A Danish visitor, in Townsville for the recent Australian Festival of Chamber Music, provided us with the necessary extra incentive to visit Paluma, in the ranges an hour or so North of Townsville, for a walk in the rainforest and some birdwatching. The three of us had a lovely day, so thanks, Poul!
Several new, or merely new-to-us, natural history books arrived in this house a couple of months ago – mostly around December 25, actually – and I’ve been meaning to write about them ever since. Here are those which focus on plants.
Visions of a Rainforest – a year in Australia’s tropical rainforest
Text by Stanley Breeden, illustrations by William T. Cooper.
Germaine Greer: White Beech – the Rainforest Years, Bloomsbury, 2014
Germaine Greer made her name in 1970 with The Female Eunuch and for me, as for most people of my generation, her name instantly evokes thoughts of radical feminism and a brilliant, often abrasive, mind. Her subsequent career was that of a very public intellectual but as she approached 60 she began to look for a wilderness home here in Australia. Her initial impulse was to live in the inland desert but, to her own surprise, she ended up with 60 hectares of degraded dairying land in the Gold Coast hinterland, tucked away between the Lamington and Springbrook National Parks.
I visited another bug-hunter on my trip to Cairns last weekend and he naturally introduced me to the wildlife in his garden. That garden nestles into rainforest which spreads right up the range behind Cairns, so it’s quite different from my suburban dry-tropics garden here in Townsville and has quite different beasties living in it.
This one was completely new to me – and to him, I think – and working out what it was and what it was doing had to wait until I could consult Graeme Cocks. Between us we found the answers.
It is a Raspy Cricket, Gryllacrididae, Xanthogryllacris sp., a whole new family to me. Their closest relations are crickets and katydids – Graeme’s page shows how they fit into the larger picture.
They are nocturnal and normally sleep all day in a sheltered spot between leaves, and we must have disturbed this one doing just that. Coincidentally, it has just moulted, as we can see from the colour (many insects are very pale immediately after moulting, e.g. this cockroach) and the long threads emerging from its shoulders are the remnants of its trachea, its breathing tubes, which pull inside out during the moult. (The trachea are external surfaces even though they are inside the body, just like the skin inside our own ears or nose.)
It wasn’t very happy at being exposed. Those gaping jaws are definitely a threat display, and the raised wings are probably meant to be scary, too, though I just think they’re beautiful.
The villagers of Paluma, high in the rainforest an hour or two north of Townsville, seem to have been collectively inspired by the city’s ‘Strand Ephemera.’
Their ‘Ephemera in the Mist’ last weekend emulated Townsville by presenting a series of ‘ephemeral’ sculptures and installations beside the main road and threaded along a tiny walking track through the rainforest on the edge of town, and went one better by complementing that show with a more conventional exhibition in the community hall, stalls selling art and craft works, and workshops.
Visitor numbers on Sunday were good without making it feel crowded. The weather helped the event live up to its name with mist, fine drizzle, brief showers and sunny breaks on a five minute rotation. We enjoyed the change, actually, after so many months without rain in town. I don’t know which artwork won the ‘people’s choice’ award but we had no doubt of our own favourite, Marion Gaemers’ nearly life-size Straw Lady sitting comfortably on a mossy rock beside the tiny creek.
Other sculptures were less ephemeral, or more. Unfired clay sculptures were already dissolving back into the ground; fragile constructions of sticks and twine modelled on bower-birds’ bowers were not going to last much longer; and the mandala by Sue Taylor explicitly, and beautifully, celebrated ‘the cycles of birth, growth, death and renewal of the rainforest plants.’
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, sand mandalas are made to be equally ephemeral; their value as meditation objects is in the focus needed to construct them and they are ritually unmade soon after they are completed. Here’s one I saw made by the Gyuto monks in Hobart in 2008: