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Posts Tagged ‘St George’

A paper plate is suspended, flattened by the force of the wind against the criss-cross wire fencing around the small park in the tiny border town of Hebel. Nearby, the gazebo above the public barbeque is shaking back and forth. Normally we’d be eating our lunch at a table in a place like this, but the weather is so harsh we’re better off inside THE BENCH, even though it’s swaying gently from side to side.

The excitement of the storm is electric – in more ways than one. We’ve just come charging through the dirt from Brewarrina on the last miles of New South Wales with a drama enacted in the skies around us, cumulonimbus collapsing in the distance like slowing spinning tops. The last thing we wanted was to get stuck in the mud, but incredibly we haven’t seen a drop of rain. It’s a buzz all right.

THE BENCH and friends

A big truck arrives from the north. As we’re out watching the storm and taking photographs the driver approaches, his adrenalin-fuelled grin almost as wide as the brim of his cowhide hat. He tells us his story:

“We’re coming down from Roma and the rain got so hard we really needed to stop. But we couldn’t – there’s nowhere to pull over, and if we stopped on the road someone would run up our arse, so we had to keep going. Then we came up behind an oversize load! Oh, it was dangerous, man!” He’s shaken, but clearly excited, and is taking photos of the distant storm with his mobile phone so his mates will believe him.

Then I notice the signpost 50 metres away and think what a fine photo it would make. I wander over and line up the shot, and just milliseconds before the shutter clicks a thunderbolt pierces the grey sky in the distance directly behind the Lighting Ridge sign. It was so nearly a perfect storm photo!


Almost!

Continuing our journey we see the aftermath of the storms. It’s been rare on our journey to see standing water at the edge of the roads, and so often we’ve been in country that’s crying out for rain. When we reach St George the sun is shining – it’s the calm after the storm. The main road into the town centre is closed as the fire service remove fallen trees from the power lines and the cafes and food shops have closed because there’s no power.

We were experiencing mixed emotions. It was exciting to be almost home for Christmas, and to be setting up this big surprise for Ella’s family who thought we were still thousands of kilometres away in Western Australia. But the excitement was tempered with sadness because we knew our big trip was nearly finished. Still, we were all set to spring our Christmas Day surprise, after we visited just one last National Park.

A little green nugget hanging off the main mass of the Great Dividing Range, Bunya Mountain sticks out of the surrounding farmland like a cool, soothing emerald. We take the road that winds up from Dalby, feeling the temperature drop as soon as we reach the steep slopes and switchbacks and disappear under the cover of trees. And what trees.

There are a select group of pine tree genera that are endemic to Australia and the Bunya Pine is one of these. I’ve often felt that introduced species such as the common plantation pine from California, pinus radiata, look out of place in Australian landscapes. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of the photos of overdressed Outback pioneers posing for photos in their Sunday best despite 40ºC heat – they often seem bedraggled and parched.  The Bunya Pines are clearly at home here, though, and their conical domed crowns pepper the hillsides.

Looking up inside the crown of a Bunya Pine

From our campsite among the trees at the top of the hill we see storms passing to the east and west, lighting displays that seem to be at the same altitude as we are, yet they miraculously steer clear of us and we stay dry. In the daytime we tread a few of the bushwalks through the rainforests in the gullies and across the distinctive and curious-looking ‘grassy balds’ – open grass clearings on the hillsides that are the result of centuries of bushfires.

We manage to avoid the two recognised hazards of the area, being bitten by ticks and getting hit on the head by pine cones falling out of the trees. If that sounds completely ridiculous then consider this. The cones are reputed to grow up to the size of a football and can weigh two or three kilos, and the nuts that grow in the cones are as big as brazil nuts! Try sprinkling them on your cereal. Of course, they were a popular source of food for indigenous Australians who came to the mountains to gather them. They ate the nuts raw, toasted or apparently buried them in mud for several months to improve their taste.

On our walks we keep our eyes peeled for any of these immense cones in the undergrowth. They aren’t produced every year, though, so it looks like 2009 wasn’t a good year for pine cones.  It was a good year for us, though – a year of exploration and discovery. We ventured beyond the big snake draught excluder of the Great Dividing Range to places we’d often never even read about. We dispelled the myth of the Outback as a singular entity, went out into the country and realised that it is so much more: it is a continent of diversity. Perhaps it doesn’t have the mystique of Asia or the overt cultural manifestations of Europe, maybe much of it is arid and unforgiving and groaning under the weight of its own stereotypes, but there are a remarkable range of landscapes to experience. Yet, after 32 blog posts, five months and 25 000 kilometres travel, and countless breathtaking views there are still many more landscapes that we didn’t see, which is just as well because it gives us the excuse to get out to see them on future trips.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’ll put together a contents page for the final post here, with links to all the posts for easy navigation.

Flower on the floor at Bunya Mountain National Park

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