Monthly Archives: April 2015

TG #32

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In Issue 32…

Gallipoli: Through the Soldier’s Lens + The Pillars at the End of the World
+ Melaleuca: An Alphabetical Miscellany  + The Arrival of Hops

We will all return to dust, but the deeds we do and the art we make might outlast us. This month Australia commemorated the centenary of the WWI invasion of Gallipoli, and marked it with  the ANZAC day holiday. But visualising the terrain and sensing the reality of those events can be difficult, which is why we were so enthralled with the snapshots taken by the ANZACs themselves. Alison Wishart of the Australian War Memorial has gifted the wonderful Public Domain Review, and therefore all of us, with a remarkable writeup and compilation of portable camera snapshots from April 1915. It’s a remarkable record and a fascinating insight into photojournalism and the conditions of the War.

Back on the island, let’s then go to Tasmania’s far southeast and the far southwest with two prolific writers. The outreach geologist Stephanie Sykora,  author of the web resource Exploring the Earth, shares her observations of and excitement for the surreal and spectacular pillars of the dolerite coast. And we start out with the first sections of Nicole Gill’s Alphabetical Miscellany of natural history during a stay in Melaleuca – her summertime discoveries can help us remember the long days as the winter comes closer and closer.

And then, after such heavy subjects and such long travel, it’s time to relax with a beer. And Storyteller Spinks has a tale to share, about the arrival of hops and the crafting of Tasmania’s brewery industry.

Enjoy it, you’ve earned it!

All the best,

The Editor

 


 

Gallipoli: Through the Soldier’s Lens

This article was originally published in The Public Domain Review  under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please visit their web page to learn more.

To mark the 100 years since Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) fought the Gallipoli campaign of WW1, Alison Wishart, Senior Curator of Photographs at Australian War Memorial, explores the remarkable photographic record left by the soldiers. Made possible by the birth of Kodak’s portable camera, the photographs give a rare and intimate portrait of the soldier’s day-to-day life away from the heat of battle.

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2015 marks the centenary of one of the most commemorated events in Australia’s military history. One hundred years ago, at dawn of 25th April, boatloads of Australians and New Zealanders quietly landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula at a beach that became known as Anzac Cove.

Had Australia’s military commanders and elected leaders known how significant this event was to become in Australia’s history and the development of its national identity, they might have thought to send official photographers or war artists. But they didn’t. Instead, the photographic record of the nine month Gallipoli campaign relies primarily on the images taken by soldiers.

Fortunately, Kodak had released its ‘Vest Pocket’ camera in 1912, which made taking a camera to the front more feasible. Kodak encouraged enlistees to do this, marketing their new model as ‘the soldier’s Kodak’. Below is pictured the camera used by Sergeant P E Virgoe at Gallipoli from May-October 1915.

Vest pocket Kodak camera belonging to Sergeant P E Virgoe, 4 Light Horse Regiment, AIF (ca. 1913) / REL33223 – Source.

 

Officially, soldiers were not allowed to take a camera to the front. This was stipulated by Britain’s Secretary of State for the War, Lord Kitchener, after the bloody allied defeats of 1914 made it clear that manipulation of the public record of the war would be necessary to maintain enthusiasm for it. However, while the ruling was strictly enforced on the Western Front, it was barely given a cursory nod at Gallipoli. This allowed amateur and semi-professional photographer-soldiers to practice their focusing and framing skills in between their duties.

Approximately half of the Australians who fought at Gallipoli – nearly 25,000 recruits – left for their great overseas ‘adventure’ with a compact camera in their kit. Many of the nurses tending the wounded on the nearby Greek Island of Lemnos also carried a camera.

Informal portrait of Sister Emily Cornelia (Corrie) Parish, of 2nd Australian General Hospital, holding a camera (ca. 1915) / P05382.018 – Source.

 

Little did they know that by creating their own visual diary, they would also be contributing to Australia’s only photographic record of the Dardanelles campaign. Of the 6,332 Gallipoli images from 1915 in the Australian War Memorial’s collection, soldiers took about 60 per cent. After the war, soldiers or their families donated their photographs to the Memorial, often in the form of personal albums or loose prints.

As ‘soldier photographers’, when they opened the shutter, they had a completely different purpose in mind from creating an official record of the war. This gives their photographs a raw, unmediated honesty.

Landing stores at Watson’s Pier, Gallipoli, Turkey (1915) / P00649.008 – Source.

 

The men documented their daily life which was often boring and monotonous. In between battles, there were long stretches of ‘fatigues’ such as digging trenches and dugouts, carrying water up from the beaches or wells and going on sentry duty. As soldiers, they were not in a position to photograph their fighting, so they took snaps of their daily life instead. What the photographs lack in composition, they make up for in their poignant and candid simplicity.

Left: A soldier carrying water in two kerosene tins (1915) / C00776 – Source. Right: Army cooks outside the dugout which serves as the cookhouse for the headquarters of the 4th Light Horse Regiment, 1st AIF (1915) / P00859.002 – Source.

 

The photographs complement the soldiers’ written records. Sapper Victor Willey, a 22 year old from Victoria (service no. 134) wrote about his awful rations in a letter to his parents dated 7 September 1915:

We are fed up with this life, and the strain upon our constitution is terrible. In fact, some of us who have been in the trenches since 25th April and are now as weak as cats and no wonder! [. . .] in the morning we get a piece of bacon about six inches long [. . .] (but it is nearly all fat) and about a pint of tea with hard biscuits. On rare occasions we also get a loaf of bread. For dinner [lunch], we have three courses – water, tea and sugar (lovely). For tea, we have bully-beef stew (done to perfection). This happens every day, barring the bread – but at times the bread is forgotten altogether.

The Memorial does not hold any photographs taken by Willey but it does hold many photographs of the food he speaks of.

The 1st Australian Field Bakery established on ‘K’ Beach, Imbros / C04618 – Source.
Officers of D Company, 10th Battalion eating a meal in their dugout mess. Left to right: Lieutenant (Lt) William Howard Perry, MC; Lt William Stanley Frayne (killed in action 6 August 1915); Lt John de Courey Harrison; Captain Felix Gordon Giles, DSO, Officer Commanding; Lt David Leslie Todd (1915) / A00715 – Source.

 

Staff Sergeant Hector Dinning of the Australian Army Service Corps wrote in his 1918 memoir:

It’s the monotony that kills; not hard work, nor hard fare. We have now been disembarked on the Peninsula rather longer than three months. But there has been little change in our way of living. Every day there is the same work on the same beach, shelled by the same guns, manned by the same Turks…

Colonel Charles Snodgrass Ryan, a surgeon with the Australian Army Medical Services, took a remarkable collection of over 180 photographs at Gallipoli and Egypt in 1915. His images, taken with a stereo camera, also depict daily life at Gallipoli, but are composed with a practised eye.

