Bat squatters

If you became homeless because your house was being demolished, obviously you’d have to find a new home to live in. It’s no different for other animals; we all need shelter, a home, habitat.

However, I suppose we wouldn’t be allowed to choose the amenities block or the bandstand in a public park, let alone bring all our relatives. Similarly, there is much ado when a whole colony of wild creatures takes up residence in civic gardens or parks. Grey-headed Flying-foxes are a common ‘nuisance’ in many town and city parks as land clearing proceeds for development such as mining or housing, and their natural habitat is disturbed or lost. Communities are then divided with debates about how to make them move on before they defoliate all the long-established and cherished trees in a park like this one.

Sydney’s Botanic Gardens has the same problem. Bat droppings, bat screechings and bare trees are not the most inviting ambience for picnickers, walkers — or Anzac Day ceremonies.

But they are merely the victims, like many of us, of shortsighted ‘planning’.  In fact, these Grey-headed Flying-foxes (sometimes called Grey-headed Fruit-bats) are listed as a vulnerable species.

I took the chance to observe them at a stop at this park. After all, it’s pretty amazing that bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight.

They spend the day in large camps and head out to feed at night, using sight and smell to find their preferred foods, the blossom and nectar of eucalypts and native fruits and lillipillies.

From introduced trees like jacarandas and firs they were hanging like thousands of leather lanterns with bright furry tops — each upside-down, and by the claws of one forelimb, daredevil style.

They can see quite well in daytime so that must be why they tuck their heads in. Many seem to have trouble getting comfy – they screeched and chattered and wriggled, stretched and flapped their amazing wings, which can exceed a metre in span, before rewrapping themselves in their slinky Batman blankets.

These Flying-foxes, with their foxfire collars, do have faces like foxes, or dogs, as the reversed photo of this restless one shows. They are not at all ugly, and certainly fascinating.

I don’t think I’d want them as close neighbours, but then I’m increasing rather than reducing habitat here, so there’d be room for us all.

Kookaburra colony

In my last book, Mountain Tails, I wrote a piece called ‘Kookaburra kingdom’.  They don’t actually rule amongst the birds here; the magpies do.

But I have a penchant for alliteration, as you see. At least this post is more accurately named.

There are a lot of kookaburras here. For big birds, I am often surprised by the fragility of branches or smallness of surface on which they land and perch.

This one sat decoratively on a branch of the tall skinny trunks of my Native Frangipani tree, bedecked with so much lichen it resembles a long-haired lamington. Sitter and sittee were perfectly colour-coordinated.

You wouldn’t think a star post top could be very comfortable for kooka claws to grip and balance on; this one certainly didn’t stay there long.

His mate, however remained on worm-watch for quite a time, levering his tail a little to stay upright. I didn’t see if he spotted any worms, but I bet he caught them if he did. Kookaburras are fast, accurate — and deadly.

An old garden’s treasures

The quaint Rosebank cottage where I stayed ( courtesy of Mary Delahunty and the Victorian Writers’ Centre) was surrounded by introduced trees and garden plants – and did have a bank of roses.

The king of the garden was this giant oak, whose bark was dappled blue with lichen and whose branches reached 15 metres in every direction. A tree to inspire awe, but not for the many immature Crimson Rosellas who daily raided it for acorns. The generous oak dropped shiny acorns, knubby caps, brown leaves and endless twigs for kindling.

Rosebank’s old garden added two new plants to my botanical knowledge.

The first was  a tree bearing a strange sci-fi fruit, with its pronged antennae. It turned out to be a Medlar, Mespilus germanica, a fruit popular in mediaeval times, able to be eaten only when soft and half rotten, a process known as ‘bletting’. Then it is like spiced stewed apple — reputedly best accompanied by port. I had no port, but wasn’t keen on the fruit’s texture. However, medlar liqueur sounded tempting.

The other plant was a tall and wide shrub with arched and drooping slender branches, bearing only a few autumn leaves, but masses of trailing bunches of small hot pink flowers with orange centres.  Close up, I saw they were more like pods, beginning as quadruple pockmarked globes that split to show the four orange ‘seeds’, which were also rough-skinned like mini cumquats.

When the Woodend nursery identified it for me as Spindle Bush, Euonymus europaeus, I learned that the pink is the fruit and the orange are the seeds, and that they are poisonous. The flowers were described as ‘insignificant’ so I need not regret missing the Spring for them. Common in the Northern Hemisphere, it was named for its hard wood, used for making spindles because it can hold a very fine point.

