bush walking

The walks and wonders of Phillip Island

Last year I explored Phillip Island and its nature and conservation reserves, each location providing insight into the significance of this popular coastal destination. During my short stay of a few days, bushwalking and taking photos of the landscapes and the wonders within them were high on my priority list.

Bushwalk One: Rhyll Inlet State Wildlife Reserve

This reserve is situated within the Western Port RAMSAR Site, and is of international significance. RAMSAR sites are related to The Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty for their protection. Within this RAMSAR site, saltbushes (Beaded Glassworts or Sarcocornia quinqueflora) are present, as well as many other floral species and a variety of birdlife.

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Bushwalk Two: Churchill Island

Located on the south-east side of Phillip Island, Churchill Island was also of interest to me. Although holding more of a historical significance relating to European settlement, there are a few leisurely walks that showcase its rugged coastline and its range of flora and fauna. Found amongst tree branches was a bright orange lichen, in strong contrast to the background of green foliage. The twisted branches of ancient Moonah Trees are an impressive sight, whilst looking out onto the grazing pasture of Scottish Highland Cattle is a somewhat unusual experience on this walk.

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Bushwalk Three: A beach walk along the coastline

The coastline of Phillip Island is rugged yet beautiful, and provides the perfect opportunity to investigate the small wonders hiding amongst rocks and sand. Discoveries include barnacles on the side of an orange, sun-glazed coastal rock, a delicate sea sponge submerged in sand, and a fragile wildflower found casting shadows next to a coastal cliff-face. 

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Bushwalk Four: Phillip Island Nature Park

The final destination on my list before leaving the island was Phillip Island Nature Park, home to the Little Penguin colony. The nature park provides a vital conservation area for the penguins. Education, research and restoration practices are all part of the conservation efforts being being made to protect this iconic species. Boardwalks provide observation areas with views across the landscape as well of the wildlife (providing a glimpse of penguin burrows).

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Although only a short getaway, my time on Phillip Island provided many great photo opportunities and glimpses of the area's incredible landscapes, flora and fauna.

Until next time.


Christine Slade has completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science, and is in her final year of a Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Monash University. She is interested in engaging the public with the environment through photography, and to also raise awareness of conservation practices. She hopes to work in environmental consulting or education.


All images courtesy of Christine Slade.

1900 Footprints: A Journey for the Plight of Threatened Species

This is a guest post by Tristan O'Brien.

With a growing list of over 1900 Threatened species in Australia and an ongoing struggle for resources to combat this issue across the country, what does the future of sustainability and biological diversity look like in Australia? 

As the world’s population migrates into cities and leaves the countryside, our physical and emotional connection to natural places is being broken. Indeed, the first modern ‘urban’ areas in Europe have existed for only around 200 years, a mere fraction of the eons our species has spent living with a much closer connection to the land. Globally, more than half of the world's population live in urban areas, whilst in Australia, the number of people living in cities dwarfs those living in rural areas at a staggering 89%. 

How many people in this country are now able to experience the Australia described by Banjo Patterson? ‘For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.’

Surely, this is having an effect on our motivation for and understanding about why protecting ecological integrity is important here in Australia. In protecting threatened species and responding to climate change, we are struggling to fulfil our responsibility to lead as a developed nation.

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species.  Image: Camilo Mateus

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species. Image: Camilo Mateus

Reconnecting with our HumaNature for the long term

It is clear to me that as Australians, we have a unique opportunity. We are economically stable, and have a high standard of living, low population density, and some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth.

Developing a greater outdoor culture in Australia will ensure that future generations are equipped with the knowledge to protect biodiversity. Getting our city populations outside and reconnecting with our amazing environment will go a long way towards developing motivation and political will to restore our fragmented landscapes into the future.

This cultural change can happen at a grassroots level, by taking friends and family to our own favourite spots and sharing our enjoyment of natural places. This is why organisations working towards these changes are so important, especially if they are able to reach a wide audience and involve them in environmental issues in an engaging way.

Another exciting movement is the way our understanding of what it means to have nature in a city is changing, particularly by changing cities themselves to contain and function as unique ecosystems. Side effects of including nature in the function of cities include greater social cohesion, a decreased chance of developing a mental illness, reductions in crime*, and increased productivity**.

