The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park on our tablelands has spectacular gorges, and usually equally spectacular waterfalls, although the drought has rendered most of the latter mere long narrow threads of water, if even visible.
My first glimpse was from Long Point campground, a small and satisfyingly empty one at the end of a long dirt road.
The Cassinia Walk passed along the edge of the gorge, through a literal forest of these tall plants, which were mostly not flowering yet. I don’t know which Cassinia they are, as the ranger I asked said they were weeds…
The other thing I asked about was the name of these trees, with their dramatically mottled bark. I was told they were Spotted Blue Gum, which I can’t find, and, given the Cassinia mislead, I can’t trust. But it would seem that Spotted Gums themselves do sometimes have such large blotches.
My next camp was at Wollomombi Falls. Stranded pools could be seen way down below.
The ‘Falls’ were barely running enough to fall.
The creek that fed them was as weedy as watery.
A very beautiful wattle, indigenous to these gorges, was in bloom everywhere here: Gorge Wattle, (Acacia ingramii).
As always, I found the lichen bedecking dead shrubs to be as attractive as any flowers.
When lichen lies along a branch like a hoary basking lizard, I am entranced…
Girraween National Park, just over the border into Queensland, is all about rocks, large and small, in domes and sheets. From the camping area, the Pyramid looms large and challenging.
Nobody will be surprised that I did not make it to the top; instead I got to a point where I felt I could see enough of a view and the clamber ahead felt too scary for me. I’d have had to crawl…
Each morning this young magpie would wake me with its full throttle joyous carolling. Eastern Grey kangaroos grazed heedlessly all around the campgrounds, but I considered them almost domesticated. In general, I found that there were too many people and not enough wildlife. Maybe flush toilets should be my indication…
Yes, there were incredibly huge boulders balanced in preposterous positions, and many evocatively shaped and fissured rocks.
I was more taken with the many effects water has had on the rocks, in waved patterns as it had run over sheets of rock or down the sculpted sides of the creeks.
Trees and shrubs here seem to grow as best they can, taking advantage of any crack where soil or water might accumulate, their roots snaking along until they find easier purchase. One was doing the splits to achieve this.
I certainly fulfilled my need for grey-green, but also was drawn to the strange bright orange and red shades of the many hanging bunches of mistletoe and the honey-gold flowers on the low growing casuarinas.
Wattles were blooming everywhere and some wildflowers were out, but this time my attention was elsewhere.
At Bald Rock National Park, my next stay, everything competed for attention, as you will see…!
Most people go up to the Lookout on North Brother Mountain, in Dooragan National Park, for the views. The wealth held in its short rainforest walk is often missed — like these pencil orchids. I saw some on rocks and high up on trees.
It has great rocks, mossed green and lichened white, caught in mid-tumble.
The lichens here could not decide to go with stripes or splotches, so did both.
Long ago fires must have left this ancient tree with such a perilous hold on the slope… and on life, but alive it is.
Most of the lower greenery in this forest was provided by vines, but these stubby cycads also collected moss in their geometrically patterned trunks. I am told it is Lepidozamia peroffskyana.
Walking back to the actual lookout, I was assailed by a strong perfume. Looking around, I realised there were many Sweet Pittosporum (undulatum) trees full of the tiny blossoms that gave out so much scent.
And yes, the view is wonderful. So many waterways! I can see Camden Head, where I often walk in the fabulous Kattang Reserve, It is the northern end of the long Dunbogan Beach, where I also often walk — when I can bear the 4WD tracks.
From another lookout, I can see South Brother and Watson Taylor Lane and Crowdy Head. What an area to live in; it has it all…
On the steep winding road down, what I at first mistook for early flannel flowers prove to be masses of what I call Everlasting Daisies, identified for me as Cononidium elatum, thriving on the drier slopes.
With distant snow-capped Alps in my mind’s memory, I have just revisited a few of my most often visited local nature spots.
I found no Alps, but mythical cloud mountains over a pewter sea. The ephemeral will have to do.
Sun-splashed, that sea butts as restlessly as ever against the rugged cliffs that guard the Camden Haven.
The bush above the cliffs is equally buffeted by the sea winds, so grow low, and bend to survive. It is nothing like the bright verdant forests of Northern Italy, but I have been thirsting for this greyish-brownish-green, quite ‘verde’ enough for me. After all, as Kermit almost said, ‘it’s not simple being green’.
