Caves Road deserves special protection as a heritage and tourism icon.
Caves Road traverses the limestone ridge between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. It runs south from Yallingup, through tree lined hills and valleys, past vineyards and breweries. Across the Margaret River and down into the Karri country, past Hamelin Bay and onwards to Augusta. It is heralded as one of the iconic experiences to have in Western Australia.
It began as a network of sand and gravel tracks taking visitors to the spectacular caves so numerous along the Ridge. Now the beauty of the road is under threat by virtue of its appeal. Traffic, tree lined bends and speed make a dangerous mix. But widening and straightening is not the only way to improve safety on Caves Road. By recognizing the heritage value of the journey, drivers can be encouraged to slow down. Respect, reminders, and rumblestrips.
By the turn of the twentieth century the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge was already a touring sensation. People came from across the world to visit the spectacular caves being discovered in a far flung corner of Western Australia. John Bussell was the first to advertise a cave and accommodation package, at Wallcliffe in 1891. For the first few years, visitors came down the old road through Yelverton and Ellensbrook, to stay at Wallcliffe House, or at Frances Brockman’s farm at Burnside. They marvelled at the trees along the rough sandy track, and the journey became a wonder in itself.
“…..The Karri trees are worth riding 50 miles to see ; they rise straight and graceful as a palm for 100ft and sometimes 150ft without a branch. In the summer they have a blueish grey colour, but during the winter a salmon relief of shell gives a pretty aspect to the Queen of trees…..” a traveller 1885
But others were eyeing the giant trees with a different view in mind. In 1882 M. C. Davies obtained a timber license, opened Hamelin Bay as a harbour, and began to export timber out of the region. The new enterprise demanded a new road. The “Karridale Road,” now Bussell Highway, was pushed through in a direct line south from Busselton. The newer, faster route to the rapidly falling trees.
The region opened up. The karris growing on the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge have their roots stretched deep into the limestone, and loggers discovered more caves. People began to flock to the Ridge, attracted by work at the timber mills, but also by wildly poetic tales of the ‘crystal palaces’ and ‘fairy wonderlands’ hidden below the trees. They shunned the slow coast road past the lodgings at Wallcliffe and Burnside, to cross instead at the new bridge, into the new town of Margaret River.
The Meteoric Shower, Calgardup Cave
Frances Brockman lobbied the West Australian Government to maintain the old coast road. She also pushed for official promotion and protection of the caves. In 1900 a Caves Board was formed at the instigation of surveyor Erskine May. He advised the development of the caves as a government tourism venture, and made the first official (call) to build a better road. He proposed to consolidate the tracks from Busselton to Yallingup Cave, and to open a new road south along the coast to Margaret River.
Yallingup Cave, now known as Ngilgi, opened in 1900. The Caves Board promoted a package deal complete with rail transport and accommodation at the purpose built Caves House. Early visitors made a daytrip from Busselton, navigating a series of confusing sandy tracks to Yallingup. Many made a wrong turn, and arrived at Cape Naturaliste. Travellers were advised to wear pale clothes, as they would be coated with white dust from the limestone road, and would all arrive the same colour. Despite the inconvenience, the journey was memorable:
“….You might reflect for a moment on the days not so long ago, when four good horses would have galloped you there in a cloud of dust and happiness…” D’arcy-Evans 1946
In 1901 the Caves Board also opened Lake Cave, said to be the most beautiful of all. The extension south to Margaret River became the new craze, and the time had come to invest in major roadworks. Erskine May brought road engineer George Farrar along to tour the caves. Keen for an opportunity to promote Western Australia, they officially approved the making of the “Lake Cave Road” in 1902.
May and Farrar devised a route that was to leave Caves House and head south within one to two miles of the coast. It was to cross the old bridge, past Wallcliffe and Burnside, and onwards to Calgardup, Mammoth, and Lake Caves. Clearing and grubbing works began in 1903, but the making of the new road turned out to be a long process. In 1907 the Caves Board reported that the Lake Cave Road “was partly made, partly a good natural road, and partly sand.”
Image courtesy of the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association
The success of the “caves run” meant that in 1908 coach operator Percy Bignell imported the first motor car south of Perth. A ‘Starcar’, it was shipped from London and came complete with spare tyres and a driver. The era of motors had arrived, and by 1914 the road was said to be macadamised all the way to Lake Cave. But as one early travel blogger wrote, the journey south was still an adventure two years later:
“…..On the whole, the road is good, although it degenerates towards the end of the journey into nothing more than a bushtrack, just wide enough for the car to squeeze through. In places many of the trees have been ringbarked, and others have measured their length on mother earth as a result of winter storms, the huge fallen monarchy adding a touch of the capricious to the sylvan scene. As we fly along the track we are continually ducking and dodging the foliage of the undergrowth…..” Westward Ho! 1916
In the years following the first world war, the West Australian government devised the group settlement scheme to attract people to the region. The caves were used in promotional material. Visits by dignitaries and the odd aristocrat ensured the continued upgrading of the road. Meanwhile the Augusta Roads Board was working its own way north, past Moondyne Cave and onwards from Karridale. In 1921 Dave Gibb drove his ‘Super 6 Hudson’ north to Golgotha Cave, and the route from Yallingup to Augusta was complete.
