Follow the adventures of one fearless little explorer as she discovers the wonders Australia has to offer.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Travelling again

I was going to label this post "on the road again", but that is not an entirely correct title.
We are instead travelling, or rather moving back, to Abu Dhabi shortly which is super exciting.

After almost twelve months back at work (Tara) living a relatively sedate life in our small coastal town, we are leaving all that behind for the lure of the Middle East. The prospect provokes mixed feelings, guilt at leaving a school community and dragging Amelia out of pre-school and sadness at the friendships left behind. With the end of the second school term yesterday, emotions are high and I'm feeling raw. Our house is full of gorgeous flowers, gifts and cards containing beautiful words. (Many of which I cried over yesterday). It's funny how quickly you can develop connections with people, and true friendship can spring up unexpectedly. Saying goodbye yesterday was tough, I love the children, community and most of all my staff. Working with such a dedicated professional team has been a joy. If any of you are reading this- thank you!

And yet through all the turmoil, an excitement is growing as we prepare the house for the renters. Packing things away carefully, labelling boxes etc it's like reliving the full extent of our life in fast forward. Finding an old teething toy yesterday was a novelty to now 5 year old Amelia- "what's this thing?" Old photos remind us of youth and times gone by. Funnily enough we have so much more to store this time around, which is seriously hampering my ideals of minimalism! But our local opportunity shop is doing quite well out of our situation so that's one positive.

Also, our house is looking good, with all the external painting complete, we now have a paved entertaining area, a front path (soon to be joined by a gate) new carpet and a functioning laundry. The place is looking fantastic mostly thanks to Chris's efforts. The garden is improving, weeds removed and the massive agapanthus which was overtaking our carport being reluctantly replaced.

Planning for the move would only be more fun if we actually knew travel dates. We are waiting in limbo, having stopped working in Victoria and with nothing definite as to start dates, besides knowing the Abu Dhabi academic calendar 2014-2015. But, we love a challenge and change is our friend so we prepare as best we can whilst waiting for notification. We fondly remember the mad rush associated with our last stint overseas- we had five weeks between signing contract and departure. Five weeks in which to sell cars, rent out the house (in a presentable condition) and sort our affairs. Those weeks went in a blur, complete with many farewells and more than a few tears. And here was are again...

So here's to the unknown and a life full of adventure.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Winton, QUEENSLAND

Being fascinated by Australia's rich dinosaur history we travelled back inland to the small country town of Winton to view the famous fossils of Banjo and Matilda and the dinosaur footprints at nearby Lark Quarry.

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs musuem was fascinating. Situated on a sheep farm 20 kms from Winton the site covers a large mesa formation or Jump-Up. The mesa is a natural flat-top plateau 7 km long, 2 km wide, and rising 75 metres above the surrounding plain. The museum is located on top of the mesa, a wilderness area surrounded by steep cliffs, massive boulders and deep gorges.




It is home to the world's largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, including some of our most famous such as Australovenator (Banjo) and Diamantinasaurus (Matilda). It's also the site of Australia's largest fossil preparation laboratory.
The dinosaur bones are from rocks found in the Winton Formation, a geological layer 102-98 million years old. Since excavations began, several types of dinosaurs have been found, including plant-eating ankylosaurs and ornithopods, plus the serrated teeth of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs.

In 2009, three new species of dinosaur were formally scientifically named from Winton:

*   Australovenator wintonensis , Australia's most complete meat-eating dinosaur. (Banjo)
*   Diamantinasaurus matildae , a huge long-necked stocky plant-eating dinosaur. (Matilda)
*   Wintonotitan wattsi , a long-necked gracile plant-eating dinosaur. (Clancy)



Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Winton, QUEENSLAND

The famous Australian poet Banjo Patterson who wrote Waltzing Matilda in Winton in 1885 was the inspiration for the nicknames given to the fossils found.
In a quirky twist of fate, Banjo (Australovenator) and Matilda (Diamantinasaurus) were both found buried together in what turns out to be a 98 million-year old billabong. Banjo Patterson's story of Waltzing Matilda describes the unfortunate end to a swagman who steals a jumbuck (sheep) but is chased by police and ends up leaping into and drowning in a billabong alongside his stolen sheep.

HISTORY
It is believed by some that plant eating Matilda was looking for a drink when she found herself stuck in mud and Banjo (being a carnivore) decided she was an easy target but found her unreceptive. It is thought she struck back at him with her huge tail and he also became stuck in the mud and they perished together.



Matilda-
Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan are the first new sauropods to be named in Australia in over 75 years, the most recent being Austrosaurus in 1933.
Sauropods (meaning lizard-footed) are large, four-legged, herbivorous dinosaurs and diamantinasaurus is the best preserved sauropod skeleton so far found in Australia.
This plant-eating, four-legged sauropod is a new type of titanosaur. Titanosaurs were the largest animals ever to walk the earth.
Matilda was a solid and robust animal, probably akin to a gigantic hippopotamus and is estimated to be approximately 15 to 16 metres long, 2.5 metres high at the hip and weighed approximately 15 to 20 tonnes. She is estimated to have lived 100-98 million years ago in the Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) period.