I marvel anew at the uniquely grotesque beauty and bounty of the banksia trees.
Being almost Spring, there are many small patches of colour already amongst the greys of the fallen trees. Flowers like the pink Boronia, many yellows, whites like the perfumed Pittosporum, the bright lime winged seed cases of Dodonea, or the striking berries of the Blueberry Ash.
In one dry but sheltered swamp this big paperbark tree had a large section of bark hanging by a thread, spinning in the breeze like a top, or a banner saying, ‘Look at me’!
Of course there were wattles to greet me, as there were on my other favourite walk, to the beach near me, where two sorts thrive.
The beach itself was disappointingly but familiarly abused, scored by dozens of 4WD tyre tracks. I watched the air bubbles after each wave receded, and wondered what small creatures were taking refuge beneath the sand. No tiny ghost crab would be game to stick its head up here…
On the dry higher sand where grass is holding it all together, there were fewer tracks — although there should be none — and just an occasional spot of colour like this succulent, where another plant struggled to get going.
As I walked back, I felt truly home when this lone kangaroo stopped to watch me.
On our last day I wander back along the creek, absorbing details, fixing memories, of art made by man and nature, here in harmony.
Water trickles down the curving slump in these so-regular rock layers, seemingly made to be used upside-down as an arch.
Trees give way to rocks, grow into shapes to suit them.
Even the fungi are tinged with green.
Tiny flowers share the stones with moss. This small bush is I think what we suffer as a weed, Broom, since there are a lot of them in the open spaces and Gigi says they have yellow flowers and that they use them to make brooms to sweep with.
Dotted through the meadowy path are these electricity cable access points; I am astonished, but pleased there are no cables slung overhead as at Piero.
In Piero, Gigi shows us his almost vertical back garden and shares the delicious fruit of his ‘mora’, a sort of red blackberry.
Many walks start here, following paths trodden by generations over centuries. I have to prefer the old stone marker…
Saying goodbye to the warmly welcoming Nicoletta feels like it should be ‘arivederci’, as to a friend; I’d love to return some day, but doubt I can. Nicoletta speaks Italian, German and English, so I will send her a copy of The Woman on the Mountain; we have a lot in common…
The castle that most appealed to me was the closest to my friend’s home in Salsomaggiore. It is the Castello di Tabiano, just down the hill and atop another, up a winding road.
Even from the outside, the castle looks well kept, with very old and large trees gracing its edges. Early on this Sunday, there were only three of us to be guided through the Castle by the amiable and well informed Claire, who spoke English very well.
It was originally a military fort built by the Pallavicino family around the year 1000 to oversee the lucrative salt trade, where the salt was extracted from the thermal waters of Salsomaggiore and Tabiano and taken by horse to barges destined for Milan or Venice. It had a moat and a drawbridge and could house within its walls all the animals needed for fresh milk, eggs and meat, enough for the village and troops to survive even a year-long siege. The rainwater cisterns are still used today.
Bought by Giacomo Corazza in the late 19th century, it took 20 years of restoration by about 70 craftsmen to turn the abandoned fortress into the gracious home of today. Having made his fortune in London from ice cream and ice, Giacomo went on to turn the castle and its surrounding hectares into a highly productive farm: wheat, wine and cheese.
It was only 10 years ago that the castle and its village, its piggery and dairy, were transformed into a beautiful venue for weddings, events and conferences, plus a hotel and a restaurant. Even 25 years ago the family was still farming here.
And members of the family remain in residence.
It is this sense of continued life, with so much equipment so recently stilled, that imbues the castle with its special ambience.
Of course a chapel had to be added for the family, and the shallow horse-friendly steps were replaced by a grand staircase in pink marble.
Although the stables became the wine cellars, the horse history is still there, with the tack room looking as neat and ready as it once must have.
The whole castle was built to follow the rock beneath, with the rainwater cisterns using that rock; the rose garden with its stunning views is actually atop an icehouse cave, where snow would be brought in, squeezed into ice, sprinkled with straw and sand, and raised as needed.
The 1800s’ passion for exotic plants brought such trees as palms and Lebanese cedars, and the micro-climate created by the sea breeze, albeit from 50 kms away, ensures their survival. That lavender at the base of the palms apparently kills bacteria that attack palm trees.
