August 25, 2022
FICIFOLIA ROAD TO CONSPICUOUS CLIFF
Today we finally got around to doing a proper hiking expedition. We had planned at least half a dozen of those for the fortnight’s holiday during which Brett ended up being ill, a month ago. I’ve been home for so long I’ve wanted to scream – I normally only get out to town once a fortnight, although we usually hike or at least go on a local beach walk twice a week. I’d so looked forward to our hiking holiday that I ended up with serious cabin fever. All I wanted for the whole of last week was to get away and go somewhere I’ve never been. And today we finally could.
We had a glorious weather forecast and headed out to Ficifolia Road near Peaceful Bay to do a section of the Bibbulmun we’ve never done. You can see it marked in green on the map.
Our first major walk this year was heading in the opposite direction and it’s recorded in our hiking diary here if anyone wants to know what red-flowering gums look like during flowering season, or what the landscape looks like heading north from here. We’ve done that side twice, in fact, and I have been itching a while to get on the southbound section at Ficifolia Road.
As usual, we took a few crew photos when we got to our starting point.
Please note the artfully tilted horizon on the next photo. Also – yes, we do often just have to leave the car by the side of a road walking sections of the Bibbulmun track.
Next I was impersonating a vampire. We actually had several shots of this but didn’t want to scare people who look at our online photo album, so we limited ourselves to publishing the most scary-looking picture, followed by one of laughing about it after.
And then we were off.
From prior drives up Ficifolia Road and from perusing the map, for some reason I expected this to be a mainly flattish walk through coastal heathland. Well! What we actually got was lots of woodland, not to mention uphill-downhill-twisty-turny walking – and tons of wildflowers the whole way, though I must apologise in advnce for not having the time to do much close-up floral photography today.
Purple wreaths of Hardenbergia were everywhere…
The vegetation variety was just fantastic – including a stand of Karri of the coastal rather than the forest ecotype in the background of the above photo.
After a while we got to more open country and could start seeing the surrounding landscape.
We then spent much of the time walking on some sort of dune ridge, with lots of grass trees scattered around.
Even in this photograph you can see the immense variety of botanical species just on a macro level – and if you get down and really investigate, you find hundreds of understorey species. To a native European, the biological diversity in the remnant vegetation here is breathtaking. The South Coast is a biodiversity hotspot – or what’s left of it, because sadly, apart from a fair bit of the immediate coastal strip near the Southern Ocean, the conservation estate is piecemeal and only a small fraction of what was there just 200 years ago. Over 80% of the Southwest’s flora and associated fauna have already been wiped out for what Westerners call development in that very small amount of time. For 60,000 years before that, the Indigenous Australians stewarded this biodiversity.
So there on that map the damage that we’ve done shows up loud and clear, although most people are so used to looking at images like this, and seeing largely denuded landscapes, that it seems normal to them. To a biologist this is as depressing as an X-ray of a lung riddled with cancer is to an oncologist. We know what it’s supposed to look like, and it’s not that.
At this point I’m going to play a song which we had on in the car going to this hike, because it’s topical.
Scream and you scream
This is not a dream
This is how it really is
There isn’t any other this
Is not a dream
Though positive thinking is important to get us through everyday life, it’s also vital not to end up with a toxic positivity that doesn’t allow us also to face very difficult facts. We humans generally live in very small bubbles that insulate us from looking at the big picture. Also we are like frogs in a pot of water that’s being brought to the boil slowly, so there isn’t that shock reaction that you’d have just getting dropped into a pot of boiling water, even though the end is the same.
And because my husband and I live remote and quarantine ourselves a fair bit from the media etc, it seems to us we’re forever getting shocked by the boiling water splashing over us when we get another little snippet on the state of human affairs coming through. If you don’t live in the middle of the stink, you sure can smell it when you get near it. We are no longer habituated to what we were habituated to once – and it’s such a bad idea for most of our species to be habituated to this stuff and see it as normal and, by implication, just the way things are, pass the butter. If you don’t cultivate an outside perspective, you’ll find yourself habituated to all sorts of disturbing things, and you’ll be swimming upstream trying to see a bigger picture.
Returning to today’s photos – here’s a dead grass-tree disintegrating and serving as habitat at the same time.
We then came into a valley with a boardwalk crossover that meant nobody had to wade through a swamp today. And just on a side note, do you see the grass-tree growing on the steps down to the boardwalk? The one with the 2m trunk? If you look at the growth rate of these plants, they take 50 years to even form a stem, and the stem grows upwards at 0.5 – 2cm a year. So this specimen is around 200 years old, meaning that when it was a little seedling just starting out, the majority of the Southwest of Western Australia was still covered in native ecosystems like this. And in its lifetime, more than 80% of that was bulldozed. This should lend a little perspective to the rather short concept humans tend to have of time.
And then we were on the home stretch within cooee of the coast!
We talked as we walked along this bit, about how happy we always feel to walk in intact nature as it’s supposed to be, away from the scarring on the earth that has been imposed by broadacre agriculture, industry and urbanisation. The biological riches of these areas are mind-boggling and took millions of years to evolve. This is nature for millions of species, not nature stripped away to serve but one. When we walk along in places like this, the ratio of humans to landscape is about right and there is a pervasive sense of balance.
