I’ve just spent more than a week living in a eucalypt woodland in central Queensland. For 8 days I saw no concrete, no bitumen. I didn’t check the internet, or watch any TV. I slept in a tent pitched on pale orange sand, with native grass tussocks all around, dried to a crisp straw-yellow. At night an owlet-nightjar churred softly in the tree above my tent. Further away, a boobook owl was making courtship noises – its continuous whoop-whoop-whoop call sounded like a stuck record. Sometimes echidnas would come shuffling by in the night. Many small humped golden termite mounds were scattered through grass, and in the morning there would be new excavations at the base of a mound or two. One day we found 3 echidnas cosily embedded together in the base of a hollow tree. Waiting sleepily for their nightly feasts of insects.
The camp was surrounded by a type of golden-trunked bloodwood (a relative of Eucalyptus) that only grows in central and northern Queensland. It’s called Corymbia leichardtii, after the famous and ill-fated explorer, or ‘rusty jacket’ if you want to be more familiar.
Many of the middle-sized trees had come up in the wet years of the 70’s, although a giant growing near my tent was likely to be around 200 years old. Its trunk was about 55 cm in diameter; its many hefty limbs sought upwards to the sky, and then trickled away into narrower and narrower branches, finally looping over and down to brush the grass below. An arching, golden fountain, generously adorned with bright olive-green-yellow foliage, visited by birds, and surrounded by sapling youngsters. Its vitality was offset by the pale grey dead wood of its deceased companion: a tree that had once been the same height and shape. Some of its remaining branches still pointed upwards, striving towards the light, and others swept downwards to the earth. I wondered when this now-dead tree had germinated, when it had died. If the living tree was about 200 years old, this dead one probably started its life well before white people settled Australia. Were these two trees siblings, cousins or parent and child?
I spent hours drawing these two trees, and felt privileged to be in their presence. Drawing a tree is complicated and requires concentration. But after a while it becomes a meditation, especially when sketching the branches, concentrating just on the lines silhouetted against the sky. You follow a particular branch and discover where it goes, how it links with another, or disappears in shade or behind foliage to reappear again like an old friend. There are many ‘aha’ moments.
The woodland stretched out in all directions. Vast, virtually untouched, a continuous dance of venerable old trees, with bowing, curved, reaching branches.
The old trees were replete with hollows. Large fallen trees had been left where they had toppled over, leaving tangles of woody debris. This meant many homes and hiding places for wild animals. And there were plenty of young trees, scattered and in groups, upright and sprightly. The tree and shrub species were a curious mix of arid-country sclerophylls and rainforest relatives. Often converging together in their appearance: plenty had rough-barked trunks and thick, strappy leaves. The place is grazed only lightly so the native grasses were abundant.
And then there were the birds:
A dawn serenade of Jacky Winters, the demure brown-grey relative of the robins. There seemed to be one perched high in a tree every few hundred metres or so, singing sweetly but insistently to stake out its territory.
Garrulous chattering of the honeyeaters: blue-faced, grey-fronted, striped, spiny-cheeked, white-plumed, noisy friarbird, little friarbird. Sweet pipings of the white-throated and western warblers; yellow-rumped thornbills tinkling as they flew up into the trees from the ground. Chortled fluty notes of the pale-headed rosellas; green-and-red undulating flight of the red-winged parrot.
Rufous whistlers and weebills called cheerily, as did willy-wagtails, while grey fantails and restless flycatchers swung and darted up in the trees. Occasionally you would see the waving skirts of an emu as it strode away. Once a stiff-necked bustard, bill pointed skyward, eyed us warily as it disappeared into long grasses that were aflame with the warm colours of sunset.
A spotted bowerbird cursed me harshly as I followed it to its currant-bush retreat. No bower yet – was it waiting for the rain? Above my head, 6 species of woodswallow wheeled and glided like paper darts across the sky.
A brown treecreeper busily inspected its tree, hopping vertically up the trunk and along the undersides of outstretched limbs, while hooded and red-capped robins looked on. There were bush stone-curlews and babblers, finches and fairy-wrens. Many of these woodland birds are declining species elsewhere in Australia. In this expanse of woodland they were thriving.
The woodland is mainly dominated by the silver-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus melanophloia), but the second-most common tree species is what gives this place its name. Bimblebox, the poplar box, Eucalyptus populnea.
This is Bimblebox Nature Refuge. It was preserved by some wise and far-sighted people during a time of frenzied tree-clearing. They bought it with the help of funds from the National Reserve system of Australia, and it became a Nature Refuge under Queensland law, the highest protection that can be granted to private land in the state. Seen from the air, it is an island of green surrounded by treeless cleared land. Now Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal company is set to turn the place into a coal mine – 2/3rds of it open cut, the rest longwall. No Australian or Queensland environmental law seems strong enough to prevent the mine from going ahead, but there is a chance that poor coal prices will.
The Galilee Basin coal mines may create a few thousand jobs for 30 years or so. In doing so, they will destroy plants, animals, woodlands, heathlands, wetlands and groundwater systems (say nothing of the Great Barrier Reef) that have taken hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years to evolve. The old trees will be trashed, and the birds will die – there is nowhere else for them to go. The mine will leave an ugly legacy of rape and pillage for many thousands of years into the future, as well as spewing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when the coal is burnt.
Humanity remains in a dark and dangerous state if we think it’s ok to let such lunacy go ahead.
Check out the Bimblebox Nature Refuge and Bimblebox Art Project websites to find out more, and how you can help.
I travelled to Bimblebox as part of this year’s Art, Science, Nature Camp, which would not have been possible without the hard work of Paola Cassoni, Ian Hoch, Jill Sampson, Beth Jackson and many others. Read Artist Camp September 2015 for more about the camp.