Two soldiers of the Supply Depot, 1st Australian Division, standing on the beach amongst stacked boxes of corned beef (canned meat), 1915 / P02648.012 – Source.
Officers and soldiers conferring in a trench reinforced with sandbags on one of the ridges at Gallipoli (1915) / P02648.008 – Source.

 

Corporal Albert Savage was stationed in the x-ray ‘department’ of the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos Island, 96km from Anzac Cove and the destination for casualties evacuated from Gallipoli. The Memorial holds over 300 photographs taken by him on Lemnos which provide a valuable insight into the workings of a field hospital on an arid island.

Dawn at Lemnos (1915) / A02706 – Source.
Evacuation of patients from No. 3 Australian General Hospital (3AGH) by ambulance to the wharf for ship transport to Egypt (1916) / J01503 – Source.

 

Padre Walter Dexter also had a camera at Gallipoli. As an Australian army chaplain who officiated at burial services he had to come to terms with death, and some of his photographs depict this. He also photographed soldiers at the latrines. These sort of candid images would never be within the remit of official photographers.

Four unidentified men using a latrine high above the beach at Anzac Cove (1915) / J03659 – Source.
Bodies of dead soldiers lying in a row in a trench, having been covered with blankets or other items as shrouds (1915) / J04734 – Source.

 

One of Dexter’s photographs was acquired by Colarts Studio in Sydney and colourised and popularised by them.

A view of Anzac Cove looking north toward New Zealand Point. A hand tinted colour print produced by Colarts Studio, Sydney (ca. 1925) / P01130.001 – Source.

 

War correspondents Phillip Schuler and Charles Bean travelled with their cameras as well as their typewriters. Before embarking for Gallipoli, they photographed each other on the same pyramid in Egypt.

Left: Captain C E W Bean on top of the Pyramid of Cheops (1915) / PS1399 – Source Right: Phillip (Peter) Schuler, the Age special correspondent, standing on the same pyramid (1915) / G01651 – Source.

 

The Memorial holds more than 2000 of Schuler’s evocative photographs from Gallipoli and the western front (where he was killed in June 1917) including a much reproduced image after the battle of Lone Pine.

A trench at Lone Pine after the battle, showing Australian and Turkish dead on the parapet (1915) / A02025 – Source.

 

Charles Bean, Australia’s only official war correspondent at Gallipoli, felt that photographs should tell the “plain, simple truth”. He disagreed vehemently with the practice of Ernest Brooks, who staged photographs for dramatic effect, such as the photograph seen below. Brooks was appointed by the British Admiralty to photograph British and Australian troops at Gallipoli.

A staged photograph: The original Admiralty caption to this photograph reads: “An Australian bringing in a wounded comrade to hospital. Notwithstanding the unhappy situation, they joked as they made their way down from the front.” (1915) / G00599 – Source.

 

Charles Bean went on to help establish the Australian War Records Section in 1917 and write the Official History of the Australian Imperial Forces in the First World War. His photographs, such as that of an outdoor communion service, helped him recall the events of the Great War.

An open-air communion service at Anzac (1915) / G01432 – Source.

 

For the 25,000+ Australian soldiers who took cameras to Gallipoli, their photographs also served as memory triggers. When they returned from the war, the images reminded them that amidst the monotony of trench life – the flies, heat, dust, stench and thirst of the summer stalemate – they found people and events worth photographing. A century on, we are grateful to these soldier photographers for giving us a glimpse into their life at Gallipoli. Devoid of hubris, but often full of humour and pathos, these photographs provide a unique record of life at the front line. As Australians and New Zealanders around the world gather at dawn this Anzac Day, I hope we will remember not just the soldiers who landed on the beaches, but also the remarkable photographic record they created.


Alison Wishart has worked as a curator and/or collection manager since 2003 at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville and the State Library of Queensland (Brisbane) before moving to Canberra in 2008 to work at the National Museum of Australia and now the Australian War Memorial where she holds the position of Senior Curator of Photographs. She has a BA (Hons) from the University of Queensland and a Masters in Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage. Alison is currently researching the psychological, social and physical impacts of food at Gallipoli and online memorialisation.


To learn more about Australian War Memorial visit their website and browse their digital collection.

An Alphabetical Miscellany – A is for Acanthiza

I’ve just returned from an astoundingly good field trip spent at Melaleuca, in Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.  Tucked down in the far south west of the state, it’s accessible only on foot, by small aircraft or boat, and is one of the most stunning places I’ve had the pleasure to visit.  My partner and I spent a portion of the summer there, volunteering on behalf of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service as camp hosts, chatting to visitors, scrubbing loos and keeping things as neat and tidy as you can reasonably expect them to be in the wild wild west.

As well as allowing us to meet a veritable plethora of excellent and interesting people, including bushwalkers, boat people, pilots, birdos, alpenhornists, peak baggers, ground scrufflers and sundry adventurers, spending a whole month in the rangers’ hut gave me the opportunity to indulge my eco-flâneur tendencies. I spent an inordinate amount of time stalking fabulous flora and fauna, often from within the rangers’ hut, binos in one hand, tea cup in the other.  Sometimes, there were even scones.


 


 

 

A is for Acanthiza ewingii, the Little Brown Bird with the white undies

Tasmanian thornbills (Acanthiza ewingii) are the every-bird pin-up of the LBB ranks. For those unacquainted with LBBs, they are the elite cadre of Little Brown Birds which Tasmania has in abundance.  Ask any bushwalking guide what that tiny brown feathery thing you saw flitting past at speed was, and “Oh, that’s an elbeebee!” is almost inevitably their response.  Most visitors are too embarrassed by their unfamiliarity with this species to inquire further.

The Tasmanian thornbill is endemic to the state (meaning it’s found nowhere else), and is apparently distinguished from the near identical brown thornbill by its white underpants.

A mob of Tasmanian thornbills inhabit the scrub surrounding the rangers’ hut at Melaleuca. You may not be able to see them at first glance, but I promise you, they’re there in abundance, relieving the shrubbery of its insect fauna like a gang of adorable, feathery pickpockets.


We’ll be publishing a miscellany of natural history in alphabetical order , featuring some of the natural attractions of Melaleuca and the Wilderness World Heritage Area – many of them feathered, as I went on a bit of a bird bender – but also generally floral and faunal, geological, possibly hydrological, maybe even astronomical, and most definitely ecological. Stay tuned for tales of wilderness derring-do, tiny stupid birds and the occasional cheeky marsupial.

The Pillars at the Bottom of the World

When it comes to pockets of land, they are far and few in-between in the remote south. Before you hit Antarctica the closest you’ll get is the southern tip of South America, the last gasp of south island New Zealand, and third, the Australian island state of Tasmania.

