Sandstone surprises

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.

Rocks and revival

I had to spend a week in the Toowoomba region lately, so I shared the time between two national parks. I wasn’t really sightseeing, as I had to work, but I prefer a bush setting for my solar powered camper/office. 

Crows Nest National Park is about 50 km up the New England Highway from Toowoomba. It’s high, and ‘rocky’ is an understatement.

Huge granite boulders are stacked and tossed about in the creek and the gorge, with uprooted tree trunks wedged amongst them from past raging floods.


The Bottlebrush Pool looked as blue as the brave kids who’d just hopped out when I arrived.


Apart from the occasional Weeping Bottlebrush in bloom, there were already quite a lot of shrubs or small trees in flower, many of which I didn’t know. Still don’t exactly, as the ranger’s promise of a flora species list didn’t eventuate.


There’d obviously been fires through some of the park, and it was heartening to see the struggling new growth at the base of shrubs and trees. There may be more rocks than topsoil here, but nature’s programmed revival is under way.


This magnificent grass tree in blossom was a stark lime green contrast to its surrounds.


The rocks are beautifully bedecked with lichen here, and in the unburnt park, away from the turmoil of the creek’s history and the falls of the cliffs, their shapes are more gently rounded. Gentle too, are the softly curving small trees that form a matted forest, a guard of honour for the sandy path. 

I found Crows Nest National Park to be one of contrasts, from the lookout over the Valley of Diamonds to the creekside picnic ground, and clearly a tough survivor.

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.

Fighting for the Forest

Last week Tony Burke let us all down by rushing in and approving Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine and Idemitsu’s Boggabri expansion. 

And this despite the report exposing the Whitehaven ‘offsets ‘ for what they are: so ‘off’ as to be useless, if not fraudulent, and likely to be investigated because of it. 

He says they are ‘conditional’ approvals; this just means political fence-sitting in an election year.

If not stopped, they will clear 4000ha (over half!) of the scrap of forest that is Leards, on the mainly cleared Liverpool Plains, and threaten the lives and livelihoods of the Maules Creek farming community and their beautiful valley.
And of course the lives of all the creatures that live in the Forest, from koalas to bats.


In fact, Leard Forest is home to 26 threatened plant and animal species, and includes two endangered ecological communities. But what’s it matter if we lose a few more?

leard-fight-3The most important thing for Mr Burke seems to be not to be seen to be too ‘green’  — which I guess is why he has thrown the Tarkine open to mining in Tasmania — and to talk about jobs and investment more than soppy stuff like koalas.

I thought he was Minister for the Environment?

But the Maules Creek Community and the friends of Leard Forest, including the Frontline Action on Coal camp, are not giving up without a fight, using a variety of weapons.  

Frontline has already had an intrepid treesitter stopping clearing of the forest at the Boggabri mine.

Burke’s decision can be challenged on legal grounds. Can you please help them raise the funds needed?

A fighting fund has been setup to accept funds, details below. I’ve already given what I can; it does all add up!

  • Account Name: Hunter Community Environment Centre
  • BSB: 650-300
  • Account number: 980886600

If required, please email to obtain a receipt.

Please note that Maules Creek website is now a permanent link from my site.

Photo credits: Top Frontline Action on Coal; 2 and 3 by Tania Marshall in Leard Forest

Looking into Leard

Being on the edge of the Leard Forest here at camp, apart from maps I didn’t have much of an idea of its scope and what it might lose if Mr Burke doesn’t do the right thing by it.

This morning Murray drove us around this state forest under threat from creeping coalmining.

It’s varied in height and vegetation, with trees that I’m not familiar with, like White Box, Pilliga Box and Poplar Box (Bimblebox) as well as those I know, like Ironbark, Callitris, Casuarina and Kurrajong.

It won’t matter much what’s here if Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine is allowed to proceed, with the travesty of offsets they propose to replace what they clear here.


This is where they will start; it was a test drill site and this is their idea of rehabilitation.


From a higher point we could look back and see both forest and farmland that are in Whitehaven’s sights. Of course many other farms (and farming families) will go if their proposal isn’t thrown out as it ought to be, because it won’t be bearable to live here then.

The noise from the Boggabri mine resumed its usual loud rumble and clank yesterday, presumably after pumping water out of the pit of several days, and after a blast that clearly still had water in the hole.