At the very top of that hill is Conspicuous Cliff, which the area is named after. We plan soon to be going to that actual place – we’ll drive to Conspicuous Beach, and walk from there, up and along that ridge and over to Rame Head and the camping site there, which we previously walked to from the east (documented second-up in the hikes here). Then we will see if the bees still have a nest in the camping hut, as they did last year!
There’s some finale photos to come, from the lookout.
Near Conspicuous Beach, we joined the Lookout Track.
Jess got there first – and she’s been here before!
This is Conspicuous Beach:
Here’s our destination-point crew photos.
This is such a lovely husband. ❤ Pretty decent wrapping paper and incredible contents!
Here’s what happened next. Brett took the camera to do some photos of me. While he was getting ready to take photos, I played a practical joke on him and told him his fly was open, when it wasn’t. He found this out by visual inspection about the same time I laughed riotously at having tricked him. However, I am not the only one of us who is an imp. Can you guess what he did next? …unzipped his fly, took photos and got my reaction. And yes, by the way, he was wearing underwear. His, not mine (although I do sometimes ostentatiously offer him the loan of mine when he is running low). ?
And then it was time for the return walk.
That was my last photo, just of the view as we started heading back. It was a really gorgeous day today – we felt the sting of the sun for the first time post-winter solstice. I was wearing sunscreen, but we didn’t want to be on the beach in peak UV so didn’t go down today. Instead, we walked towards the shade of the woodlands we had traversed earlier, and drove to an ice-cream place near the Parry Beach turn-off, which is also a meadery. Proper ice-cream made onsite with these people’s honey, no multinationals, food additives or dodgy substitutes involved – served up in an old-fashioned cone. We had two scoops each, as we do each time we stop by this place – and one of those scoops has always been hazelnut for us so far, because we’re both mad about their honey-hazelnut ice-cream. Because of this, we are getting through the rest of their flavours rather slowly. Today Brett’s second flavour was coffee, and mine rosewater and almond. ?
We sat in the sun eating this wonderful ice-cream – it created a real holiday mood. When we got to Denmark, it was 3pm and past the UV peak, so I took Brett out to a place he’d never been before, which gave Jess a swimming opportunity at the same time – I didn’t have a camera with me for this one, but here’s a photo a friend took last time I was there, of me wading.
One of just the channel:
The pontoon bridge you cross at the start of the walk to get to this place:
A few more days like this will be a welcome restorative.
September 1, 2022
CONSPICUOUS BEACH TO RAME HEAD CAMP SITE
Another day of glorious weather for our weekly major hike – and on the first day of calendar spring, here in Australia. The people who wait for the equinox won’t be declaring spring another three weeks, but the landscape is bursting with flowers, as you are about to see here, and definitely has spring written all over it! ?
Today we closed the last missing link on the Bibbulmun between Peaceful Bay and the Valley of the Giants – we have now walked there and back again in day walk sections. One way is 32km, but we’ve done more than the 64km return trip on that particular part of the Bibbulmun track because we liked some of these day walk sections so much that we did them multiple times. The coastline is just scintillating out there.
We’re getting good at getting up earlier on hiking days, and getting on the road in a reasonable time, though I want to get even quicker at it because with the sun returning to our hemisphere, we need to start avoiding peak UV walks again very soon. I aim for us to be out by 7.30am next time we do a dedicated hiking day, despite there being breakfast to be had, lunches and snacks to pack, and animals to be set up for the day. So this means we will have to beat today’s departure time by an hour!
It was nearly morning tea time as we rolled through Denmark, so we stopped at the bakery for pies – beef, cheese, bacon for Brett, lamb & rosemary for me. This meant we already had protein and salt and general calories on board by the time we got to Conspicuous Beach. Last time we’d walked in from Ficifolia Road (see here), this time we drove down through the vehicle access road.
There is a beautifully constructed walkway from the car park to Conspicuous Beach.
Turning left on the beach, we could see the feature named Conspicuous Cliff, which we would climb up to en route to Rame Head campsite.
The waves were larger than life again, as they frequently are along this stretch of coast. The shape of the sea floor beyond the waterline and the wave amplification from the shape of the bay creates particularly spectacular surf on Conspicuous Beach.
Those breakers are practically boiling – just look at them! To give people an idea of how fast and ferocious the movement of these giant waves is, and how the air is filled with thunder and the ground shakes under your feet, I took a few films today.
The way that wave breaks on the beach at the end of the clip, I find particularly mesmerising.
The next clip shows the shape of the bay to this side. Keep an eye out for what happens as the waves crash over the rocky point in the distance.
This is why rock fishing is deadly dangerous in this part of the world, and why several people a year die trying on our local coastline – and that’s despite all the warnings clearly dispensed all over the car park information boards, relevant websites and guide books, etc. That wave spraying 20 metres into the air isn’t even a king wave – one of those would wash clean over the top of the entire rocky point, right up to the vegetation line. Once you’re washed into these seas, you’re usually pounded to death on the rocks. This is why it’s a very good idea to respect these waves and to keep well clear.
A closer view of Conspicuous Cliff:
The Bibbulmun track leading into the dunes:
Jess was still enjoying the beach.
And then she led the way up into the dunes to begin our climb.
