Turtle research on Raine Island

I have a layperson’s interest in environmental sciences, and visiting the Great Barrier Reef has made me interested in finding out more about its ecosystems. This link gives you an overview of some of the research being carried out on Raine Island, the world’s largest green turtle rookery. Hope you finding interesting and maybe even encouraging to delve deeper.

Restoring the world’s largest green turtle rookery

 

Ahh, the warmth of Port Douglas…and the Great Barrier Reef

Melbourne is chilly this time of the year (although, as I write this the sun is shining and I am contemplating turning the heater off). So, like many Melbournians, we set off to Port Douglas to find some sun. Actually, the real reason to head north was to celebrate my Mum’s 90th birthday. My whole family went up, rented a house or two, and enjoyed each other’s company for 6 nights. The warmth was an added bonus!

Port Douglas is in Far North Queensland, an hour’s drive north of Cairns. Once upon a time it would have been lovely sleepy fishing village, now it is full of resorts and Melbournians escaping Winter. Even so, it was a lovely place to spend time, and the Daintree Rainforest is only a little way up the road.

And it is right on the Great Barrier Reef, that marvel of nature that curves its way for 2300 kms along the Queensland coast. Unfortunately it is being impacted by climate change and other human activities. David Attenbourgh produced a wonderful series about the Reef and I would recommend watching it. I would also recommend this website that he has created using footage from the series as well as other scientific material.

I could not miss the chance to see a tiny part of the Reef.

We sailed out to Agincourt Reef on the Outer Barrier Reef on a big catamaran. This reef is at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, where the Continental Shelf drops away to the Pacific Ocean. It is this shallow shelf, only 20 to 30 metres deep, which has given the corals the light and the chance to form. A couple of kilometres from these reefs the sea floor drops away to more than 500 metres. I could see the line of waves breaking on this edge.

I looked into different options to going out to the Reef and this seemed to be the best one to suit both my low snorkelling ability (i.e. non-existent!) and Mum. We needed a way for her to experience the Reef without getting in the water. The catamaran took us out to a pontoon moored permanently on the Reef. They have to adhere to strict guidelines to safe guard the Reef’s biology and beauty.

Our first adventure was on the semi-submersible, which took us for a tour of the coral canyons. How amazing to have the fish swim up to the windows and glide away, to see the sea cucumbers lying on the floor and the giant coral constructions.

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Inside the semi-submersible, right under the water (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

I was blown away but the textures of the corals, so many different varieties! The colours weren’t as spectacular as I expected, but there was a lot of turbidity in the water and it wasn’t a sunny day. Both factors made it difficult to photograph, but you can see some of the coral that I found inspiring.

Surprisingly the fish had the most vivid colours. And we saw two turtles! How special was that?!

After floating with the fish it was time to snorkel. I have never snorkelled, and am not a confident swimmer, but I really wanted to see these creatures for my self. So I kitted my self in everything available, including an optical mask as I am very short-sighted, and off I went. I had to consciously remember to breath through my mouth and not panic when my face was under water. Once I had that mastered I was off and it was a magical experience. No photos to show, but if there were I would show you more textures and colours, little fish darting away from me, big fish gliding past and clams! There must have been half a dozen clams, some quite large, in the roped off area where we swam. One had iridescent blue ‘lips’, probably the most intense colour I saw all day.

It was a magical experience, and it has made me more aware of the fragility of the environment. There are many human induced pressures on the Reef, and we must do all we can to protect it. You might like to check out these organisations who are exploring ways to build awareness and are campaigning to protect it from further damage. (I am not endorsing any of these, just giving you links to follow up if you would like to know more.)

The David Attenborough website I mentioned before

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Fight for the Reef

The Australian Conservation Foundation

 

It’s surprising what lives there…..

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Even though I have travelled up to Menindee for five years now I am always surprised by the diversity in the environment.

As I have said a few times, you look out the car window and see a flat, dry, uninteresting landscape. Is it an arid area? I guess so, although Philip Moore says in the introduction to his invaluable book A guide to plants of Inland Australia

…arid and dry not only mean parched but have connotations of uninteresting, dull, barren, unproductive and lacking spiritual or creative life. Those are not the feelings engendered in most Australians who, according to surveys, describe our natural and wilderness areas as happy, friendly, sacred, huge, roadless, pure, remote, alive, exciting, unique, wild, challenging, inspiring, valuable, restful, free and unspoilt. [p12]

Wow, that is some list of positives. He goes on to say

While we acknowledge that these are perhaps rose-tinted views from the workplace and the city gridlock, they nevertheless do reflect our regard for that large inland portion of sparsely inhabited and starkly beautiful country we affectionately call the outback.

