Having always driven past the Hunter Botanic Gardens at Raymond Terrace, always with the fleeting thought of ‘I must go there’… I finally did.
It holds many green wonders of forests and palms but I found the noise of the adjacent highway traffic too distracting to enjoy the bush.
I did marvel at the amazing sight of the purples and oranges and burgundies of the shedding bark of the Angophora costata trunks. This one was surrounded by the spent flower spears of Bottlebrush Grass plants, Xanthorrhoea macronema, as if on guard.
A friend had advised that the Cacti Garden was her favourite; ‘Oh, I don’t like cacti’, I’d said dismissively.
But the large Cacti Garden here was actually amazing! I was so ignorant of the diversity.
Look at these fat green roses, as cupped as any David Austin bloom…
These strange cannon balls were ribbed with prickles and sneakily expanding, yet some incongruously bore a soft yellow flower on top.
These helmeted and shielded warriors were ready for battle, on the alert and checking in all directions.
Yet this sort of vertical cacti looked gently harmless, furry towers, unlike their accompanying army of fierce little green friends.
And I found this the weirdest of all, a tall sculpture of beseeching groups of clasped hands.
I will never dismiss cacti again… and I am now unsure if they really are plants. Their world is weird indeed, but it is also wonderful.
In Central Queensland, emus are not an uncommon sight. But no matter how many I see, or how often, they always strike me as most bizarre.
Stately, yes. Self-contained, yes. And bizarre.
I’d stopped as this one high-stepped it across the road, not looking at me or my large white van.
Then it turned and unhurriedly retraced its steps back across the road, tail feather bustle bouncing, chest feathers extension flopping like a sporran, head on that gawky long neck rigidly ignoring me.
Back on the coast, amongst rainforest instead of Desert Uplands, the camp had no emus, but plenty of Brush Turkeys strutting about.
Yet this one kept lying on its side as if shot down, one wing up, breast feathers exposed. It did it in a few places, and after each would get up and wander off to repeat the performance. Playing dead? Asking to have its tummy rubbed? Or just letting the sun warm that chest?
In between those two places I passed this tree in a bare paddock, full of galahs decorating it like coconut ice queens.
I have now driven almost 1500 km over three days, up to Bimblebox Nature Refuge near Alpha in Queensland. I stopped the first night near Warialda at a private property, which features an impressive jumble of volcanic rocks accessible from the Cranky Rocks camping area.
I set out to cross the suspension bridge and climb the easy path up to see them… and hopefully catch the sunrise. Too early, as you see.
The rocks were docile at this early hour, heaped large and small by the path.
Huge ones were balanced fantastically on smaller rocks. I hoped no crankiness would start them rocking as I passed.
From the lookout, it was clear how major had been the tossing upwards and landing all higgledy-piggledy of so many and varied granite boulders.
Far below, Reedy Creek lay still, in wait for the next falling rock pile to crash and splash.
The story is that the rocks get their name from a Chinaman who apparently got cranky and killed a local woman. He evaded capture by leaping to his death from the highest rocks.
Strangler figs are extraordinary plants, but this large one seemed to be a cannibal as well. It was likely newer aerial roots embracing the original fig… and who knows what sort of tree it had strangled.
The labyrinthine inner root system sat within the older one’s arms. No wonder fairy stories anthropomorphise trees…
At other times the figs cuddle up to a different species, embracing it so closely it merges. These two seem on equal terms as yet, but I know which will win in the end. Treehugging gone too far?
As always I am fascinated by the apparently wilful choices made by trees, like this small one on a heathland. Having decided ‘up there’ was too windy and exposed, it headed back down, curving in on itself in an almost embrace.
Curves are favoured by others, like these wattle seed pods. After popping open to release the seeds, they curl up into spirals as fascinating as the flowers were.
I am hoping somebody can tell me what these strange extra-terrestrial looking clumps are, congregating under the graceful weeping branches of the Horsetail She-oak, Casuarina equisetifolia.
With that grey-green colour, from afar I thought they may have been immature Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi) plants, not yet leggy and stretching skyward. But hardly likely…
Yet a few weeks later, those weird clumps on the stony headland, where little else grew, had bloomed… indisputably with Flannel Flowers, though small and still unlike the usual ones, now also in bloom in sandier soil.
These open foliaged, taller Flannel Flowers are the norm…
There’s a lot of white flowers now, although much of the Spring show has finished.