Pretty soon, the sand and the grasses and reeds were giving way to coastal heathland behind the primary dune. Jess said, “Come on, you slow bipeds!”
The wildflowers were everywhere then – here’s a Hakea:
This is a Banksia cone, releasing seeds. You’ll see Banksia flowers, which turn into Banksia cones after pollination, later on.
In the foreground of the next photo is the intermediate stage between a Banksia flower and a Banksia cone.
The colour in the landscape because of the different species coming into flower is just tremendous – as it the symphony of scents, and the busy humming of pollinating insects. A slice of ancient Gondwana that continued unmolested through to modern times beats any garden on this planet – it’s hard to convey in words the gobsmacking richness of species and niches, as well as the tremendous beauty of these places, with any lens you care to look at it, from panorama to field microscope.
And up we climbed, meandering gently through the landscape.
Getting towards the top of the dune:
And up and over! We were heading straight to Rame Head campsite, opting to explore Conspicuous Cliff on the way back.
In the blurry distance, we could now see the coastline around Peaceful Bay and beyond. The next section followed a ridge and brought us back to the edge of the coast.
…and to Rame Head:
There was a lovely opportunity to do some composite shots bringing the wildflowers into prominent view alongside the gorgeous scenery.
Have a close look at those Banksia flowers in the foreground left. They are in the process of unfolding their golden filaments – and they do this on the north side first, because this is where they get the most sunlight. This is why an unfolding Banksia flower is known here as a “bushman’s compass”!
It’s such a sad thing that many people think nothing of bulldozing gorgeous ecosystems like this – one of the sicknesses of modern civilisation. Humans have destroyed forever over 80% of native ecosystems on the planet, and are still sending thousands of hectares to their doom on a daily basis. We live in a world of scars and obliteration, and most people can’t even see it, because it’s normal to them and humans tend to live in the bubbles of their immediate surroundings. This is not how humans behaved for the greater part of human history, leastways on the Australian continent, where people lived for 60,000 years without creating wholesale destruction before the Europeans arrived here not quite 250 years ago and managed to destroy the vast majority of Australia’s ecosystems in that geologically tiny amount of time. The pace of the ongoing destruction is frightening.
Brett was behind the camera for the next two flower studies.
I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to live near and directly care for ecosystems like this – the 50 hectares of native ecosystem remaining on our own rural block could have been destroyed forever very easily, in spite of Australia’s alleged clearing bans, which are so ineffectual that millions of hectares have been bulldozed in the last 30 years in this country anyway and despite of it. Also because there is nothing illegal about running 2,000 goats on a property like ours without fencing out the bushland, and the goats will destroy that bushland in a few short years. We have goat farms in the neighbourhood who even take their animals illegally into the State forest areas to graze on the native understorey, while selling their produce under a “clean and green and organic” marketing label which greenwashes the destruction caused by such practices. Feral goats now roam the countryside here, having escaped on their so-called “picnics” – and are breeding up quickly, while invading the native ecosystems around here.
We even had a flock of two dozen goats starting to visit our own reserve that we manage for biodiversity, which you can probably imagine caused us great concern. If we had firearms, we’d have shot some and put their meat in the freezer, but this only thins their numbers while the majority get away. I had a chat to our local ranger, who is aware of the problem of these roaming feral goats and has his hands tied trying to do anything about them because he needs landholder consent to intervene. He was hoping to be able to catch the whole flock on our property by setting up a portable yard with feed in it that they could get used to entering and eating in. Then if we could eventually close the gate on them while they were in, he could transport them all away. He set up field cameras and we monitored the goat movements, but they didn’t like the attention and moved on to another part of the bushland all around this area, where they will breed unfettered in the absence of predators. In National Parks, feral herbivores of that size and over are often managed by shooting them wholesale from helicopters – difficult to do when you have invasive species in woodlands and forests, though. Professional hunters help with population control, some of them in the forests, where we also have feral pig problems in some parts of our Southwest.
As a contributor to Grass Roots magazine I saw the tendency for many tree-changing Australians to buy bush blocks in the country to get “back to nature” – only to bulldoze some of that ecosystem for housing and paddocking, and to allow animals like sheep and goats unfettered access to the bushland on their usually vastly overstocked block. And so, the pattern of early colonisation repeats itself still, out in the remaining areas of Australian bushland on the agricultural fringes.
At Red Moon Sanctuary, we don’t run sheep or goats, we don’t overstock our pasture areas, and we would fence the small amount of cattle we run completely out of the bushland if they spent much time in there at all, which they don’t. The donkeys and horses like to exercise on some of our maintenance tracks, but they don’t go off-track (unless I ride a horse on a kangaroo trail occasionally). The cattle sometimes shelter inside the actual bushland when there are storms, but the previous owner’s did the same since the 1950s, and it did not cause destruction of the bushland or the spread of invasive species – we carefully monitor the reserve for evidence of either, and would put a stop to this access if it started to become problematic.
It is a responsibility we take very seriously to steward the land we’re on well, and to actively maintain the biodiversity of our 50 hectare conservation reserve, while also producing food for ourselves and people off-farm on the 12 hectares of land that was cleared in the 1950s for cattle pasture. If we attempted to revegetate that area wholesale, we’d never get it back to even a fraction of the ecological richness it had before it was cleared, but if our acquisition of the property had resulted in a reduced output of food for the marketplace, then that would have put extra pressure on remaining native ecosystems elsewhere in the world to be cleared for agriculture, because that’s how market demand works.