Logo design: Bel  én Elorietta.

Logo design: Belén Elorietta.

But what about responding now?

Unfortunately, many environmental issues are pertinent now, and cannot wait for future generations to make the first response. For example, historical land clearing in Adelaide’s Mt Lofty Ranges ending in the 1980s has left an ‘extinction debt’ of nearly 50 of the 120 bird species that originally existed in the region, eight of which have already disappeared.

Continued land clearing, mining activities, invasive species, urban sprawl and climate change are just some of the pressures threatening many species around Australia that require immediate action to prevent further species loss.

Therefore, it is important for Australians to support organisations that are actively carrying out restoration works right now.

So what are we going to do about it?

1900 kilometres for 1900 threatened species

In my own efforts to highlight these issues, from mid-September I will be undertaking a long-distance walk called 1900 Footprints to raise awareness and funds for conservation projects in Australia. The walk will take me from Adelaide to Melbourne and across Tasmania.

In walking one kilometre for every species listed as Threatened in this country, I hope to garner interest from individuals, groups and organisations for changing the way we think about our connection with natural environments and to fundraise for on-the-ground conservation initiatives.

Funds raised will go towards two organisations that are making a real-world difference in these areas:

BioR is a volunteer-run, scientifically-informed restoration organisation that reconstructs habitat for declining species in cleared agricultural landscapes. They will use funds from 1900 Footprints to install a nursery and nesting boxes for declining bird species in a 1700ha restoration site near Monarto, South Australia.

Wollangarra is an outdoor education centre that helps young people connect with themselves, their peers and the natural environment by taking them hiking in wild areas of the Victorian High Country. In these places, they perform important, on-the-ground conservation works, including weed removal, track maintenance and tree planting. Funds from 1900 Footprints will be used to sponsor disadvantaged young people to attend these life-changing courses and connect with the wild Australian landscape.

Please help me with 1900 Footprints by sharing this project with your family and friends and by donating to the project.

WebsiteFacebook / Instagram 


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Tristan O’Brien has worked in ecology, sustainability, outdoor education and eco-tourism. He is passionate about communicating environmental conservation through design, writing, photography and outdoor education. He completed an Honours year in Environmental Biology, investigating habitat use changes of woodland birds following controlled burning.

You can find him on Twitter at @TristanAvella


Banner image courtesy of Tristan O'Brien.

*Wolfe, M.K. and J. Mennis, Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2012. 108 (2–4): p. 112-122. 

**Nieuwenhuis, M., et al., The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2014. 20(3): p. 199-214.    

Hiking Lerderderg State Park (With a Dog)

This is a guest post by Fam Charko.

If you want to get out of the city for a day or a week, Lerderderg State Park has it all. It’s only 1 – 1.5 hours to the west of Melbourne and provides outdoor experiences for all types of visitors. It has free car camping spots right on the river, 4WD and motorbike tracks, challenging hikes up and down steep razorback ridges, mountaintop vistas, wheelchair-accessible day picnic areas and hard-to-get-to hiking trails that leave you breathless with effort. This park has been a spiritual refuge for me for years, and I want to share with you a challenging two-day pack-hiking route that includes some beautiful riverside camping.

The reason I personally like this park is that despite its proximity to the city, it is very easy to get away from the motorbikes and really feel like you are miles away from civilisation. It feels much more remote than you would expect from a State Park. Every year there is at least one news article about an unprepared day hiker with no map who gets lost and is forced to spend an uncomfortably cold night in the park, before being airlifted out by helicopter the next day. How embarrassing. Don’t be that person. Bring a paper map, a compass (and learn how to use it), spare rations and water in addition to your GPS and phone maps. Mobile coverage is okay in most of the park, but certainly not available everywhere. 

The Lerderderg River snakes right through the park and when it runs, its waters run cold and tan-coloured, forming many great swimming holes along its length. The park’s more remote areas very much resemble a national park, with the gorge sporting gigantic pile-ups of logs and organic debris from countless flash-floods, lined with stunning wildflowers like native heath, orchids and bush peas. There are birds, wombats and swamp wallabies galore. Some threatened species can be found here too, like brush-tailed phascogales, common gliders and common bent-winged bats. Unfortunately, there are also goats. Lots of goats.