This is what Matilda would have looked like.


Banjo-
A carnivorous theropod, Banjo is the most complete meat-eating dinosaur skeleton yet found in Australia. He is estimated to have lived 100-98 million years ago in the Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) period.
Australovenator is considered as Australia's answer to Velociraptor for its speed, razor-sharp teeth and three large slashing claws on each hand. At approximately 5 metres long, 1.5 metres high at the hip and weighing 500 kg, Australovenator was many times bigger than Velociraptor.
Theropods (meaning beast-footed) are mainly, but not exclusively, carnivorous bipedal (two-footed) dinosaurs. Unlike other theropods like T Rex that have small arms, Australovenator's arms were a primary weapon with the three large slashing claws on each hand.
Banjo can be classified as an allosauroid therapod, sharing many features with primitive allosaurs. It is most closely related to the Japanese Fukiraptor and Neovenator from the Isle of Wight, England.
The discovery of Australovenator has helped solve a 28-year mystery surrounding an ankle bone found in Victoria which was controversially classified as a dwarf Allosaurus. Now that Australia's most complete carnivorous dinosaur skeleton has been found, it can be confirmed that the 1981 bone belonged to the lineage that led to Australovenator.


And Banjo was pretty fearsome too!


Lark Quarry, near Opalton, QUEENSLAND

In the outback near Winton, Lark Quarry is believed to be the only recorded dinosaur stampede on earth. The footprints were discovered in the 1960s by station manager from a nearby quarry. The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument was included in the Australian National Heritage List on 20 July 2004, for values of rarity and research.


Around 95 million years ago, a large herd of around 150 small two legged dinosaurs gathered on the banks of a forest lake to drink. The herd was stalked by a large Theropod - four tonnes of sharp-clawed, meat-eating dinosaur. The herd panicked, stampeding across the muddy flats to escape the Theropod's hungry jaws. A record of those few terrifying minutes is cast in more than 3300 fossilised footprints. The footprints tell us about a cooler, wetter world, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.




Palaeontologists from the Queensland Museum and the University of Queensland excavated Lark Quarry during 1976-77 (the quarry was named after Malcolm Lark, a volunteer who removed a lot of the overlying rock). Altogether they removed more than 60 tonnes of rock, uncovering about 210 square metres of the layer with the fossils. A sheltering roof was built over the site but did not stop the gradual damage caused by exposure to the weather so in 2002 the Conservation Building was constructed to protect the main collection of footprints by stabilising temperature and humidity fluctuations, stopping water running over the footprints and keeping people and wildlife off the footprints.



It was very difficult to photograph the footprints so I hope they at least resemble what they're supposed to!




Opalton (down the road 100 kms or so) is a remote outpost for Opal Mining with no general store or supplies but a campsite where showers can be purchased for $2. We did the Winton, Lark Quarry, Opalton Loop of 300 kms and would not recommend it to people travelling with young children. There was nothing there! Aside from this welcome...


And this Outpost Store which is open sometimes I assume.


And a monument to the harsh unforgiving land... reminding people to carry water as a young man died here.


Monday, September 16, 2013

More Daintree dreams

Cape Tribulation was as expected, beautiful, serene and pristine... but we still didn't find any new coconuts.





Cape Tribulation, also known as Kulki ( pronounced "gool-gee") is an area of significance for the Eastern Kulki Yalanji Aboriginal people because of its use as a meeting place and source of  food, medicine and tools. The natural features of the area add to its spiritual significance.

Cape Tribulation was named such in 1770 after Lieutenant James Cook experienced hardship  when his vessel was damaged on a nearby reef. Since European settlement the area has been used for mining, timber and farming, but is now mostly a tourist destination.

The forest itself is significant as many species which flourish now have a long history and give us information as to the evolution of today's flora and fauna. The Daintree is one of the oldest living rainforests in the world.





We enjoyed a great rainforest walk, which was complete with many excellent signs and information boards, informing us all about the flora and fauna within the park. Some of the huge strangler trees/vines were amazing, as were the mangrove root systems, and understanding how animals and plants live in such a complex ecosystem was fantastic. Here are some images from the walk.



Many species of cycads (and other wet tropical rainforest plants) haven't changed much since they were around 230million years ago. 



Named for their spectacular pleated fronds, fan palms are found in wet rainforests from Cape York to the Paluma Range. While few plants are able to survive in oxygen poor, waterlogged soil, fan palm thrive. Their shallow roots allow them to absorb surface water and nutrients easily. They are also great absorbers of sunlight, with fronds that can grow up to 2 metres in diameter they reach 15-20 metres into the canopy and can capture the sunlight essential for their growth. 