This is why environmental scientists, biologists and other life science professionals advocate a complete, immediate and rigorously enforced ban on clearing the small amounts of native ecosystems left in the world, and the appropriate management of these areas to conserve their biodiversity, while converting existing broadacre agricultural areas into more sustainable and hands-on systems including hedgerow farming, integrated agroforestry and permaculture. This can be done, and would have all sorts of benefits for wildlife, soil conservation, domestic animal welfare, rural communities, true human happiness as opposed to the disposable-consumerist mentality etc etc – I was part of a team of scientists who researched and advised on these matters professionally when I was in my 20s, and if you have any questions about anything like this, feel free to raise them with me. Business as usual is maiming the biosphere, the planet’s climatic stability, and human communities, and disenfranchising the little people everywhere. The vast majority of the world’s resources are currently owned and controlled by less than 1% of the human population, in a long trend that brought us to this point and still continues to widen the rich-poor gap day after day.
When a situation like this – one species taking many times more than its share, one section of the human community taking most of the available resources – happens with the cells of an organism, we call it cancer – and you know what that does to the organism if it continues unchecked.
So as a biologist, it’s part of my responsibility to keep things like this in the conversation, as David Attenborough does, and Tim Flannery of Australia – who writes beautifully by the way, and if you’re interested in natural history, his book The Future Eaters is my number one recommendation for anyone who would like an accessible, detailed, fascinating and thoroughly researched introduction to the natural history of Australia, New Zealand and the surrounding general region. I can list many many natural science people who do a great job with public education – another is Merlin Sheldrake, whose Entangled Life is a wonderful tour through the world of fungi and plant communication – fungi link together whole ecosystems underground to create a “wood wide web”, for instance, and produce really interesting chemicals that have all sorts of effects on the rest of the ecosystem and even the mental processes of inhabitants with complex brains.
So whether I’m writing for magazines or online, or hosting people at our eco-farmstay, or taking people into bushland areas as their natural history guide, or formally teaching groups of people, or talking to you guys recreationally about our hikes in near-pristine areas, I’m going to be championing the natural world and a fair and just human community, while sharing the beauty and amazement of the species that are our brothers and sisters on this earth. ? ✨??
And if the coastal heathland isn’t beautiful enough, just look at the coastline that edges all of this splendour, in the photos above and the close-ups that follow.
And then we arrived at the Rame Head campsite, where we had lunch in the trail hut.
I was exhausted the night before our hike, went to bed early to read, and promptly fell asleep. Meanwhile, my lovely husband was secretly making and packing one of my favourite hiking lunches: Cubes of carrots and cheddar cheese, in about a 6:1 ratio, dressed with lots of lemon juice and a hint of cayenne pepper. Our lemon tree is providing buckets of lemons year-round these days, and the juice and rind make their way into many of our dishes, while also livening up the contents of our water bottles.
You can see his salad to the right of him, the walnut spice cake to his left – and the feet that get him around beautiful places in the foreground! ?
Jess had a rest in a side bay, where she also enjoyed some carrot-cheese salad I brought her.
There were other people present in the hut, some of whom you might have spotted as dots in the landscape in the photos so far. All of them were long-haul hikers, doing the 600km from Perth around the South-West and the South Coast to Albany, on the Bibbulmun track. There was a mixed group of four, and also a lovely young man called Michael who was hiking solo. We had some nice exchanges, as one generally does with other people who love immersing themselves seriously in nature. You don’t meet casual people this far in on a remote, physically challenging walk track. Several people patted our dog – she is a bit of a people magnet – and after that I shared why I take her into remote areas where dogs are officially not permitted. Nobody, by the way, had a problem with her presence, and we make sure she is well-behaved with friendly people and doesn’t harm wildlife.
There are several reasons dogs are banned in National Parks in Australia, even though you can take them responsibly in the UK and various other countries. One is that Australian law allows people to sue a landholder for animal attacks on their land – so if someone brought their dog in, and it attacked people, rather than the owner having to pay for the damage, the landholders can be sued, and the Department of Conservation has been famously sued for millions of dollars in cases that should never have had such an unfair outcome. For example, a guest lecturer in environmental law, when I was an undergraduate many years ago, told us the Department put up a warning sign next to a shallow river pool in super-popular John Forrest National Park near Perth:
NO DIVING – SHALLOW WATER
A particularly idiotic young man saw this sign, thumbed his nose at it, climbed on top of it, jumped head-first off it into the shallow water, and predictably broke his neck. Because bystanders pulled him out alive, he lived to sue the Department of Conservation for millions in pain, damages, lost earnings etc. His lawyer successfully argued that the Department should not have put up the sign so close to the water, thus tempting the young man to jump off it. Don’t get me started on this one. Let’s just say I wish they’d never pulled him out, to scalp the rest of the community via our taxes and the Department’s operating budget which ought to be put to better use. If the Department hadn’t put the sign close to the water, and someone else had broken their neck, they could have sued them for the sign being too far away, etc etc.
