Review: Australian Alps

Title - Australian Alps
Author – Deirdre Slattery

With ghostly snow gums and murky sphagnum bogs, the Australian Alps inspire awe and mystery in many who visit their snowy peaks. The Alps attract thousands of visitors every year, from skiers and snowboarders during the snow season to hikers and campers during the warmer months. However, few people truly understand Australia’s alpine region and its cultural and natural history. Deirdre Slattery, the author of Australian Alps, wishes to change that.

In Australian Alps, Slattery tells the story of Australia’s alpine region from a myriad of angles, explaining a diverse range of ecological and geological processes in a direct and comprehensible style. In her preface, Slattery explains that this book aims to ‘help readers to observe their surroundings in detail, to understand how the mountain landscapes of Australia work, and be able to use this knowledge to evaluate for themselves the effects of past use’.

The first few chapters of Australian Alps cover the physical characteristics of alpine regions. Weather, climate and soil composition are discussed, but the topic that intrigued me the most was geology. Australia’s Alps are relatively low and round compared to the alpine regions found elsewhere around the world, and this is mostly due to the fact that the Australian Alps are very old and largely untouched by glacial processes. Slattery highlights this, and goes on to relate Australia’s alpine region to the supercontinent of Gondwana and to explain the geological processes that cause each of our mountain ranges to be so distinct in appearance.

Also discussed in this book are the flora and fauna you are likely (or more fittingly, unlikely) to encounter on a trip up into the mountains. A varied collection of plant species are found in our alpine region, but where you will find them often depends on altitude. Taller, leafier trees are found on the foothills of a mountain, whereas at the summit all you are likely to find are herbs and a few stunted shrubs. In regards to fauna, this book highlights the animal species found in the alpine and subalpine zone, and how they cope with the harsh conditions found there. Although Australia’s alpine environments are home to few vertebrate species, the species that do inhabit the Alps have evolved an array of adaptations to help them endure the conditions they face in their chilly habitat. Adaptations such as the use of subnivean spaces and torpor are explained, as is the general appearance and habitat of key alpine species, allowing readers a view into the world of alpine animals.

The latter half of Australian Alps discusses the alpine region in a historical context. Slattery not only recounts the many ways in which the Australian Alps have been used in the past, but also explains how the alpine landscape has changed as a result of said practices. Furthermore, Slattery discusses the traditional use of the Alps by Aboriginal Australians, as well as the conservation efforts currently underway.   

If you are looking for a book that offers a thorough explanation as to why our alpine region is the way we find it today, look no further. Australian Alps is well written, and while it is thorough and specific where it needs to be, Slattery’s writing style allows the reader to open the book to any page and instantly understand any concept explained in this text. 

This book belongs on your bookshelf if…

·      You love Australia’s alpine region
·      You wish to learn more about the Alps’ ecology, geology and climate
·      You are interested in the history of how Australia’s Alps have been used over time.