Water, water, as far as the eye can see

The waves were not particularly tall; perhaps one to two metres. Their rise and fall was not dramatic as I expected they would become across a stormy sea.  Nevertheless they were sufficiently active to make loud, deep, resonant sounds all day.  Jeanette was disturbed by their constant booming. As we neared the northern end of Marrawah Beach she shouted with an edge of great irritation, ‘the sea is SO noisy’.20171225_103338.jpg

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20171225_105736.jpg  When I look at these photos my memories let me re-feel the movement of the air; the push and pull of the endless windy onshore breezes. Against my skin. Against my sun-screened face.  Against my unhatted hair.  With the sun warming those mobile air currents, I walked with bare arms. It felt like one of those days with a high UV rating and I hoped not to be windburnt or sunburnt at the end of the walk.20171225_110451.jpg

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20171225_111316.jpgIn some photos above, the tiny dots of birds can be seen.  In the main, these birds were large sea birds, so their comparatively small size is an indicator of the scale of the spaces in front of me each time I pointed the camera.Dominican Gull.JPG

Apart from the occasional Dominican Gull (sometimes known as the Kelp Gull) that bobbed as thin waves washed onto the beach, the majority of birds we saw were Oystercatchers. In particular we noticed lots of pairs of Pied Oystercatchers, and sometimes small groups.  Parks and Wildlife Services provides the following information; ‘The name “oystercatcher” is a misnomer because they seldom eat oysters. Pied Oystercatchers feed mainly on bivalve molluscs, which are found by sight, or by probing their long bills in the mud. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also eaten.

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I did see one pair of Sooty Oystercatchers. Parks and Wildlife Services says; ‘The Sooty Oystercatcher is a coastal bird, preferring rocky shores in contrast to the Pied Oystercatcher, which is frequently found on beaches. The Sooty Oystercatcher will, however, occasionally be seen on sandy beaches. It is found either singularly or in pairs.’ Closer to Mt Cameron West, I noticed a single Black Faced Cormorant fishing near a rocky platform.

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The most delightful sight of the day was a tiny sand scampering bird that led us along sections of the beach, by running parallel to the sea but between us and the dunes. At first we only saw movement and then our eyes became accustomed to their sandy coloured feathers which provided perfect camouflage when they stood still.  We believed this was the Hooded Plover which apparently has a black head. The birds we saw were very tiny, moved fast and everything about them seemed dusty. But it is conceivable their heads were dark and the combination of intense sun and movement blurred the darkness into something softer.  Despite seeing them in pairs and assuming one was male and the other female, perhaps most pairs that we concentrated on were two females – the colouring of females is softer. I realise there are a number of native plovers and migratory plovers that frequent the Tasmanian shorelines.  I cannot be sure that the birds we saw are the Hooded Plovers, but since the information panel at the southern end of Marrawah Beach listed these birds I am inclined to think that is what they are – albeit immature rather than adult. Perhaps just out of their nests.20171223_174021.jpgMy travel buddy and I had childhoods next to water and so we try to take any chance to be near it again. In anticipation of the big ocean, we brought our wet suits with us on this trip. Unfortunately, we never got to use them. All we did was to paddle a little at the water’s edge and consider, if good health had been ours, that we would have splashed our way out into the briny with abandon – although we may not have ventured out as far as a couple of young men did one afternoon.  They didn’t get into trouble so I assume they were locals and knew and understood the conditions of the ocean on Marrawah Beach.

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It is a long beach

When it looked to me that we were half way along the beach, I suggested to Jeanette we had maybe 4 km still to go because we had been walking, albeit slowly with our investigations and photography, for over an hour. ‘No’, she said, ‘it is only about another kilometre’. It was further. Much further.  A great deal further. Later a local told us the beach was nearly 4 miles not 4 km long. So in total, counting the distance of the curves we walked and our explorations up and down the beach to dune and water edges, the total distance we covered for the day was probably 13-14 kilometres.