The tallest White Gum in the world

In Tasmania I learnt to expect plantations like these when I saw the word ‘forest’. I drove through miles of this to reach the Evercreech Forest Reserve, 52 hectares that wasn’t clearfelled.

I reached the tree for which the Forest is famous.

The White Gum, Eucalyptus viminalis, is thought to be 300 years old. I walked around the wooden platform at the giant’s base, looking up at its ninety-one metres. Awesome. But then I read its history, and the platform seemed more a collar imprisoning it, like a bear in a sideshow.

Twice it was saved from being felled, neither time by altruism or respect. In the logging of the 1940s and ‘50s, it and its fellow White Knights, as they have dubbed them for the tourists, were too big for the bullock teams to take out. By the logging resurgence of the ‘70s, they had bulldozers, which brought the road to the very base of this tree.

One of the foresters, thinking it seemed exceptionally tall and might set a record, had it measured. They then had to convince the world that it really was Eucalyptus viminalis, so far above the known limit was its height. With such a trophy to show off, they reserved 52 hectares as a display case for it.

But … how many others, almost as big and as old, did fall to the dozers? This is tokenism; the saving of the tallest tree was an accident of egotism.

In low spirits I took the walk along the moss-bouldered creek, where the tree fern trunks are so thickly furred with moss that they bulge like bottle trees. This is an intensely green world — rocks, logs, trees, sticks, earth — all green.

But the mossy ground was peppered with millions of tiny fallen leaves, shaped and shaded like roasted slivered almonds in their range of ambers, and bright colours from orange to burgundy intermittently called attention to clusters of fungi feeding on rotting logs.

My jeans became soaked as the track took me through waist-high ferns still dripping from earlier showers. I persevered to the promised waterfall, a dainty lacework train with a graceful bend, forever trailing down the shining dark slide of the rocks. Pretty. But I was cold and wet, and over ‘green’, as I wouldn’t be on a hot summer day.

I was glad to drive up into sunlight, the heater drying my jeans, but not looking forward to retracing my way through the other sort of forest.

Evercreech Forest Reserve is beautiful — if poignant. A reserve means a remnant; it reminds me of what is lost, the major part of a natural world that wasn’t reserved. An island of forest reserve in the midst of plantations has no wild edges.

Colouring my world

 It’s Autumn, and my yard is being coloured– by more than autumn leaves.

The indigenous Bleeding Heart Tree (Omalanthus populifolius) that I raised and planted shows how it got its name with its bright red veins that seem to drip to colour the lower leaves.

The first bunches of wattle blossom have burst out of their tightly fisted buds — small explosions of powdery gold, honey-scented. I grew lots of these from seeds that fell from a tree in my Aunty Mary’s front yard in Sydney; we didn’t know what sort it was, but perhaps it’s a Queensland Silver Wattle (Acacia podalyriifolia)?

The bird-sown gift of a Pittosporum undulatum tree, also indigenous, has fruited its mini cumquat bunches for the first time. How did I miss the flowers? The bird didn’t plant it in the position I’d have chosen, but this has soared to such a height so quickly that it clearly found the perfect spot for the tree — if not for me!

Tree pods

I’ve been on the road a bit lately, researching for a book.  It means I get to use my cute little tent, camping in new places. I do like the freedom of being able to stop as and where I like — affordably.

My first night was spent at Coolah, where for $7 I got a great camp site, access to a campers’ kitchen and clean amenities with hot showers. Plus the shade of a beautiful spreading tree, which was very welcome as I sweated and struggled to erect the tent in the late afternoon.

Camp set up, glass of wine in hand, I began to look more closely at my surroundings.

There were willows by the creek, and cows — and a bull — in the adjacent paddock, separated from me by a single wire that I assumed was electrified.

I don’t have much knowledge of introduced trees, and was wondering if the beauty under which I sat was an elm, when I noticed some seed pods suspended within reach. Might be nice to grow a tree like this at home!

They seemed to be the only ones on the tree; luckily I refrained from picking one long enough to realise they were not seeds. Like Indian clubs, these smooth creations were hanging from a criss-cross of spider webs.  I could just see the spider’s legs protruding from its dry leaf shelter (circled).

Once home, my I.D. attempts tell me this is a Bolas spider. The egg sacs are described as being like spindles, but the photos show them to be as rounded as these. Given that the egg sacs were about 50mm long, I was surprised to read that the spider is small — the female is 12mm and the male 2mm!

If you want to identify that spider, the Findaspider website is the place to visit.

Bush bounty

I don’t plant annuals, so my garden is never the riot of colour that others manage. I rely on bushes and bulbs to surprise me with blossoms.