In the area where the family lives, chandeliers of Venetian glass illuminate grand ceilings, in rooms like the Ballroom, the Hunting Room and Dining room, filled with treasures and tastes brought with them from London. Here Claire is noting the fireplace lined with turquoise majolica tiles.
Certainly the Ballroom, or Mirrored Room, is impressive, with enormous and elaborately framed mirrors from London.
But my favourite room was the Children’s Room, pleasantly and charmingly decorated as their playroom.
The family has great plans for further restoration, including of the Corazza greenhouses that had used the Roman grottoes under the walls. I’d like to come back in five years and see… and perhaps stay in the hotel and enjoy the history and the view up close…
Much about Castello di Tabiano will remain etched in my mind.
It is said that, like the Art Nouveau style, the town of Salsomaggiore Terme drew its inspiration from Nature. It certainly favours trees; many parks and broad avenues like this offer more dappled green shade than I am used to in a town or city.
Once-grand hotels like this, now a conference and event centre, are suitably graced and softened with trees and gardens.
Old trees are revered, their arching and bending limbs propped up. As I walk under such trees, or over cracked and lurching pavements that accommodate their roots, I have observed that our fear of litigation, our O H & S paranoia, does not rule here.
Even the cars in car parks must fit around the trees, rather than the whole area cleared for maximum cars. This is not a street, but a dedicated parking block, absolutely full on a Sunday, when it seems most shops and cafés are open and most people are out and enjoying the summer day. Our friend drives round and round seeking a spot. No wonder most cars here are small; the turning spaces would not suit the large SUVs more usual in Australia.
One Sunday event is a very long street market, where used goods like clothes and bric-a-brac are offered for sale for charities. This is a rare chance, as op shops… my usual retail choice… don’t exist in Italy. I buy a good coffee maker for using here, hover over a few unsuitable shoes and clothes, wish to be younger to wear them, wish for more space in my bag to take larger and heavier items home… but refrain.
Because of all the trees, the stallholders and patrons are not in the baking sun as is more usual here, with such markets held in open parks or sports fields.
The cafés lining one side of the street are full of people eating al fresco, sipping coffee or wine. Sundays seem devoted to very civilised leisure.
And of course there are much narrower paved streets, with no room for trees. Their shops are tiny and varied, with apartments above, the outdoor café spaces are small.
In an incongruously pretty building I spot a cow and horse meat vendor. Now that is a shock for any Australian, let alone a vegetarian one…
The woodland edging Tia Gorge is scrawny, still struggling to regrow after the fires.The top branches of most remain twiggy claws.
Yet one subzero morning those bare claws were transformed, silver-coated, sparkling like crystals as the sun hit them.
At first I was unsure what I was seeing. Frost to the treetops? On the tin roof of the one structure at the camping ground, the longdrop toilet, the melting frost did not sound like raindrops, but small hail. Then shards of ice began skidding onto the cement floor as they were loosened by the sun from their high perches.
Grwing up in a coastal hinterland valley, I had seen plenty of hard ground frosts, but not tree-high ones, so this was a new experience for me.
How lucky to be here for such an event; common for locals no doubt, but like magic for me. A wave of the wand and … filigree silver above me!
The many dead trees had other ways of making themselves beautiful, like bedecking themselves with fluffy lichen, dainty as pear blossom.
Even the now defunct epicormic tufts of shoots that had appeared from under the blackened bark after the fires were decorative. This was one tree that they did not manage to save.
And, never least, fungi! A whole colony, white to cream to amber, studded this single rough-barked elder.
Diversity and beauty in survival, despite clearly devastating bushfires, in this tablelands woodland.
With the rain we have had on the coast, the paperbark swamps are filling again and the reeds are extremely vigorous. Their grey-green clumps make fabulous vertical contrasts against the less constrained shapes and paler colours of the trees.
So unconstrained are the paperbarks that these two appear to be dancing with each other, hands almost touching, bodies bent as if inclined to do so too.
Some of the older trees have gone full out for individuality of shape, declining verticality and choosing the horizontal.
Beside one swamp on the Coast walk I could see a different reed, feathery, more free form.
I realise it is one I have seen in Kattang, but it confused me by growing taller here. Baloskian tetraphyllum, Tassel cord reed.
As I remember by impressions rather than botanical details, I am easy to fool!