And is this an Isopogon???
But the most mysterious of all to me was this shrub or small tree that a few weeks ago was to be seen in profuse white blossom in much of the Reserve. So widespread and numerous was it that I expected it to be touted, like the Flannel Flowers, as one of the sights to be seen here.
Pretty and profuse, and equally unidentified.
As for weird, the nubbly bark of this Banksia tree takes the cake!
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?
I would like to introduce everyone to my new home surroundings, and to my new mountain, which will be featured often in my blogs. It is Dooragan, or North Brother, near Laurieton. I am near both river and sea and two national parks, so I look forward to exploring and sharing sunrises, sunsets and clouds, and plants and creatures of sea, sand and rocks, mangroves, swamps and mountain forests.
Why am I here? Partly by force of nature.
It seems like an eternity, but is about six weeks since I woke up about 6.30 a.m., swung my feet over to stand on the carpet… and found that my bed was standing in water.
Was I actually awake?! How could this be real?
In water to my knees, I grabbed the torch I kept on my bedside table, and shone it about. The water certainly felt real; it looked real.
Yet I was incredulous.
This was not supposed to happen; I had been unable to get flood insurance due to the zoning, but I had not worried as my neighbouring ‘constructed wetland’ forest had been a ’90s flood mitigation measure that had worked ever since.
Wading out into the hall, my torch showed two yellow discs bobbing about in. The halved skins of a passionfruit, they’d have been in my compost bin in the kitchen… I passed a large container of corn chips that would have been in a cupboard down there…
This was real all right.
Over the night of March 19 the flooded creek/river had silently far exceeded its expected reach, snuck up the hill on which my house sat, and into my house.
At 8.30 that night I’d checked and there was water only in the lowest bottom corner of my large yard, a not unusual occurrence.
I slept soundly. There was no sound, no SMS alert or warning, no knock on the door.
While up to mattress height in the bedroom part of my house, in the lower part (two steps down) it was up to kitchen bench height, and my fridge and furniture … and compost bin contents… were floating about.
My garage, further downhill, was flooded far higher; it was full of tools and camping gear, and most precious of all, the carefully stored boxes of my own books, taped with chalk inside to absorb any moisture, placed on pallets to avoid any dampness… !! They were now just a pile of mush.
As the SES boat took me and my few hastily grabbed possessions out, I only managed to take the above two photos.
My car in the carport even lower down was under many metres of water, and next day as the water receded, it was clear it would be a write-off… as it was.
When I was allowed back in, SES volunteers helped me take out heavy items like sodden mattresses. Once family could get through other flooded roads, days later, we frantically threw out ruined items large and small, and broke apart lower swollen cupboards and furniture to get the stinking clothes and books and albums out before worse mould set in.
Fixed carpets were ripped up, large mats removed with hope they could be washed and salvaged.
My grandkids dried and separated pages and peeled off photos in the oldest family albums… again, irreplaceable.
Several mountains of dumped belongings formed out the front, to be picked up by a Council excavator and loaded into trucks. Things like the fridge and washing machine looked OK, but were irretrievably ruined.
It took weeks to empty the place, but the cleaning began apace. Friends and family were wonderful; some washed many loads of linen and clothes, others washed down walls with vinegar; others washed cupboard contents deemed OK to use again, like crockery and pans; I mopped the timber floors… five moppings so far!
Many of you know of this disaster that befell me because my friend David ran a fundraiser, and while I did not look at that until weeks later, a truly humbling number of people donated to help me out. I would not have managed without those funds and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone, whether they gave $10 or much more. Knowing that such kindness and emotional support was out there helped me greatly.
I have since had to pay to have done, and do myself, certain flood-damage remedial work on the house, but being mostly built of timber and timber-lined, it has come up well. Only one added-on room was plasterboard… a costly mess.
Once the underfloor foamboard insulation I’d installed was removed, the old floorboards slowly dried and uncupped. Amazing.
Chipboard does not cope with inundation well either… but the new vanity looks nice.
I’d been planning to sell and move to this smaller place on the coast. Folk had been booked to look at my lovely furnished and decorated house on the very Monday after the flood; in preparation I’d de-cluttered and put things in lower cupboards and moved much to the garage. A double punch to the guts for me; now what did I have to show or sell?
But a few weeks later, they still wanted to look at the empty and cleaned house, despite my being in process of touching up and fixing.
