A Walk in the Wild

This is a guest post by Bruna Costa

The Goulburn Valley Highway weaves northbound through central Victoria, and on approaching the town of Nagambie, a side street turns left and proceeds along the concrete bridge built to replace the collapsing historical Chinaman’s Bridge. It spans across the Goulburn River that flows down the length of Gilgai Stud Farm, home of Black Caviar, its white picket fence defining the entrance. Bordered by open pastures, the asphalt road meanders past lucerne fields and wheat crops, flocks of sheep and herds of cattle that graze on sun-drenched paddocks. Further on, the road merges onto a dusty gravel thoroughfare riddled with ruts and potholes, and continues through the State Forest of yellow box, Chinese bush and pepper trees. Mullock hills dot the forest along the way, as do the sparse, abandoned weatherboard houses and their rusting corrugated tin sheds.

The graded road leads to a gate painted silver and chained to a post leaning towards the pull of old rusted wires of a dilapidated fence. Box-ironbark and more Chinese bush, wattle, prickly grevilleas and parrot-pea shrubs grace a large part of the property.

A family of superb fairy-wrens forage in the grasses and low-lying shrubs for seeds: enough to share with the red-capped and hooded robins. Although the invasive Chinese bush, otherwise known as the Sifton bush, is an introduced plant, it does provide an abundance of seeds for small bird species, and an ideal shelter from weather conditions and predators.

Mobs of eastern grey kangaroos and the solitary brown wallaby emerge from the forest in late afternoon to scratch for roots in the barren soil baked dry by a hot sun. In marked contrast, the gravel mounds of industrious meat-eating ants nests ensure a stable, moderate temperature in their incubating tunnels beneath the surface. If ever a heroic invertebrate, say the centipede or a roaming beetle, crosses their territory, the ants go into a feeding frenzy and summon others from below ground to help dissect the invasive creatures. However, the voracious echidna has no fear of meat-eaters. It ploughs into the ant nest and consumes all it wants. And perhaps the elusive bearded dragon and stumpy-tailed lizard basking near the grey tree stumps may also partake in such a feast.

High above the stratus clouds, the wedge-tailed eagle searches for large prey, unperturbed by screeching sulphur-crested cockatoos that broadcast their messages across the plains or the pied currawongs that carol for rain. Red wattlebirds share the higher reaches of the forest with the noisy friarbirds as they seek respite from the midday heat.

Thirsty honey bees queue along a wooden plank, of which one end reaches the dregs of water in a bathtub, their need to taste the dwindling liquid as urgent as that of the yellow-tufted honeyeaters, willy wagtails and eastern rosellas that side-step along the same plank to take a decidedly necessary sip.

Leaving its mark on a eucalyptus branch, the elusive mistletoe bird ensures the future growth of red berries in the mistletoe itself. All the while, the mini willy-willy picks up dust and tosses it over grasshoppers that seek refuge in the sandstone rocks exposed by a lack of vegetation.

Come winter, swift parrots and rainbow lorikeets prune fresh tips from box-ironbark, leaving a smattering of eucalyptus blossom over composted foliage on the ground. Together, cream flowers and green moss create a natural patchwork on a moistened surface. A smattering of rocks covered in lichen complete an alluring picture.

In the clearing, welcome swallows engage in energetic flight. Skimming the ground, they rise up into the sky until the noisy miner expels its warning call to those in earshot. The peregrine falcon is on the hunt. It shoots across the plain, its keen eye fixed on movement amongst the leaves of an aged manna gum. The bird of prey soars from the tree, grasping its catch in sharp talons and disappearing into the distant canopy of eucalypts. White-winged choughs plane aimlessly through the sky while magpies parade along the ground and ignore the rhythmic call of the bronzewing that echoes through the undergrowth .

The brown snake slithers into hibernation unnoticed.

Spring arrives and sprays of wattle burst from branches after the constant rainfalls. Strong-scented blooms drive a native bee into a state of euphoria as it buries into the fluffy substance and draws nectar from the golden flurry.

Spring also exposes the spotted pardalotes as they prepare their nests in hollowed ground. And thornbills, warblers and tree-creepers pick out sap-sucking insects on stringy bark and grey box tree trunks. Willy wagtails fill the air with their chatter, performing a song and dance to draw attention away from their nest built on an unused bucket in the outhouse. The nest is cleverly stitched together with silk threads from a borrowed cobweb and is brimming with chicks. And while the lone golden whistler, perched high on a limb, calls for a mate, the crimson rosella emits a soulful note when all else is quiet in the bush.

Notably still is the red-bellied black snake as it basks in the warm sun beside the overflow of the dam, lying in wait for the pobblebonk and other frogs that trumpet their intentions to females in the rain-soaked flats.

The Sifton bush, in its dying stages, purges its last signs of life by exuding an attractive orange fungus - a striking contrast to the mauve native orchids that emerge from rhizomes buried underground; a splash of colour against an otherwise tired and dreary vegetation.  Or is it?

Carnivorous Victorian Drosera stand like sentinels, their insatiable urge being to lure hungry insects into their gaping traps. But in a field of thousands and with constant rain depleting their supply of invertebrates, few will achieve digestive satisfaction in such a competitive environment. Seemingly insignificant are the native flora speckled across the soggy planes in shades of burgundy and white; a welcoming phenomenon in a flooded plain.

Fields of golden daisies, considered weeds, stretch as far as the horizon. And most remarkable of all, the hieroglyphics created by tiny termites on fallen logs, soon to become obsolete with their total disintegration while new growth sprouts alongside the breakdown of bark, timber and seeds.

This is where humans go to reconnect with all that is wonderful on our planet Earth.

All photos by Bruna Costa.