Having recently temporarily relocated to this island for university, I’ve noticed how its southern isolation results in bizarre and spectacular weather patterns. The locals say you get four seasons in one day, with chilly Antarctic winds howling from the south and warm high pressure systems creeping from the north. Because the island is so far south, making an effort to get out to the very southern-eastern tip of the island, as I did on a short trek to Cape Raoul, is worthwhile in and of itself.


 


 

Once there, however, a spectacular geological wonder awaits, and is a reward in and of itself! Giant sea columns riddle the shoreline, and although these columns may not be rare to Tasmanians, they are a wonder to be seen by any foreigner and worth a little explanation on how they formed and their geological ties to Tasmania.

The coastline of the southern Tasman Peninsula is composed of  giant dolerite sea columns that protrude up to 300 metres from the sea. The distinct elongated shape are the property of the dolerite; a mafic (oceanic) rock that intruded beneath the surface of the earth as sills (parallel to the bed)  or as dykes (across the bedding planes).

The hexagonal, prismatic column shape is termed columnar jointing. Dolerite forms this way because the magma cooled from the outside toward the centre surrounded by more or less consistent temperatures. These joints radiate outward from the centre of each column, which themselves form perpendicular to the flow base of the source magma (or lava if the rock was extruded at the surface, such as basalt).

A column can be broken into three sections; a lower and upper colonnade that from via conductive cooling, and a middle entablature that formed via rapid convective cooling (Spry, 1962; McPhie et al., 1994). This characteristic shape and orientation of columnar jointing provides a useful indication of where any feeder pipe for the dolerite would have been located, which in the southern Tasman Peninsula appears to be due north of Cape Raoul (Leaman, 1999).


 


 

While dolerite sea columns do exist elsewhere in the world,  Tasmania has the largest number of exposed columns. These intrusions were likely formedin the Jurassic, ~185 million years ago, at two kilometres  depth, from a massive volcanic event that covered up to a third of Tasmania, intruding into older sedimentary rocks.

Since then, the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean have formed, and in the last 10 million years (Tertiary), rocks were exhumed by uplift and erosions, brought to the surface to experience breaking and cracking due to the elastic stress relief (Leaman, 1999). Consistent abrasion from the sea has undercut and shaped these spectacular cliffs to what we see today. The cliffs would have been even more spectacular as well, if the Navy didn’t at one point use the Cape Raoul columns as target practice!”

To me, what’s most striking about these bastions of southern Tasman Peninsula is how they protrude from the sea in almost perfect geometric shapes. Usually rocks and sea landscapes have been rounded and eroded to beautiful but odd and mismatched shapes. Even with millions of years of harsh conditions the columnar joints of the Tasmanian dolerite remain prismatic hexagonal pillars. Maybe this is a bit of my love for math coming through, but something about symmetry within nature always impresses me. These dolerite sea columns provide evidence of a major geological event, and are a must-see feature of the Southern Tasmanian coast.


 

Seals at the base of the pillars of Cape Raoul - by Stephanie Skyora

Seals at the base of the pillars of Cape Raoul – by Stephanie Skyora


 

Reference list available on request.

The Arrival of Hops and the Family of Water Willie

It was William Shoobridge II who first brought hops – humulus lupulus, a crop used almost exclusively for adding flavour and aroma to beer – to Australia.

His son, Ebenezer Shoobridge, bought an estate between the Derwent and Styx Rivers in 1863. Bushy Park Estates is still Australia’s largest producer of hops, and is known worldwide for its successful hop production, as well as for unique Tasmanian varietals of the plant.

And although Ebenezer was producing an intoxicant that (it could be said) created negative social effects throughout his native island, he was a godly man. To offer his workers spiritual encouragement, the hop kiln was adorned with sandstone plaques bearing scriptural sayings. ‘Unexpectedly,’ said one employee of the hop farm later, ‘as you looked up from the work of emptying a bag of hop flower catkins ready for drying, your eye would catch a verse placed at eye level…’

One plaque extolled the unity of the Shoobridge family. And it was a family affair.

Ebenezer and his wife Charlotte (nee Giblin) had a task ahead of them to make the six-roomed homestead comfortable for living and raising children.  Some years in, the roof collapsed under the weight of pigeon shit.

But it was a good life for the children. The ‘young ladies’ of Charlotte and Ebenezer’s clan would be the driving force for the annual Farm Tea and Strawberry Feast events. Along with their little cat Twissy, they would prepare and present a seemingly endless feast of sweet cakes, pies and tarts.

And son William Ebenezer Shoobridge, born in 1846, would go on to be one of Tasmania’s most innovative and prolific figures towards the end of that century. Engineering unique irrigation schemes at Bushy Park and other family properties (the water races at Bushy Park today are his designs, are heritage listed), he also invented a technique for pruning  fruit trees, and came up with new designs for the hop kilns. His role in Tasmania’s burgeoning apple industry was equally important to what he was doing with hops. And he became involved in politics, representing in parliament and promoting agricultural policy including the government regular of water supplies.

For this, he became known as ‘Water Willie’.

Perhaps he was inspired by those verses chiselled in sandstone on the beautiful kiln house. The Shoobridges perhaps knew more keenly than anyone the truth of one biblical injunction, which you can still see there today:

‘THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S
AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF…”



Hops are a climbing plant, originally from China, grown extensively for its use in beermaking. The female flowers, which superficially resemble small pine cones, have been added to beer in Western Europe since at least the 700s. It chemically suppresses bacteria that compete with the yeast in the brewing process, and makes for a tangy, fruity flavour to the beer. The first Australian hops were planted in the upper Derwent Valley in Bushy Park, Tasmania by Ebenezer Shoobridge in 1867. This farm produces hops to this day, and is a major contributor to Australia’s one percent of world hops productions. Hops are a member of the cannabis family, Cannabaceae.

– From Plant Hunter at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

TG #31

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In Issue Thirty-One :

Endangered Forty-spotted Pardalotes + Ancient Forest Whispers + Lost Worlds Restored + Mountaineering – the Ducane Traverse

From high mountain peaks to caves in ancient forests, and from current issues in bird conservation to ancient paleobiology, TG #31 has been a real treat to put together.

Amanda Edworthy from Australian National University and adventure photographer Angi Kim document the plight of the endangered forty-spotted pardalote, one of the very rarest birds in Australia.

We are delighted to run another story from Tristan Stuart, recounting an adventure, a mystery, and a journey into a strangely alien forest. This one will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it.

Zach Fitzner writes in from overseas and shares his experience working with Tasmania’s highly-skilled fossil casters, and helps us to visualise the strange animals that once wandered these lands.

And we are delighted to share Cam Walkers trail notes of the Ducane Traverse, a challenging overland route in the highest mountain ranges of Tasmania.

We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading them as much as we did. If you enjoy Tasmanian Geographic, tell a friend who you think would be interested. We’re always looking to link up with storytellers, documentarians, thinkers, travellers, and enthusiasts of all kinds.

