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

 

The southern Flinders Ranges

After we left our magical overnight camping ground, and our lovely new neighbours (and all the flies!), we spent some nights in Rawnsley Park Station. We stayed there two years ago, and this link will tell you more about the history of the station. It is a great place to stop.

We did some walks around the hills. One took in the views of the Elder Range, to the south of Wilpena Pound. As a botanical artist I love looking at the flowers and plants that are growing, (that’s why you never take a botanic artist on a walk if you are in a hurry!), so I was fascinated to see these fields of plants. They seemed to be some sort of salvia, but I couldn’t find them in my reference books. I loved the way they carpeted the area, and set off the view to the ranges.

Perhaps “carpet” is a relative term! For an arid, rocky area, this is quite a carpet. This photo shows you the sort of soil they have to grow in. By the way, that is white lichen on the rock.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Like all these arid areas they come into their own in the morning and evening, when the light is soft. There are often spectacular sunrises and sun sets. I will leave you with photos of some, so you can see why places like this get into your soul.

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.

Cullen, Australian wildflowers

Quite a few of you looked at my post about finishing my Cullen pallidum painting. 🙂 One of you had found the link to my earlier post about the Cullen flowers. I thought it would be worth reposting it, as the Cullen flowers are not widely known.

Anne Lawson Art

Now that you have had a chance to get up to date with the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project…..[What, you don’t know what I am talking about? Have a look in the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty category to the right of this page]……I am going to introduce you to the group of flowers that I am painting.

They are Cullens.

Everyone knows Banksias and Grevillias, and many of us have them growing in our gardens. But whenever I say that I am painting Cullens people have a polite but blank look. There are 4 species of Cullen on Beckler’s list. [Hermann Beckler collected plants while in Menindee on the Burke and Wills Expedition. It is his list of 120 plants that we are trying to replicate.] So, let me show you my beauties.

The first is Cullen discolor. This is the species that I have been painting. I will show you…

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National Day of Climate Action – be seen, be heard!

I always enjoy reading Meek’s blog. It is thought provoking and interesting, not to mention witty!

Like her, climate change is a subject dear to my heart, as it should be to every body on the planet. To be frank, it scares and depresses me.

So I am reblogging Meek’s articulate thoughts. She mentions the Climate Change Rallies that took place on the weekend. Unfortunately I couldn’t go because I had to work on Sunday morning. The posts on Meek’s blog following this one give her impressions of the day.

National Day of Climate Action – be seen, be heard!.

Menindee

As I mentioned before, I am becoming very fond of Menindee. It seems to be a town that people in the area think highly of, and want it to succeed. So many towns are dying and we loose the places that have shaped communities. The people in those communities have to move to larger towns and cities, and the character of the area is lost.

In Menindee there are people that give hope. Margot is an excellent Shire representative. The Resource Centre is that — a resource, with a computer hub and small library, both available for anyone to use. Necessary admin functions, like CentreLink are run from here. Margot is our go-to-person, who hires out the hall to us and organises our wifi. And she welcomes us each year!

Information Centre is another great resource. It also has a small art gallery. This year it had an exhibition of a local artist, Annette Minchin. She does wonderful textile work, using fabrics and found objects to represent the countryside.

The women in the supermarket have got it up an running, with a variety of food. I was impressed to know that I could make sushi if I wanted to! John is opening up a pizza restaurant, where he will continue to make his excellent coffee.

There is a monthly market. I love markets and was delighted to chat with the guy selling produce from the school, the lady who makes relishes, jams and cakes — and delicious lamingtons — and Bruce selling his plants. Margot was there too. I don’t know how she finds the time to sew the bags and aprons she was selling.

The town is lucky that it has the draw cards of the Darling River, the Menindee Lakes system and the Kinchega National Park. But it is even luckier to have these, and no doubt many other people who give it a helping hand.

Some Menindee photos

Carved poles (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Carved poles (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The Tourist Information Centre (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The Tourist Information Centre (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The 4 wheel drive wheelbarrow! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The 4 wheel drive wheelbarrow! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Post Office (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Post Office (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Menindee house (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Menindee house (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Coffee shop and bait shop! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Coffee shop and bait shop!  Where John currently makes his coffee. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Produce from the school (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Produce from the school (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Look at those radishes! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Look at those radishes! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Menindee, outback New South Wales

Keep heading north from Mildura and you reach Broken Hill. Then turn south-east along the Menindee Road, drive for about 100 kms or about an hour to come to the township of Menindee.

Menindee is a small country town in outback NSW. It isn’t the sort of place you just stumble across — you have to know that that’s where you are going. However, lots of people have found it, including Burke and Wills. In 1860 their expedition spent a few months here, as it is where Burke established the supply camp.

The aim of the Expedition was to discover an inland route from the south of Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. I have written about the Expedition before. So, if you are interested, have a look here. A new plaque has been put up outside the Maidens Hotel, where Burke and Wills stayed. This is the map of their journey, from the plaque.

The route of Burke, Wills, Grey and King. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The route of Burke, Wills, Grey and King. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The new plaque, outside the Maidens Hotel
The new plaque, outside the Maidens Hotel 

It was because of the Burke and Wills Expedition that the Fella and I headed to Menindee. A group of botanic artists, including myself, have a project to collect (with permission) and then paint the specimens that were collected at Menindee by the doctor on the Expedition, Hermann Beckler. We call ourselves Beckler’s Botanical Beauts. Again, to find out more information about Beckler and my involvement, have a look here.

Can there really be interesting plants here?
Can there really be interesting plants here?

The country is dry, red dirt. As you drive along it seems like only saltbushes and the occasional scrubby tree grow here. What’s to find there? Well, plenty. Beckler collected 120 specimens, and that was only some of the species that are out here. Many of the plants are small, growing up in the protection of the bushier ones; or they creep along the ground. Once you stop to look, you can see lots of beauties.

Or here?
Or here?

It’s a landscape that doesn’t look very promising.

 

 

 

 

 

But once you get out and look, there is plenty to see,

like these…

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Heads down, finding lovely plant treasures
Heads down, finding lovely plant treasures

Next time I will tell you more about the town of Menindee. It was my third year of staying here, and I am becoming very fond of it.

The Pinnacle

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

There are many walks through the Grampians, most leading to spectacular lookouts. One of those is the Pinnacle. There are two ways up to it. One, from the Wonderland Carpark, is described in the brochure as ‘a strenuous walk to a famous peak’. The other, from the Sundial Carpark, is ‘a medium grade route to the Pinnacle’. We took the second, and that was a good challenge.

It was a lovely walk, along a path that wound up the side of mountains, over rocky plateaus and hopping over rocks and boulders. And it was enough for me! It made me realise that I wasn’t as unfit as I thought I was. All that work at the gym had some benefits! (Although I have yet to see a reason for sit-ups!)

Rock formations along the track (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Rock formations along the track (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

The view of Halls Gap from the Pinnacle.

 

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

I couldn’t believe how many people were up at the lookout. Most of them had come from the Wonderland Carpark — fitter that I am! There was a group of young Asian people, who had a ball up there, taking photos of each other, laughing and enjoying their experience and each other’s company.

Like Bourke St up there! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Like Bourke St up there! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The Pinnacle lookout (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The Pinnacle lookout (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

And down there is our caravan park.

Look! You can just about see Alice the Caravan! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Look! You can just about see Alice the Caravan! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)