dunk Island is not the romantic and untouched place he described, full of wildlife.

I struggled to see any, and I’m afraid that the one frog briefly spotted on the climb to the top of the mountain may well be a cane toad. It was extremely well camouflaged and doesn’t fit any in my frog book.

There was no flora or fauna information on the Island, even though much of it still a national park, and walking tracks were vague.

The rocks are spectacularly jagged and slanted, thrusting up in sharp slabs from beneath the gritty sand of finely crushed coral. Shellfish cluster round their high tide bases.

Even well above any tide line, wasps find shelter in their hollows…

… and tiny tree seedlings root in any crevices where soil or rotting vegetation have lodged.

Beautiful as it is, I found Dunk to be a sad place, damaged by more than Yasi.

The coast is close here, a quick water taxi ride away.

It’s famous for its Cassowaries and crocodiles, but I saw neither. My most interesting northern sighting was of an Orange-footed Scrubfowl.

Not exclusive to the north, but not often seen by me, was what I think was a Spangled Drongo.

Inland, the mountains back the sugarcane coastal plains, trapping clouds and dropping rain, so that towns like Tully and Babinda vie for the title of the wettest town. (Babinda’s main street happens to be Munro Street!)

The edging range creates plentiful waterfalls and powerful rushing creeks, as at Babinda Rocks.

Wild, lushly grand country.

Inland rocks

In the Nymboida-Binderay National Park, the water’s power is strong; visitors are warned of it. White-water kayakers take off from here at Platypus Flat. I stay on shore — deal with a flat tyre — and simply enjoy the sound of the water.

The current-combed trees show the force of the Nymboida at times, but not now, as the whole area is in drought, even the Dorrigo Plateau where these waters arise. The rocks bear witness, with the white line showing where the water level used to be for so long.

In the Cathedral Rocks National Park, at about 1200–1500 metres, there is no rushing water, the rocks are still and quiet… and awe-inspiring. I stay at Native Dog Camp.

On the nearby short walk to Warrigal (aka Dingo/Native Dog) Rocks I see enough rocks to lift my spirits. Balanced or brooding, they are always decorated with their dependent lichens and mosses, varied according to degree of shelter and sun exposure.

It can snow here — there are snow gums and snow grass. Rocks rule more than trees.

They lead to an upland swamp and tiny creek… where the dingoes come to drink … before circling back through more mighty boulders (tors) stacked or slumbering.

Dare I walk between these two? Might it decide to back up just a wee bit more as I do?

Next day I choose to walk to the more distant and far higher pile called Woolpack Rocks, an 8 kilometre round trip.

Again I cross a totally different world of swamp and low vegetation. In this climate plants protect their precious moisture with thin, spiky or leathery leaves. The occasional flash of gold from a tall skinny wattle or the threaded circles of juvenile leaves on a eucalypt are almost a lush surprise.

Then the path leads uphill, past the prehistoric shapes and wonders of banksias short and tall, and bushes of the rare and threatened Styphelia perileuca, unique to a small area here in the Cathedral Rocks National Park.

I pass even more fantastically and seemingly precariously arranged rocks. I am quiet; what might wake this mother whale and her baby?

The track winds up through taller trees and around to a deep green southern gully of tree ferns and rock orchids before reaching the dizzy heights of the destination rock pile.

Whoever named the collection up here had no imagination. Very few look like wool packs… and I am truly not even sure if they are inanimate. I have probably read too many Patricia Wrightson’s magical children’s books, like ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, which have strong affiliations with Aboriginal stories.

As at Hanging Rock, one could lose the narrow sandy path between these monsters. It is not our world up here.

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Rocky life

I love rocks. I can admire the grandeur of large scale features like this Natural Arch on the Headland Walk at Crowdy Bay National Park, but it’s the close-up details that attract me most.

That small group of rocks was closest to my camp. It is amazingly varied, as I’ll show you.

They are sharp and savage rocks, spelling shipwreck. But beyond the wild sea edge barrier there is smoothness and sensuality and small havens of seawater and life.

They remind me of certain Aboriginal paintings, with the subtle pink and ochre colours and the swirling and linking around central features.

Millions of barnacles, able to close their ‘mouths’ to avoid dehydration when exposed at low tide like this.

Fragile sea lettuce, sheltering with sea worms (Galeolaria, from schoolhood memory) in their self made ‘shell’casings and more barnacles

As I watch the gentle outflow of tide and the patterns itmakes in sand, I consider the far from gentle shaping of these rocks by the sea over eons. The power of water!

My next two camps are also rock-rich but far different…

Woman on the move

As you know, I love sunrises. This clearly not at my place. Actually, I don’t have a ‘place’ right now. For the next month I am homeless! The Woman is on the move, national park hopping to re-connect with nature, before I have to live in a house… in a town (!) … but with no neighbours except a wooded wetlands reserve, so my treetops will house lots of birds to share with you.

This sunrise is at Crowdy Bay National Park. Wild winds and whipped seas accompanied my first morning but it was worth braving the 6am weather for this golden welcome back to nature.

By contrast, the tea-brown creek outlet on the walk back to camp was calm.