Enjoy!

All the best,

The Editor

 


 

What’s Killing the Endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote?

With photos by Angi Kim
What’s causing the decline of the Tasmanian forty-spotted pardalote?

Forty-spotted pardalotes don’t have the flash of a wedge-tailed eagle, or the danger of a cassowary, but they gain a certain mystique from their rarity and knack for passing undetected. As one of the smallest songbirds in Tasmania, they use drab colouration and quiet calls to avoid the attention of aggressive competitors, like the fearsome wattle bird. By staying out of the fray, they are free to spend their days high in the canopy, systematically gleaning insects, leaf by leaf. Although they often go unnoticed, they are essential to keeping forests healthy.

At one time, forty-spotted pardalotes (Pardalotus quadragintus) ranged throughout eastern Tasmania, but as forests were cleared for agriculture, they retreated into smaller, more isolated patches of habitat. By the 1960s they were limited to Maria Island, Bruny Island, and small mainland pockets in the southeast, as well as Flinders Island in the northeast. In 1993, forty-spots were listed as endangered, and much of their remaining habitat was protected in parks and reserves.

Because their habitat was well-protected, biologists thought the species was safe. By 2008, however, the soft “where, where” call of forty-spots was missing in many forests. A survey in 2009/10 revealed that the population had declined by 60% since the previous survey in 1997: a worrying rate decline over just 12 years.

Despite their rarity and endangered status, we don’t know much about forty-spots. Why have they declined so sharply within intact habitat? What are the current threats to their populations? And how can we protect the species into the future?

In 2012, I became interested in these questions. I had just finished a study of hollow-nesting birds in British Columbia, Canada, and like many biologists, was intrigued with the unique fauna of Australia (though in many ways, the grassland-aspen systems of interior British Columbia are similar to the dry eucalypt woodlands of eastern Tasmania). I started a PhD project investigating threats to forty-spotted pardalotes, which has allowed me to focus exclusively on this species for three years.

I recruited a crew of plaid-clothed and binocular-wielding field assistants, and we spend eight months of each year climbing to nest hollows, catching birds in mist-nets, and surveying habitat. We have research bases at Bruny Island and Maria Island, where we drive, cycle, hike, and kayak to field sites. We brave rain, wind, and tiger snakes (including a bite to the ankle and a helicopter ride to the Royal Hobart Hospital on one unfortunate occasion).

And, most importantly,we carefully document patterns of reproduction, survival and mortality in forty-spotted pardalote nestlings and adults. Although this research is ongoing, we have found that threats to forty-spotted pardalotes are more complex than initially thought.

Nest hollows are rare in second growth forests

The first step in each field season is to find all of the pardalote nests within the study sites before the nestlings fly away or become sweet snacks for predators. Forty-spots often reuse hollows from year to year. But if they don’t have an established nest site they inspect a variety of hollows, looking for a home with a small entrance to keep out predators and a large chamber with space for up to five nestlings. Incredibly, the expand existing holes with their tiny bills, in a ecological role reminiscent of Northern Hemisphere woodpeckers.

Typically, breeding pairs find a hollow and start laying eggs by September, but some of the pairs we observed were still searching for hollows into October and November. Several pairs never found a suitable hollow and were unable to breed. This points to our first threat to forty-spotted pardalotes: a lack of suitable nest hollows within existing habitat.

All forty-spot habitat has been logged in the past and the regenerating forest is dominated by young, healthy trees, which have very few hollows. In old growth forests, large trees with dying sections provide a large number and variety of tree hollows, but these veteran trees are rare or non-existent in second-growth forests.

In some cases when forty-spots started building a nest in hollow, we saw the arrival of their sister species, the much more common striated pardalote, displaying and fighting in an attempt to gain ownership. Forty-spots are thought to be an aggressive species, and dominant in when found in high numbers. Our initial impressions supported this: forty-spots fought off striated pardalote approaches, often chasing away intruders every few minutes over a period of days.

However, we would inevitably find striated pardalotes residing in the disputed hollow at the end of these altercations. Striated pardalotes are larger and have greater capacity for sustained flight, which likely give them the advantage in a war of attrition. Most takeovers occur while forty-spots are building nests, but occasionally striateds will toss eggs out of active nests.

Competition between striated and forty-spotted pardalotes is a natural phenomenon—both are native species—but it may be intensified by the scarcity of nest hollows.

The problem of nest hollow limitation is a common one for hollow-nesting birds and mammals globally. Supplemental programs to provide nest boxes, such as the Bluebird Trail in North America, have been vital in restoring higher numbers of nesting sites and increasing populations of many threatened species.

In 2009, a Tasmanian biologist, Matt Webb, installed 100 nest boxes at Bruny Island. When he checked them a year later, the only occupants were huntsman spiders. But in 2012, I checked the boxes again and found 27 forty-spotted pardalote pairs sitting on eggs or feeding nestlings. Like many other species of hollow-nesting birds, the forty-spots needed a few years to become acclimatised to boxes. Once they started using boxes, there were immediate benefits: they fledged more nestlings from boxes than from natural hollows and sites with boxes had higher densities of breeding pairs.

Excited by the potential of nest boxes as a conservation tool for forty-spotted pardalotes, the Bruny Island Men’s Shed built 240 bird boxes and students at the ANU Furniture Workshop developed an experimental design, created to mimic natural hollows and provide better protection from predators and the weather. With the help of sponsorship from Bruny Island Environmental Network and local residents, boxes were installed across the full length of Bruny Island, as well as on Maria Island and mainland Tasmania.

Nest boxes provide the opportunity to restore the availability of nest hollows in conjunction with protection and expansion of forests. It will take decades or centuries to return to old-growth conditions in forest reserves; in the intervening time, nest boxes will be an important conservation tool for protecting forty-spotted pardalote populations.

Blood-sucking fly parasite is the principal cause of nestling mortality

After we locate nests, we monitor the breeding success of each pair. In 2012, we found that nestlings were disappearing, often within days of hatching. We installed motion-sensor cameras at nests in order to identify predators. But when looking through the thousands of pictures taken at failed nests, we did not find any images of predators. I suspected a small, fast marsupial might be dodging the camera trap, or possibly a cold-blooded snake slipping past the heat-sensor.

Over the same period, I noticed odd growths or deformities showing up all over the nestlings: over their eyes, on their wings, legs, and bodies. Annie Phillips, a wildlife veterinarian from Hobart, came out to investigate. While she was to attempting to extract a fluid sample from one of the nestlings, a maggot squirmed out of the nestling and dropped into Phillips’s hand. Another great eureka moment in science. We took another look and realised that there were dozens of these maggots living just under the skin of the nestlings . They were causing the lumps that had initially looked like deformities.