In 1911 diversions were planned from the Lake Cave Road into Wilyabrup, Cowaramup Bay, Joey’s nose, Gnarabup, Calgardup, and Freycinet. With easier access, the Ridge became the playground and fishery for hard working group settlers, deprived of material success, but endowed with a magical coastline. The Lake Cave Road became an artery for exploration of the coast; not just of the caves but the waves as well.
“Surfing” was mentioned as early as 1934, in an article on the wonders of Redgate Beach. During the 1950s cars became more readily available, and the way opened for the surfing expeditions of the 1960s. The days when everyone camped wherever they fancied, got bogged overnight on the sandy tracks, lit fires, and lived the wild life.
Now, visitors are drawn in huge numbers to the scenic beauty of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, and Caves Road has become an icon of regional identity. Locals are fiercely protective. The tree lined road has wound its way into the regions heart. ‘Caves’ is not just a pretty road: for those who live here it is a way of life. Connecting all the small places, in a long and winding way.
But the 21st century is demanding a different type of path, and the road network has morphed into super highways. Once, not so long ago, the drive ‘Down South’ passed through Fremantle and Mandurah, along the Old Coast Road to Bunbury; through the signal tuart forest at Wonnerup, and into the sleepiness of Busselton. Now all the small places have been bypassed, and lost along the way. The roadside vistas have changed. The adventure of the drive is no longer along tree lined avenues, but through super-roundabouts circled by lights and chainstore takeaways. Shunting down on wide, straight roads, to drive along and marvel at the old winding way.
The tree lined bends of Caves Road are now seen as a traffic hazard, and more needs to be done to make the road safer. Locals believe the Caves Road speed limit should be dropped. Main Roads disagree: their road safety policy favours widening and straightening rather than changing the behaviour of motorists. They have a long track record of impacting on environmental and cultural values, and destroying our sense of place. How to balance these opposing views and ensure the safety of Caves Road, without compromising on character?
Make Caves a heritage road. There are regional precedents. Singapore and Shanghai both have listed roads. In Australia, Great Ocean Road is on the National Heritage Register. Caves Road is loaded with environmental and social values: it traverses the nationally significant karst landscape of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge; it played a major role in the development of the region, and is now enjoyed by thousands of interstate and international visitors every year.
Heritage protection demands planners consider sense of place, custodianship, and sustainability for the future. Main Roads can draw up a management plan, with the community consultation promised in their heritage policy statement. Heritage status may also have more impact on driver behaviour than simply telling them to drive slower. Encourage people to enjoy the journey as a wonder in itself, not just as a headlong rush towards a destination.
People love the wild spaces, the old world feel of a winding tree lined vista. Natural beauty is what they come for, what they’ve always come for. To escape the rush and the lights, the kerbs and the concrete. To journey at the slower pace of the old days, with time to wonder at the light bouncing off the silver trunks of the giant trees, and time to avoid the roadside kangaroos.
Make Caves a heritage road. Enhance, rather than ruin the attraction.
In 2018, as a result of positive response to this article, I nominated Caves Road for heritage listing. The Heritage Council of Western Australia have collected a huge amount of documentation and will be releasing the listing to stakeholders later in 2020.
Article and contemporary images by Jinni Wilson
At 85 metres high, the Stewart Karri is Western Australia’s tallest known tree, and one of the twenty tallest in the world. Hidden away in a remote valley near Manjimup, it is now under threat from a water harvesting proposal.
The Stewart Tree was first named and measured in the 1940s during a search for tall Karris to turn into fire lookout towers. Other giants, like the Gloucester and the Dave Evans trees, eventually had spikes driven in and platforms built on top. But the Stewart remained pristine, left to grow in peace in a deep valley along Record Brook.
Karri forest is endemic to the wet south-west corner of Western Australia. Before logging in the 19th century, individual trees were known to grow over 90 metres high, making them one of the tallest tree species in the world. In a bizarre twist, the tallest tree in Europe is a Karri. The ‘Karri Knight’ was planted in Portugal in the 1890s, and measures in at 73 metres. Its fame means that the species is surprisingly well known outside of Australia. People come from across the globe to see them, marveling at their giant, ghostly white trunks gleaming amidst a cloak of green.
Very little old-growth Karri remains. Most of the natural forest has been logged and the remnant is becoming increasing stressed by declining rainfall. Karris require a vast amount of water, and only grow in the high rainfall zone along the south coast. But Australia has been a drying continent for millions of years, a long term trend now exacerbated by climate change and ironically, the over-clearing of forests.
The Stewart Tree grows in a valley on a tributary of the Donnelly River, one of the last wild rivers in southern Australia. While most other rivers have been dammed, the Donnelly has miraculously maintained its integrity. Until now.
Under the proposed Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme a 15GL dam would be built just downstream from the Stewart Tree. Close to 80 hectares of old-growth karri forest would be cleared for the dam footprint, and billions of litres of water pumped out of the Donnelly River system to fill it. Much of it would be used to water avocados, a notoriously water-hungry fruit. Instead of using commonsense to farm sustainably within the limitations of the water supply, a small select group seek to harvest water which belongs to nature. Water that the Karri giants depend on.
In Europe and the United States the over-exploitation of water resources has devastated whole ecologies. Now Governments are moving to rewild the rivers: dams are being removed, straightened banks ‘rebended,’ and ecologies restored.
We have already seen the damage that water harvesting has done on the East Coast of Australia, with the drying of the Murray-Darling system. While folks there work to reverse the damage and hold politicians to account, here in Western Australia we are planning to repeat the same mistakes all over again.