A side note on hiking with dogs in Lerderderg State Park

A big plus for me is that in this park there are areas where you can bring your dog for company. Hiking with my Aussie Shepherd is one of my favourite things in the world. The first time I took Loki hiking was in this park. You should have seen his face when it dawned on him that the place was full of sticks - priceless.

Your pooch is allowed on the lead in the sections of the park that are not marked conservation or reference zone. They are not allowed in the Mackenzie’s Flat day visitor area, but you can pass through to get to the trails. 

If you are hiking the razorbacks, it is advisable to have your dog wear an outdoor harness so you can help him climb any steep sections. Another heads-up is on snakes: I once had the great fortune of seeing a beautiful eastern brown sunning itself on a log right next to the trail. I also had the great fortune that my dog didn’t notice it before I did. Always stick to the trail, and consider restricting hiking with dogs to the colder months of the year, when our slithery friends are hibernating. 

Loki the Australian Shepherd ready for adventure.

Loki the Australian Shepherd ready for adventure.

This route starts down the south side of the park, at Mackenzie’s Flat picnic ground, where you can park your car overnight. 

My canine sidekick and I were there in May and the river was dry as a bone. This happens a lot, so always make sure you carry enough water with you. I bring a few litres plus a very good water filter and iodine pills, so I’m able to take water from rock pools. Loki carries his own water in his backpack, together with his food, bed, snacks, poo bags and of course my hip flask of rum. 

The first few kilometres to Graham’s Dam follow the river in a north-westerly direction, passing many riverside campsites and wombat holes. In summer and early autumn the river is dry, making it easy to cross, but in other seasons be prepared for multiple river crossings and getting wet feet. As this part of the walk is flat and close to the car park, I spot bits of rubbish left behind by campers and day hikers. This is often the unfortunate reality of easily accessible areas, but don’t let that deter you if you want to bush camp without hiking a long way: the campsites themselves are all quite stunning. They are flat and grassy, with amazing views of the gorge and some even have their own private swimming holes.

Our hike starts out great with Loki sticking his nose in an old wombat hole occupied by a wasp nest and promptly getting stung on the forehead. As I mutter curses under my breath and pull out the stinger, he looks up at me with a stupid grin on his face and his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. Dogs… it’s a good thing they’re cute. 

At Graham’s Dam we cross the river and hike half a kilometre to the start of one of the park’s more challenging trails. The aptly named Spur Track quickly rises a steep 400 metres and follows a razorback ridge. The map says it will take me 1.5 hours to hike all of the 2.5km. I don’t believe I will take that long, but I’m wrong. Within a few minutes I’m sweating and panting as I haul myself and my big pack up the shale slope, using my hands more than once for the steep sections. Loki has no problem getting up there. He engages his 4PD (four-paw drive) and climbs up like a mountain goat, hopping from one rock to the next. 

When I finally make it up the steep section and the slope becomes more gentle, I can hear a faint bleating. I climb onto a big boulder next to the track and am treated to a breathtaking view of the river. The gorge walls on the other side rise a near-vertical 200 metres from the water.  I can see some struggling little saplings trying to get a foothold, imagining larger trees eventually getting too heavy and falling into the river below. Those pile-ups of logs in the gorge all of a sudden make a lot more sense. 

I am using my binoculars to look at some small, inaccessible caves when I see them: a herd of goats happily chewing away on tough shrubs. They balance effortlessly on the steep rock face, never disturbing the treacherously loose shards of shale as they navigate the ravine on tiny hooves. As always when I see feral animals, the trained ecologist in me wrestles with the compassionate animal lover. I watch cute piebald kids chase each other up and down the rocks, fearing for their safety every second. Of course they never fall. Eons of natural selection have perfected their mountaineering skills in this inhospitable landscape. Inhospitable to their predators, that is. For them it is a comfortable home and they are thriving at the expense of Victoria’s native species. With a sigh, I move on and give silent thanks that I’m not the one who has to do the very necessary annual cull.

