Friday, 28 September 2007

Camperdown botanical gardens

This is the Camperdown Botanic gardens, one of many from the colonial era. Castlemaine was another visited in an earlier post. This garden is unusual in that it is on top of a dormant volcanic cone, Mt Leura. The soil is of course excellent for the purpose, and the garden is in an area noted for being damp. The tree above in a pine, whose name escapes me, but it is situated outside the fence, and pines not being a native species, the garden not being for many native species, one can only speculate what happened.

The particular pine is in flower, the flowers are quite large-the size of a tea cup, and stand up bright and cheerfully on a dull day.
Pine bark has such texture and sharp flakiness it is a pleassure to behold.
This is Mount Elephant, as viewed from the top of the mount. Its nameis suggestive of a resting elephant. the mount is about 40km away to the north, and is one of about 400 cones or various other volcanic features in Victoria.

This is a lake formed in a volcanic coned which appears to have slumped, Lake Bullen Merri. The area around Camperdown is very like a lake district, with some large lakes-Corangamite for instance-which are sometimes dangerous in changing weather.
My old favourite, the weeping elm, Ulmus glabra, Camperdownii, in its namesake. This one is quite young, but already is characteristically deformed.
The sign commemorating the planting of the tree by the Governor of the time.
Cabbage tree, Cordyline australis. These trees were once used as the material for making hats, cabbage tree hats, used in colonial times to give shelter from the sun to the fair English complexions of the squatting class.
The tree itself. Mt Elephant is barely visible in the background to the left of the pine. This garden is somewhat less well maintained and is a lot smaller than Castlemaine, but it has a sort of raffishness about it. The views are spectacular, the magpies are dicey. One spent a lot of energy eyeing me off, and swooped several times, just missing the statue of Robbie Burns to get at me. Seems to be that time of the year.

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Kingston town

Kingston town, the best fish and chips anywhere, the best you will eat. I guarantee it. That's not why Istopped there, but I don't regret doing. The fish had been caught that morning by the cook's father, in a boat by line. The thing had barely stopped twitching when it was cooked. The chips were from locally grown spuds, and they were cooked in fresh oil. The slad was local. So were the locals. They like things on poles in the bush, Kev's Kollecxtion is anything with an engine, tractors a speaciality, tanks, Centurion, are good too. Look elsewhere and you find a statue to another spcies which is a speciality of the area.
This thing is one of the original biggies, that now populate the Australia countryside. Why is ablog on trees, well I was just passing...
This monster was conceived and designed to be a model sitting on top of a car, to be used for advertising. Problem was someone either misread the measurements, a NASA moment, or didn't write them down right. So inches got to be yards, and it is now about 15m high. 2 metres is about the second joint on the front legs. They call it larry and it needs a lot of money to be restored. It broke when they moved it across the street. That would have been a sight for sore eyes.

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This hedge is on the road near a spot called Orford. One comes around the corner and this suddenly appears, the absolute precision of the hedge cutting contrasts sharply with the roughness of the native scrubs and the cedars on the northern end of the hedge. Behind the hedge is a farm stead, and they have maintained this hedge for some time. I first saw this about 15 years ago when I was driving around doing field research for an MA.
The work maintaining this hedge must be considerable.
This is the point the cedars and the hedge meet. Chaos is just out the left hand side of the picture. The cedars are probably 100 years old, they are a tree of choice in this region, and plantings have been made for hedges, windbreaks, and self sewn voluntaries.

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Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Grass trees...

This is Xanthorea, sometimes known as the Grass tree: as kids we used to call them yaccas. They are very common in parts of Australia, for instance Kangaroo Island where I grew up, on Eyre pensinsula, the Grampians where this was taken. This is the western edge of the national park, in a degraded paddock. These plants grow very slowly, less than half an inch a year, so these maybe a hundred years old. They have been used to provide fodder for animals, and resin for the furniture trade. My father, in common with many bush bred men, spent some time in his early years collecting the gum, yacca gum, which was used as the foundations of shellac type varnishes.

The flowering spike grows quickly, and to 1-2m in length. It is a course fur with parrot beak like seed capsules. Fire was, in common with much of the Australian bush, a trigger for flowering.
Flowers are white star like, with some scent, but not particularly useful as nectar sources. The flowers are attractive, but ephemeral, lasting only a week or so. This spike is in the early stages of flowering, when the spike is in full flower it is a mass of these small flowers, and very noticeable in the bush.
The trunk has a concentric form, with a sponey mass inner, a hard shell and layers of closely interlocking elongated plates that are gummed together with a dark red resin, the yacca gum.
This photograph shows the trunk in cross section. The root ball consisted of a mass of protruding fibrous roots that held the trunk firmly in the ground.

The plates were trimmed off with a sharp axe to a few cms outside the hard shell, collected, and threshed in machines, usually home made, rather like a wheat threshing machines, and the gum collected. Being farm boys, the men who did this dirty task were adept at improvising, and most would have worked on large threshers in their youths, so building one out of timber and old iron would not have been beyond them.

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mind the gap...