That notion of the Outback is a curious one too. Something I read, and I think it was in Alex Miller’s Autumn Laing, made me stop and think. When a character, who lived in remote Queensland was asked where the Outback was, he said that it was further out. Many would consider his station in the Outback, but for him it was home and the Outback was further on.

I understand that. Before I went to Broken Hill and Menindee the Outback was much of inland Australia. Having explored the fringes of the Inland, including the Flinders Ranges, I tend to think of the Outback as the land further over, over the distant horizon. It’s the area that is unfamiliar, undiscovered and unexplored by me. The Outback has become a concept rather than an actual place. What do you think? And I wonder what those who live in these remote places think.

However it is far from being a dry, barren environment. You only have to walk a little way into the landscape to see the diversity.

Every plant is doing what it can to survive and reproduce. You see the plants that flourish when the season is right for them, the plants that creep or climb on others, that put on a marvellous show like the poached egg daisy. You see the ones that shelter in the shade of the bigger plants or thrive out in the open. You notice that not every bush is a saltbush and that even the saltbushes have beauty and difference.

This is just a small gallery of species that grow there.

Then there are the animals — fortunately no snake photos! There are many species of birds that live along the banks of the Darling River. They move so quickly that often you only catch a flash of colour, so unfortunately photos are very difficult.

Look how well camouflaged this magnificent fellow is, as he strolls through Kinchega National Park.

And speaking of camouflage, can you see the animals in the photo?

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)

Home again (sigh)

It really seems like just the other day that I was telling you that I was off to do an Artist in Residency Programme at Mountain Seas Resort on Flinders Island. Here I am, home again.

As to be expected, the weather as we were leaving Flinders Island was just perfect — no wind, clear, sunny skies. Perfect for takeoff. I also see it as the Island telling me that this is how it usually behaves, telling me to come back. And I will. (You should visit too!)

But don’t think that I am whinging about the wild and wooly weather we had. According to locals it was the longest blow they have had for quite a few years. I didn’t think I liked wind, but this was exhilarating and invigorating. Sketching was fun, as long as I was rugged up and sheltered. There was a bush walk around the edge of the property, protected by the tall gums for most of the way. I only felt the force of the wind as I came up from the stream. The rain was squally, pelting down and then blowing onto somewhere else.

I love being in the mountains, but miss the beach. When I am at the beach I miss the majesty of mountains. Flinders Island has both very close together. Perfect.

Mountains and Seas (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
Mountains and Seas (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
The Strzelecki Range from Trouser Point (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
The Strzelecki Range from Trouser Point (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)

So I landed back in Melbourne, back to the reality of big city life — traffic and traffic lights, washing and shopping, and grey skies (although today, Sunday is a beautiful day).

It is not all bad, of course. I love Melbourne, and my part of it has a little bit of that small town feel about it. I love that I can easily upload my photos to show you — almost an overload in this post! And I want to get stuck into my art. Ideas are swirling around in my head and I want to start to get them onto paper.

I am mentally scheduling lots of posts for you — more photos, info about the Island and Bass Strait, mutton birds and of course, updates on the progress on my art work. Just let me know when you are sick of the words “Flinders Island”. I am not sure that I will ever tire of them!

Off to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition — a walk through Melbourne

Two years ago, when I was new to the blogging world, I published this post about going to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. I am going to republish it, because I like it! Also, last week I went along much the same trail, as I visited the 2014 Exhibition, so I have added in some extra photos.

I am going to tell you about the exhibition in my next post. However, for now, have wander through Melbourne.

Yesterday I did my volunteer stint at the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. It is a fabulous exhibition, with many beautiful paintings. If you are in Melbourne, follow my trail to Domain House to see these stunning works. If you can’t make it, enjoy the walk through Melbourne.

I got off the 57 tram and had coffee in Block Place, walked through the beautiful Block Arcade, over the mosaic floors,

The beautiful Block Arcade
Mosaic floor, Block Arcade

 

 

 

and down Melbourne’s lanes that are thronging with people drinking their lattes and eating lunch.