Continuing up the slope, the vistas only get better. I frequently stop to catch my breath and take advantage of large boulders sticking out over the valley to enjoy a raptor’s view of the gorge. One time, I spot a small peregrine falcon gliding on the updrafts below. My shirt and the back of my pack are drenched with sweat by then. I’m glad I brought enough water. 

The author and her dog.

The author and her dog.

About halfway up the spur, Loki alerts me to human traffic coming up the back of us. I’ve barely cleared off the narrow path when a trail runner passes me with a cheerful ‘hello!’ He continues speeding up the hill, shirt off and gleaming with sweat, a cloud of aftershave trailing behind him. I feel like I’ve just seen a ghost. Was that really a guy running up the hill that I just took an hour to climb? He wasn’t even out of breath! I resolve to become fitter this year as I soldier on to the end of the track. 

When we make it to the top, Loki and I celebrate with lunch and a dried pig’s ear. The Lerderderg Tunnel Access Track is an uneventful service road lined by young eucalypts obscuring any views of the gorge. But at least it goes downhill. A short way to the north, the track veers right and on the left there is a locked gate that allows access for hikers and management vehicles. We squeeze through and follow the service road down to the river. At the bottom, we marvel at the large structure that is the weir. This concrete giant diverts the river to the Merrimu Reservoir, which supplies Bacchus Marsh with water. We hike a ways up the river and make camp near the only waterhole that is not green with algae. The water filter is doing a good job here and soon we are enjoying our dinner.

Night falls and Loki and I bask in the warmth of a small fire. Every now and then sparks land on his thick fur, but he doesn’t care. He’s curled up next to me, alert, staring into the dark, always on guard duty. I watch the microbats fly their feeding patterns along the tree line, their tiny silhouettes projected on a background of a million stars. The gorge is silent and beautiful.

It’s a rough awakening to the screeching of sulphur-crested cockatoos the next morning. I moan and pull my sleeping bag over my head. I love being woken by a dawn chorus, but these guys are more like the avian version of the Sex Pistols; good fun, just not first thing in the morning. Grumpily reminding myself that nature is beautiful, I get up to make our breakfast. 

Our first challenge ensues as soon as we start our hike. I check my map for the Long Point Track trailhead, but it’s not detailed enough to show the exact location. We walk upriver for a while, but the path quickly disappears into a thicket of inaccessible underbrush. I switch on my phone and check my GPS map. Still no love. We walk the same stretch of river a few times, right in between the razorback and the steep cliffs on the south side. When I pull out the map once again and follow the altitude contours with my finger, I realise I need to go up somewhere. I scan the area around the weir for the faintest sign of a trail and my heart sinks as I realise I’ve been looking at it the whole time: it is a 30-metre vertical climb up the razorback. 

“Okay mate,” I say to Loki, “We wanted adventure. We got it.” He looks up at me happily. I briefly consider tying him to me by his lead in case he slips, but quickly decide that would be super stupid. He weighs 26kg and I’m already carrying a 16kg pack on my back that makes climbing a vertical wall challenging enough. If he falls while attached to me, we both go. After examining our options, there’s nothing else for us to do but climb. 

The Lerderderg River when it is full.

The Lerderderg River when it is full.

Loki goes first. Turns out he’s actually quite capable of climbing. It does help that he is a young, healthy working breed with plenty of energy. If your dog is large and less spirited, I do not recommend taking this route. On the steepest sections I have to help Loki by lifting him by the handle on the back of his harness. I won’t lie: lifting a dog with one hand while holding on to a vertical rock face with the other is tricky. By the time we reach the top, we are both panting and the adrenaline is making my hands shaky. But hey, what is an adventure without ever getting out of your comfort zone? Another boring day in the office, that’s what.

The view from the razorback, however, makes up for it in spades. The windy 360° views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s a really narrow trail with ravines on either side, so I can recommend keeping your dog on a short leash as you make your way over the loose shale. The trail keeps rising steadily until we reach marker 510 and Blackwood Ranges Track. This well-maintained management track is part of the 280km-long Victorian Great Dividing Trail, also known as the Goldfields Track. To give you an idea about the effort it takes to hike Long Point Track, it has taken us about 1.5 hours to hike a little over 2km. 