We are lucky to still have a few healthy rivers in the South-West. A very small number of them, like the Donnelly, are almost pristine. With their catchments maintained, wild and intact, they support our precious native forests. Not only are the forests valuable ecosystems in their own right, they support some of the largest trees in the world. The Stewart Tree and its whole forest ecosystem is surely a natural wonder of global significance. Far more precious than a harvest of avocados.
Take the water from a Karri forest and we will lose it forever. There is still time to prevent such a tragedy: just don’t dam the Donnelly!
The Stewart Tree dwarfing a visitor!
Drone footage shared from the Save Our Donnelly River website
Text and images by Jinni Wilson
Lake Ballard glimmers pinkly at the sky. For most of the year, the surface of the lake is not water, but salt. It’s just one of a series of relict water features dating back to the Cretaceous, when Australia was part of Gondwana. The drainage ran south-east through Lake Marmion and Lake Rebecca, and then towards the Eucla Basin, once an inland sea. Now, after millions of years of declining rainfall, the water evaporates before it runs away, leaving behind the salts from aeons upon aeons of rain.
The lake is Wongatha country, and part of the Seven Sisters dreaming. This ancient tale has epic implications, being told across a large swathe of Australia. The seven young women escape unwanted male attention by launching themselves up into the sky to join the stars.
Now the lake is peopled with the art of another culture. In 2003 British artist Anthony Gormley created a stunning installation by scattering statues across the lake. At the core of the artscape is a small conical outcrop, the eldest of the Seven Sisters in local lore.
Rather than being an imposition on the landscape, the sculptures seem to enhance our awareness of the sanctity of cultural space. This was just Gormley’s intention:
“… they stand still and isolated in a remote and silent place; they have links, in the mind’s eye, with peoples and places hundreds of miles and thousands of years away. But between them, Aboriginal and European together – they stand on many kinds of land, in all kinds of history, with various and rival stories. As you look at them and imagine their voices, perhaps you will hear both conflict and reconciliation”
I was lucky. There just happened to be a conjunction of the full Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn on the night I camped at Lake Ballard. The brightness of the stars was dimmed by the lunar light, but the three planets beaming out from Capricorn more than made up for that. The night exalted itself with light, and the sense of my own small, human experience grew to fit the amphitheatre of time and space. While standing on the lake with all that salt gleaming back at the sky, it didn’t feel like such an impossibility to fly up and join the stars.
But I couldn’t help feel saddened by the jarring note of visitor impact. There’s undeniable wear and tear on the fabric of the hill from so many admirers climbing to the summit. Some even tear away her cloak of rocks to graffiti their names upon the salty surface of the lake’s skin.
Prior to the creation of the statues, Paddy Walker, a senior custodian, met with Gormley. He shared the story of the Seven Sisters in his own Ngulutjara language and gave his permission for the sculptures to be placed on the lake, but made this request:
‘… everything had to be the same when it was all over as it is now. Nothing can be changed or damaged.’
Walker and Gormley have both invited us in to share the spiritualising experience of Lake Ballard: please tread lightly upon its beautiful starscape dreamings.
“Stillness and silence. And what we have to do is make stillness and silence count. Make a body that in a way is like death; willingly go to the place of death and inertia, and then be released into the other side. That’s what I’m interested in.” …..Anthony Gormley
Quotes from Hugh Brody’s 2005 article ‘Inside Lake Ballard.’ Available on Gormleys website.
Thanks for visiting !
Article and images by Jinni Wilson
Iron ore, diamonds, gold? Western Australia’s most precious resource is water.
For millions of years Australia has been drying out. A quick look at a satellite map and you can see the ancient dried watercourses where the rainbow serpents of old have tracked across the landscape, leaving mineral patterns like paintings. Salt lake chains, remnants of rivers that long ago flowed towards an inland sea. And the young rivers of the south that come to life with the winter rains. The endless expanse of the Indian Ocean, lapping continental shores and cycling water by the power of the sun.
Water is a lens for light: reflecting, shifting, and pattern making.
A photo essay on the limestone at the mouth of the Margaret River.
The Margaret River empties into a sandy bay sheltered from the north by a limestone Cape. It is a complex liminal space, where fresh and salt water, land and sea meet. The delicate sculptures along the shoreline are easy to overlook. Margaret River has a spectacular coastline, and it’s easy to miss the small-scale beauty in the landscape in favour of those famous grand ocean vistas.
The present Rivermouth was not always the shore. The sea has been at its current level for around 8000 years, creating an illusion of stability. The sea has encroached and receded from the land multiple times within human experience. At the height of the last ice age around 17 000 years ago the sea was 30 to 40 kilometres further west of its current position. There have been many Rivermouths over time, all of them drowned by the waves.
The physical process is still occurring on a smaller scale. It can be seen in action at Cape Mentelle, the limestone headland that runs north from Rivermouth beach. The heavy waves rolling in off the Indian Ocean concentrate their weathering in the intertidal zone, undercutting the limestone and causing sections to collapse. The reefs surrounding the Cape are wave-cut platforms, remnants of the western side of the headland already devoured by the sea.
Now there is a new force impacting on the stability of the limestone. Since Europeans arrived in the 19th century, human pressure on the fragile coast has risen astronomically.
In the 1860s cattle were introduced to the dune system, and the sand began shifting. In the 1920s marram grass was imported and planted to stop the dunes encroaching on the river. A new dune grew, anchored by the marram grass, and changed the course of the river.