And on we walked and on and on.  Mt Cameron West grew in size but oh so slowly.  I think Jeanette would have been happy to turn around, but I was determined to reach the mountain on its southern side, and I am grateful that she continued with me. 20171225_102644.jpg

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20171225_125507.jpgThe closer we came to Mt Cameron West, the more our cottage and Green Point to the south, disappeared from view.     20171225_101327.jpg

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20171225_115819.jpgDespite my headache, my sore throat and my asthmatic cough, I was elated with my persistence and I remained in perpetual awe of the spectacular environment. Luminous.  Shimmering.  Raw. Wild. Pure.  Perpetually filling me with wonder.

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The unusual and unexplained

1: I looked closely at the textured sand shown in the photos below.20171225_104310.jpg

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20171225_105500.jpgThe holes were either home to a beach critter, or their entrance into a food pantry.  I am not sure what the tiny insect was that I noted going in and out. Was it a biting midge, or a sand fly? I doubt that because the insect did not seem to have wings; it looked like a solid tiny dusty dark grey/brown body moving around. Was it some sort of beetle; one without a distinctive head and with legs hidden beneath its carapace? I know when I took the photos, some were visible (they were moving)  but I cannot see them now (in a still image).  Great camouflage.  Whatever they were, I suspect the reason for their presence was to enjoy the food being supplied by the decaying seaweed that was partially buried in the sand.

The Insects of Tasmania site provides information about Water Beetles and shows a photo of one found at Sisters Creek beach (located on the north west coast of Tasmania not so far from where we were).  Perhaps what I saw was a type of Water Beetle.

2:  What caused the circles smoothed around grasses at the dune edge?20171225_115306.jpg

20171225_115309.jpgWe only saw this phenomenon in one location close to the northern end of the beach. In the first photo above there are, what seem to be from the distance, animal tracks crossing near the smoothed grass.  However, there were no marks of any animal or bird leading up to or away from the smoothed circles.  The grass wasn’t sufficiently long to have been dragged by the wind across the sand in any sort of sweeping motion to explain the smoothed areas.  Within aboriginal groups around Darwin there is a traditional burial practice which requires the surrounding area to be smoothed so that the arrival of evil spirits can be detected. Even though Tasmanian aborigines would have walked this beach and the dunes for thousands of years, this smoothing I saw had to be temporary. With rain or strong winds, the sand would eventually return to its rippled format.20171225_105512.jpg

20171225_102243.jpgI continue to be puzzled. I cannot come up with a rational explanation.  Why the smoothing? Why in that particular spot and not elsewhere along the beach?  How was the sand smoothed, and by what process?  Which insect, bird or animal was responsible?  When was it done?  What was the benefit arising from the process?

Elsewhere, the grass and the sandy dune usually looked something like the following:20171225_102251.jpg

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Creeks, springs and rivulets

Intermittently fresh water trickled or bubbled from the sand dunes and crossed the beach. It was the purity and cleanliness of the process and the way the water moved that enthralled me time and again.  20171225_101153.jpg

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20171225_101224.jpg Looking at the first stream gave me the opportunity to look back to the southern end of Marrawah Beach and out to Green Point. 20171225_101327.jpg

20171225_101324.jpgThe next outpouring is a type that I have never seen previously.  The fresh water did not run across the sand from the dunes. Rather it bubbled up mid beach. Watch this video to see it in action. I haven’t been to Rotorua but I imagine the plopping mud pools look very similar to what we saw. How did I know it was fresh water?  I stuck my finger in one of the circular plopping pools then tasted it. Having been filtered so thoroughly through the sand I cannot imagine cleaner water.      20171225_103440.jpg

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20171225_103629.jpgThe next couple were dry creeks presumably needing a fall of rain to make them run. Look at the height of the dunes at the beach edge – many were much higher than these. Overall, their height surprised me.  They seemed to be acting like a strong levy holding back the sea from the land behind. 20171225_103731.jpg

20171225_104227.jpgI liked the glassy quality of the water crossing the sand from this rivulet.20171225_112616.jpgThis water sprung up from under the water worn rocks and didn’t trickle from the sand dunes directly across the sand.20171225_114114.jpgWhoever said long beaches were featureless has failed to take time to look at how the land connects to the sea, and how no two connections look and operate exactly the same way.