Turning south on the Blackwood Ranges Track, it’s an easy hour downhill until we reach Link Track No. 1, which descends steeply back into the gorge to connect with Graham’s Dam. I love this part of the hike. It’s a bit challenging going downhill over the loose shards of shale, but there are many places to veer off the track for a rest and a spectacular view of the river. On one of those breaks I look down on the backs of not one, but four wedge-tailed eagles flying in the ravine below me. Two parents and their chicks are surging upward on a thermal, swooping straight past me and out of the ravine, as if they are being shot up into the sky by invisible slings. I whoop at them as they ascend and shade my eyes until I see nothing but small specks drawing circles against the cloudless sky. There sure is magic in this place, and it has feathers and mottled wings.

The last few kilometres back to Mackenzie’s Flat are blessedly horizontal and allow a cool-down for tired legs. I feel tired yet satisfied and am a little reluctant to leave this amazing place. In an hour I am back home, enjoying the memories of the wild and my sore calf muscles for a long time after. Loki sleeps for two days straight.

Tips

  • You and your dog both need a reasonable level of fitness.
  • If you bring your dog, make sure it’s wearing a sturdy outdoor harness so you can help it through steep sections.
  • Good hiking boots, water and navigation tools are essential.
  • Binoculars are a great addition for wildlife watching.
  • Check the weather predictions and the state of the river before you go; unexpected flash flooding in the park happens regularly. Use common sense when choosing your campsite.

Fam Charko is a marine biologist, environmental educator and science communicator. She helps people reconnect with nature using science, storytelling and immersive experiences in the local environment.


All images courtesy of Fam Charko.

An Alpine Adventure: Discovering our Mountain Heritage.

Lake Mountain, Victoria. 

Lake Mountain, Victoria. 

For most, the Australian alpine is celebrated for its novelty of snow. When winter rolls around, people from Melbourne and surrounds temporarily vacate suburban life for a few days of enjoying what is, on this continent, a true rarity. Yet there is much more to our unique alpine and subalpine ecosystems than the glistening white fields of a snowboarder’s dream.  

For most of the year, the tops of Victorian mountains are bare of snow and ice. The alpine environment itself is variable and harsh. Summer, Spring, and Autumn all prove difficult for the flora and fauna found atop our iconic mountains. When winter comes and snow finally settles over the vegetation and rock, it is often a great relief for the life forms that call this alpine environment home.

Snow provides warmth. It may seem counterintuitive, but as some experienced snow-goers may understand, snow is an excellent insulator. Layers of this glaringly white stuff provide protection from the cold climate, offering safe harbour to the many small animals that thrive in the Australian alpine. They tunnel through it, burrow beneath it, and live out the coldest months in the ironically warm product of freezing temperatures.

When the snow melts and Summer comes again, new problems are presented to alpine critters - the Australian bush is prone, and often adapted, to fire. At the current rate, particularly large, intense fires blaze across our bushland every decade or so. Such events can be devastating, the tragic consequences being too well known to Australian residents. However, these natural disasters also significantly affect our native wildlife.

Life in the alpine is never easy - snow, fire, or neither. The winds are relentless, the nights bite hard with frost, and there is little or no shelter. It is no wonder then that many of the plants and animals adapted to such a brutal environment are truly unique. Such special wildlife deserves special interest and special care. As climate change threatens to reduce our already rare alpine habitats, we must make it a priority to ensure our mountain-dwelling species are capable of enduring, lest we lose something very special: our alpine heritage.

What are these unique plants and animals?

How do they survive such an unforgiving landscape?

And just why do they matter?

In this article, I hope to answer some aspects of these questions, and shed a little light on our glorious and fragile alpine ecosystems.

 

Stepping out of my car at the Ski Resort, I am instantly aware of just how much my Commodore is capable of sheltering me from the elements - what a luxury. The thin air is whipped around my body by the wind. It moves me with such force it’s as if each little pocket of oxygen were trying to rush past me to board a train at Flinders Street during rush hour. Not unlike crushing an empty can of coke, I’m grasped hard by the cold and with a shudder, retract into myself.