They made an offer; I accepted, and in a few weeks it will be theirs. Only one more trip for me back to finish painting… and say goodbye.
So now I live here. It’s small, but I write this first blog post here looking into the tops of a paperbark forest, I hear lorikeets in blossom-feeding frenzy, a goanna waddled through the carport the other day… and I have but to turn my head to see the river and that Mountain.
Silver linings indeed…
I am tired, exhausted really, but I can see they will be a comfort once I get past the shock, which has not quite hit as I have been so very busy.
Again, thanks to everyone for your support and good wishes.
Any odd spots of inappropriate colour on a plant always catch my eye.
These two white blobs on the old casuarina outside my gate drew my attention.
There were only the two, but I knew what these were because my sister had a larger version in one of her garden trees not long ago and we had both searched for the identity. (A Slime Mould had been my first guess.)
It has many names, including Snakespit, Frogspit and Cuckoospit. In fact, it’s not spit at all, but the secretions of the Spittlebug.
Spittlebugs are not actually bugs, but the nymphs of true bugs called froghoppers… because they hop.
They feed on the xylem of plants, the water-conducting tubes from roots to leaves. A spittlebug has to pump up a great deal of this fluid to survive… up to 300 times its weight in an hour!
The nymph is usually upside-down, and pumping so much fluid means it excretes a lot of waste from its anus. As it does, it also secretes a sticky substance from its abdominal glands, whips air into the mix and creates the froth. This covers the nymph, hiding it from predators. The froth also makes a nice humid ‘house’ and shields the bug from rain.
Wildlife seems to find me. This impressive stick-insect right beside my front door was spotted by my son-in-law when he arrived.
I think this is a female Titan Stick-insect, Acrophylla titan.
She was easily 300mm long, compared here with her discoverer’s hand.
I was afraid to harm those fragile limbs in trying to dislodge her, but she was not interested in walking on to a twig either.
This stick-insect is from the Phasmatidae family. Six-legged vegetarians, they are often confused with the carnivorous Mantids — as in the Praying Mantis.
As you can see, she’d have superb camouflage on bark or branches, so why she chose to walk away from any trees or shrubs, across a wide timber verandah, and climb up a grey painted weatherboard wall I cannot imagine. She can’t fly — unless ‘she’ is a ‘he’, as the males can, but they are smaller.
Next morning she was gone, nowhere in sight. A mysterious visit by an example of amazing Nature!
Drivers along the Lakes Way just south of Forster have been doing doubletakes as they pass this aerial edifice.
After watching my Willy Wagtails’ teeny effort, this massive pile of branches seemed hardly birdlike.
I only had time to zoom in on the remaining parent. I’d been thinking a White-breasted (or White-bellied) Sea Eagle, but this has to be an Osprey. They are raptors like Eagles, Kites, Harriers and Goshawks, but are a class of their own.
No doubt the absent parent was off patrolling the nearby waterways. Ospreys are highly specialised fish hunters, having spines on the soles of their feet to help hold a slippery fish, as well as needle-sharp talons.
I haven’t seen it but they are also spectacular fishers, plunging into water feet first to seize a fish, sometimes going right under.
One of my bird books (‘Australia — Land of Birds’,Trounson) reckons their eggs are considered amongst the most beautiful of all — ‘cream, boldly blotched and dotted with rich brown and chocolate’ — and much prized by collectors in the past.
So it is not surprising that Ospreys choose to build beyond collector or little boy climbing height — with the extra security of a high-voltage hit to the daring.
When you step out of your ute in a Macdonalds carpark (yes, I confess: a rare last resort!) you don’t expect to be eye-to-eye with a prehistoric creature like this.
It was most uncomfortably perched on top of a harshly pruned hedge, as spiky as itself.
I think it’s a water dragon but there was none of that substance about. It, like the dragons, is usually found at ground level.
Maybe it was waiting to be fed leftovers from Maccas?
By the way, at least I learnt that Maccas still doesn’t cater for vegetarians.
Coffee with fries, please.
Meanwhile at home, I have two far more smooth and docile creatures in residence.
The Gramma couple are snuggling up in a corner while I consider how best to use these gifts from a neighbour. I’ve done the Gramma Pie they requested. Very nice too, but it was more an exercise in disguising the Gramma than making the most of its flavour (?).
Anything could have provided the bulk.
Anyway, I’m not sure I can bear to break up this loving pair. Well, he seems a bit uppity, but she clearly adores him.