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A new day dawns

I woke with knives in my throat. No, not literally. The virus or infection which I had been incubating broke with a vengeance.  I felt terrible.  But there was a carefully planned itinerary to follow and I was not going to be thwarted.  Jeanette and I prepared a salad picnic, then set off to walk from our cottage to Mt Cameron West along Marrawah Beach. I started the walk believing it would be a 4 km walk to the end of the beach, and 8 km return – I had read that somewhere. How hard can it be? I didn’t even consider that being unwell should make a difference; I was going to walk to Mt Cameron West and I couldn’t conceive of alternatives.20171225_101407.jpgThe day was stunningly beautiful with a blue umbrella overhead, and the waves sparkled as they constantly found the shore. Once on the beach I felt fresh and new.  And if I didn’t talk then I didn’t cough – too much, too often.  Thankfully the world of the beach and sea and its birds and edging sand dunes seemed omnipresent so that, mostly, I was distracted from my state of health.  And I delighted in the tracks of birds and other markers in the sand.  20171225_100627.jpg

20171225_100637.jpgAt shore level, Mt Cameron West appeared to be a lot further than 4 km along the beach. The reflections of sky in the water covered sand, as waves receded, created an extraordinary pearlescence.20171225_100719.jpgThe tide was out so the beach was wide. Apart from my travel buddy and I, the expanse was people-less.  What good fortune.20171225_100723Deep and penetrating vegetation coated the sand dunes, offering them protection from the effects of wind.  20171225_101001.jpg

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20171225_102535.jpg The vegetation was dense and helped me to understand the difficulty of making tracks and walking through this land. I can appreciate the practicality of why the indigenous peoples created set tracks to move around, as did the settlers in the 19th century.

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Down to the sea

At the end of the afternoon following our walk on the beach to the northern side Mt Cameron West and our visit to Dismal Swamp,  Jeanette went for a walk down to the sea.  A sea mist almost obliterated Mt Cameron West and the changing atmosphere added drama to the fresh wildness of the ocean.20171224_181449.jpg

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20171224_183347.jpgShe was enthralled by the water-worn rock patterns.      20171224_181612.jpg

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Her random photos of seaweed and other flotsam and jetsam, is different from but, reminds me of Fred Williams paintings of the You Yangs where the details of the landscape are bits and pieces.  They also remind me of the no-meaning scattered look of some Jean Miro paintings.  Very beautiful.20171224_182554.jpg

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Leaving the sinkhole

I enjoyed the walk uphill (not because I enjoy walking uphill) for the new perspectives I was given on the forest. As the path rose I came level with trees at different heights and by the time I reached the top I could look across and eye ball some of the tree tops. The atmosphere felt enormously majestic and dignified. IMG_0669.JPG

IMG_0670.JPGAlong the way, seated platforms provided the opportunity to stop and absorb the sounds and smells, and ‘feel’ the environment. An artwork at the end of one reminded me of the insect ‘Praying-Mantis’. I realise these insects are the masters of camouflage and to some extent the metal sculptures were a little like the branches of dead trees. Nevertheless this seemed rather out of place here; but I am ignorant of their breeding grounds and native homelands. Somehow I never imagined that Praying Mantises would live in rainforest. IMG_0663.JPG

IMG_0665.JPGI had no expectations of Tasmanian Forest Adventures/Dismal Swamp. During the visit I was impressed and can recommend it to those wanting to understand a little more about the nature of this part of the world.  The owners run a friendly and professional operation, the premises are smart, and the environment is stunning. The walk/stroll options can be taken as fast or as slow as you want; there is much to look at and to think about. And if you have the courage, you can give yourself a thrill and slide down to the sinkhole/swamp!

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Art in the forest

I was surprised to discover a number of works of art by Tasmanian artists, that were related to the concept of the sinkhole or forest, had been inserted into the landscape amongst the trees. Most works blended so well that you could be forgiven for not seeing them.