The maggots were larvae of a parasitic fly, feeding on nestling blood. Phillips packed that first maggot in sawdust and sent it to a Launceston lab, where it was reared to adulthood. A taxonomist identified the adult fly as Passeromyia longicornis, a species found only in Tasmania. The only previous record of their presence in nestling birds was in house sparrows. Little is known about these flies.

As we continued to monitor nests, we found that P. longicornis larvae were the main source of nestling mortality, causing about 70% of nestlings to die. It is unusual for a parasite to have such a major impact on a bird population, especially when the species involved are both native to the same area. However, recent studies in Argentina and Canada have shown that changing climate and forest conditions can result in increased parasite loads in nestling birds. There is no historical information about parasitism in forty-spotted pardalotes, so we don’t know whether parasite levels have changed. And like the problem of competition with striated pardalotes, fly parasitism is a natural phenomenon, though possibly thrown out of balance by human activities.

I am currently trialling methods of parasite reduction and have found that a veterinary product, Avian Insect Liquidator, is effective in eliminating almost all parasites when applied to nest material. This strategy could be useful for protecting particularly vulnerable populations of forty-spotted pardalotes.

Habitat and food supply

Forty-spotted pardalotes are only found in forests containing white gum trees (Eucalyptus viminalis), which are their primary forage tree. Because they are so specialised, I was interested in how forty-spots use white gum trees and the relationship of habitat quality with breeding success. Lerps, a sugary shield produced by leaf invertebrates, are commonly thought to be the primary food source for forty-spots. But an American ecologist on my crew, Sam Case, was sceptical; there were very few lerps to be found in the foliage. So he used video cameras to record food items that adults brought to nestlings, and found almost no lerps in their diet. Instead, more than 90% of items brought to nestlings were manna—not the variety fallen from heaven—but grains of crystallised sugar exuded by white gum trees.

Little is known about manna as a food resource, and we are currently researching how manna is generated and potential factors affecting its abundance. We do know that manna is primarily, if not exclusively, produced by white gum trees (Eucalyptus viminalis), which explains the forty-spotted pardalote’s reliance on these trees. Its production may be effected by tree health and rainfall. During the recent drought, the canopy of many white gum trees became thin, and many died. Manna production likely suffered during this period and might have been the cause of widespread forty-spot decline. As white gum woodlands have become isolated by land clearing and attenuated by the drought, forty-spot populations have declined and become isolated themselves.

Conservation and the future of forty-spotted pardalotes

Although there is still much uncertainty about forty-spot ecology and conservation, we don’t have to wait to understand everything about the species before starting conservation efforts. Their reliance on white gum trees for foraging and tree hollows for nesting makes forty-spotted pardalotes vulnerable to environmental change, but it also means their habitat requirements are relatively clear. Conservation should focus on 1) protecting habitat and planting white gum seedlings, 2) restoring hollow abundance by installing nest boxes and retaining hollow-bearing trees, and 3) limiting fly infestation in vulnerable populations (e.g., patches where only one or two pairs exist, and flies prevent nests from fledging young year after year).

Bruny Islanders have been enthusiastically planting seedlings and creating new corridors. For example, Dennes Point residents Marlene and Brendan Schmidt have created a corridor of white gum trees which will extend existing habitat on North Bruny to the tip of Dennes Point—an important connection to the mainland Tasmania population at Tinderbox Peninsula. The Indigenous Land Corporation has expanded habitat patches at their Murrayfield Farm property through extensive fencing and planting programs. The Bruny Island Environmental network and local residents created a nest-box sponsorship program, resulting in nest boxes placed across the full length of Bruny Island. These actions all help to boost forty-spotted pardalote populations, expand their distribution, and maintain the genetic diversity required for healthy populations.

There is still uncertainty about long term population trends and how changes in forest structure, climate, and parasitism interact to create new threats to forty-spotted pardalotes (and many other species). Because there are no systematic annual surveys for Tasmanian birds (as exists in North America), long-term and detailed population trends are unknown for forty-spotted pardalotes and for most Tasmanian birds. However, Tasmania has many skilled birders, who as citizen scientists have a great ability- and opportunity – to contribute to bird conservation research.

The case of forty-spotted pardalotes shows that each species is unique and we cannot make assumptions about population trends and threats and simply hope they will survive. Research allows us to understand the mechanisms behind declines in endangered species, and to protect them effectively. We hope that with ongoing conservation efforts forty-spotted pardalotes will be a much more common sight in the future.

The Forgotten Whispers of an Ancient Forest

In late winter months, as the final snows melted from mountaintops, a dear friend and myself set out on a fieldtrip to a forest reserve known as the Upper Florentine. We sought to explore the deepest and untracked parts of the forest on a two-day journey. It was along the blood-red waters of archaic rivers, and under the canopy of some of the tallest trees on earth, that we became witnesses to the voice of an ancient forest, in an unexplainable event that transformed our understanding of nature.

Our Trip Plan & Party

Before leaving for the forest, I was in contact with several protesters who had defended the region from logging in the past. They described the geography of the Upper Florentine Valley, and told me of a track built by protesters that led to a deeper untracked area beyond the initial protest site. They said we would need to climb a hill out of the first forest, and descend its backside to reach the forest beyond. “If you do decide to go there, be careful, while it’s a magical place it’s quite scary, and has an unwelcoming feel”, one of them warned.

So our plan was set. On the first day of our trip, we’d explore the main protester forest, climb the hill, and set up camp on the other side. On the second day we’d explore the untracked forest beyond, before making our way home.

Our two-men party consisted of myself, a burnt-out academic, and my long-term friend Joseph, a man of deep religious faith. Barely a day would pass when in each other’s company without drawn out theological debates, in which my sceptical nature and his religious beliefs would butt heads. While Joseph was a Christian, our debates explored the Tibetan book of Living and Dying, the Hindus’ Bhagavad Gita, journeys of Buddha, influence of Hermeticism, and of course, the role of science and religion in contemporary society.  Debates would usually involve me spinning logic and rationalism into each comment and Joseph shedding such ‘sterility’, as he referred to it, with the beauty of spiritualism.

Our contradictory and unusual friendship worked due to my complete detachment to all view, and Josephs’ complete attachment to his views. I saw no argument as perfect, and felt no offence or pride in losing or winning them, while Joseph’s unshakable faith left him immune to self-doubt and free from religious ridicule. While we were worlds apart in our approach to life, we were equally enthralled by our appreciation of nature.

And so our party of two set out, one a sceptical burnt-out academic, the other a faithful theologian unshakable in his beliefs, into the ancient Upper Florentine Forest.

Remnants of Conflict

Two hours drive from Hobart, and we start out by exploring the abandoned protester camp located next to the Upper Florentine road. Remnants of conflict are everywhere. Several trenches are cut into the gravel, tree walls are built to block trucks, and, most inventive of all, a toilet is dug into the road. We also find the burnt embers of what was once the main camp building, which had mysteriously burnt down during major conflicts.