Outside the house yard, the surrounding bush does the same. Lately there has been an explosion of blossom on a select few of the Angophora floribunda trees. The chosen ones have been so covered that it looked like clotted cream from a short distance.
 I am assuming this is what caused the splashes of cream I could see a week earlier, way off on the far slopes of the higher ridges opposite. Too far away for detail, even with binoculars.
But in the immediate bush, I have no trouble spotting the highlights of summer wildflowers here, the Hyacinth Orchids, Dipodium punctatum. Apparently these orchids live on subterranean fungi which form on the decaying matter of the forest floor.

On tall maroon stalks, their strikingly coloured and splashed pink flowers stand and demand attention amongst the greens and beiges of the tussocks and blady grass. They get it.

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’.

Toona baby

toona-1My little Red Cedar (Toona australis) trees are putting forth new leaves. These are of bronzed burgundy red, although the trees are not named for that, but for the rich red of the timber when cut.

Two-by-two, one pair above the last, on opposite sides of the stem, they raise themselves higher.


I walk closer to feel the new growth, expecting softness, fragility. As I put my finger gently underneath the newest arrival, it seems to curve firmly around my finger, its strength as surprising as a new baby’s reflex — and as charming.

Over-the-top orchids

orchids-1Drivng back from the Gloucester district a few weeks ago, I passed above the very steep and narrow, very special gully near Dungog where a remnant rainforest of giant trees like figs and stinging trees and white cedars stand tall and proud amidst a dense jungle of vines competing for the light.

I am always freshly struck by the sight of this small pocket of grandeur, a reminder of how so much of the country around here must have been like once.

This time, however, my eye caught unusual splashes of white high up in a native fig. It was some distance downhill before I could pull over and walk back.
orchids-2Thanks to the magic of my zoom lens, I could be sure that they were King Orchids (Dendrobium speciosum, var. hillii) Hundreds of feet up, several fat clumps of them had colonised in forks of the trunk, clinging on with their fleshy fingers as they climbed along the broad branches. A staghorn shared their treehouse.

These spectacular sprays of white were even more so because they were here in this special, natural place – no gardener had placed them there.
orchids-3At the time, my orphaned clumps of the same orchid had been still in bud, my place being so much higher in altitude.
Now, their turn has come.

Grounded, they are closer to me and I can see their colour range from cream to white, the dab of yellow in each throat, and the tiny maroon ‘freckles’ that lead to it. And I can smell them —  honeysweet like wattle, but with an edge of musk.

They are part of the view from my outdoor loo, which will tell you partly why it was designed deliberately door-less. 

A walk on the wild side

Having shown you the civilised side of The Old Brush reserve, we now walk just beyond the mown edges and into the forest, where owner Robert maintains and marks kilometres of narrow paths.

wildside-1They tempt you to walk into the wild side, but with safety, and to experience the greatly varied vegetation of the surrounding bush.

wildside-3Robert has chosen the paths to take you through hillside forests and gully jungles, past luminous blue gums and thriving cabbage tree palms, the oldest, wartiest paperbark tree I have ever seen…

wildside-2…and battle-scarred eucalypts so tall I can hardly see their tops.

They show the mighty but they also pass near such richness of detail that I keep stopping to marvel — like this tree trunk parcel, its bark so trussed in its vine that it can’t escape.

Or the coachwood (I think) whose roots resemble the claws of a strange bird, feathered at the ankle with moss and protectively clutching its green egg.
 When the narrow tracks reach the valley again, give way to the broader mown and mossy expanses, and the statuary begins to reappear, I know I am leaving the wild behind.

It’s been an easy walk, even for my knees, and my rustic cabin by the billabong is just across the creek.

A glass of red awaits me, to aid my reflections on what a wonderful juxtaposition of worlds this place offers.

Wattle takeover


Winter gold flourishes in the Wollombi Valley as I drive through on a dull day. Wattle, acacia, mimosa — our national flowering tree has many names and many species.

Not all have blooms as richly yellow as these soft powderpuff clusters, but most are hardy and quick-growing, if short-lived.


Where land has been disturbed they colonise thickly. I pass what seems to be a plantation of wattles on a flat creekside paddock, fenced and tidily contained in rows.

Then I see it is actually a takeover of what was once some city hobby farmer’s dream vineyard. It is small, not commercial — would have produced just a few dozen bottles to share with friends, to show off his own label.

The grapevines are still there, but the wattles have shot way past them and have claimed it for their own, re-labelled it Wattle Flat.

I am a little sad, wondering what happened to the dream.