An obvious example was the metal ‘vines’. IMG_0580.JPG

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After my experience on Mt Donaldson and around Corinna in the southern Tarkine earlier in the year, I could recognise the burrows of the native Burrowing Crayfish. One artist, Yvonne Rees created large crayfish and these were highly visible.IMG_0617.JPG

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IMG_0586.JPGIf my memory serves me, the black and white constructed cow was the work of Bob Jenyns. IMG_0605.JPG

IMG_0606.JPGI don’t recall the artist’s name but I do remember looking into the bush and taking a while to realise that what I thought were tree trunks and branches, were artfully placed sinuous wooden pieces that suggested slim line people moving through the bush.IMG_0625.JPGOne artist urged us to ‘feel the spirit’.  I did.IMG_0592.JPGOn its own platform a viewing chair was set to encourage visitors to sit and meditate as they stared at, listened to and/or smelt the surrounding native forest.IMG_0627.JPGThe following panel suggested there might be something in the bush but I could not see it; perhaps the drawing in the circular panel was the work of art.IMG_0656.JPGAs interesting and unexpected as it was to see works of art enmeshed in the forest,  it was the natural ‘art’ of the forest which I found most engaging; the lichens which seemed to be painted onto the tree trunks and the textures of tree trunks.IMG_0634.JPG

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Down in the sinkhole

Dismal Swamp is a 640 hectare sinkhole; apparently the largest sinkhole in the southern hemisphere. The website explains ‘The sinkhole itself is 624 hectares (1540 acres) in area and 40 metres (130 feet) deep. Formed over hundreds of thousands of years as acidic runoff from the volcanic soils leached into and dissolved the soft dolomite sediments that underlay most of the region the sinkhole has developed into an oasis for native plants, trees and animals. While natural environments continue to change the sinkhole itself will not get much deeper as between 1.5 metres ( 5 feet) and 3 metres (10 feet) below the surface of the swamp is a layer of marine sediments comprised of ancient corals and shells. This layer acts as a type of bedrock and also as a drainage system that ensures that the sinkhole remains as a swamp and doesn’t fill with water to form a lake as happens in other sites around the region.’

I was pleased when I read the following sign because I had been surprised the ‘swamp’ was dry.  Shame this isn’t titled ‘Dismal Sinkhole’ rather than Dismal Swamp – it is not a swamp because the floor of the area drains internally.IMG_0604.JPGOnce we off the slide, the start of a number of boardwalked pathways presented themselves to us.  We had been given a map and while we noted 1.2 km of boardwalk offered different routes through the forest, we opted to meander around the outer circle.20171224_125511.jpg

I loved the rib structure which created a ‘room’ in the forest. Elegant. It was deceptively simple. And its simplicity allowed me to appreciate the complexity of the bush all the more. IMG_0594.JPG

IMG_0595.JPGCircular signs explained these ribs were the work of architect Simon Archer.IMG_0593.JPGTrees were identified with explanatory panels; stringy bark, myrtle, sassafras, blackwood, laurel, celery top pine, dogwood, musk and horizontal.    IMG_0581.JPG

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IMG_0657.JPGIn addition, some trees had their own set of three circular panels with more information.  For example:IMG_0644.JPGThe panels covered a range of other topics.  For example the Spotted Quoll was featured.IMG_0655.JPG

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Speeding to the bottom

The options were to walk 360 metres down the hill, to be driven in a buggy by the venue operators if walking was a challenge, or to take the slide and arrive at the bottom within seconds.20171224_112359.jpgInitially I was concerned  that coming to a quick stop might aggravate my knees and back but, after viewing a video of the entire process, clearly the stop was a smooth glide up a ramp to neutralise the speed then a slow slide back – nothing abrupt.  I was prepared to give it a go. We were informed that the speed of the slide depended on weather conditions. On very warm and dry days the slide arrives at the bottom in 15 seconds, but  when it is wet and cold, the slide can be more difficult to move.  I think I arrived in less than 15 seconds – it almost felt that it was over before I knew I had started. What an experience!

Safety was paramount. One staff member at the top and another at the bottom. No new slider could start until the all clear was given from the bottom.  I had to don a hairnet, then a helmet which was adjusted to ensure it would not move around my head during transit.  At the top of the edge of the slide, I was asked to put my lower body into a pocket with my feet touching the lower end. Inside near the waist high pocket edge were two straps which I was urged to hold onto at all times.  The staff member then asked me to sit up a little while he placed a large cushion slab behind my upper back for comfort. Before I moved off, he explained I should stay lying throughout the slide but with my head slightly raised off the ‘ground’.