After a short exploration we head into the forest, following a track called Lungs of The Land. The forest is coloured in rich greens, and golden light sifts through the dense canopy overhead. The air is thick with moisture and a fog floats gently on the forest floor. Leaves drip water steadily onto the soft soil underfoot. Navigating our way along the ethereal pathway we pass complex tangles of myrtle, wattle and eucalypt. At the pathway’s end, we see Buddhist prayer flags hanging between three giant trees. I had heard that they were often hung in the hopes of protecting trees that protesters built special connections to. I remember an old conversation I had with a tree-sitter,

“Some trees just give you the feeling they refuse to be cut down. Then after the area has been logged I would often return to see all the destruction, and those strange trees that seemed to have a personality are still standing. The only trees left in a field of thousands”. I never forgot the comment. My sceptical mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of trees with personalities and intentions.

Looking up at the flags, Joseph says, “Perhaps protesters are more sensitive to the flows of energy in nature. Maybe by living in the forest they are tuned into trees in a way that we aren’t?”

“Communicating trees sounds a bit too pagan for me”, I respond. “But I can appreciate their connection to the place. It is incredibly beautiful.” We both agree that the name of the track is unusual in that it captures so accurately the ‘feeling’ of the place. ‘Lungs of the land’ – was the name coincidental, scientific, or had the protesters felt some strange breathing sensation in this section of the forest, as Joseph seemed to think he felt, and as I tried to deny I did?

As we pass the flags the forest around us begins to slip away into the distance and plains of buttongrass open before us. We start climbing the hill and the late afternoon sun laces waves of heat upon us. It is as if we had crossed some kind of threshold. As we continue over the hilltop, and down the other side, the sun reaches below, touching the horizon, and with its descent, we too begin ours, into the deeper, denser, and darker forest beyond…

Crossing the Threshold of the Familiar

The further we descend the hill, the thicker and more swamp-like our surroundings. Leeches appear, swarms of little black snakes parachuting from tree branches and slinking along the ground to our warm bodies. The track shrinks into a small trail, easily lost in the fading light, but we reach our campsite next to a river bordering the forest as the sun’s last light disappears behind the horizon.

After setting up camp we take a quick trip down to the water to fill our bottles. A deep blood red water runs between its banks. As I reach down dipping my hands into the red water to take a sip, Joseph turns to me and says, “It’s ironic that the water is blood coloured”.

“Why is that?”, I ask.

“In a way this is a land of blood. The forests have been logged, rivers have been damned, and the last Tasmanian Tigers were killed here.”

It is strange, I think, as we return to camp.

Joseph plops down at the tent doorway and starts unbuckling his shoes to discover several lines of blood running down his legs. Each line leads to a fat black leech gorging itself. “I’ve never seen so many of them!”, he says, while pulling another off his neck. We return them to the ground, a little less hungry, and tuck into our sleeping bags. I look out the small tent window across the river at the dark forest beyond as sleep slowly washes over me.

My dreams are haunted. In one, I’m standing on a lone mound in a forest. Something feels wrong. I look down to see my feet transform into tree trunks. Wood and moss grow over my skin as my body morphs into a giant myrtle. A bang sounds, and my consciousness shoots out of the tree. I levitate into the stars, leaving the earth behind, picking up speed as I go. Faster and faster I travel. Around me the universe is forming and decaying like the ebb and flow of tides. Abruptly my speeding consciousness stops at what seems to be the edge of the universe. A giant flora god with infinitely long vibrant green tentacles, reaching outwards into the blackness beyond, floats before me. I hear whispers but can’t quite make them out. One tentacle moves forward to touch me, its massive form like an avalanche crashes over me, and I am thrown from the dream.

I jolt up, sitting in the tent, covered in sweat and feeling as though sleep hasn’t come at all. For a moment my body feels as though it has travelled a million miles. I still hear slight whisperings, something about the future perhaps? The world momentarily seems less real than the dream, as I shake off my drowsiness. I turn to Joseph who is talking in mumbled sentences, rocking erratically from one side to the other. I crawl deeper into my sleeping bag, and fall back asleep.

We wake with the rising sun and set out. As we enter the forest we’re surrounded by incredibly green moss. Thick beds of it cover every surface. The forest is much darker than the one we walked through, the canopy much denser, and only a little light trickles. I look down to my compass and take a bearing off a tree a few hundred meters in front. We walk to that tree and take another bearing in the same way. Without significant landmarks to guide us, this straightforward technique allows us to track an easy route through the forest. So we continue on deeper into the forest, following the humble direction of our compass’s needle.

Suddenly the ground around us sinks and we realise we’ve walked into a marsh. Surfaces appear safe to step on, only to discover that by doing so the earth gobbles up our legs to the waist. As I stumble out of one bog, I step forward sinking further into another. I reach out to Joseph who takes my hand and pulls me free. After sloshing through the bog for some time we discover a small dry clearing and decide to take a short break. As I’m scraping the mud from my legs Joseph mentions how unusually quiet the forest is. I stop scraping and we both sit in silence listening to the sound of… nothing. No rustling of animals, or bird calls, not even a wind blowing in the canopy above. “Let’s keep moving”, Joseph decides, picking up his pack.

We’re happy to leave the marsh behind as we continue on more stable ground. Small mounds rise from the ground around us, and atop one a particularly unique looking lone myrtle grows. We climb up to its base and are shocked to discover a hole around a metre wide beneath its’ roots. “It’s a cave!”, we simultaneously state in excitement. Joseph takes out his torch and shines its light into the hole – “It goes deep”.



We crawl in and slide a few metres down the muddy entrance. The torch light illuminates a small room-sized cavity. Water drips from the ceiling and huge hand-sized spiders crawl around the walls. A thick heavy earthly smell fills the cave. It branches off into three different directions. The first two are only several meters long and lead to dead ends, but the third wraps around to our right twisting further and deeper into the earth below, like a corkscrew. We slowly move around the twisting descent, as the entrance light disappears behind us until a huge spider web covers the way from floor to wall. Several massive spiders sit on the web decorating it in different parts, like guardians blocking the passage. “I guess that’s as far as we go”, I say to Joseph.

Then all of a sudden, as we’re staring into the spider’s web, the torch starts flickering on and off, and the cave shifts from dark to light. We are uncertain if it is broken, or if the battery is going flat, so we quickly scramble for the entrance. Clawing our way out of the black hole, up the steep muddy entrance. Joseph turns to me, “Gosh that was freaky”.

Then something happens that neither of us can explain. In the midst of oppressive silence, we both hear a strange gurgling wind swept noise that seems to come from the forest canopy and the cave entrance at the same time. It almost has a language to it – undecipherable and lingering. I quickly scan around the forest trying to confirm there is nothing there.

