I have had the good fortune to be part of a research project at the University of New South Wales’ 40,000 hectare research facility, Fowlers Gap.
It is vast. It is in arid country, 100 kilometres north of Broken Hill. An incredible place, it encompasses a hilly range, the same one that Broken Hill is a part of, ephemeral Eucalypt dominated creeks and grass or copper bush dominated plains. David Keith, in his excellent book ‘Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes’ (More information on the book) describes two ecological communities that are present here. Gibber Chenopod Shrublands in the hills and Aeolian Chenopod Shrublands on the plains.
The plains are highly variable, sometimes Mitchell Grass dominated (pictured above), sometimes Maireana (Bluebush) and other times a mix. But, they are surprisingly diverse and it appears a healthy ecosytem supporting an array of wildlife. The Marieana, a Chenopod, has a fruit with wings ideally adapted for wind dispersal. I think the species shown is Maireana sedifolia.
The hills are harsher. Feral goats compete with the Euro kangaroo and other wildlife so that it appears in places over grazed and hostile.
It is isn’t everyday that you get to visit arid Australia. It is incredibly ancient, beautiful and harsh. I passed through Broken Hill, a mining town on an ore body. Named after a hill which appeared broken, but which is now a spectacular ‘slag heap’ backdrop to the town. It is a visually startling town.
I love the emus, though they are so common that for the people that I am with, they are just another element in the landscape. Amazing animals, the female is solitary for most of the year and uses all her energy to lay a clutch of up to twelve eggs. The male incubates them and raises the young.
I don’t know from where the expression ‘God’s country’ is derived but it seems an appropriate one for such an extraordinary place. It isn’t the built up part of Shoal Bay, that isn’t particularly nice nor particularly bad, but it is the surrounds.
The built area sits fringed by Tomaree National Park. Tomaree has these fantastic, windswept, heath covered hills atop igneous foundations or huge sand dunes covered with littoral rainforest. Between these hills are pristine beaches, Zenith, Wreck and Box, remote enough that even in the Christmas holidays they are perfectly peaceful and often deserted. On the opposite side to the coastal beaches in the photo above is the estuary of Nelson’s Bay.
The photographs are from our recent week away and a few days in spring. Most days we walked to Wreck Beach.
I love Australian plant families. They’re iconic. I love the genus Banksia, its family Proteaceae.
In the sheltered woodland behind coast, I thought the flowering species above was Banksia aemula which are a lot like Banksia serrata, B. aemula has a narrower leaf and they are often squat, technically they are separated into their respective species by the length of the stigma. The Banksia flower is actually a collection of hundreds of flowers, each with the potential to form an incredibly well armoured seed. These seeds are ready for the long wait and the possibility of one day being burnt, opening and falling to the ground in a nutrient enriched patch, courtesy of the fire, just right for germination.
The B. aemula doesn’t persist on the coastal side. There resides B. integrifolia, B. oblongifolia and B. spinulosa growing in the harsh environment.
Allocasuarina distyla dominated the slope closest the beach or at least that part that the track traversed. Big hills either side, so who knows what else dominated. The weather could change quickly producing the briefest moments of fantastic light.
Beachside Acacia longolia var sophorae and a little herb in flower – Cakile edentula (Sea Rocket) a native of north America.
The birds produced interest, noise and movement. Curious insects also.
But it was the sea and the time with family amongst this special environment that produced this feeling, fleeting as it was of bounty.
A fortune of sun, perhaps not heaven sent, but with beguiling beauty that really requires a catch phrase like God’s country to convey my joy in being there.