With a whoosh I was off, gathering speed, whizzing around corners and up the sides (I am sure you have seen the luge athletes at the Winter Olympics – well something like that) and then down again.  When I forgot the instructions and dropped my head the vibrations picked up so it was more stable and comfortable to keep my neck and head raised a little. I did my best to enjoy the experience but was a smidgin disappointed when I looked up hoping to see trees and sky. Unfortunately the plastic canopy is not transparent and so I couldn’t see details outside. It was all a blur.IMG_0667.JPGAnd then, before I took a breath, I was gliding to a stop.

But my brain was still arriving.  I couldn’t work anything out.  I couldn’t move.  The staff member coaxed; she suggested I scramble out of my cocoon/pocket and I remember thinking that’s a good idea but I am not sure how.  The shute is curved so there is no flat base on which to place your knees or feet to get your balance. I couldn’t work out which knee, leg and foot to put where – my brain wasn’t yet positioned neatly back in its shell and operating normally. All the while I would glance up to marvel at Jeanette’s noise.  She was bent over double with screeching laughter. I remember thinking – am I that funny to look at or is she still in shock from her own trip down the slide.  Her photo shows me grasping for something firm even once I was off the shute; her smile continued for a long while after. 20171224_124642.jpg

IMG_0577.JPGOnce I had control of my limbs, gradually I stepped down the stairs onto the side platform and held on as a quivering mess.  What fun!  What a gloriously silly thing to do! IMG_0574.JPG

IMG_0573.JPGThis is where I had come from.IMG_0575.JPGThis is where I slid up to before gliding back to stop.IMG_0576.JPGA simply wonderful little adventure!

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Tasmanian Forest Adventures

The tall forest trees (predominantly blackwood trees) edging the driveway into the parking area of Tasmanian Forest Adventures/Dismal Swamp  were dramatically different from the melaleuca and other low-lying wind-shaped bushes on the coast at Mt Cameron West. To walk in two totally opposed environments, in one day, was most stimulating.   20171224_111726.jpg

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20171224_112001.jpgWe passed picnic areas.20171224_112059.jpgEventually we followed the track to the contemporary Visitor Centre, entered via the shop and found our way to the restaurant.     20171224_112143.jpg

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20171224_113443.jpgOn two sides of the restaurant, floor to ceiling glass windows allowed us to look out onto the tops of gigantic forest trees.

Over lunch we made the decision for an adventure; we made up our minds to take the 110 metre long slide to the bottom of Dismal Swamp, rather than walk. You only live once!20171224_112359.jpg

 

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Time for lunch

The entry to an important tourism location is beside the Bass Highway between Marrawah and Smithton.  Based around a rainforested Dismal Swamp at the northern edge of the Tarkine wilderness, this has been rebranded as Tasmanian Forest Adventures; the word ‘dismal’ seems to have kept the crowds away.Marrawah and Dismal Swamp.JPGThis was our lunch destination, after which we planned to spend the afternoon exploring the area.

From Mt Cameron West we drove south then turned eastwards loving the constancy of the gigantic blue sky.20171224_110328.jpgOnce again we commented on the neatness of the paddocks rolling endlessly over cleared hills. On our way to Marrawah the day before, we had noted the beautifully baled rolls of hay. 20171223_145953.jpg

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But that viewing was when we were tired near the end of our 7 hour journey north and windscreen wipers bleared the drizzly view somewhat, so I didn’t take much notice of everything that was on view. Today with the sparkling sun, the synthetic colours in the landscape startled.  In the paddocks sat huge bales of hay wrapped in an assortment of coloured plastic; wrapped tightly to seal out oxygen and prevent deterioration, and prevent mice plagues.20171224_111108.jpg

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20171223_151349.jpgWe did not see bales being wrapped so I am not sure exactly which machinery is used in Australia. A USA video shows a process which I feel sure will be similar to that used by our farmers. Watch this short hay bale wrapper video.

Twenty five minutes after leaving Mt Cameron West, we arrived at Dismal Swamp/Tasmanian Forest Adventures.

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If you go down then you must go up, to return

I wasn’t looking forward to trekking back uphill, but of course it was necessary.  Sadly we left that lovely people-less beach, the wheeling seabirds, the salt spray, and the boom of the crashing waves.

