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.



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!


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.


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.


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


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?

Tree morning

It’s untypically dry here, even the short grass between the beige tussocks is brown. The air is smoky; the ever-forecast rain does not materialise.

I am mowing firebreaks, crew-cutting the tussocks and blady grass, mulching sticks and gum leaves as I go.

And I am pumping day and night (it’s a very slow but sturdy old pump) to fill my ridgetop tanks for possible fire duty.

Walking over to my springfed dam to fill the pump tank early one morning, I met the sun just coming over the ridge.

Its rays lit up the ti-trees that are now flowering most gracefully over there; they love the damp along the spring line.


As the sun rose, more of the forest began to be streaked with light and even the tussocks glowed. I thought again how much I love this blue gum forest, mostly regrowth yes, but its trees are as tall and straight and silky as their 50-60 years could make them.

They thrive here — as do I.

Awesome Bunya Mountains

I have always wanted to visit these mountains. About 100 kilometres from Toowoomba, they are home to the world’s largest stand of the ancient and mighty Bunya Pines.

Partly because I love mountains, and partly because everything about these trees is so impressive, from their football sized cones and seriously spiky leaves to the legendary feasts they provided for the indigenous people. I’d seen them in parks and around homesteads, but never ‘in the wild’.

As the Bunya Mountains National Park website says,

The Bunya Mountains are like an island surrounded by plains and cleared farming land. They are a refuge of biodiversity, harbouring ancient species, distinct plant and animal communities and more than 30 rare and threatened species.

The road up to the 1100 metre-high Park is too steep for caravans so the camping area held mainly tents and small camper trailers – and my Gypsy slide-on camper. You can see the dome-shaped Bunyas (Araucaria bidwillii) rising above the rainforest close by.

It’s an odd place, with many private alpine-style chalets and resorts up there as well as the Park.

They must be there for the cooler climate — and the wonderful walks.


I set out early the first morning. It was strange to see ‘pines’ in a rainforest, but I read that the Araucarias  were a major part of our forests in wetter times. The Bunyas are there in plenty still, with massive wrinkled elephantine feet holding them firmly as they soar out of sight.


They do their part in bearing the rich diversity of plants, of ferns and lichens and orchids.

There would have been plenty of Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghami) here too but I only saw a few, as they and the red cedars were most desired by the timbercutters. Hoop pines are not as round-topped, and their leaves and small seeds are not to be feared. Apparently they take their name from their hoop-shaped bark sheddings.



It was a beautiful rainforest walk, past ferns and vines, a canopy of mysterious trees silhouetted against a bright sky, and magnificently efficient and slightly scary strangler figs, punctuated by creeks and small waterfalls running into pebble-bottomed pools. Because it was early, I had its green-lit peace all to myself.

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.


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.


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


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.

Woko greens

The walk below the cliff face at Woko National Park is all about green. Rock-edged paths wound up and down through the greenish light, as if in a carefully designed garden.

Not just green leaves, but mossed and lichened trunks and roots and vines, some of which curl like serpents around rocks and trees.
Thus securedly earthbound on the steep scree slope, they head skywards to the light. Sometimes the vines had overwhelmed the host with its weight and pulled it down, laden with staghorns or birds nest ferns.

Some greens were to be avoided, like those of the Giant Stinging Tree, beautiful in the backlit canopy, whether alive, or dead and eaten into lacework.

Looking up, the forest crept along the base of the cliff, where green struggled in crevices and clawholds to clothe the rock.

Looking out, where the rainforest had been breached by fallen trees, the view past the densely colonising vines was still all green, but of lighter, brighter shades as pastoral lands were revealed in the distance.

This tiny nest was made of living green lichen; small fantails had been seen nearby. This nest was empty, but others found one with a blue speckled egg inside.

Spectacular verticals

Sometimes your eyes are drawn skywards by Nature doing the same; sometimes they have to be guided.

Recently I visited some sandstone ridge country, very different from my own, hence a fascinating new world to me. 

In one, a beautiful place called ‘Eagle’s Drift’, I was taken to see this massive nest, so high up that I’d not have thought to look.

It’s a Sea Eagle’s nest, not made of grass and twigs like the nests I usually get to see, but of big sturdy sticks.  This is nowhere near the sea, but these eagles come up the river, I was told. The White-breasted Sea Eagle is not quite as big as a Wedge-tailed Eagle, but  — as the nest shows — they are big  birds! Males can be about 76 cm (30 inches) and females 86 cm (34 inches).

My bird book describes a Sea Eagle as ‘like a huge stiff-winged butterfly in flight’. The caretakers of this property, which is how they see their role as owners. are so lucky as to see both these majestic large raptors using their airspace  — ‘drifting’ or not.

The other vertical that struck me, not far away in the Goulburn River National Park, were the ‘grass trees’, Xanthorrhoea australia, sending their flowering  spikes soaring above their grass skirts. They can reach up to three metres (10 feet).

Many of us don’t catch these slow-growing sci-fi plants when in flower and only know their brown ‘spears’, which were partly why their early common name was ‘Black Boys’. Birds and bees love the nectar in each tiny, spidery blossom. 

Native colour

The dreary grey-greens and browns of the Australian bush did not appeal to many early settlers, used to soft bright English and Irish greens.

As with many of our flowers, you need to be up close — and unblinkered — to see just how varied and colourful our trees are.

My indigenous rainforest trees have a range of colour surprises, from subtle burnished bronze to vivid lipstick pink. Being in an upside-down world, new leaves rather than old are coloured, as in the Lilly-Pilly.