Look at the picture above. There's something odd about it. Two trees, a gap, then rows of trees 20 or 30 metres back. This is Camperdown, a town in western Victoria. The local Shire Council is responsible for the gap. The citizens of Camperdown, under the sponsorship of the Finlay family, planted the trees in 1876. Every tree was planted by school children or their parents, every tree was apparently duly recorded with its planter and the records exist in the local historical society. There are 500 or more trees, elms, English elms. 500! How many cities or towns in North American or Europe would give a palace or two, and the burgemeister's left arm for 10% of those elms in the conition they are in. Envy is is not a fatal disease, but a local council is, especially for the trees.
This beautiful building in a normady romanesque style-my car is the grey station wagon parked outside-is the Shire Council building. The building with portico, not sure of the style, is the Shire information centre. I dropped in for a coffee the other day because I saw this sign:
I can't remember if I paid for the coffee but I had a couple hours of talking to the barista of friends of Camperdown's elms. These trees are about 130 years old, there are a couple of dead ones, there are a few gaps unfilled from trees which died, especially in the ends of the avenues, and there are several of these avenues and they are long. Finlay Avenue runs right through the centre of town.
Here is the plaque. Finlay's used to own Glenormiston, which is the original Neil Black homestead, now an agricultural college. Across Finlay avenue is another avenue, here is the northern half of it:
The council has decided to removed blocks of trees to replace the dead and dying, the sick and lame. Various arborists have been in town looking at the trees, and according to my informant, very few trees are rotten or dying. She said the arborist they used was an expert, an English expert, with experience with old trees and he claimed the trees had up to a hundred years left in them. He also said they could cut out the single trees which were diseased or rotten and replace them, and this had already been done in the avenues anyway. Council, what does the Council do?
This! Remove blocks of trees regardless of their condition and replace them with cloned elms, a metre inside the line of the older trees, and put in some nice furniture. They want to do the lot.
Here you get an idea of what it is like now. Imagine the rest of the trees, for at least a mile up the road you can see above, looking like the gap.
Here is the clock tower in the middle of town. That's the view when you turn around from this gap:
Little trees off line...ah for a Council with imagination. Then I drove a hundred yards to this one...

There were quite a few more of these gaps. Nothing it seems will change the Council's mind on this matter. They have established reference groups, got the Heritage people onside, but won't listen to external experts brought in by the citizenry to argue for a more selective approack to the great elm massacre, won't even listen to their own ratepayers, the people who live in the town, who grew up with the elms.
This lady is a representative of another country, of the empire that was when the town was established, to whose aid Camperdown's sons went in various wars. The dead are listed on the sides of the plinth, and there were many. They grew up with the elms, some may have even planted them, or their parents. She seems to be in quandary about the disturbance of her peace, as she is drawing the sword...
Whilst in the Botanic Gardens on Mt Leura, behind and above Camperdown, Robbie Burns muses, though not amused. This was a Scots town once, Finlay and Black at Glenormiston were both Scots. That's why Rabbie is there.

Anyone wanting to comment on the Corangamite Shire's decisions should look them up on the web-I am writing this in the Warrnambool caravan park-and send them a few words. I am sure encouragement to change their minds can come from everywhere there is a web connection.

Good luck Linda.

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Saturday, 15 September 2007

All that remains...

This is the sawdust pile at a campsite in the Grampians called Smith's Mill. A Mr Smith had a sawmill here for many years, and accumulated a 3m high pile of the remnants of Grampians forest. Some of the sawdust burnt, there have been many fires through here, but very little grows on the remains of the trees.

The sign at Smith's Mill tells it all. There are a few remnants of millers cottages, many pine trees, and an obviously second or third growth forest around. The animals are friendly, or rather unconcerned, and I fed a currawong that was quite happy to sit on a post while I ate my breakfast.

Just a few km away, on the western side of the range is this new source of weeds, an olive grove. The Adelaide Hills are full of these mediterranean weeds, many Europeans have , in earlier times, satisfied their craving for olives and olive oil by picking the fruit. Now, along with the deer farms, we have olive groves. This one is on the side of a track on the way into another campsite.

This is a little out of the way of the Grampians, south, but still in the general area. It is a panorama of the Tower Hill park. This was once a source of much timber for the many farmers who lived in the area, potatoes are one of the earliest of the horticultural products of the area, but it was denuded for many years. In recent times there has been an attempt to reafforest Tower Hill, a vast slumped volcanic cone, with variable success.
I saw a koala busily eating itself out of house and home, having denuded all the food trees along the ridge where it resided. We watched while it ate the last few leaves off the tree in which it was roosted. Koalas were dumped into the park in the interests of nationalist notions of Australian landscapes, they are not native to the area. Weeds again.

The source of information of what Tower Hill looked like once upon a time is a famous painting by Eugene von Guerard from the 1850s-1860s. He spent some time in the Western Districts drumming up commissions, and sketching. There is an interesting case to be made out for his accuracy in depicting what he is painting, and there is also the problem of what is a picture and what is the reality. This picture was taken form an observation point which is claimed to be the one von Guerard used to make his sketches.

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Deer hunter? Grampians...