“Did you hear that?”, Joseph asks. Looking at Joseph, I can see he is struggling with the reality of what is occurring – panic riddles his frozen face. As we stand back-to-back, one looking down the hole, the other out towards the forest, the breeze grows stronger, shaking the Myrtle’s leaves as it sweeps through the forest. The guttural noise seems to take form, that of a shriek. It sounds primal, beastly, and non-human, but words become distinguishable…“GEEET OOOUUT!”

Escape!

We run. We run as fast as we’ve ever ran, running through the bog we crossed earlier, eyes frantically looking down upon the compass while dodging trees as we go. We keep running until we reach the Florentine River. Puffing and panting, covered in mud and soaking wet, we continue on, walking rapidly over the hill and back to the first forest. My brain wracks itself as my heart is almost pounding out of my chest. What the hell is going on, I keep repeating inside my head. Neither of us speaks until we pass the prayer flags from the first forest, and the ambiance seems calmer. Our voices recovered, we flit from one possibility to another. Is it madness, inherent fear of nature, effects of a sleepless night, God, shock, just plain noises, or perhaps a depth and intelligence of an animate nature forgotten? Is it time to reincarnate the resting idea of a green mother?

Finally, we reach the car, and make for home…

 

Lost Worlds Restored – Fossil Replication

I have worked on and off at a fossil casting studio for a long time. Some may wonder exactly what a fossil casting studio is and what do I do there? A fossil casting studio is where reproductions of ancient animals are made, where skeletons are built out of resins to look exactly like a real skeleton. The studio where I work, Gaston Design, is filled with all the interesting things found in museums with the dynamic nature of a working art studio. The walls are hung with the glaring, skeletal heads of hippos and Pachycephalosaurs. Life like paintings of dinosaurs sprint past as I walk through the shop, plastic and real bones from a hundred different organisms litter the tables in every room. It is a beautiful, exotic milieu as wild as the jungle.

It takes a lot of work to restore a fossil skeleton. Just to cast the bones as they are requires a lot of labor. First after a skeleton is cleaned, each articulated bone much be carefully coated with several layers of latex to capture every detail. The latex is covered with a fiber glass, resin or plaster of Paris “mother mold” to keep the outside rigid to avoid distorting the original mold. The rough edges of both the latex mold and the hard mother mold are cleaned up with a grinder or saw, so there are no ragged sharp edges to cut the person casting. Next the mold is banded or bolted shut, tight enough that it doesn’t leak but not tight enough to distort the original shape. A two part resin is then poured into the mold, which is shaken carefully, to vent air bubbles. This resin takes about an hour to harden and then the cast is removed from the mold. This process leaves a seam around the mold as well as an extra piece of resin from the hole where the resin is poured in. These are cut and ground off carefully, painstakingly to make the cast resemble the original fossil as much as possible.

Then, in places where the seam isn’t quite right, where tiny air bubbles mar the surface, any flaws at all are patched with a putty and textured to resemble the original. After drying the cast is painted, stained and colored carefully to imitate the look of a real fossil. If this is an entire skeleton, this process must be completed for every individual bone and then these must be pieced together usually on a metal structure welded specifically for this process. This usually takes weeks to complete if the molds were made before hand and months if they were not and this is just casting an original fossil. Restoring a damaged or incomplete skeleton is much more work and involves not only casting but sometimes sculpting damaged or missing pieces, consulting with scientists, diagrams and skeletons of similar animals.

Once it’s done though, you can stand for the first time in millions of years in front of the complete, articulated skeleton of a 40 foot long crocodile, a dinosaur, a wooly mammoth or a giant kangaroo. This is the beauty of restoration; it allows us not just an insight into an ancient world based on data and broken, jumbled bones but shows us a 3 dimensional portrait of some long dead beast. This process is at the heart of natural history museums, creating beautiful displays for parents to show their children, or children to show their parents. It’s not only good for the general public though, it also frees up those original bones so that research can be done on them and allows copying of fossils. With a cast a paleontologist can send an exact copy to a colleague without worrying about the priceless original being damaged or lost in the mail. Just as important, an original fossil can be held for research while a casting inspires a large audience at a museum.

When I first travelled to Tasmania, I’d been working on and off at a fossil casting studio for years in Colorado. I have always enjoyed the work, so when my boss gave me contact information for another studio in Tasmania, I was very excited. Then I made a mistake only a young Yankee could possibly make. I got Hobart and Launceston mixed up and called Peter Norton from a pay phone when I was in the wrong city. I spent a month and a half in Tasmania and loved every second of it but never got the chance to visit Gondwana Studios in Launceston. I still find fossil casting an incredibly interesting subject and Tasmania an incredibly unique and interesting place, so I decided to catch up with Peter Norton to interview him and Craig Reid from the Queen Victoria museum for this article.

I know a lot of people get their start in the fossil casting business, which deals so much with scientific subjects from the perspective of an art back ground, so I asked Peter how he got his start:

 

“Growing up I always planned to be a commercial artist, in college I was doing art related subjects, after my first year I left college (in 1992) and started volunteering at the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston. At the museums I learnt taxidermy, moulding casting and general museum preparation skills but moulding and casting became my focus as I was good at it.

Around the same time a museum in Japan was looking to cast and reconstruct a skeleton of Dromornis, an extinct Australian flightless bird, scientists flew to Launceston to see our work and offered us the contract. During this contract more people were employed and the museum started its casting department, we went on to cast the Great Russian Dinosaurs.

I left the museum in 1996 to travel the world, while travelling I ended up working and volunteering at museums and private fossil companies and was introduced to the internet. I returned to Australia in 1998 and started my own business Gondwana Studios, selling fossil casts via the internet. Today we still do fossil casting but our main focus is travelling exhibitions.”

I think the business of fossil casting is incredibly important in making natural history and surrounding concepts of extinction, evolution and the earth’s past accessible to the general public. So I asked Peter about some of these subjects:

“I would hope our work encourages young people to develop an interest in Earth Science and Natural History. Dinosaurs can be very exciting for young and old and are a good tool to draw people into museums to learn about our planet’s history, the changes the planet has been through and the evolution of life.

Without replication of dinosaur material we would not have so many wonderful dinosaur displays for people to enjoy, learn and spark an interest in our prehistoric past. Casting dinosaurs allows the original material to remain in scientific laboratories, keeping them available to scientists, but also allow the fossils to be shared with a greater public by giving museums that don’t have access to original material an opportunity to display these wonderful animals.

There is a lot we can learn from our planet’s past inhabitants and how they became extinct, this is the reason we produced an exhibition on Permian animals and the extinction that wiped them out. There are a lot of similarities between the end Permian and the current extinction we are facing ourselves. I think it’s important to looks at the consequences of global warming on past environments, if we do this we may take our current situation more seriously. Unlike our prehistoric ancestors we have the ability to influence the outcome of our current extinction.

