Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine….as far away from a Canberra winter as it gets..

 

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During the very cold winter we are having in Canberra, we are visiting North Queensland…guaranteed to be warmer!

North Queensland is known for the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics rainforests.

Most people head for the Barrier Reef and beaches between Cairns and Port Douglas, but we often begin with a visit to the Atherton Tableland. My cousin, Theresa, has been living and working in the Tablelands for many years, and through her we have been introduced to all the wonders of this area.

The Atherton Tablelands is an amazing contrast of rolling hills, farmland, rugged bushland, tropical waterfalls, and volcanic lakes.

Last week we returned to one of the first places we ever visited in the Tablelands, the volcanic lakes Eacham and Barrine.

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Lake Eacham..where the forest meets the sea

One of my favourite books for children is  “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”…… here we are at a place where the rainforest meets the lakes.

A Ngadjonji legend tells of young hunters striking a sacred tree, which angered the rainbow serpent. The earth roared like thunder and winds blew like a cyclone. The ground twisted and cracked and red clouds rose in the sky that had never been seen before.

Scientists believe volcanos were active here until almost 12 000 years ago.

The day we walked around the lake it was hard to imagine the turbulent and violent past that created these lakes. Now they sit, still, deep and quiet.

Paul took some amazing photos which show just how peaceful, calm, and full of food the pelican and cormorants were!

 

A very contented pelican and cormorants .. Copyright Paul Mackey

Much of the original rainforest in the Tablelands has been cleared, but several small fragments remain…

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copyright Paul Mackey

….as it says in the guidebooks..

”green fragile jewels in a sea of farmland’

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Copyright Paul Mackey

It was only when Paul had taken this photo that we realised a baby turtle was in front of the mother… blending into the fallen branch and totally unseen by the naked eye.

We were happy to see the contented bird life and turtles, but this area is also home to some of the most primitive plant and animal species, such as the Musky Rat Kangaroo and the ancient Cycads.

Standing under the magnificent trees in the forests, looking down on the reflections of fallen trees in these deep lakes, was like travelling back in time… snatching a glimpse of the evolution of plant life on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currawongs…..The boys are back in town….

The boys are back in town with smart black suits and beaks to match….

I love this first line of a poem called, Currawong, written by Bill Chestnut and displayed in his Tasmanian garden.

Canberra is full of birdlife, and as our garden is close to Mt Taylor, we have our share and more. Most of the birds are welcome, interesting to watch, and some, like the magpies, are part of our every day life in the garden.

However, the currawongs….. regular visitors from Mt Taylor, are the least likeable of all the birds. They fly into the gum trees in our street like jet pilots, aerodynamically perfect, and with a confidence to match.

This grey currawong, photographed and found in Western Australia, is not native to our area, However, I could not resist using this shot as the photographer has captured that menacing look …….

 

Grey Currawong (C) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au

Grey Currawong (c) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au

 

Here is the Pied Currawong, the type found in our region, more frequently than we would ever want..(despite their beautiful song)

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Pied-Currawong-C-Harry-Charalambous-2014-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

When the Currawongs arrive ..all the other birds in the garden disappear; no more wattle birds, parrots and honey-eaters taking turns at the birdbaths, no more parrots softly chattering in the trees as they feed.

Needless to say, the Currawongs are not welcome in our garden, and when Mr Greenspaces (Gardener No 1) is around, they fly off pretty quickly. I am known by birdlife and animals in general to be a bit of a pushover.

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In the interests of this blog, I have tried, many times to get a photo of a currawong…with no luck.

I had given up on the currawong, but the lovely Eastern Spinebill spent most of the autumn feeding in our Peppermint Sage plant, right near the kitchen window. I had the camera ready for this beautiful little bird, and then I noticed the Currawong land on the railing of the deck, not very far from the Peppermint Sage. A very bold move on the part of the Currawong because the deck is definitely out of bounds for them, and they know it.

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Eastern-Spinebill-C-Ian-Wilson-2015-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

A photo of the elusive Currawong was tempting.  I fiddled with the camera, hardly noticing the Currawong  getting closer and closer to the Peppermint Sage. There was a flurry and the Currawong flew away…..the Peppermint Sage leaves waved and the Eastern Spinebill was nowhere to be seen.