And at my camp, the much-missed wildlife awaited me, with an Eastern Grey Kangaroo grazing close by.

To top it off, next an Eastern Red-necked Wallaby with pouched joey levered her way across the soft grass.

Where green rules

When you move to a new area, life is busy setting up your own place and you only take time off for regional sightseeing when you have visitors.

Tapin Tops National Park near Wingham is one regional sight I’ve been meaning … and meaning…to see. Last week I did.

It’s high, with the access a well-maintained but steep and winding road up — and down — and up again.

As there are 20 dfferent forest types mapped for this Park, it’s a varied experience.

From the Dingo Tops Rest area there are several walks; the Red Cedar Walk was the standout for me.

It’s steep too, a plunge into a world of vibrant green and tall trees, soaring gums and rainforest trees festooned with ferns and orchids, moss and lichens.

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The spectacular patterns of really tall tree ferns rose above us, silhouetted against dense vine-clad slopes.

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You have to watch your step as it’s all steep, but stopping for the knees to take a break is also good to take in the closer views of the intense green life here, like this delicate ferny vine winding its way skywards.

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Or strange ferns that appeared to be growing from the bark of their host tree but turned out to be also vines.

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While the trees were stunning, the ground level life of the sinuous buttressed roots and their mossy decorations were my favourites.

This green intensity was even more evident on the creekside (and wet-feet-through-the-creek) walk from the Potoroo Picnic area. We didn’t make it to the actual Potoroo Falls as a tangle of fallen trees blocked the way.

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This was a walk for close contact and surprising details, like this huge fallen tree, totally covered in thick dew-beaded mosses.

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Or this vine, curving and curling above and around the path, with bright orange hopeful roots reaching for the ground.

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Little Run Creek itself is small and pretty and gurgly, inviting a prolonged sit and listen. While doing that I spotted this row of ball bearings, seemingly permanently fixed at the base of the rock; on closer inspection they turned into a chain of bubbles stuck in position for all the time I watched.

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I’d been hoping to see a lyrebird or hear a dingo while up there, but that lack was more than compensated for by meeting a koala ambling across the road on the way out.

Sandstone surprises

Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive.

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The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied.

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I was surprised to see some wildflowers out, but they couldn’t compete with the spectacular Banksias, glowing amber in their rugged trees like lit lanterns, fringed with shining burgundy.

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Nearer the ground the dainty bells of Correa and the pale sunlit puffs of Wattle caught my eye. Both had spiky hard leaves, as befits the tough rocky environment in which they grew.

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At the base of the gully a creek had sculpted the sandstone over eons, the damp shade fostering a whole other world of plants.

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Whether ghostly green with moss, sheltering ti-tree liquid gold, or striking white with lichen, lapping at the edges, the rocks were wonderful.

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Wet or dry, it was the details that drew me: the bright leaves trapped against the rock like flies in amber, or the bush-fire limned bark flakes of an old tree up the slope, badges of survival.

Northern wildlife

Last week I travelled north to Queensland’s Atherton Tableland for a wedding. It was a laborious trip, sleeplessly overnight by train to Brisbane, and then by plane to Cairns. My friend Inge met me there and drove me back to her house near Lake Tinaroo.

It’s actually two pole houses, sensibly built in the middle of the two acre bush block, so the wildlife love it — and so do human visitors.

Sitting on the verandah at each bookend of the day, I saw many of the locals ambling through her garden.

I was told that this male (above) is a Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, of which there is a healthy group here, but the species is much diminished in locality and size and is now rare in  much of its former range.

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Apart from thirsty macropods, Inge’s bird baths and feeders attract many avian species.

Dozens of Red-browed Finches bustled about the feeder tray, alternating eating with cooling off in the nearby bird bath, flapping and splashing themselves and each other.

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The adjacent tap provided a perch for a procession of birds. several of which were unusual.

A bird-cluey friend thinks this is a Leaden Flycatcher, looking more blue and less flat-headed than my bird book shows.

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This rather intimidating bird is the magnificent and absurdly named Spangled Drongo. Its iridescence and spangles are not so obvious here as its vivid red eye, nor is its mermaid-forked and scalloped tail. This Drongo is the sole Australian species, and is migratory.

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Northern Yellow Robins are as cute as those down south, and as inquisitive. This one fancied the iron sculpture in Inge’s garden.
 
The Tableland itself proved to be amazingly diverse, from lush red soil agricultural plains to ancient volcanoes and dramatic waterfalls, from rainforest to dry scrub; tropical fruits and vegetables were offered at roadside stalls and at markets in the many quaint and often historic towns, like Yungaburra and Herberton.

I’ll be back with more time to explore… like the crater lakes…

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By the way, Inge is gearing up to offer the house above, from which I watched all this wildlife, for AirBnB stays.

Gypsy farewell

Last week I loaded my much-loved Gypsy camper on to my ute for the last time. 

I have had to sell her due to financial problems.

The first to see bought her, and I had several callers wanting me to gazump them and buy her sight unseen.

I delivered her to her new home base near Inverell, where she is going to be used on a tray back ute and have major additions done to take advantage of the extra external side spaces.

I am now looking for a small 4WD campervan instead.