Basket ferns grow on tree trunks or rocks, capturing nutrients from above to survive. They have two distinct types of fronds, the long green fronds carry the spores for reproduction and photosynthesis and the short brown fronds protect the root system and collect debris (nutrition for the plant). Home to birds, frogs, snakes and insects, sometimes other plants even germinate in the baskets.


The buttress roots of the looking glass mangrove allow the tree to stand tall in soft oxygen deficient mud. Special cells on the buttress also help the tree to breathe. They can only tolerate a little salt so are usually found where mangroves and rainforest merge.




 
Cassowaries are essential to many rainforest species as they spread seeds and assist in germination. Research has shown that one plant- the Ryparosa Kurrangii seeds that pass through the gut of a cassowary have a 92 percent chance of germination. So the survival of this plant species is dependant on the survival of the endangered cassowary.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The magnificent Daintree Rainforest

What a stunning place, lush greenery, exotic palms, fascinating butterflies and birds (we love the bush turkeys), pristine beaches, great weather... the list goes on. The area is the largest continuous tropical rainforest in Australia and classified as a World Heritage Site of great siginficance. The rainforest grows right down to the sea and the mangroves thriving in the silty shallows. 

A short ferry ride took us over the Daintree River and into the forest area, which is now quite habitated, with various accomodation choices available. We stayed in a caravan park, mixing it with so many different nationalities that few of our neighbours were able to speak English as a first language. We were right on the beach and a fun rope swing kept Amelia entertained for a while. Between swinging and searching for shells and virgin coconuts we were certainly occupied.

Crossing the Daintree River heading North-




The first beach (Cape Kimberley) we came to was almost deserted and perfect for exploring-








View from the Mount Alexandra Lookout-



Driving further North we came across the Jindalba boardwalk, which runs through tropical lowland rainforest. Interesting facts on the rainforest include that up to 10 tonnes per hectare of leaves and branches fall each year from the canopy and this is quickly broken down into nutrients. This allows large trees to grow in poor soil. And boy do they grow tall! 


In the "basement" or root system live many other plants, animals and microorganisms- worms, fungi, tiny soil creatures. In the canopy live butterflies, spiders, orchids, ferns and many different bird species. 


Rainforest trees use many different ways to get to the light. Some grow slowly, some just wait til a tree falls and then grow super fast to make the most of the break in the canopy and others hitch a ride, starting at the top and sending their roots down to the forest flow. 

 


Jindalba is the Kuku Yalanji name for this area, which has been flourishing for more than 135 million years. It's all a bit of a miracle really given the conditions for growth being at times so challenging. Life in the wet tropics include challenges such as cyclones, high rainfall, intense sunlight (upper canopy), soils leached of nutrients and intense competition for light and food. As you can see many plants have developed clever ways of coping. 


The trees make their food using sunlight, nutrients and water. The canopy is an interlocking network of sun hungry trees, which is so efficient that less than 15% of sunlight actually reaches the forest floor. 



Rainforests are called closed ecosystems because their living parts; plants, animals and microorganisms are totally integrated. If this dynamic is destroyed by fire, erosion or clearing, nutrients are lost and not recycled. Extensively damaged rainforest may never return to its pristine state. But when conditions are right, rainforests are rapid colonisersm advancing around a metre annually. 



This amazing staghorn fern is dangling by the slightest of cords, can you see it in the middle of the photo?


Tropical rainforest needs at least 2 metres of rain a year to thrive. Much of this never reaches the forest floor, evaporating in the canopy or collecting in hollows. The rest drips off leaves or cascades down trunks, but the leaves need lots of water (along with soil nutrients) to make sugar. During summer, when sunlight is intense, evaporation is high and soils are saturated, a giant rainforest tree can pump hundreds of litres of water from the soil into the canopy. 

 blurry but so cute!


Circular Palm Ferns, which grow to amazing heights.


The rainforest canopy is an enormous solar panel of hungry leaves. These tilt to the most sun catching angle throughout the day. The leaves themselves are sugar factories, chorophyll converts the sun's energy, splitting water and carbon dioxide to make glucose (sugar). This fuels the plant and is the building block of cellulose from which the trunks, branches, leaves, fruits and flowers are built. In this rainforest area, a few large trees take up 80% of the sunlight. The surrounding undergrowth is reasonably clear as few plants can survive in such low light. 

Daintree Tea leaves farmed just up the road growing beautifully...



Right next to our tent is the short walk down to the the you know what!





 Another swing was required before breakfast




Had to include some photos of these impressive creatures scratching around the campground...
They cleaned out coconuts in record time and had a dominant bird which became possesive of the food source and proceeded to scare away any other birds which dared to sample the fresh coconut.

These sratch around in the leaf litter for materials with which to build their nests and for food; fruits, seeds, insects and snails. Using their strong legs they rake decaying matter into piles and lay their eggs within, where the heat from the matter decaying and microorganisms slowly rot the vegetation and the heat generated incubates the eggs. The scrubfowl carefully check the temperature of the mound and remove or add material to maintain a 30-35 degree temperature. 




And the artists impression of the bush turkeys/ scrub fowl...