The cattle have long gone, but there are new impacts on the fragile ecosystem. In the early days of private vehicles, locals drove all over the coastline, causing huge sand ‘blowouts.’ During the 1980s and 1990s, many of these were repaired, and public education about staying off the dunes had some effect. More recently, with so many people unfamiliar with the ways of the coastline, this early restoration work is being reversed.
Since the 1980s the population of the Augusta-Margaret River Shire has tripled. Add to this thousands of visitors drawn to the area every week (pre Covid 19), and the visible impact on the coast has increased dramatically. Vegetation is trampled and dunes eroded by people who have no conception of the long term impact they are having.
The limestone cliffs at Cape Mentelle are particularly fragile. Weathering has sculpted beautiful shapes, but it only takes one footfall for them to crumble away. People are fascinated by the sheltered coves, and scramble down the sculpted cliffs to access the shore, as there are no paths down the steep inclines.
The Tamala limestone of Western Australia is ‘aeolian’, or made in the air, rather than under water. It is soft, fragile and crumbling. The limestone is unstable and can be dangerous. The edges at Cape Mentelle are undercut, and many people seem unaware of this and walk right to the edge. Some ledges near the Cape to Cape Track, where it heads south to the Rivermouth, have cracks in them. It is only a matter of time before they collapse and tumble 50 metres down to the sea.
There have been coastal tragedies before. In 1996 a cave collapsed on a group of people on the beach at Gracetown. Finding ways for people to safely enjoy the landscape while protecting its fragility is not easy. Putting up signs and barriers would impact on the wild aesthetic of the place, but may be necessary for safety and to maintain the long-term integrity of the fragile National Park.
Tread lightly, look closely, and enjoy the view!
Traditional custodians have been leading some of the restoration works along the coast. They can be contacted through the Undalup Association.
Nature Conservation Margaret River co-ordinates some of the coastcare around the Margaret River
The Friends of the Cape to Cape Track co-ordinate some coastal monitoring and coastcare activities
The Augusta Margaret River Shire oversees ongoing geological risk assessment and management along some areas of the coast
Article and images by Jinni Wilson
Images are uploaded at low resolution and are not intended for reuse, although high resolution copies may be available for purchase.
Earth Sea Star seeks to explore the aesthetic values of the rocks of Western Australia, by means of geology, storytelling, and art.
Earth solidified from a ball of gas around 4.54 billion years ago, and Western Australia is one of the few places on the planet where fragments of the Archaean Earth have survived. The landscape is unimaginably old and has undergone spectacular transformations across billions of years. The surface we walk today is just a flicker in the unraveling of time and space.
A grain of zircon crystal from the Jack Hills in the Murchison district is the oldest known fragment of Earth’s crust, formed a whopping 4.4 billion years ago. And scientists now suspect that rocks underlying the nearby Pilbara region are 4.3 billion years old, 800 million years older than previously thought. The Pilbara also lays claim to the oldest evidence of life on land, with micro bacteria preserved in chert from hot-springs that flowed 3.48 billion years ago.
Margaret River, where I live in the far south-west, seems young in comparison. The oldest granite of the Leeuwin Complex is just one billion years old. It is found in a narrow band of granite-gneiss that runs along the coast between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste. The granites were created by multiple magma events between 1000 and 520 million years ago, when the continents of east Antarctica, and then India, collided with Australia. When India drifted away again over 100 million years ago, the Leeuwin complex was torn away from the edge of the continent.
The Margaret River granites have been weathering away for aeons. Mixed in with shell fragments in sand on the beaches are grains of hornblende, quartz, zircon, garnet, mica, feldspar and ilmenite, all worn from veins in the rock. Then, only one million years ago, the ancient outcrops were capped with a much younger stone. A cycle of ice ages had begun, when prevailing winds from across the Indian Ocean blew carbonate sand into lines of sand dunes. These were then cemented by rain into the soft Tamala limestone so characteristic of the south coast of Western Australia.
The fragile limestone is weathered into fantastic shapes. There are caves deep within the earth, dripping with calcite formations. Outcrops along the coast preserve the shapes of plant roots that first stabilised the dunes thousands of years ago. And then there is surface weathering, where the softer pockets of stone are washed away, leaving strange and beautiful stone sculptures.
Tamala limestone also preserves the climate history of the last million years, as the great Pleistocene ice ages peaked and retreated. It is still forming today, a process which can be witnessed amongst the coastal sand dunes that fringe the sea. The limestone mirrors the time frame of human emergence, and projects forward, into the Anthropocene.
Rocks are the shifting skin of the Earth, and allow us an insight into our own place in the world. Exploring stone with word, image, and art puts humanity into context with eternity.
Look closely at shapes in the granite, and you might see how it flowed as a liquid. Watch as grains of crystal washed from veins in the rock draw patterns in the sand with each passing wave. Approach a water-carved boulder from just the right angle, and you might see a face in it. Or pause by a limestone cliff, and listen for the sound of soft stone resounding with the song of the sea. Rocks have many tales to tell, and their weatherings give rise to the story of all life in the landscape.
The sculpted Earth
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Bachelor of Science (hons) in Anthropology, University of Western Australia
The ocean is what makes our planet truly unique. Nowhere else in the solar system is there an ocean of liquid water on the surface. It is the most shifting, changeable place on Earth, but it’s also one of the oldest. The sea was here before life began, and will be long after we’ve gone.