This pink toothbrush grevillea is flowering on the only branch left to it — which is the one hanging out so far over the track that the wallabies can’t reach out from the bank to break off or up from the track to pull down to strip.  Hardly a well-balanced shrub, but if I prune it, they’ll eat any new growth and that will be the end of it — and no more pink blooms for me.

And if tree trunks are supposed to be boring brown or grey, just look at this young Blue Gum, a glistening olive green after rain.

Tree shapes

I have finally gotten around to cutting back the verandah’s vines of wisteria and ornamental grape. They have twisted around themselves and each other to form very strong and sculptural outstretching limbs.

This year I am experimenting with leaving more of their extremities, their claws, poised to shoot green fingers further than before perhaps.

Beyond them, against the always leafy eucalypt forest backdrop, the never-pruned birches form fine traceries that catch and hold the light.

As the cold windy weather kept me indoors more, and with an unresolved writing project requiring distraction from mounting anxiety about it, I dug out the craft paints bought long ago — for a rainy day project. They’d been on a sale table somewhere; some were metallic, and colours were limited.

My pantry doors are visible from the front door; they were blank, bland, boring plain. Now they bear a stylised tree with a gold vine twining up its improbable fruiting branches.

As always, I now wish could fix the mistakes evident from a distance but lost to me when it was under my nose, and I wish I’d made it more conical —  but I think I like my new winter tree, a compromise between bare shape and summer bearing.
And I can always paint over it if I decide I don’t.

Tree dwellers

Collecting kindling, I happened to walk around the back of the big tree whose roots cradle my ‘insulator’ bird water bowl on the other side.

From the different perspective, the early morning sun illuminated something incongruously light-coloured high up on the rough brown trunk.

It was a fat fungus but I could see little detail until the light was brighter.

Even then, it was hard to see over the top of it, and what I photographed didn’t match anything in my fungi books.

Luckily I knew where to go: Gaye’s fungi blog. I looked down her list of fungi by colour. ‘Beige (without gills)’ I thought was a good bet.

And there it was:

‘Laetiporus portentosus, commonly called White Punk, forms large, thick brackets on living Eucalypts. It causes white heart-rot to the host tree… Brackets can reportedly reach 350mm wide… The upper surface of the fungus has a slightly ‘velvety’ texture and can be off-white, beige, to a warm ‘biscuit’ brown colour — the pock-marked under-surface is riddled with tiny larvae’.

 There’s more on her site — Gaye’s knowledge is first-hand, first-rate and a boon to people like me who are interested but not very informed.

I am a little worried about the ‘heartrot’ she mentions, given that this tree is already host to a few young Native Cherry (Exocarpus cupressiformis) trees, which are parasitic on the roots.

However, while I was around this rear side, I saw a fresh view of one tree dweller that won’t be harming it.

The orchid buds that I photographed at its base not so long ago have shot up into leggy adolescents, sheathed in white silk.

Nature is full of surprises.

Bare-skinned gum trees

Late summer, and the smooth-trunked gum trees here have shed their bark clothes– perversely, just as it’s getting chilly. This  one near the path to the outdoor loo astonishes each time I walk by with the amount of bark strips from just one tree. No wonder we build up such a good fuel load for bushfires.

I always want to stroke the new bare trunks, cool to the touch, and yet warm too, with their slight dimples and bumps.

It was only in the photo, not the flesh, that I noticed this engaging detail (right) — an arm and hand, rather Gollum-like, pensively poised on the chin of this emerging face.

Even the saplings contribute a lot of bark to the forest floor, rising shamelessly bare and beautiful from their shredded skirts (left). The bigger ones here are often multi-trunked — the only reason they weren’t logged 50 years ago. The early morning sunlight has tinted this one with apricot, which I am admiring when I spot yet another detail.

Backlit spiders’ webs on a nearby Angophora, a complex of levels and patterns, given solidity for just a few minutes until the sun rises higher. What a world of surprises!

Lemon Tea trees

I love all natural lemony scents and flavours. I love lemons, and have many lemon trees of the cultivated and bush varieties, never wanting to be without lemon juice or peel in the kitchen.

But I also have two native trees with lemon-scented leaves.

This little beauty is the Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), and I pick and dry its leaves to add whole to my teas.

On the tree, you have to crush a leaf to get the perfume. The beautiful starry clusters of flowers are a bonus I hadn’t expected from this Queensland rainforest tree.

The other is a Lemon Scented Ti-Tree or Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii). It too can be used to make tea, although I haven’t. It’s grown into a lovely spreading shape, and the slightest brush against the leaves does release a strong lemon scent.

From a distance — like the house — the simple white flowers seem to dust the tree with light snow.

This one has a history: it seeded itself into a pot of aloe vera I had sat beneath the only tree in the tiny back yard of an inner-Sydney semi I was renting.

I love chance seedings — and freebies! 

Forest fires

Many early colonists thought the Australian bush a drab monotone of greyish green, blinded as they still were by the vivid lime greens and emeralds of their European trees and mist-made lawns.

I hope closer acquaintance taught them to see more clearly – if they hadn’t cleared all the bush around them.

At present my forest’s greens of a million hues are lit by fiery reds and hot pinks as new spring growth announces its presence.

These small ferns (left) prefer the shadier side of the mountain but are particularly beautiful when backlit, set alight by sunshine striking into a clearing. I stopped on the muddy track to capture the moment as their individual tongues of fire flamed amongst the grass.

The sunny side of the forest holds its fires high, blazing in bunches through the dense older growth and across the sky. We may not get autumn colour, but I challenge anyone to say that our eucalypts are drab or lacking seasonal variety. These gum tips are downright pretty!