I was driving south from a site called Zumsteins in the Grampians national Park, when two of these ran across the road in front of me. I stopped and the third ran behind the car. These are fat and feral deer,escapees from some deer farms which border the park. These are some of the more unusual weeds that infest our countryside. I thought for a moment I was in Sweden, and thankfully no one has yet to farm moose in this country.

They are so fat, the place is so barren: that being the result of the 2006 fires which burnt about 150000ha or about 45% of the park. Burnt is right, as you can see the trees are barely beginning to recover, the ground is a layer of ash, and many of the shrubs and grasses are gone.

Rabbits, foxes, feral cats and dogs, fish and weeds of every sort flourish in the park. Some are deliberately released, and not enough hunting is done to control them. Bring on open season, get the King of Sweden out for a bit of sport.

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Grampians 1...

Fire went through these forests in 2006. 150000 ha were burnt in a day or so. The fire was very hot, and the trees are only just recovering. This is down the road from the top of Mt William, the highest peak in the grampians, about 1200m. The day was overcast, rainy, cool. But the colour temp of the light helps appreciate the amazing capacity of the eucalypt to recover froma disaster.

Further up the road to the top, this view is over the valley, most of which was burnt.

This is on the east side of the range. The fire seems to have burnt upwards towards the top of the range, from both sides. As one got further up, and as the cloud came down, it was hard to work out whether the trees had been burnt or not. But I went off the track for a few yards, not far from the top, and my bright blue rain coat was soon streaked with black charcoal. The fire seemed to stop a few yards from the top, perhaps because it is cool and often very damp up there.
Here is the cairn at the top of the hill. I won't spoil the view by showing the signal towers a few metres away. Ugly things, they enabled me to talk via mobile phone to my wife quite easily. A few metres past the cairn is a drop of 200-300m. The clouds came down while I was there and visiblity was only a few metres, but when they lifted, one could see for miles.
Away to the north east, after the clouds had lifted. More burnt scrub, some unburnt.

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big red...

This is E. camaldulensis, red gum, the big tree of the western plains of Victoria. This tree is on the roadside south of Ararat, a few miles south of the turnoff to Barton, Richard Hanmer Bunbury's run from the squatting era. The bushfires of 2006-7 have been through this area and the trees have taken a singeing. The tree pictured is quite large as are many trees along the road verges in this area. I stepped out 12 metre circumference half a metre out fromthe base of the trunk, my maths suggests a trunk of about 3 metres diameter, which is a fairly substantial tree. It is hard to estimate tree height without a theodolite or an alidade, but I would hazard a guess at 40-45 metres.

Down the road half a mile from the tree above is this log of an old red gum fallen. Again perspective belies the size of the trunk. The diameter at the left hand side, a metre in from the break is about 2 metres, being my guess from standing on the embankment next to it. This, like the previous tree, is an old gum, probably several hundred years old, and predating the European settlement of the area in the 1830s, and probably predating Captain Cook's voyage down the east coast of New Holland in 1770 by several centuries.
The uprooted end of the tree, showing the trunk as partly burnt out.

This is a branch of the tree a metre across on the longest axis. This branch was hidden in the fork of the tree in the picture two above. This wood is intensely red when polished, although it is a timber with many flaws. It was much used for fencing and railways sleepers because is it is resistant to many insects, to water rot, and is hard and stable and very long lasting. Even now it is possible to buy timber which has been sawn from trees felled a hundred years ago and left in the paddocks and only sold because there is a demand for such a beautiful timber.

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more 4X...

Linking the prior post to this is a weeping willow, just springing back into life after a cool and short winter. The roses are well pruned, the ducks have their young, the lawns are mown.
On the way into town an nice avenue of London plane trees, pollarded in the domestic brutalistic style. The blue car was one of many around town that Sunday for an antique car conventionof some sort, although many of the cars looked a lot like I would imagine a hot rod to be.

This was early, hence the colour of the light. But the prunus are well into flower all over the countryside.

A short bit of Castlemaine street in the harsh light of morning. The streetscape retains some of its originality.

This is the market building, 1862 I think. One of the oldest and most intact in the country. The style is a mix, but here is a good description, although I have seen better in a locally produced book about the goldfields architecture.
It is also a great site to explore the gold history of this country. The building next door was a school until it was converted into a supermarket, and the old market area where, according to the locals I talked to, the stockyards were situated is now the car cattleyard feeding the maw of the supermarket. At least the signage isn't outrageous.
This the the Burke monument on a hill overlooking the town. The connection to the town is through the fact Robert O'hara Burke was a mounted police inspector in the district, he may also have camped here on his way to glory, but the monument was erected very soon after the consequences of the exploration were known. The monument should have been erected to the stupidity of both the committee that chose Burke to lead the exploration and Burke's, and it doesn't capture to bathos, pathos, and the other musketeers of the adventure of two fools in the outback. The simple lines of the monument and simple lettering in gold give more dignity to the disaster than it deserves. The other connection to this site is the DIG tree on Cooper's creek. Here is a blog with a list of similar memorials. Robin Annear has been around here.

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