Scientists believe the ocean was formed around 4 billion years ago, and as a surface feature is older than all the surviving continents. The water was born from rocks deep within the earth, and ejected as steam from volcanoes soon after the Earth condensed from its whirling cloud of rock and gas. Some of the water may have been extraterrestrial, arriving as ice with the comets and asteroids.
The oceans have been shifting and shaping the land ever since. New ocean floor formation is one of the main forces behind continental drift: molten rock upwells at the mid-ocean ridges, creating new ocean crust and spreading outwards. Meanwhile, older crust is subducted under continental plates. Despite being 4 billion years old, there are few parts of the ocean floor older than 220 million years.
Margaret River, famous for its massive and spectacular waves, is right on the dynamic junction between the Indian and Southern Oceans. Both are far younger than the land which they lap. For aeons, the south-west of Australia was landlocked near the edge of Gondwana. The coastal granites are a remnant of the time when we were joined to India, facing the ancient Tethys Sea. When Gondwana began to break up, India detached from Africa and drifted north. The Indian Ocean grew in its wake, by means of an ocean ridge spreading and pushing the land mass northward. Eventually India collided with the south of Asia, closing the Tethys Sea.
Then, millions of years later, a new ocean ridge formed between Australia and Antarctica, opening a rift valley between them. The newly formed Indian Ocean surged into the void, making a long and narrow inlet. By 45 million years ago, the two land masses were joined only by a ‘hinge’ between Tasmania and Antarctica. When this was finally breached, Australia began to drift north, and the Southern Ocean was born.
Soon after, South America also drifted north and Antarctica became an island at the south pole, surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The circumpolar current was born, whipping itself up into a wild, wind-driven frenzy and chasing its own tail around the pole. It carries 145 million cubic metres of water from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean every second. The circumpolar current has a major impact on global climate, and you can read all about it in this excellent article from the Australian Antarctic Magazine.
The two oceans off the south-west coast of Australia create an interplay between the tropical north, and the polar south. In summer, the Western Australian current brings cold water north from Antarctica, while the sub-tropical high pressure systems move south and keep the cold fronts of the Southern Ocean at bay. In winter, the Leeuwin current brings warm water down along the coast from the sub-tropics, while the cold fronts venture further north, bringing their gales, rain, and stormy seas to the the edge of the continent. The sea generates our rivers, our rain, our freshwater: the whole of the water cycle depends on it.
The waves that clip the edge of Australia’s south-west are generated by the strongest winds in the world. These waves have a fetch of thousands of kilometres of uninhibited ocean. Their force shapes the coast of Western Australia, carving into it with an infinity of ephemeral force.
The sea has very deep significance for all cultures that have lived or moved by its shores. The sea brings things on its wind and currents, and takes them away. Marine life, driftwood, seaweed, ships. The sea brings infinite inspiration. A symbol of emotional life and the subconscious: those parts of ourselves that shape us, but we can never fully fathom.
Even today, scientists have mapped the Moon in more detail than they have the ocean floor. The great abysses remain one of the mysteries of the Universe. Perhaps that’s why we are so drawn to the sea, into the infinite blue to deepen our experience of self.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
A visual exploration of wildlife in the Ngari Capes Marine Park. An ongoing project, which has only just begun!
The Kilcarnup fish sanctuary zone
Along the coastlines at Margaret River there is diversity of marine wildlife. The region between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste is on the junction of the Indian and the Southern Oceans. Although classed as a temperate wildlife zone, the two oceans have complex interactions. Whales pass on their migrations between the polar Antarctic and the tropical north; herring and salmon spend different parts of their life cycle in different oceans, and the Leeuwin Current brings sub-tropical creatures on accidental journeys south in the winter.
The Margaret River marine habitats are part of the Great Southern Reef, which stretches from Kalbarri in Western Australia, right around the south coast and up into New South Wales. The Reef was only named in 2017, in an effort to recognise what is one of the worlds great marine ecosystems.
In 2019, the long awaited Ngari Capes Marine Park was established to protect the marine environment, while providing for the wide range of recreational activities the region hosts. The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park runs alongside the Marine Park, and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Perhaps, these images may encourage people into exploring our coastline in peaceful co-existence with the creatures of the sea.
” … four young oysters hurried up,
all eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat-
and this was odd you know,
because they hadn’t any feet.”Lewis Carroll, from the Walrus and the Carpenter
All images by Jinni Wilson. Published at a low resolution. Please don’t reuse or copy without permission.
Earth Sea Star, forever chasing the light
The Sun’s position in the Milky Way. Artists impression by J Hurt, public domain
Earth’s star glows in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. Within a long human lifetime of 81 light years, there are 2600 known stars, with up to another 5000 still unknown.
The Sun is the reason for everything. It provides all light, all power, all direction.
As a photographer, I have switched from looking for subjects in the landscape into chasing the light. Sun sparkle on water, rainbows in a seashell, cloud shadows on the sea. I look for the way a tree beams back at the Sun, or a breaking wave turns translucent with the oblique angle of sunset.
Earth Sea Star is my dreamscape of Western Australia.
I think of myself as a writer reading country. I’m always out walking, looking for inspiration in the wild world. I’m lucky to live in a region with a remote and spectacular coastline, and some of the tallest forests on Earth. I love to immerse in the landscape; in the ocean, the forest, and rocks. All have a story to tell if we are open to listening. Feeling it out, learning its ways, and sharing its stories.
I live in a little house on the edge of the forest in Margaret River.