I had a moment of paralysing Irish guilt…had the Currawong left with our Eastern Spinebill in its beak?

Fortunately for me, not long afterwards, I heard the reassuring shrill call of the Eastern-Spinebill..it had survived to continue feeding for another day.

Here are is my photo of the Currawong on the deck…certainly not good enough to risk an Eastern-Spinebill. Next time I’ll be paying attention…..when the boys are back in town……

 

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A cottage garden in the inner city

gardenpathEighty bags of manure a year, plenty of mulching, slow release fertilizer, a couple of water tanks, an artistic sister, a sense of humour, and a whole lot of love for gardening….that is all you need to have a garden like Christine Fernon’s.

 

In February this year I visited this wonderful cottage garden in the inner city of Canberra. Christine bought the property ten years ago, and although it is hard to believe now, the garden was completely overrun, and she began from scratch to re-build it. Now the garden is crammed full of plants, flowers and vegetables. In a space smaller than many Canberra gardens, she has four vegetable beds, and another area where she grows rhubarb, strawberries and chives.

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There is espaliered fruit along the driveway with almond, feijoa, crab apples and quince trees.

The rest of the garden is packed full of colourful flowers and shrubs. Her sister has taught her ceramics and the garden is dotted with ceramic figures, pots and whimsical garden labels.

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She  has three slimline water tanks, two aerobin compost bins, plus a worm farm. The water tanks are mainly for the veggies and potted plants, and no pesticides are used in the garden.

 

But I’m sure the key to this lush and healthy looking garden is the end of winter ”energy drink” of cow manure/mushroom compost/blood and bone, and slow release seaweed solution and mulching during summer. …….very hard to sustain that kind of dedication!

Every bit of the garden is inspiring and needless to say the bees and birds abound. Christine has 6 birdbaths in all; one show-off magpie was taking his daily constitutional despite all the Open Garden busy-bodies in his garden.

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Christine has included a birdbath on the nature strip in the front of her property and it is used in summer for the kangaroos who stop off at night-time for a drink….so very close to the Parliamentary Triangle.

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Australian National Botanical Gardens…one story at a time…

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Writing this blog is all about stories, and the Australian National Botanical Gardens is exploding with plants, wildlife and stories…

The gardens are tucked away in the lower slopes of Black Mountain, and it is hard to believe that this lush green space was once, in the 1950s, a cleared dairy farm.

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Now the gardens are home 70 000 plants, representing over 5 000 species from all over the country. These gardens were one of the first botanical gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species, and many plants grown here have never been cultivated before.

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The active volunteer ANBG community provide guided tours every day…and I was lucky enough to have a guide all to myself on a cool but clear day in June. We walked, and talked, through paths that led us on a journey of plant life from all over Australia. If you want to see diverse Australian flora and fauna without travelling around Australia, you can do it in day at the Australian National Botanical gardens.

The first story of the day…

The Ghosts of Burke and Wills

In the rock gardens, we found some tiny plants growing beside the rocks…the leaf looked just like a four-leafed clover. I recognized these in our own garden, growing near our crop of garlic….an annoying weed for us, springing up all over the place.

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My guide, Harley Dadswell, commented that this tiny plant called Nardoo played quite a part in Australian history, in the story of the explorers, Burke and Wills.

Burke and Wills had run out of rations due to the deaths of their camels. The Cooper Creek Aborigines, the Yandruwandha people helped them by giving them fish, beans called padlu, and a kind of dough made from the ground nodules of the Nardoo plant. Once the Yandruwandha people had moved on, Burke and Wills, it seems, tried to prepare the dough themselves, but didn’t wash/soak the seeds prior to grinding in order to remove the enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the body of vitamin B.

As a result it is likely that the deaths of Burke and Wills, was in part due to the vitamin deficiency disease called Beriberi.

Wills’ last journal entry included the following..

 

…….starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one’s taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of anything else.”