Craig Reid of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) has a practical view of the use of fossil reconstruction for displays and the role of museum displays in educating the public:

“Because fossil bone is usually quite brittle, casts are often made if skeletal reconstruction is contemplated for exhibition purposes.

These days, reconstruction from fossil material is widely achieved digitally from CT-scans of the original material. Some of QVMAG’s collection material has been scanned in recent times for researchers to investigate the facial musculature of animals such as Palorchestes and Zygomaturus.

…The vertebrate palaeontology displays are intended to provide the public with a glimpse of Tasmania’s fauna as it was in earlier times and perhaps give cause for thought for today’s fauna and the challenges that it faces for long term survival.”

Tasmania is a great place to look at extinctions; a unique island once attached to a unique island continent where evolution has conducted outlandish experiments and created fragile wildlife like nowhere else on earth. So I asked Peter about his work on Tasmanian and Australian fossils:

“My work on Tasmanian fauna has been limited, the main being Zygomaturus at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston Tasmania. I have worked on Australian animals like Muttaburrasaurus, Megalania, Dromornis to name a few.

…Dinosaurs don’t change that much from continent to continent but what we have in Australia, that is unique, are Australian megafauna. We had some really amazing animals, like giant kangaroos, wombats and huge flightless birds, not dinosaurs but equally as impressive in my opinion.

…We haven’t worked that much on Australian fossils over the years, we’ve mainly focused on Mongolian, Russian and Chinese fossils. We have had a few opportunities to work on Australian material which I have enjoyed. Hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future to reconstruct some of the new material we are finding in Australia.”

Craig Reid (QVMAG) elaborates on the wealth of fossils in Australia and Tasmania,

“The Pleistocene megafauna from Tasmanian localities is well-represented in QVMAG’s collections and displays.

This group includes extinct kangaroos, such as Simosthenurus, Metastenurus and Protemnodon; as well as Palorchestes and the carnivorous marsupial, Thylacoleo.

There is a model and a cast of an almost-complete skeleton of Zygomaturus, a large marsupial that existed until 40 to 50000 years ago. The skeleton cast was taken from original material discovered near Smithton in 1910 and now held in the QVMAG collection.

All these animals lived during periods when Tasmania was linked to the Australian mainland so they all occurred widely in Australia.

… Much of my work has been on specimens collected from cave sites 50 or more years ago, but in more recent times there have been other notable acquisitions.

In 2000, QVMAG received an almost complete skull from a chamber in the karst system in the Mt Cripps area. It turned out to be of the extinct giant wallaby, Protemnodon, and is probably the most complete example of a skull of this species known.

Further exploration in 2006 revealed two skulls of the extinct short-faced kangaroo, Simosthenurus, one of which was accompanied by its semi-articulated partial skeleton. While skulls and even individual teeth can be readily identified, the species identification of other skeletal elements can be difficult. The discovery of the partial skeleton associated with a skull was quite significant in this context.”

The importance of art as an ambassador for science and the natural world is often overlooked. In the case of fossil casting, the piece is often so seamless that the observer doesn’t even realize that he or she is looking at a skillful reconstruction. A well done fossil replica takes years of hard work from quarrying the fossil, organizing the bones as they would be found in real life, carefully casting, painting and reconstructing the copy. This work is vital however if scientists are going to share the lost worlds and the importance of the world we’re losing today to the public.

 

Mountaineering Tasmania – The Ducane Traverse

The Ducane Range, in the southern end of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, has some of the most stunning alpine environments in Australia.

Tasmania has notoriously unpredictable winter conditions, but the Ducane can provide spectacular skiing when it’s in condition, on steep slopes and in gullies.

The Trip
The ‘traverse’ is generally seen as being the walk/ snowshoe from Ducane Gap, on the Overland Track, over Castle Crag and Mt Massif, into Big Gun Pass, and then exiting onto the Ducane Range proper. From here you head out past the Pool of Memories and down to the head of Pine Valley via the Geryon climbers camp, or through the Labyrinth to the Parthenon track that takes you to Pine Valley hut. From here it is a three hour walk to Narcissus Hut on Lake St Clair.

You need to allow a minimum of three days (but up to five is good) to do the trip. It is all remote, off track route finding from when you leave the Overland Track at Ducane Gap until you get to the saddle where the Pine Valley trail climbs onto the flanks of the Parthenon (there is a rough track from near the Pool of Memories all the way back to the Parthenon Track which is cairned and easy to follow).

The serious part of the trip is between Castle Crag and the north east corner of the Ducane Range. In summer, an experienced and fit walking party will not have any troubles. In winter it is a more serious proposition, especially if there is heavy snow lower down – this makes the approach from Ducane Gap to the treeline at Castle Crag much tougher, making the climb onto the range exhausting.

There is no escape route from the exposed Castle Crag to Ducane Range section, so don’t launch off onto the traverse unless you know you have at least a day of good weather coming once you leave Ducane Gap. There are some objective dangers, including steep and often wind blasted and icy slopes, cliffs, occasional rock fall, and slow travel across boulder fields. You can do the trip in either direction, although I would recommend starting at Ducane Gap.



Some Cautions

The two key points to be aware of which may present some objective risks occur as you climb towards Mt Massif from the Castle Crag side. On the final rounded hill before the climb to Massif, most parties veer right (towards Mt Ossa) as they go over the hill top. This has large boulders with some difficult terrain for a few hundred metres. Once you reach the saddle beyond, where a steep ridge leads up directly above you to Massif, I would recommend you turn right (north) and descend off the ridge and walk under the base of the cliffs on the north side of the ridge. After a few hundred metres you will find yourself in a huge open gully. Stick close to the base of the cliffs and climb up on the rough pad to the head of the gully. The ridge which is avoided has considerable exposure and a big fall if you come off.

It is also wise to be aware of the steep pitch of the descent from Mt Massif to Big Gun Pass (BGP). The traditional (summer) approach is to find the high point above the summit bowl on the Ducane Range side of Mt Massif, then follow the ridge line towards Big Gun Pass (there is one exposed section half way along which can be confronting, it is easy going but has a few moves over a very big drop) and then dropping to a long plateau about half way towards BGP.

From here it is all boulder hopping almost all the way to the pass. This can be really difficult in icy or wind blown conditions. With the wind chill added to the aspect, be aware that these boulders can ice up quickly in late afternoon. A safer, but still physically tiring, option is to drop down onto the boulderfields out towards Mt Hyperion as you leave the summit bowl. You then work your way around towards BGP, mostly contouring around the mountain to ‘exit’ in the pass itself.

Having said all that, this is some of the most incredible mountain country you will ever find yourself in. It’s worth every moment of the long approach, the bush bash to get onto Castle Crag, and the vagaries of the weather once you’re up on top.