Also, the Department uses 1080 baits inside National Parks, State Forests and nature reserves to control feral animals, which prey on and compete with native species. Native animals are fairly immune to 1080, domestic animals and imported exotic species are not. Dogs will die if they eat a 1080 bait, and our old friend Bill’s kelpie perished from one. You have to watch your dog like a hawk if you go into 1080 baited areas. Of course, if dogs weren’t banned, some dog walkers would insist that the 1080 presents a hazard that the Department should remove, and they would get a ton of lawsuits from people about it, so you can see why they banned dogs from the parks because it’s all just too hard these days when people no longer want to take responsibility for their own actions.
I don’t take our dog to the popular spots in National Parks, but I do take her to the remote walks. This is why – I’ve had two potentially very dangerous experiences with unhinged people in National Parks, which have made me determined not to be vulnerable in remote areas ever again.
When I was a school leaver, I celebrated the end of exams and high school by setting off on a sightseeing and camping tour to the Southwest with my then-boyfriend, his older step-sister and her boyfriend. I’d never been anywhere south of Busselton or anywhere much at all in Australia since we’d immigrated – not outside of a 200km radius of where we lived, and certainly not interstate. So I was keen to see the fabled old-growth forests near the South Coast, the general scenery, and maybe some of the reputedly rugged coastline as well.
The car we were all travelling in broke down in the middle of the forest just outside Pemberton. A passer-by alerted the RAC – this is in the days before mobile phones – and the car got towed to town for repairs. The other couple had to go into Pemberton with their car, and were staying in a motel. We didn’t have the money to do that, and this was supposed to be a camping trip anyway. So we decided to do an impromptu camp-out in the forest. The others dropped us off to a BBQ area by a river in the National Park just outside Pemberton – not where you’d normally pitch your tent, but it was sunset and it was only for the night. We took care to go some way back from the BBQ area, so as not to interfere with the amenity, set up the tent, ate some of our camp food, bathed in the river, and turned in for the night.
We were woken by drunken screaming around midnight, and the sounds of blows and of splintering wood and shattering bricks, and the light from the flames of fires that were being set with petrol poured from jerry cans. We peeped out of the tent through the zip and saw half a dozen hooligans with axes and machetes destroying the BBQs, benches and tables in the picnic area, and setting things alight, while whooping and shouting encouragement to each other.
It was utter mayhem. I have never been so scared in my life. I was praying that they wouldn’t find us – we were well back from the amenities, and it was a dark night, but we had left an eski with camp food out on the table, and that was our undoing. They found the eski and decided to investigate if anyone was nearby. So, these people found our tent.
I was determined not to utter a sound and just let my boyfriend do the talking. I didn’t want them to know anyone female was present. I can’t tell you how much I shook with fear. I was 16 years old and had just graduated from high school, earlier than my peers. I came from a family that had already well versed me in being a victim of violence and had absolutely no idea in those days how I could defend myself in a situation like this.
My boyfriend took a deliberately casual line with these men, speaking to them in their own vernacular and telling them, “I’m just camping, trying to get some sleep, mate, my friend’s car broke down. Have a good night, mate!” Miraculously, it worked, but it was on a knife’s edge for a good five minutes, and they were belligerent and armed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility that they were going to pour some of their petrol on our nylon tent and set us on fire. I thought about how far I might get if I unzipped the tent and tried to bolt past them into the forest.
After that experience, I didn’t camp in a tent again until my mid-30s. I also became wary of meeting people in the wild places where I had hitherto felt safe. When I was 27, a woman my age got raped and murdered in Geraldton doing exactly what I did recreationally – hiking coastlines and mountains, solo if necessary, as there were few friends who enjoyed that kind of thing. I went and bought a large can of pepper spray under the counter at a camping store – the stuff they sell for bears in America.
I had that can everywhere with me, from then on, solo or not. And a few years later, I nearly had to use it, on a solo walk of Cataract Gorge in Tasmania. Half an hour out from the car park, I noticed that a man was following me. This is a popular hiking spot, so you do bump into other hikers, but there is a difference between someone sharing a trail with you, and someone stalking you. Every time I accelerated my pace, he did too. Every time I slowed down or stopped, so did he. This went on for 20 minutes, as I was walking further and further away from the popular, well attended picnic spots in the general use and swimming area near the car park, further out into the National Park, hemmed to one side of the steep and famous Cataract Gorge and unable to cross over without a bridge.
I was prepared for confrontation and had my pepper spray concealed by my hand and sleeve, ready to go. Then a bunch of hikers fortuitously arrived at a crossroads I came to, from another direction. I stopped them and explained what was happening. They invited me to walk back with them, on the other side of the gorge, and I accepted. The whole group kept a surreptitious eye on the stalking man, who had now dropped back, instead of walking by us and getting on with his hike.
We crossed the footbridge across the gorge, and after some quiet discussion with the group, I made as if to go in the other direction to them while they kept an eye on him. There was an old defunct power station near the footbridge. The other hikers spent some time in there, before making a show of going back towards town, but quietly keeping an eye on further developments. The man went into the deserted building and waited there. I then came around from the back of the building and walked back towards the group who were waiting a little up the track. They agreed that the man was acting very suspiciously, and all of us walked back into Launceston together. There I reported the incident to the police. The physical description I had of him turned out to fit a serial rapist they were trying to apprehend, that I’d had no idea about, who’d already assaulted a long line of women in the Launceston area.