I have a Bachelor of Science (hons) in Anthropology from the University of Western Australia (1995). Currently transitioning from a business in heritage-based tourism into freelance writing, and working on a Writers and Publishers degree at Curtin University.
In October 2020 I’m planning to walk the Augusta to Busselton Heritage Trail, as a gesture of respect for Wadandi-Pibelmun people and their connection with country.
The far south-west of Western Australia is a remote and wild corner of the continent, well forested and bounded on two sides by the sea. Traditional owners have lived here for over 48 000 years, building up a sophisticated cultural relationship with the landscape.
But then, just a few centuries ago, everything changed. Tall ships began to appear along the coast, and before long newcomers moved in and took possession of the land. After 190 years, immigrant cultures are seeking ways to establish a better relationship with traditional custodians and with country.
Walking is one of the best ways to do this. Moving oneself along within the landscape invites reflection and communion with place. There are ancient traditions of this in Europe: pilgrim routes, and cultural threads about people seeking inspiration from landscape. The poet William Wordsworth is said to have walked 175 000 miles in his lifetime, composing poetry to the rhythm of walking country. This tradition continues in Australia, with walking a natural way to build connections with people, culture, and landscape.
In 2017 a group of scientists, artists, and elders gathered for a walk through the World Heritage area at Lake Mungo in NSW. Vera Hong made a short video called the “Willandra wisdom walk.” I love the gentle and receptive connotations of the word wisdom. I feel it fits well with the goals of my own journey, and I hope that others will be inspired to join me.
In the south of Western Australia there are a few well known long-distance walking trails. The Bibbulmun Track crosses the south west from Perth to Albany. The well travelled Cape to Cape Track follows the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge between Yallingup and Augusta. But there is another journey in the Margaret River region, neglected and almost forgotten.
The Augusta to Busselton Heritage Trail was created for the bicentenary of Australian colonisation in 1988. It begins at the historic townsite of Augusta, then travels north through an ancient landscape of jarrah forest interspersed with sandy plains, swamps, and streams, to emerge at Busselton and the shores of Geographe Bay.
(Map sourced from ‘The Augusta-Busselton Heritage Trail: retracing the Pioneer Route from Augusta to the Vasse’ published by the Heritage Council of WA.)
However, the trail is rarely walked and has fallen into disrepair. Signage is small and difficult to find, sections are growing over, and no-one takes responsibility for it. Perhaps this has come about due to unresolved issues with the colonial history the Trail celebrates. It follows in the footsteps of European pioneers, who used the route to move between the first colonial townsites in the region.
But it has a far older heritage. For many thousands of years there has been a network of such trails across the south-west. Ancient trackways along which the Wadandi-Pibelmun people trade, move in annual cycles looking after country, visit relatives, and maintain social connections.
In 1829, Western Australia was annexed by the British Government and became the Swan River Colony. Governor James Stirling was keen to establish regional communities, and encouraged settlers to take up land at Augusta. Nestled in the lee of Cape Leeuwin, at the far south west of the continent, the site was one of the first Australian shores to be visited by European traders and explorers.
Despite the seemingly ideal situation, heavy timber cover and isolation made it difficult for colonists to flourish. Some began to look elsewhere for more productive lands that were easier to farm. In 1831 four men made an exploratory journey north from Augusta. Travelling on foot, they spent a week on the return journey to Vasse. John Bussell, the highly literate son of a clergyman, wrote a report on the rich grasslands and plentiful water they encountered upon the way. This is the first recorded encounter of Europeans with the Margaret River. He writes with an intimate eye for the landscape; noting characteristics of soil, stone, water, and vegetation, with detail most of us now would miss.
As a result of this exploration, some of the Augusta families moved to Vasse, and the trail became the land route between the two settlements. However, the grasslands at Vasse were already owned and occupied, being the result of thousands of years of ‘firestick farming’ by the Wadandi-Pibelmun. Colonists saw the land as theirs for the taking. Violence and conflict soon erupted, culminating in the Wonnerup Massacre of 1841.
The invaders were refugees from a cruel and material world, clinging to their beasts and bags of flour as if their very lives depended on it. Twenty first century methods of dealing with such situations would draw on legal and diplomatic methods rather than violence.
The courage, initiative, and resourcefulness of the pioneers is now overshadowed by their role as colonial invaders. As individuals, they were doing what was expected of them as products of the colonial ideology. The new immigrants had roots stretching far back into Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic lands. Colonialism has its origins in Viking-like cultures of warfare, invasion and raiding. Much violence was fuelled by land hungry economies, always on the hunt for new places to raise cattle and source timber. Colonials were people of their time: who knows with what horror our own resource-guzzling generations will be viewed in the future.
In contrast, Aboriginal cultures of the time were non-materialist and highly sophisticated, with complex ritual and spiritual connections with the landscape. There was an indelible custodianship ethic whereby people belonged to country rather than just the other way around. Annexing someones else’s land was unthinkable.
Since the Bicentennial celebrations in 1988, inter-cultural politics have shifted us away from one-sided representations of Australian colonial history. We are re-evaluating how we tell those histories. People are keen for indigenous voices to be heard, and restitution to be made.
The Augusta to Busselton Trail is an opportunity to foster an ongoing dialogue with the Wadandi-Pibelmun people about the telling of colonial history and relationships with country. Perhaps the trail could be revived and reinstated with a new name. One which recognises both colonial and Aboriginal heritage, and the country that it traverses.