“Welcome to Lake Mountain,” I say, my words stolen by the wind, to Rachel and Emma who are in hysterics from the harshness of the atmosphere they’ve stepped into. Soon, as if on cue, my body cranks up the heat and my thermals and thick ski jacket do an excellent job at insulating my body temperature. I smile; humans are never really that far from comfort, our ingenuity allows us to get by in almost any environment. Yet, extraordinary though we might be, it is not our adaptability I have come here to see.

Lake Mountain, only some two hours from Melbourne’s CBD, is a world in itself. Leaving the Ski Resort behind, we move into what would soon become the tourist-enticing snowfields of fame. For now though, there is no glaring white power. The snow would be here soon enough, but we had come to discover the alpine environment as it is for most of the year. Cold and wet, yet breathtakingly beautiful.

On either side of the path we walk we are surrounded by the towering white figures of snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora). They are dead, or at least the main body of each tree is dead. The 2009 bushfires that swept over this area and devastated the region surrounding Marysville and Kinglake were of such intensity that they destroyed thousands of these trees. However, the snow gums live on; the same individual plants re-sprout from lignotubers at the trees base and now, while the canopy is bare, the base of each plant is a glorious soft green. Life here is resilient. That is the first lesson of the alpine environment. 

A path of memoriam. 

A path of memoriam. 

We emerge from the forest trail into lesson two: life here is diverse. Before us is an open span of alpine grass and heathland. It is a mosaic of wonderfully pleasant tones of green and brown. Moisture hangs in the air, and as a cloud passes over us, it’s as if the whole landscape has been delicately painted with dew. The silence of this world dawns on me. I breathe quietly, unwilling to offend the serenity.

   

A snow gum ( Eucalyptus paucilflora ) sapling grows resiliently in the foreground. In the background the devastation of the 2009 fires can be seen in the bare white trees that sprawl across the landscape.   

A snow gum (Eucalyptus paucilflora) sapling grows resiliently in the foreground. In the background the devastation of the 2009 fires can be seen in the bare white trees that sprawl across the landscape.   

Plants are diverse and abundant here. They make the landscape what it is. 

Plants are diverse and abundant here. They make the landscape what it is. 

We opt for the path less travelled – which for us means neglecting the path altogether. The only trails we will be following are those made by the wombats that call this place home. While the common wombat has trouble moving through thick snow, it is nevertheless an abundant species at Lake Mountain, their trails appearing everywhere.

Less than 50 species of mammals can be found in the Australian alpine and most, like the wombat, are common at lower altitudes. However there are some species that are endemic to the alpine environment, such as the Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) found no lower than 1200 meters. The small diversity of mammals here is a signature of the environment’s harsh climate.

 

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Studying my late grandfather’s compass, I make a note of our intended direction, and with a quiet enthusiasm we pass into the forest of snow gums. They form an obvious border against the alpine grassland – the tree-line, as it is called. There are various ecological reasons for why such a boundary should exist, but one is that the abundant and fast-growing grasses out-compete and therefore disallow the emergence of snow gum seedlings. During the mighty fires of 2009, these grasses were wiped from the earth, allowing seedlings to establish, and so there is some speculation that the tree-line may move beyond its current position. Certainly, young saplings dot the grassland just beyond the tree boundary, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming decade.    

Inside, the forest is silent. The wind wrestles with the occasional leaf, and everywhere, the stark white trees reach for the sky: they are monuments to the devastation of this place’s past. We walk for some time, through grass, over rock, bending under and twisting between the low hanging snow gum branches. Unlike the temperate forests some kilometres below, there is little movement here. For one thing, the weather is hardly conducive to activity, but in general the alpine is a quiet, unassuming place.

 

Inside the forest.  

Inside the forest.  

Of course, there are animals. We see the occasional Flame Robin dart from branch to stump. In warmer weather, I’ve seen them here in great abundance feeding in plain sight, seemingly prone to showiness. The males are gorgeous little birds with dazzling red breasts and handsome grey heads and wings. We find the scat of wallabies, wombats, and even owls. Everywhere, the forest grasses are flattened with criss-crossing wombat trails. We follow them but are unable to find their architects. Nevertheless, it is an adventure, and each step brings with it the exciting purity of the Australian bush.