Melbourne Lane

The walk takes us past Flinders Street Station

and Federation Square, to cross the Yarra

 

The Yarra River

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go past the National Gallery of Victoria and further up, ‘Weary’ Dunlop‘s lovely statue.

The National Gallery of Victoria

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We keep walking up St Kilda Road, under the trees with their spring growth to reach the outside of the Botanical Gardens. The Tan track circuits the Gardens and we have to dodge the runners and walkers, their dogs and prams to reach the Shrine.

The Shrine

Only a little further now. Past the Observatory, turn right at the Herbarium,

The Herbarium

past Latrobe’s Cottage, with its spring flowers

to Domain House. And we are here. Enjoy the exhibition!

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The Ridge Top Tour at Arkaroola

Whenever I told people who had been up to way that we were heading up to Arkaroola they all said the same thing –“Don’t miss the Ridge Top Tour”. Having done it, I am now one of those who will say “Don’t miss the Ridge Top Tour”!

The tour is the result of an anomaly, that someone can own a parcel of land, or have pastoral leases, but not own what is under that land. In the late 60s and early 70s companies created exploration tracks around Arkaroola to investigate what minerals might lie beneath the earth. One company was Exoil and they gave permission for Reg and Griselda Spriggs to use their tracks. One of those tracks became the Ridge Top Tour.

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The track winds its way through the remote area north of Arkaroola village. At one point the tour stops to let you look back on the village, to see the last bit of the human world that you will see for a while.

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And to look around at the non-human world

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And it was that environment that I loved.
The 4 wheel drive track was exhilarating — steep climbs, hairy corners to turn, steep slopes that the vehicle had to ‘walk’ gently down. But I really loved the remoteness, the grandeur of the mountains, the way the plant habitats changed around each corner.

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The destination of the tour was Stillers Lookout. And it was truly spectacular.
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In her autobiography, “Dune is a four letter word”, Griselda Sprigg tells how her family, Reg, her 2 young adult children and herself, were following one of Exoil’s tracks. It stopped at the base of what is now the lookout. Reg bushbashed up the slope, almost rolling the Jeep, to find the most incredible view that Griselda describes as

For a long time we were speechless. From the north-west all the way around to the south-east we could see the horizon: drought-crazed flood-outs meandering across parched plains towards Lake Frome, the glittering white expanse of the lake itself, desiccated red-brown station lands stretching away to a pitiless infinity. Behind us were the contorted ramparts of the Northern Flinders Ranges, ancient and mysterious and seething with brilliant colours.

And it is breathtaking. That’s Lake Frome you can see right on the horizon. It is one of the salt lakes that ring the northern Flinders Ranges.

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It is also where you get morning tea. 🙂
The other thing that made the trip for me was the knowledge of the guides who took us. All the way Rick, our driver, was able to tell us about the rich history of the area, from way back in geological time to indigenous history to white settlement and exploration. He knew about rocks and plants and animals. And all the way he drove with such ease and confidence.

This last photo is a little reminder that this is a harsh and unforgiving environment, and that things can go wrong for even the best prepared. You may be able to see the vehicle as a white speck in the photo. It was taking a tour when the gear box went. The people on the tour were fine and never in danger, but the vehicle had sat out there for a while until it could be towed into to Arkaroola Village for repairs.

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Arkaroola

The Fella and I left Menindee, stocked up at the supermarket in Broken Hill, and headed into South Australia. Our plan was to get up to the northern part of the Flinders Ranges, to a remote area, Arkaroola.

We stayed one night in Copley, and watched the coal train go through. It has 161 trucks — I know, because I counted them! — and is 2.8 km long. It travels from Port Augusta to the mine and back each day.

The road into Arkaroola was great, through dry creek beds, around windy corners and over crests. Like everyone we arrived dripping with dust, set up camp in the camping ground and got our bearings.

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This is not a traditionally beautiful place. It is rugged, hostile, dry, stony but also majestic, ancient, and gets into your soul. It is the bones of the earth laid bare. The Ranges glow in the morning and evening light, and the stark light of mid-day reveals all the fissures and faces.

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(Peter McDonald lives in the Ranges and superbly photographs all their beauty. You can see his images on his blog, The Sentimental Bloke. Much better than my snaps!)

Also, Arkaroola was alive with colour from plants flowering after recent rains. These were no meek little ground hugging plants either. There were large bushes of yellow sida and senna, purple flowers of the bush tomatoes and the creams and reds of eremophilas.