The trail offers deep experience of a unique landscape. It runs north across the Blackwood River Valley; across the upper Margaret River catchment, and then over the Whicher Scarp. It traverses the Blackwood Plateau, an ancient basin filled with sedimentary deposits which have been accumulating since Gondwana began breaking up over 100 million years ago. Leeched, nutrient poor soils have resulted in an explosion of adaptations, making the region one of the worlds biodiversity hotspots. The number of plant species is phenomenal, making the walk a fantastic wildflower experience during winter and spring.
Walking the inland Trail is a powerful way to connect with country. It holds a different character to the sparkle, glitz, and vistas of the coastal Cape to Cape Track. Less glamorous, it holds instead a deep resonance with the heart of the landscape. Inland, we travel the deep wild forests, where the beauty is in the detail. Being immersed in a close-view of thick scrub and forest invites us to be self-reflective and look within. What are our own origins, where are we going, and what are we doing?
By walking this trail I want to listen to the voices of country: the tales it has to tell, and not just those we impose upon it. Part of this process will involve rethinking the way we relate to landscape, not as a resource to be exploited but as a future to nurture.
Walking is a dialogue with wild space, with country but also within ourselves. What might we discover, and who might we encounter along the way?
Wisdom Walk 2020 Itinerary
Wednesday 7th Oct to Sunday 11th Oct. I will be camping four nights along the way. People are welcome to join in for the whole walk, a section, or even just a cup of tea around the campfire. If you’d like more information, or to register for part or all of the walk send me a message! Or you can follow the facebook event page.
There are three campgrounds along the trail: Alexandra Bridge, Chapmans Pool, and Canebrake. You can read about some of their history in my web article The Wild Campsites
On the first images of Lake Cave, Margaret River
In November 1900 three men descended into a crater in the far south-west of Western Australia. Abseiling down into a sunken forest and scrambling over rubble, they found the entrance to a stream cave draped with exquisite crystal formations. One of the men was budding explorer and photographer Charles Price Conigrave, and the images he took are the first ever taken in Lake Cave.
The suspended table by Charles Conigrave 22 Nov, 1900. Reproduced from a print copy of The Windsor Magazine, date unknown
The cave is a short drive south of Margaret River, in the land of the Wadandi people. Their ancestors were sheltering in nearby caves many thousands of years ago, far back in the heights of the last ice age. Caves are of great spiritual significance to the Wadandi, and they could tell their own histories of the crater sunk deep into the forest floor.
The cave is formed by a stream buried by the young, windblown limestone of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge. The stream may have been flowing here for millions of years before it was buried by sand: it begins on the Nindup Plains to the east, and flows out to the Indian Ocean in the west. At some time in the ancient past a cavern collapsed, leaving behind a giant crater, or doline.
The doline first appears in recorded history in 1867. Colonial girl Francis Bussell almost rode her horse over the edge while out chasing wild cattle. Remote and obscured by forest, the giant crater remained hidden for decades and many doubted her account. In the 1870s many other caves had already been explored and were being shown to visitors. By the 1880s locals were demanding that the caves be protected from vandalism. Frances Bussell (by then Frances Brockman) was particularly vocal in her appeals to the state government.
Frances Brockman (nee Bussell)
With the discovery of the Yallingup Caves in 1900, action was finally taken. A Caves Board was created, and Irishman Tim Connelly appointed as caretaker in Margaret River. Local surveyor Marmaduke Terry was employed to fully document the caves of the Ridge, and in September he located the Lake Cave doline. He sent a message to Frances informing her that her legendary, giant crater had been found.
Two months later, museum zoologist Charles Conigrave visited the area. He was only 18, but came well equipped with scientific curiosity and a box camera. Tim Connelly invited him on the first exploration of the doline, and along with William Nelson, they entered the cave on the 22nd of November. Conigrave wrote a detailed report on the expedition. He describes how they entered the cave:
“… When we arrived, the rope ladder was at once brought into requisition, to enable a descent to be made, as this was the only means of reaching the bottom. The 50 foot sections being joined, one end was securely fastened to a branch of one of the trees mentioned above, and the descent of the cliff was undertaken. This was, by no means, an easy task, and was one of the adventures of the expedition, as the swaying of the ladder, when the weight of the body and the necessary photographic and other paraphernalia came upon it, was such as to try the nerves…..”
They negotiated steep, loose and crumbling edges before locating the cave entrance, 50 metres down into the doline. They manoeuvred themselves and the bulky camera equipment down a steep and rocky tunnel, and into the flow of an underground stream. The cave they found there was astonishingly beautiful:
“… On lighting the magnesium ribbon, the view revealed was one that baffles description, the only simile occurring to one, being that of a subterranean Polar sea. The lake was surrounded by crystalline ledges and galleries, from which rose many stalagmites, whilst from the ceiling above depended numberless stalactites of all shapes and sizes, some as light and delicate as an icicle, and others as large and massive as the column of a building. The effect of the brilliant light upon these snowy white formations, as it scintiilated from point to point was magical and surprising …”
Charles Conigrave 22 Nov 1900. From a print copy of The Windsor Magazine, date unknown.
Conigrave relates that they took five photographs. “Of course these views, of which I may say I am justly proud, being the first ever taken of this cave, were secured under great difficulties.”
Even with electric lighting, cave photography is still challenging today. The process in 1900 must have been time consuming, with at least one person required to light and hold the magnesium flares while another worked the camera. The ribbon flares could be hazardous, emitting bright light, heat, toxic fumes and ash. The angle of the photographs indicates that Conigrave probably used a tripod, as the cave floor is mostly water. Handheld images would have been blurred by long exposure.