I will look on that weed in our garden with new eyes from now on…

 

 

The Bogong Moths bring down the lights at Parliament House

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Last year I joined a tour of the courtyard gardens of Parliament house. The gardens themselves, with careful planning and natural protection from frost and wind are absolutely stunning in spring. (More on these gardens in spring)

While we walked around I couldn’t help noticing just how many currawongs and magpies were flying around the gardens.

australian parliament house for the federal government in canberra
Australian Parliament House for the Federal Government in Canberra

To add to the mix, there were also Bogong moths who have long been attracted to the lights of Canberra. Their natural lifecycle is to breed in the plains of Southern Queensland, western NSW and Victoria, and in spring, they migrate south to cooler alpine areas…

…….but along the way they are drawn to Canberra, and…. what could be a greater magnet for a moth than the flagpole of  Parliament House, and the surrounding light?

In 2013 we had warmer spring weather and strong winds, and these conditions brought the moths to Canberra unseasonably early and in greater numbers.

The moths, can cause havoc in and out of Parliament House…….they regularly set off fire alarms, block air-conditioning units, get entangled in people’s hair, clothing, rubbish bins, even landing in lunches and cups of tea and coffee.

A sign on one of the office doors within Parliament House is an example of frustrated (yet tolerant). public servants….

If you can read this sign, you are not a moth and you are welcome to come in. Well-mannered moth eating birds are also welcome.

The rich pickings in the lush courtyard gardens and the large juicy moths must be sheer heaven for currawongs and magpies. I was told that a currawong, in an attempt to catch it’s prey, flew into the building after a moth, gobbled it down and then flew off down the corridors towards the Senate chamber.

There is  something endearingly Australian  about a currawong flying down the corridor to the Senate chamber.

I don’t know if the Currawong made it to the Senate, but with all this wildlife in and around Parliament House I believe the moths had one positive influence…the flag pole light has been replaced with led lights…..less moths, and a wonderful energy saver for us all!

The Brindabella Ranges…Mount Taylor and a garden

 

The BrindabellasWe live on the south side of the city, in a quiet suburban street with a view of the Brindabella mountains.

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Our street is on a gentle slope leading up to Mt Taylor. My father, coming from Scotland, always corrected me when I called Mt Taylor a mountain, because he definitely thought of Mt Taylor as a hill. Whichever way you look at it, Mt Taylor is a good climb, with a fantastic view of the Brindabella mountains when you get to the top. Even my Scottish Dad conceded that the Brindabellas are indeed mountains, and very fine ones at that.

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Our garden has gone through many changes in thirty years, and is always a work in progress. Children, dogs and chooks have been replaced by vegetables, flowers and bird-bath antics to keep us amused.

Occasionally (not often enough) we just stop, sit down and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden, the hill, and the mountains.

The Arboretum….100 trees in 100 forests

 

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In 2003, devastating bushfires swept through Canberra. I’m sure I speak for most Canberrans when I say this was the most frightening, and challenging experience of my life.  For a long time afterwards, Canberra was a place of charred black earth, withered trees and the smell of smoke and charcoal.

It is hard to believe that from such devastation could come a place of such sweeping beauty, the new National Arboretum Canberra.

Walter Burley Griffin, the designer of this city always envised an Aboretum in the planning of Canberra. However, by the time Griffin arrived in Australia in 1914 Thomas Charles Weston had been appointed as afforestation officer, and he and Griffin differed on tree species selection and planting priorities. Later, Griffin, faced with continual opposition from bureaucrats, resigned from his government position in December 1920.

However, Arboreta, as part of Griffin’s design was gradually developed, beginning with the early plantings at Westbourne Woods and Weston Park. In the mid 1950s a substantial arboretum at the western end of the lake was established, and in 2001 was named Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum. However, the 2003 bushfires stripped the neighbouring hills of pine plantations and, the ACT government, took this opportunity to develop what has become the National Arboretum Canberra. This was a centenary gift to the city by the ACT government. We now have an Arboretum from the lake to the hills, with urban forests, woodlands, open grassland and formal parks.

More than 48 000 trees have been planted in the 100 forests on the 250 hectare site, many rare and endangered. The Arboretum was offically opened in 2013…10 years after the bushfires. Now we have a mosiac of fledgling forests, a venue for outdoor performances, an education and research centre..not to mention an amazing playground. In the words of Katy Gallagher, the chief minister officially opening the Arboretum..

this site has emerged from the ashes of the catastrophic bushfires to be transformed into a place of beauty, tranquility, recreation, research and learning.”