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Arakaroola is a privately owned wilderness area. It was bought in 1967 by Reg and Griselda Spriggs. It had been a struggling sheep station before that. Reg Spriggs had come up as a geologist student with his professor, the famous Sir Douglas Mawson, and like Mawson, had fallen in love with the area.

Griselda Spriggs, an intrepid woman, describes Arkaroola in her autobiography, “Dune is a four letter word”:

We climbed a ridge and looked northwards across the most breathtaking outback scenery I had ever seen: contorted regiments of rock, phalanxes of folded hills plunging into chasms, and creekbeds strewn with boulders and populated by giant river red gums, their bases still wrapped in the detritus of the last flood, so long ago now the litter was dry fuel for fire. We were in a mountain wilderness that had been forced high above the surrounding plains by continent-shaping forces long before mankind started counting time.

Eradication of feral animals was an important part of returning this stunning land back to its natural state, and the proliferation of plants shows the success of their programme. The Arkaroola website, linked at the beginning of this post, has more interesting information. Griselda Sprigg’s book is also a fascinating read of an amazing woman. Read it if it comes your way. Next time I want to tell you about the Ridge Top Tour.

On to the next thing

Life has been very busy lately.

Not only have I organised my painting for the Exhibition , but I have been organising another exhibition.

You will remember that I am a member of a group of botanical artists who, each year, go up to the small town of Menindee in the arid outback of New South Wales. We go there to collect and paint the plants that Dr Hermann Beckler collected while he was at the supply camp of the Burke and Wills Expedition. You can read more about it here, and you might like to visit our blog becklersbotanicals.blogspot.com

(My Cullen pallidum painting, that I have been raving telling you about in recent posts, was part of that project. But this is a different exhibition.)

The project a fascinating meeting of history, art and science. We have always intended to have an exhibition of our work and this one is a smaller version, a practice run! It is being held up at Menindee. There is a little gallery in the Information Centre and our 30 works should fit in very nicely. We decided to exhibit prints of our originals, which we are donating to the community at the end of the exhibition. They will be there for people to use as they need.

I have had fun doing the work, but it has been a steep learning curve! Fortunately John, the curator up at the gallery, has been holding my hand via emails and phone calls.

For example I had to put together the plant names for the catalogue. Unfortunately it is not enough to just say “daisy” or “saltbush”. The scientific names are needed. Boy, are some of those Latin spellings tricky! Also, botanic convention means that there is a precise way of writing them, italicised in the right way, commas at the right place, capitals and non-capitals, etc.

I have also been talking to media people in Broken Hill, the biggest town in the area. I am not good at ringing up people, especially people I don’t know. Emails, texts, even blogs, no worries; phone calls make me quite anxious. But I did it, and found lovely helpful people at the other end, just like I knew I would.

So, just incase you should happen to be passing through Menindee in September and October drop into the exhibition. If you are in Broken Hill or Mildura, make a detour. And if you can’t be there in person check out our Beckler Blog or wait for me to post some photos here. The details, for those of you lucky enough to be up in that marvellous part of the world, are

BECKLER’S BOTANICAL BOUNTY EXHIBITION
 
Monday 22nd September to Sunday 12th October 2014 (inclusive)
 
Darling River Art Gallery
Menindee Visitor Information Centre
49 Yartla St Menindee
 
Open daily, 10 am to 2 pm

I will leave you with some photos of us collecting and painting over the last few years.

 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, from underneath!

I was impressed with the massive structure of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This link gives you information about its history. Now come with me as I marvel at the engineering involved with it.

This video, newsreel footage from the time, is fascinating to watch, not only to see the Bridge being constructed but to also see how Sydney has changed. And the monotone of  the voice over is typical too!

Getting up to speed

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I am involved in a botanic art project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. I want to let you know about my painting for this project, about the exhibition we have planned and other things. However, you may like the chance to find out a bit of the background to the project. The link below will fill you in on a bit more detail. I also have a category of Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, that will have more of my posts on the subject. Once you are up to speed I will tell you about my painting.

https://annelawson.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/hermann-beckler-botanical-art-and-menindee/

[I hope this works. I tried to repost the original post, but it seemed to float off into the ether somewhere. Are there aliens reading my blog now? 🙂  I would appreciate some advice, if anyone can tell me what I should have done.]