I don’t know if they ever caught him, I was just travelling at the time and not a local. I do trust my instincts. Sadly, my pepper spray eventually expired, and Australia no longer permitted its importation and sale. So now I take my dog to remote places, whether or not my husband is with me – given, from my early camp-out experience and occasional other incidents around our country, that being in a couple doesn’t necessarily safeguard either person. The dog is adding extra security for us, on top of my husband’s martial arts training, some of which he has passed on to me. The chances of encountering unhinged people out in the sticks are lower than that of a traffic accident on the way out, but I’m not taking any chances I can avoid. I am determined to enjoy hiking remote trails, regardless of the unhinged individuals that are part of the society we’re in, and to stack the odds in my favour if I do come across another one like this out there. I’m twice bitten already that way, and not interested in more.
I’m happy to pay any fines I might be asked to if a ranger catches me with a dog in the park, but I’ve not had any issues with that so far. Seeing as most armed no-goodniks walking around in Australia are armed with knives, machetes etc, and many human predators here just rely on their ability for physical intimidation (guns are very very rare in situations like this in Australia), Brett and I are happy that we would have a good chance of defending ourselves with the strategies we have discussed and practiced, and with the dog there too (who is also a very good deterrent). So there you go, that’s why Jess gets to see so much of wild Australia with us.
Before we left the hut to start our return journey, we gave a spare wedge of walnut spice cake to Michael, whom we’d kept chatting to after the other group left, and who was stopping there for the day. Long-haul hikers carry their food, and appreciate good surprise additions to their mealtimes – which is one reason we usually carry spare home-made goodies. He enjoyed the cake so much I decided to give him mine as well, to have later. I knew I was heading for a double ice-cream later in the afternoon, and decided I didn’t need the extra fuel, having currently got spare fat I wish to dip into on our hikes.
Michael is one of the young generation who are getting locked out of housing in contemporary Australia, and has ideas about building a Tiny House or something alternative, and going to protect native ecosystems somewhere, as we have done. So, we had a ton of contacts to tell him about who have built lovely earth-friendly hand-crafted unconventional dwellings, like Emmet Blackwell did – he lives near Walpole these days and was a guest at our place last year:
As always, when we meet people like that we give them our own contact details in case they do ever start something like this and could use some help, which we’re always happy to give. It’s amazing how many people like this we meet out on the trails, and also through our eco-farmstay. We hope to give encouragement and help to anyone like this – we’re only here doing what we do because others have done that for us. You just pass on the spark as best as you can.
And now back to wild Australia, and the beautiful things there.
Coming up and over the highest section of track again on the way back, a vista spread out before us which included Conspicuous Beach and the even more remote Bellanger Beach beyond that, which is very difficult to access – and you need places like this in the world, where hardly anyone ever sets foot – not even trail walkers.
This time, we took the side track to Conspicuous Cliff just ahead and around to the left of where we were in the last photo. I descended down with the iPod, which I’d switched to for the return journey for faster photos, and then Brett started getting the proper camera out from his vantage point. Here’s what each of us came up with.
Brett outdid himself with that one. We’ve both captured some great shots of each other out in remote places, and this one really does speak 1,000 words without even trying! ???
Next he zoomed in a bit.
This is what I saw at the time – the far end of Conspicuous Beach, which we want to go explore another day.
Then it was back to Brett’s point of view:
I really can’t tell you how extraordinary it is to stand in a spot of unspoilt nature like this, and know my place in it, as part of the whole intricate fabric of life, not as presumed and self-appointed Lord and Master. To know my own relative individual insignificance in the scheme of things, but also that I am a connected part of the greater whole, and that I am stardust, recycled from before the dinosaurs, and continuing to be recycled back into life, even as I live, and also when I die.
That is the beautiful part. The hard part is what we are collectively doing to the planet. To our cradle, our mother, our brothers and sisters in the web of life. And to each other, too – mental/emotional health is plummeting as the consumer culture continues to replace nature and healthy human community. If you love, speak your love – shout your love from the rooftops. We don’t do enough of it, the practice of it or the talking about it.
And here’s Brett in his vantage point from which he took the photos. Brett whom I love, with Jess whom I love, surrounded by an ecosystem I love, made of millions of plants and animals and microbes I love, on a planet I love. ♥
They came down then to where I was at the base of the cliff, and we took some more photos to celebrate the beautiful cathedral we were spending the day in. Taking, as the etiquette goes, only photographs, and leaving only footprints.
The way the far end of Conspicuous Beach hooks around near the headland reminded us a bit of Wineglass Bay in Tasmania – the beach there does that spectacularly. I was reminded of the time more than twelve years ago when both of us walked out to the far end of Wineglass Bay’s beach barefoot, after the lengthy uphill-downhill hike into that remote beach, and how we stood in the calm water there looking back across the bay and back up to Mt Amos, which we had climbed on a previous day. Along with those recollections came the desire to go walking down to the end of Conspicuous Beach we could now see from our eyrie, and to stand there with our feet in the sand.
Since we were not keen to descend down directly to the beach on an unofficial track, and were starting to feel the sun, we made plans to walk into that place from below on another day, and headed back down the official walk trail to the beach and car park. On the downhill descent, we once again admired the plants.