Here’s a few reflective pics of our time together.

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When she first arrived at my old Mountain home in 2012, she was immediately utilised by the locals for shade. I slept in her for the first night, just to celebrate what seemed my unbelievable good fortune in owning her.

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She was usually parked at the side of the cabin, very soon under a special sail for weather protection.

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Even while stationary there she had quite a few adventures with the local wildlife.

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I used to joke that I should rename her an ‘Activist Camper’, rather than an Active Camper, as she accompanied me to several protectors’ camps. At the original Leard Forest camp, a local frog immediately took up residence.

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We had only one actual ‘holiday’ — for two days — but she was wonderful for getting around to distant book talks, as in Victoria.

We did make it to a few national parks in between commitments in a given area — like Mount Kaputar when I was in the Pilliga, or the amazing Bunya Mountains here, from Toowoomba.

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Towing the final trailer load, she came with me as I passed through my gate for the very last time at the Mountain… a tough day.

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We made it here to our new home on 14th September, almost a year ago.

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Once here, at the Gloucester Protectors’ camp she was a frequent visitor, making the early morning action starts very easy for me.

She also coped with what seemed to be the frequent wild weather we copped there.

I felt guilty as tents ballooned and blew apart.

So my Gypsy has earned her new life and transformation. 

I loved having her, although I always felt she was too good to be true…

Nature rewards

Last year the Nature Conservation Council awarded me their Dunphy Award (link to ‘Nature wins’). With it came a prize donated by Crystal Creek Meadows of a two-night stay in their beautiful Kangaroo Valley eco-resort. 

It has many laudable and genuine eco aspects and projects, and from the guest books, many appreciative and loyal fans. 

I am now another, and I thank them for their generous prize.

It’s a great base for appreciating nature.

Not far back up the steep and stunning road to Bowral is Fitzroy Falls.

You are lucky to see even one shot of them; I took it with a zoom, standing well back from the railing and the view, and involuntarily leaning back anyway. Yes, I can’t cope with heights, especially from cantilevered platforms…

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My friend Christa had no such concerns.

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Instead I preferred to focus on the bush on the side of the track away from the ’view’; like the trunks of the Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus sclerophylla), inscribed by Scribbly Gum Moth caterpillars when safely under the old bark.

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Or these intrepid tiny orange fungi, somehow broaching the tough hide of this old tree, like explorers in a vast wasteland.

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Of course I also enjoyed the more manicured fields and gardens and the autumnal colours of Kangaroo Valley and the resort.

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And the comforts of our cute cottage, with cosy fire and a high-backed bath…

But the highlight was of wilder nature: hearing two virtuoso lyrebird mimic performances, one at Fitzroy Falls and one at Cambewarra Lookout. What good fortune! Twice!

We could see him through the dense bush at Cambewarra, displaying and shimmying that amazing tail as he offered his vocal repertoire, but we couldn’t get a photo.

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At the Bendeela picnic and camping area, alongside the reservoir that feeds the hydro power station, wombats were the gift of nature to us sightseers. It was actually Wombat City, from the number of burrow entrances evident. Although I’ve seen many wombats in the wild, Christa had not. This is her photo of one mother and child. 

Knockout Knitting Nannas

Q. What’s black and yellow, clicks quietly and annoys politicians?
A. A Knitting Nanna Against Gas — a KNAG.

KNAGs also own to being Knitting Nannas Against Greed.

Never heard of the KNAGs? Well you’re about to be introduced, because I’ve just returned from the inaugural Internannanational Conference on the NSW north coast. 
My friend Christa from Kempsey also went, and took the following blog photos for me (except where noted otherwise). That’s Christa second from right, front line, in the group photo above, taken by Louise Somerville.

Imagine 80-odd women of a certain age and beyond, dressed to disarm and amuse, in a riot of Op-shop styles and shades of yellow, but nearly all wearing the trademark knitted KNAG beret, beanie or snood in yellow banded in black, or crocheted accessories like earrings and necklaces and hair or hat decorations.

To quote from their website, ‘KNAG draws on a broad history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism.’ 

…’We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities.’

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I was camping at Camp Liberty at Eltham courtesy of tireless and innovative anti-CSG warrior couple Judi and Gwilym Summers. Here the casual atmosphere, conversations, camp showers and loos, good food and river swimming brought such a great sense of Nanna camaraderie that I was glad I hadn’t chosen to be billeted.

I’d intended to take my own slide-on camper but it was too wet at home to get it on, so the Summers generously offered me their brillant mini-pod teardrop retro caravan that Gwilym had made: VIP accommodation indeed!

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We were bussed everywhere, carefree of getting lost or staying teetotal. The weekend started with dinner at the fabulous and friendly Eltham Pub, where the conference cake bearing the KNAG ‘coat of arms’ was cut.

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Here’s a trio of well-adorned Gloucester Nannas — Kate, Carol and Elizabeth — enjoying the night.

Then a full day Saturday at the Lismore Workers’ Club, where the programme was a well organised mix of facts and farce and KNAG history, as told by founding member Clare Twomey, in between three great speakers, whose presence I consider to be a mark of the respect in which the KNAGs are held.

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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?