The striking breast of the Flame Robin ( Petrioca phoenicea )  stands out in this land of pale, deep greens. 

The striking breast of the Flame Robin (Petrioca phoeniceastands out in this land of pale, deep greens. 

After some time spent exploring the maze of snow gums, climbing large boulders that have emerged atop the mountain, and looking out for the unassuming life forms of the alpine environment, we find ourselves entering a grassy clearing smothered in a grey cloud. We appear to be at a high point of the mountain, as the tree line is nowhere above us - only below. In the centre of the grassland is a bog, and in the midst of the bog is a freshwater spring. The water is clear and the scene is one of serenity. There is silence but for the odd breath of wind, faint bird call, or croak of tiny frogs. Visibility is halted by the foggy cloud, heightening the sense of exclusivity we feel up here in this otherworldly place. We are alone, and the feeling is refreshing.

Peering into the shallow, pure water, I consider the journey that the contents of this bog will embark on. It will trickle its way down the mountain, turning into creeks and mighty rivers, eventually flowing into wetlands or out to sea. There is a feeling of genesis up here on the mountaintop: from this private place in the clouds, water will flow on to sustain life across vast expanses of land. It is a beautiful thought. But there is life sustained here also. The diverse bogs are riddled with tiny creatures: frog, spiders and various insects that survive without thermals or ski jackets. They live here all year round amongst the grasses and mosses of this breathtaking environment, and their sustained existence is essential to the health of this ecosystem, and in turn the health of the connected lands below.

 

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A place like this demands that you stop. It calls on you to reflect the profundity that you've stumbled upon. 

A place like this demands that you stop. It calls on you to reflect the profundity that you've stumbled upon. 

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Skinks can be found here also, some adapting to the cold climate by giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs that would otherwise be vulnerable to the climate. Juvenile Crimson Rosellas spend time here in large flocks before pairing up and moving further down the mountain as adults. Currawongs thrive throughout the warmer months, descending to the lowlands during winter. There is much to experience here if you have the will to look and the patience to listen.

Frequently, as the cloud rolls over and around us, I ponder the astonishing resilience of life here. The abundance of vegetation is a testament to the extraordinary adaptability of life, and the stark white snow gums and their re-sprouting shoots stand in defiant memorial of the fiery devastation of times passed. In spite of the silence, the entire landscape seems to sing to us. It is a melody of the enduring hardiness of life mixed with the sense of reality that one is confronted with in such wild places. It has character - that much is certain.

 

A Wolf Spider ( Lycosa ) stalks the alpine grasses.

A Wolf Spider (Lycosa) stalks the alpine grasses.

Common Eastern Froglets ( Cr inia signifera   )   produce some of the few sounds heard on the mountain top. 

Common Eastern Froglets (Crinia signiferaproduce some of the few sounds heard on the mountain top. 

Juvenile Crimson Rosellas ( Platycercus elegans) , identifiable by their green plumage, burst across the alpine landscape.

Juvenile Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans), identifiable by their green plumage, burst across the alpine landscape.

After we spend a while in reflection, we make our way home. Following my compass, I lead us to a creek flowing with water of mountain origin. Through thick vegetation, up slope and downhill we find our way back – though I am aware Rachel and Emma were at times doubtful of my orienteering skills. Tired, hungry, cold and wet, we slump into my Commodore. A bite to eat and a nice hot shower would see these woes dealt with, but what would not dissipate was our respect for Australia’s alpine, nor our desire to preserve it and the unique life it supports.

We live in a very special land, surrounded by unique habitats. As you sit reading this, spare a thought for the irreplaceable organisms that are, at this moment, living out their lives atop our majestic mountains. Consider that, while astonishingly resilient, these plants and animals are also vulnerable, and the ecosystems in which they live fragile: that is the final lesson of our alpine. Can we afford to lose such places and the biodiversity that they nurture?

The steps we take now in minimising the effects of climate change and maintaining a healthy alpine environment will ultimately determine the survival of our alpine heritage. The first step for each of us should be to visit these extraordinary places, snow or not, and come to terms with the profound significance of their existence in our world.  

 

Our wild alpine is waiting for you.  

Our wild alpine is waiting for you.