Brett had earlier, when we’d ascended through this same hillside, told me that he was re-reading the novel Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and that the beauty of the botanical descriptions and nature imagery in that book reminded him of what were were walking through, although in the book it’s a surreal, beautiful environment that is extremely hostile to the human species. He said you could tell VanderMeer had a deep love and understanding of nature, from these descriptions, and was wrestling with what we were doing to the rest of the world.
In many ways VanderMeer is like John Wyndham, one of my favourite writers – The Midwich Cuckoos, The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids and Web are so incredibly insightful. It seems to me Wyndham simply takes at face value ugly things about most human beings that I never want to accept, and in doing so saves himself a lot of energy. Maybe James Lovelock, who died this year aged 103, was a bit like that too. His idea of Gaia certainly continues to provide an interesting perspective as we look at what happens with this world. And I long did think that if only I had read heavily psychological crime novels like The Wire in the Blood in my teens, I might have been saved a lot of early naivety about our own kind.
I think Brett comes at humans with a lot of inbuilt pessimism and caution, and I come at them with an unjustified optimism which gets disappointed on a regular basis, especially when I’m not working with the younger generations. In those I saw and continue to see cause for hope, and my inclination, for better or worse, is to love them. Which actually brings me to a fun snippet from Wednesday, when I had to go into town. I was briefly following a school bus on my way to pick up Brett from work. It had turned into the main road I was travelling on, and the kids in the back were waving to traffic, as kids of that age often will. They were about 10, upper primary, and waved at me as I pulled in behind the bus, clearly not expecting a response, yet hoping for one, so I decided they would get one, and waved back heartily. Delighted, the whole lot of them waved frantically in my direction, and I began to do other things you can do when you’re following a bus that’s going at slow speed: Wave first with one hand, then with the other, then with both, which had them boggled. Give them a big smile, and make owl-glasses with your hands, and look through those at them. Then a telescope. They signed back in the same phrases, then invented their own, and we had a nice little back-and-forth mime show going on by the time we’d gone around the roundabout and I had to turn off. I could see the kids beaming as their bus went down the road, and I felt incredibly buoyed by this little instance of random mutual goodwill and play. ? I love kids, and I don’t want them to have a horrible future – or a terrible present, either.
Speaking of Brett, he volunteered to model a lovely feature of the coastal ecotype of the peppermint tree for readers of our hiking reports: They make great shelter for kangaroos and other critters who need a cubby in bad weather.
Here’s another peppermint, this time without an inhabitant, but you can clearly see the handy camping hollow beneath it.
The canopy acts like an umbrella, and the space beneath is lined with a soft carpet of cast-off peppermint leaves. It almost makes you want to curl up in there and have a nap yourself.
More flowers. Here’s a Dryandra.
These are just coming out, which reminds me that we ought to go climb Mt Magog in the Stirling Ranges soon, because that has a total wildflower wonderland this time of year, on the big plain you have to cross on foot to even get near the ascent track to that peak. That plain is chockers with Dryandras.
The next one is called a curry flower in common parlance, owing to its smell.
There is still more to come – this is such a rich place! ?
The north-facing sundrenched hillside we descended through was covered in flowering acacias, which at this time of year are more yellow pom-poms than they are green leaves. You’ll have to imagine the bright honey scent of them, suffusing the landscape.
There are many species of Drosera (sundews) all through the coastal and valley heaths, woodlands and forests of South-Western Australia. This is a climbing sundew; others are rosettes; they come in all sorts of shapes and varieties. All of them have in common that they secrete sticky droplets of liquid which trap midges and other little critters, so they can digest them for their nitrogen compounds, minerals and trace elements, all of which are in short supply in the enormously old and leached-for-eons coastal and valley floor sands in our region. So these plants catch insects for fertiliser.
Western Australia has one of the largest assemblages of carnivorous plants in the world, because of its very ancient, poor soils. It is the harshness of the environment here that has produced a myriad different solutions for each problem and intricate, complex, beautiful ecological interrelationships over many millions of years. Those are amongst a spate of reasons for the enormous biodiversity of remaining native ecosystems of the South Coast. Another is their interaction with the Indigenous Australians, but for that one I will refer people to Tim Flannery’s natural history book mentioned above. Although, if anyone is still awake and they ask me nicely, I’ll explain it to you as I do to our eco-farmstay guests when we walk through the landscape with them.
Immediately above, a Hardenbergia – these are native climbers who produce spectacular purple inflorescences this time of year. I climbed up a steep sand bank to get this photo.
The next one is of Coastal Pigface in flower. Brett said, “You can eat those!” and I made my stock-standard reply to that, “You can eat anything; but some things only once.” He is right though – this is “bush tucker” for the Indigenous cultures, who nurtured this place for tens of thousands of years for the benefit of species including, but not limited to, our own. They understood their place in the fabric of nature, instead of trying to usurp and dominate and destroy and “improve” it as a standard operating principle that’s so normal to Westerners they often don’t even have any qualms about that.
We were now nearing the beach, and back in dune sand.
The dog went swimming in a wetland to cool off. We carry water for her too, and each time we get to a camping hut, I run water into my hands from their supply tank for her to drink. She knows the drill.
