Visiting Goongerah

This is a guest post by Laura Jennings.

In November 2016, I was one of the many UK tourists who visited Australia. My UK friends found it eccentric that I was going to spend three weeks in Australia but not leave one of its smallest states. (‘What? You're not even going to Sydney?’) But, for this flora and fauna obsessive, Victoria has delights enough. In my day job I'm a botanist, so I have a deep appreciation of plants, and I'm also a keen amateur birdwatcher. I think I’m more of a nature lover than an average tourist, but I was lucky enough to have like-minded friends in Victoria who could take me on a road trip to some incredible wild places, one of which was Goongerah, in East Gippsland. 

I would hazard a guess that most visitors from the UK have a mental picture of Australia that includes its beaches, endless deserts, cities (the suburbs of which we recognise from Neighbours) and the Great Barrier Reef. The rainforests don’t seem to feature very prominently in the tourist literature which I think is a sad omission, because they are unbelievably beautiful and full of rare and threatened species.

Me at Goongerah. (I have never looked so British....!)

Me at Goongerah. (I have never looked so British....!)

We went on our trip to Goongerah in the early spring, and seemed to have the whole area almost to ourselves. As someone who lives in crowded southern England, I'm used to queues of traffic even in our "wild places" like national parks, and the noise of passing traffic being almost everywhere, so being somewhere truly quiet, where the dominant sounds were of birds and running water, was very humbling. The campsite is a series of forested glades with a small, clear river running through it. The stereotypical response of the first-time European visitor in Australia is to marvel at how huge everything seems, and even in the campsite I was no exception, as the eucalypt trees seemed to tower over us. I was told by my Australian friend, however, that these are comparatively small compared to true old-growth giants. 

A Gang Gang Cockatoo and a King Parrot.

A Gang Gang Cockatoo and a King Parrot.

I was amazed at the wildlife we spotted from just beside our tent. We startled a pair of Satin Bowerbirds when we arrived. We only got a brief look at the male, but the female became used to us, and we got a close look at her lustrous, olive-green feathers and bright violet eyes as she hopped around our camp. A group of Superb Fairy Wrens fed in short flights in some clumps of sedges, constantly flicking their tails. We saw Gang-Gang Cockatoos feeding on wattles next to King Parrots. In the evening, we were treated to a kookaburra concert in full surround sound as a group of them filled a eucalypt grove. Perhaps that's a common experience for lots of you, but I was mesmerised. You have no idea how lucky you are to live in a country where you can see parrots every day.

We drove around the area to experience some of the different landscapes and types of forest, and one of the things that particularly struck me was the sheer number of tree ferns. I see the same species, Dicksonia antarctica, grown in the UK in groups of two or three as a stylish and very expensive addition to domestic gardens, so to see a whole hillside covered in them beneath a tall Eucalyptus canopy was incredible. I have a particular love for the Proteaceae family, so seeing the Victorian waratah (Telopea oreades) in flower had me in open-mouthed wonder.

Dicksonia antarctica  hillside.

Dicksonia antarctica hillside.

I can see now why appreciating and protecting rainforests is so necessary. If Victorian rainforests aren't valued as they are now, intact and beautiful and full of life, then they're even more vulnerable to the wide range of threats that currently exist, such as overexploitation and climate change. I’m jealous that most of you reading this are only a few hours’ drive away. Visit, and bring your friends (visiting from abroad or otherwise), because they’ll go home dreaming of when they can come back.

Laura Jennings is a botanist working for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. She specialises in ex situ plant conservation as part of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.

All images courtesy of Laura Jennings.

Australia's Natural Carbon Banks

This is a guest post by Maggie Riddington.

Traditionally home to many Indigenous Australians, rainforests are not only beautiful, natural landscapes enjoyed by many bushwalkers - they also have a vital role to play in storing carbon at a time of growing community concern about climate change. In fact, if Australia is to honour its commitments made at the recent Paris Climate Summit, these beautiful ancient places might hold an important key.

In the peak of the Australian Summer, as temperatures soar, people often seek relief from the heat in natural spaces. They head to the beach, they go for a dip in the river, or if they are fortunate enough to be in the vicinity, they head to the rainforest. It’s a few degrees cooler in the rainforest and there they can seek relief in the lofty shade of the ancient myrtle beech and southern sassafras.

Image: Maggie Riddington

Image: Maggie Riddington

But as people seek refuge from increasingly extreme weather, so do the cool temperate rainforests of Victoria seek out, albeit very slowly, appropriate climatic niches to flourish. In fact, they’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Climatically restricted to areas of high rainfall and mild temperatures, such areas now exist only in southeast facing gullies where they are afforded sufficient protection from harsh conditions. 

According to the Bureau of Meteorology annual climate summary released last week, 2015 was one of Australia’s hottest years and was the hottest year on record globally. In Victoria, areas of rainforest received rainfall well below average and temperatures much higher than average. That’s particularly bad news for forests dependent on mild temperatures and high rainfall. 

Whether you’re in the Otways, far-east Gippsland, the Strzelecki Ranges or the Central Highlands, when you step out of a rainforest you step into a mountain ash forest. The adjacent forests, being the most carbon dense in the world, offer salvation to the rare and retreating rainforest in more ways than one. For instance, the mountain ash forests act as buffer zones for the rainforests, sheltering them from high temperatures, disease and fire.

Not only do the mountain ash forests protect cool temperate rainforests from harsh climatic conditions, they also store an incredible amount of carbon (1,867 tonnes per hectare), but if cut down they release a substantial amount of carbon into the atmosphere. In this way, the mountain ash forests help mitigate the effects of global warming on these rainforests. 

Protecting Victoria’s rainforests and mountain ash forests is imperative to mitigating global warming. Not only for the forests themselves, but for the people who know and love them.

These forests are important places for all Australians, but they also hold a pragmatic significance as carbon stores that might help bridge the divide between Australia’s current carbon output and the pledges we’ve made to the international community.

Cover image by Maggie Riddington.