Thank you for sharing your Bimblebox story! Gorgeous photos and what a wonderful array of wildlife you experienced while you were there. I look forward to hearing more about it from you when we catch up sometime. Sounds like you loved your time on Bimblebox.
Hi Jill, a big thankYOU for helping make it happen. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and hope it brought back plenty of memories. Cheers, Paula
The trees really do dance in the outback. It was such a valuable experience to have scientists and artists at the camp, the exchange of intellects was unforgettable.
Look forward to reading and seeing more of your work
Hey Rosie I thought you might also understand the trees that dance. Thankyou for being my art mentor . I’d like to drop by when I’m next in Cooroy to say hello, if you have time. Cheers, Paula
It sounds like a beautiful place and how wonderful to spend a week away from modern technology. How sad to hear that it is about to be destroyed in the seemingly universal drive to make rich men richer.
Hi Carol, yes it’s an amazing experience to be immersed in such a natural place, and notice all the subtle patterns in the vegetation, the colours and the shapes. It’s hard to go back to suburbia – I have a sharpened sense of how much has been destroyed / degraded to make way for our human needs. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that low coal prices prevent this mine from going ahead. Thanks for commenting. Cheers, Paula.
It sounds like a beautiful, peaceful place and how wonderful to spend a week away from technology. How sad to hear that it is about to be destroyed as one more victim of the universal drive to make a few rich men richer.
Thanks Paula for this great piece of writing. How lovely for you to lose yourself in this magic place and then bring it back for all of us to enjoy! The birds are stunning.
Thanks also for raising the awareness of the irrational decisions made on the basis of jobs and money over life and our precious earth.
Hi Belinda, thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes the mantra of ‘jobs’ is used these days to excuse just about everything, even activities that will cost all of us taxpayers and citizens a whole lot more in the future. Cheers, Paula
Paula, this is a beautiful piece of nature writing. I was enraptured by the beauty of where you’d been and what you had seen. I was enthralled by the detail of your observations and the clarity of your photos. Together they paint a beautiful picture of a place, its life… and its life force.
Then the horrid punch that this area is threatened by the needless mining of coal. It moved me to tears.
This is a story that needs sharing. Thank you.
Hi Gail, I am both saddened and thrilled that I managed to move you to tears, but I am not surprised, given your love of the environment, and dedication to do something practical and inspiring about climate change. Thanks for reading and commenting, Paula
Your pictures and story of our artist camp was so great. Thank you. It was also terrific to have your mentors hip about the plants and bird life there. I enjoyed your company. Sue
Hi Sue, I’m glad you liked my story about our fabulous camp. And the mentorship definately went both ways – I learnt a lot from all of you artists – asking questions, watching how you worked, and sharing an appreciation of shapes, colours and beauty. It was good to spend time with you and I certainly enjoyed your rather wicked sense of humour! Cheers, Paula
Hi Paula. You just made my day,especially my train trip home! I was completely mesmorised and was utterly transported to such a lovely landscape. Hoping it will be still around for others to experience. I think the change is definitely working for you! Enjoy and take care! Pauline
Hey Pauline, great to hear from you. And I’m glad you enjoyed my story, it was certainly from the heart. Yes the break is doing me enormous good, and also pushing me to explore new horizons. I hope all is well in your world too. Cheers, Paula
Loved hearing about your 8 day escape. Sounds magically! What bliss to get away from the concrete and bitumen jungles and the Internet. Great pics and commentary as usual.
Horrible to read that the area is in danger of being mined. I just can’t understand the short-sightedness of these decisions. I guess it comes down to fast profits and greed. Extrememly frustrating! Best wishes.
Hi Jane, thanks for your appreciation, I’m looking forward to catching up on your posts. Yes in many areas, human greed seems to override so many other precious things. But at least people like you and I, and many others, can try to tell these stories to awaken/strengthen/give voice to the desire for something far better. Cheers, Paula
What a place to treasure! I was so sorry when reality hit at the end of your post. Nothing is sacred these days if some big industry can lobby and convince the government the can make money – I mean make jobs – by exploiting an area. ‘Think of the jobs, we’ll offset any tree clearing by planting some new ones a thousand k away, or declaring we won’t touch that bit over there. Don’t you want a JOB? Are you really going to deny other people their chance for a job?’ Truly, it does my head in. Here and now thinking and no environmental conscience.
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I love your photos – excellent ones of the birds! – and drawing.
Hi Dayna, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. Perhaps each job should also be measured by the negative impacts it has on other people. Let’s assume all jobs are done well, as a baseline. So then, jobs like teacher, nurse, paramedic, doctor, vet should have virtually no negative impacts on others. Start considering builder, road worker, gardener and banker and there may be negative impacts, depending on where they take place and what they are working with. And then there are (current day) coal miners, the current Federal government Environment Minister and Attorney General, the CEOs of tobacco companies, and those that work hard to keep people hooked on gambling…. And you really have to wonder. There are jobs and jobs. People need the opportunity to work. But many supposedly legitimate ‘jobs’ in our society arguably may be doing more harm than good. Cheers, Paula
What a magnificent post. I know that country somewhat from our Australia – wide travels and it must have been absolute heaven to spend time there. So many small details of plants and animals cloud the foreground, while magnificent trees act a counterpoint to the background. And above, a vast and floating vault of blue.
Loved the pastel drawings.
Hi Mary, thanks for your appreciation. I love the way you captured the woodland landscape in your lines ‘So many small details of plants and animals cloud the foreground, while magnificent trees act a counterpoint to the background. And above, a vast and floating vault of blue. ‘ That’s exactly what it was like !