I can’t tell you how many photos I deleted – we just kept the best ones. I try to keep these hiking reports reasonably small, although this time, I have missed that aim by a mile. ?
I’m sure you can see why though, if you’re still with us.
And ah, those waves!
Standing in this spot, I just had to take another film. ?
The magnificent raw power and timelessness of these waves, coming in like this for tens of thousands of years in this place and carving the shore, the roar of the crashing, tumbling water, the vibrations under your feet as you approach the sea, the tang of salt water and iodine and seaweed, the magic of the glowing azures in the palette as the sunlight strikes the water, the watercolour serenity of the blue of the sky, the Impressionist daubs of cloud, the cries of seagulls and the silent flight overhead of birds of prey surfing the winds while staying in exactly the same spot relative to the ground, like satellites in geostationary orbit, the sheer magnificence of it all – and the gift of a small crack of light between eternities, that is the lifetime we get to experience this. I’m not sure who Bob Geldof was citing when he sang on The Vegetarians of Love that mortality is a small price to pay for existence, but it’s spot on I think. Let’s have that song.
This is the moment that we come alive
I’m handing out the breath and the kiss
I’m electric with the snap and the crackle of creation
I’m mixing up the mud with the spit
So rise up Brendan Behan
And like a drunken Lazarus
Let’s traipse the high bronze of the evening sky
Like a crack crazed king
Voyager 2, where are you now?
Looking back at home and weeping
Cold and alone in the dark void
Winding down and bleeping
Ever dimmer ever thinner
Sail on, sail on, sail on
Feebly cheeping in the solar winds
On past the howling storms
Through electric orange skies
And blinding methane rain
I’ll turn you up
This is the breath, this is the kiss
This is the breath, this is the kiss
Never bring me down to earth again
Let me blaze a trail of glory across the sky
Let me traipse across its golden high
Let me marvel in wonder and unfettered gaze
At the bigness and the implausibility of being
Yes, stretch out your hand
Into infinity you human things
Past blind moons and ice cream worlds
You hurl your metal ball of dull intelligence
And show us all our fragile grip
As we too track with you
Slower but no less insistent
Like the only fertile seed
In the barren vault of being
Sail on, sail on, sail on
Hurtling towards the waiting wombs of empty worlds
Waiting for the final primary come of life
We turn you up
This is the breath, this is the kiss
And I’m thinking big things
I’m thinking about mortality
I’m thinking it’s a cheap price
That we pay for existence
This is the moment that we come alive
Now we’re in Paris, in the ball gowns
In the high heels, in the snow
And we’re spinning ’round Versailles
In a Volkswagen Beetle that we’d hired for the day
(At the cheap rate)
The room without the shower was cold again
“Are we already middle-aged”, she said
And I said, “I feel nothing, I feel like a jelly-fish”
“Maybe it’s the Portuguese Men-O-Pause”, she joked
And she laughed her brittle head
And we went back to bed, and
This is the moment that we come alive
This is the breath and this is the kiss
This is the breath, this is the kiss
So sail on, Voyager 2
This is the breath, this is the kiss
This is the breath, this is the kiss
This is the breath, this is the kiss
Indeed. It’s the artists amongst us who strive, often unknowingly, to save the souls of each of us, and without them, we would be mere shells – and some of us are.
I will finish, finally, with the sea, and with our dog who loves the sea, and getting out and about to these wonderful places as much as either of the humans in our household.
Just look at this sea.
Reluctantly, we peeled ourselves away and left, clinging on to the fringe of the shore as long as we could.
How good are these places, and the existence of them, and their hanging on in the midst of the destruction. May they survive us all, for we individuals are ephemera, but they can go on for eons. ♥
Now my ice-cream report will be banal, but you shall have it. Stopping by the Meadery and Ice Creamery just outside Denmark on our way home, we made small talk with the proprietor, while I chose hazelnut for the first scoop as always, trying chocolate for my second flavour this week – and eyeing up the honeycomb flavour for our next visit. Brett, meanwhile, had coffee for his first scoop, topped by a plain vanilla. He tried the coffee ice-cream for the first time last week, and was so mad about it he had to have it again.
Sitting in the sun eating proper, non-industrial, made on site from natural ingredients ice-cream from a non-industrial waffle cone completes a day’s holiday like few other things, especially as a half-day’s strenuous hiking gets you properly hungry and then something truly excellent like that is heightened into quasi-orgasmic territory. I was going to take a photo of the ice-cream this week, but had already licked it into a shadow of its starting size by the time I remembered. Maybe next time. ?
We diverted off the main road up onto a ridge to do the alternative scenic route to Denmark via Mount Shadforth Drive. It’s an elevated world up there, the road lined with old Karri trees, quaint farmhouses peeping through hedges, signs advertising yoga classes and holiday spas, and the occasional ostentatious aquarium-like dwellings of the blow-ins with more money than taste, sterile and completely out of place, and always with enormous but functionally useless gate-posts. Cattle galloped around the pastures with fairly grown-up calves, Mount Lindesay could be seen in the distance, and our dog happily watched the world through the windows.
Soon we were in Denmark again, and then home. It was a wonderful day away, which would be made less problematic for us in several ways if we could travel by TARDIS, which apart from being a time-machine that lets you arrive back before you have taken off, is powered by the Eye of Harmony. But that is another story.