The result was this toxic orange cloud of nitrous oxides plus… (snapped by S.K. after we heard the blast.)

You’re supposed to seek immediate medical help if you’re exposed to this, as it can ‘result in delayed health effects that may be potentially life-threatening.

Low levels can lead to effects from irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs, coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea … which can cause fluid build-up in the lungs and further complications. 

One local here told me that he and several others who were caught in such a windblown orange plume had each thought they had some sort of weird flu until they compared notes. 

High levels of exposure, even in short bursts as in post-mine blasts, have impacts from headaches to coma — to death.


But today, I was on the lookout for ground-based wonders, and there were plenty, from weathered wood sculptures to lichened rocks.


Murray’s affectionate dingo cross, Dubi, did her best to keep an eye out from the seat beside me.


In the forest that is not slated for mining (or not yet) I saw some big old trees with lots of hollows, and I wondered how all the creatures will manage to fight over these and find a home if two-thirds of the forest is destroyed?

But that is not a fait accompli, which is partly my message when I speak here at Maules Creek Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 1st February.

Arty nature

The significance of ultra-abstract art often eludes me; I might appreciate it as design and colour, but it doesn’t speak to me. I don’t warm to it, relate to it, as I can to the merely abstracted, stylised, simplified, where the origin is vaguely discernible. In the latter the artist’s treatment of it stimulates my imagination more than straight realism would.

As pure visual beauty, for shape and colour and flow, I’d hang this one on my wall any day — if I had any space left around the bookshelves and existing paintings and photographs. The uncluttered look is not for me; I want everything I love where I can see it.
The cabin might be full, but I live in the midst of a forest that can dazzle me with temporary exhibitions of works of art like this one. The paint was fresh and bright after a spell of rain; a week later the colours will dull and fade, or flake off.

The artists are always ‘Anon’ but they belong to a most innovative and talented group called ‘Nature’.

Fungi frenzy

A spell of rain, summer heat, and we have steamy weather that signals to fungi to explode.

The first day of sun I walked up the track, feeling sure I’d see some new fungi.
Less than I’d expected, but spectacular enough, for low down on the burnt-black trunks of many of the stringybarks were intense dustings of orange dots.
Moving nearer, I was reminded of the dense colonies of tiny bivalve shells I have seen stuck to rocks on marine rock platforms.
As the individuals were so tiny, I had to go up really close to see their fungi features.

Several sunny days and one wild thunderstorm later, not a dot of orange is to be seen. Talk about living for the moment!

Food and fun

dandenong forest


Sharyn&AnneWhile in Victoria I spent an amusing few hours on a community radio (3MDR) show with host Ann Creber. This dynamic pixie of a woman also hosted me for several days at her home, which she shares with husband David, two large poodles, Nina and Georgie, and hundreds of antique dishes and pots and pans — props for her food photography styling — plus more modern gear for menu testing as well as cooking for her ‘Whispers of Provence’ lines of preserves, jams and vinegars.

Rose petal vinegar was in process, the petals collected from Ann’s wonderfully wild Dandenongs garden, where natives like fern trees and giant mountain ash eucalypts happily share the slopes with oaks and birches, lawn daisies and buttercups, foxgloves and heritage roses.

At the bottom of the garden she keeps alpacas, ducks and chooks. And I can vouch for the quality of Ann’s omelettes.

Being a professional foodie, Ann gets invited to cookbook launches like the one she took me to, somewhere posh, high above the heart of Melbourne. It was for a truly beautiful book called Turquoise by Ann’s friends, Lucy & Greg Malouf. Published by Hardie Grant, it’s as much Turkish travelogue as recipe book; the photographs are stunning.

The gathering included the sort of glitterati and fashion followers that you just don’t see in a country town. I was gawking unashamedly as I scoffed whatever vegetarian offerings passed by on platters carried by extremely aloof young men.

Preston market

The other Victorian food treat was a visit to Preston Markets, where people of every colour and culture mingle around shops and stalls offering every imaginable type of produce.

They even have a wine stall, where you can refill your ceramic stoppered glass bottles! Now that’s civilised.

Clearly not everyone found the experience as fascinating as I did.

I came back to NSW determined to use more fresh dill as well as mint and parsley in my Middle Eastern concoctions, to have another go at keeping the possums off my roses, and wishing we had more migrants in our Hunter Valley towns! Woollies just doesn’t compare as a sensory shopping treat.