Lush green groundcover at Freshwater National Park.

Freshwater National Park smells burnt, but it looks lush green. I can hear the sleepy chortles of lorikeets, somewhere up in the bloodwoods. It’s late afternoon, on a hot January day. Maybe they’ve had too much sun, or too much nectar, or both. Scribbly gums rise like pale caramel milkshakes from the verdant green. Paperbarks are shaggy, shambolic. The dark limbs of bloodwoods, and lighter ones of angophoras, curve every-which-way, sometimes looping back on themselves.


A magpie surveys me with hunched shoulders from a slender sheoak. Dead brown curling gumleaves crunch underfoot, as meat ants scurry haphazardly across the ground. Forward and back, rapidly. Dodgem-car-fashion.

A currawong call caresses the afternoon, over the loud metallic buzz of katydids and cicadas.

Fluffy plumes of blady grass wave in the breeze.

Bloodwood and scribbly gum.

Scribbles – made by moth larvae – cover the treetrunks in an incoherent frenzy. Like some despotic moth schoolmaster has made his pupils sign the same moth-word – I can’t read what it says – over and over again. Sideways.

A dove coos gently from further away, and a sacred kingfisher pips loudly. It’s above me in the tree – blue head, blue wings, and peachy underpants.

This place is mostly a luxuriant, knee-high, sedge forest. The tufted black flower spikes of sedges are shooting, arching in all directions, bowing.

Sedge forest.

I think this is the feather sedge, Ptilothrix deusta. (Am I right, Mr Booth?)

Sprinkled through the forest are white clusters of Pimelia flowers and yellow sprays of Goodenia. Pale pink daisies and small white lilies

The cobalt-blue petals of a Dianella flower are drawn back severely from its praying yellow stamens. Lomandra flower sprays make delicate Christmas tree shapes, hung with tiny pale yellow baubles and attended by shy, shiny black beetles. They fly off quickly when I approach.

Spindly banksias rise above my head, with white-and-green flattened tongues of leaves. Burnt banksia cones are on the ground, follicles agape like quacking ducklings.

The burnt hollow bases of scribbly gums worry me (as once a tree is weakened like this, its lifespan is reduced). The number of hollows in their limbs and upper trunks is reassuring. Plenty of wildlife-homes here. But where are the young scribbly gums?

Scribbly gum woodland.

Pale white snake of a path winds through the bright green sedges and grass.

Grass trees stand around like spectators. Black flower spikes are exclamation marks atop green explosions, above dried brown grass skirts, perched on crooked black scaly pedestals. Those recently burnt have their skirts removed, but are otherwise identical. After fire, grass trees put on new green leaves almost immediately.

They twinkle in the sun when a breeze stirs their long, shiny green leaves.

Grass trees

Broken grass tree pedestals, dismembered on the ground, dissolve into crescents of curved orange scales, glistening with resin.

Grass tree pedestal, disintegrating.

I see what was burnt now – a section on the eastern side, near the houses. Maybe a strip along the entire boundary? The unburnt area is humpy with dead grass and twigs and bark. Green grass and sedges are spiking through, and growing over the dead stuff.

It’s hard to find information about this place, perched oddly as it is amongst the sprawling suburbs and industrial areas of North Lakes, Narangba and Deception Bay. But there is something beautiful and beguiling about it: both a woodland and a wetland (the name, and the sedges hint at that). I’d like to come back when the place is flooded. The forest portrait I made of this woodland seems too yellow, but the photos tell me it is not. Another conundrum for the artist/naturalist, to ponder but perhaps never solve.

(Click or tap to reveal complete image)

Detail of Scribbly gum woodland at Freshwater2

Detail of ‘Scribbly gum woodland at Freshwater’. Pastel on paper, by Paula Peeters.

The lorikeets are rousing now, in a final crazy screeching session before bed. Miraculously, the cicada calls are stuttering to stillness. Crows retreat in a tumbling flight, with hacking caws, skyward.