It was on the return walk that Jeanette spotted the natural bush sculptures.  They provided a stark reminder of the bush as a place that always has new life with items of death existing side by side.

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When the track offered an alternative turn to the right I followed it, while Jeanette took the tried and true track back to the car. I was armed with my Personal Locator Beacon and we agreed to shout Cooee over the landscape from time to time,  to keep in touch.

It seemed that the track might continue over the eastern base of Mt Cameron West and being aboriginal land I had some reservations. Should I go on? I made the decision to continue walking, but to stay on the track.20171224_102332.jpgMy track, between expansive stands of natural melaleuca trees, gradually widened and I could see that vegetation clearance was occurring. I could not fathom a reason why this native bush needed to be cleared. 20171224_102442.jpg

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20171224_102948.jpg When I saw the track turning to the right towards Mt Cameron West, I felt I had climbed so far that I didn’t want to retrace my steps. I hoped to be able to find a way to turn left towards the road, so I continued my climb.20171224_103221.jpg

20171224_103436(0).jpgAnd then I reached the top of that part of the hill.  At that point and during my trek uphill I looked back to the glistening sea and across the sand dunes towards the white wind turbines. A huge old well-worn landscape.     20171224_102702.jpg

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20171224_103752.jpgI loved the isolation, and savoured the privilege of being in this beautiful environment. The views changed as I swivelled 360 degrees.20171224_102446.jpg

20171224_102717.jpgAt this point I could see the car and Jeanette waving from the viewing platform in the distance; our Cooee shouts whipped across the landscape pushed by the wind.20171224_103747.jpg

20171224_103749.jpgSome land had been cleared ahead of me and while I could see the remnants of a vehicular track winding up the mountain, I knew I should not follow these.20171224_103933.jpgI felt this was a protected space associated with ancient aboriginal history and practices.  I understood I would be insensitive to climb that mountain.  So I continued over the brow of the hill beginning to edge towards the left. To my delight another 4WD track appeared. 20171224_103936.jpgI walked down this track to find it ended at the gates, seen on our arrival, that declared No Entry.20171224_104408.jpgThankfully Jeanette had guessed where I was heading and was waiting for me out on the road. I was intoxicated by a mix of the increasing warmth of the morning, the physical activity, the grandeur of the panoramas and the up-close experience of the marvellous melaleuca stands. I was thrilled by the chance to have had an alternative ‘viewing platform’. Simple brilliant pleasures without leaving any evidence of my presence.

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Evidence of wildlife

On a number of occasions we passed evidence of an animal trying to dig holes, perhaps seeking food.  So many were started but not turned into burrows that I immediately discounted the possibility of the digging animal being a wombat. Would it have been a bandicoot?  This site provides the information that bandicoots … dig little conical pits looking for beetle larvae’. The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage site explains ‘Bandicoots are designed to eat underground food, although they won’t go past insects and even berries found on the ground. With a sensitive nose they can readily sniff out insects, worms, roots and even fungi. Once a food item is located, they scoop out a conical hole with the rake-like claws on their front feet. The long, pointed face probes the bottom of the hole and any food is quickly pinched out between fine, needle-like teeth.’20171224_102316.jpg

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Intruders or natural?

I was looking down at a tiny flower, and photographed it in the shade of another plant – my attention was only on the flower. (Addition – since posting this story friend Mary has emailed me the following comment: ‘I think the little pink flower with the thistles at Marrawah area is purple milkwort from memory because I looked it up last year when I found it’.)20171224_095325.jpgAgghhh –  then I realised a massive thistle was spreading to cover it.20171224_095328.jpgLooking around, I could see that other thistles of varying sizes were growing in the vicinity. This is a small outbreak and if tackled TODAY then I believe the thistles can be eradicated before flowering and seeding.  Are there any northwest coast followers of this blog who want to talk to the managers of Preminghana and assist with the thistle removal before it takes over the natural environment?

On the track close to the beach end, from time to time, I found a creature in pairs. Snails.  Our ordinary garden variety or a native? 20171224_100748.jpgAccording to Native Australian Land Snails, ‘Australia boasts more than 2500 species of land snails.’   I cannot identify what I saw but it certainly looked like the normal garden variety of snail.  If so, what dangers will these pose for that environment which is still almost totally natural?

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