Tim Connelly was so taken with the beauty of the cave that he recommended it be opened to the public. By the end of 1901 stairs and a walkway had been built, and he was guiding visitors into the new ‘cave wonderland’.
From the Western Mail Feb 09, 1901. Sadly the images printed here are too poor quality for reproduction
Conigrave returned to his work at the West Australian Museum. In February 1901 his images of Lake Cave were published in the newspapers, and over the next five years he gave a series of magic lantern slideshows. These were the favoured photographic entertainment before the arrival of cinema. It is hard for us, with our pocket cinemas, to imagine the wonder audiences must have felt, gathering together in muted light to witness the ‘magic’ of illuminated images appearing on a screen.
Magic Lanterns were an early form of projector. The idea had been around for centuries, but really took off with the invention of photography. Conigrave prepared his own glass slides from his images. The negative was clamped or fixed to a glass plate, before being fitted into a slot between a light source and a magnifying lens. This video from the Victoria and Albert Museum shows a lantern in action:
Conigrave, by engaging audiences with photos of exotic places and his magic lantern, became famous as an explorer. In 1911 he secured a grant from the WA Museum to make an expedition to the Kimberly. Conigrave’s intentions were scientific, but early 20th century Western Australia was a colonial society, and funding was provided in the understanding that his report would further the settlement of the North. It must be acknowledged that exploration was a process in the dispossession of indigenous people, with an outcome still being played out today.
Conigrave, low down and second from the left
Conigrave returned from the Kimberleys with a series of photographs. He bought back the first European images of indigenous rock art, and gave lantern slide lectures on the landscape and people of the North. In later years he gave shows about the Abrolhos Islands; the Northern Territory, Papua New Guinea, the Stirling Ranges, and the Porongarups. His wife, Violet Pearce, was also a photographer and she sometimes accompanied lectures with musical performances on the pianoforte. In 1932 Conigrave drove around Australia in a Pontiac, documenting all the way. His images can be viewed here
Despite his stardom at the time, Conigrave has been almost forgotten. He wrote mostly for newspaper audiences, rather than for the more enduring mediums of journals and books. His original slides are untraceable, and most contemporary reproductions are very poor quality due to print mediums of the time. But his lantern slideshows played a major role in attracting interest and funding for the visitation and protection of the Margaret River caves. In 1905 museum director Bernard Woodward reported that:
“Mr. Conigrave has done more than anyone else in popularising the caves, not only as an explorer, but also as a lecturer, as he has already given more than twenty lectures on the caves.”
Conigrave was a pioneer with his use of real-time social image sharing to educate and inspire audiences. The exploration of Lake Cave and its promotion by magic lantern highlights the power of travel photography, still so resonant today. Our modern insta-galleries are a natural progression from early technology, and are still inspiring us to explore and experience exotic places.
article by Jinni Wilson
The forest of the giant tingles is a jumble of shifting shadows and passing light. They stand tall, cloaked in undergrowth, huge boles and shallow roots grounding them into the ancient granite soils of southern Western Australia.
Tingles grow only in a tiny area of forest around Walpole, a small town on an inlet to the southern ocean. The Walpole-Nornalup forests are thought to be relict descendants from ecosystems millions of years ago, when Australia was wetter with a more constant rainfall. The forests are unique: there are even recently discovered invertebrates associated with the tingles that date back to the super-continent of Gondwana over 100 million years ago.
There are three types of Tingle: the Red, the Yellow, and Rates. The name ‘Tingle’ comes from indigenous Noongar language, and the three species are not closely related in taxonomic terms. It is the Red that has become famous for the size of its bole.
People are fascinated by giants, and in most cultures there is also a special reverence for ancient trees. Western Australia has many tales of forest giants: the King Karri of Karridale, the fire-tower trees of Pemberton, the boabs of Broome. The worlds fattest known eucalypt is the ‘Giant Tingle’ on Hilltop Road in Walpole, with a girth of 24 metres. The burnt-out hollow bole has more space than the rooms in many modern houses.
Long ago there was another giant in Walpole: for decades visitors marveled at it, taking selfies with their car inside to showcase the size. But the shallow root system of a tingle makes it vulnerable to root damage from compaction, and in 1990 the tree fell over with two tourists inside. Apparently they were taking a photo at the time, which appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. I’d love to see this image but haven’t been able to track it down.
Locals lamented the demise of the giant. But the loss inspired the creation of the Tree Top walk, a bridge built amongst the trees so people can experience their size and splendour with minimal impact on the giants themselves.
I ventured into the forest expecting to be amazed at the size of these trees, but was rather more enchanted with their unique personalities. Each forest glade shapes the tingles through their individual response to the gifts and setbacks of life. Knobbled, broken, hollowed out by fire: branches sidle out on the hunt for sun beams.
Tingles are truly beings of shadow and light, and refuse to conform to any human notions of symmetry. I have tried to reflect some of their presence in these images, as they stand enrobed in a wild rumpus of undergrowth.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Trees hold a very special role in the genus loci, or spirit of place.
Margaret River lies in the far south-west of Australia, in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste region. A limestone ridge runs along the coast, and fades away inland to a sand plain cloaked with forests and swamp. There are a diverse range of habitats and unique ecosystems, which combine to create one of the worlds rare biodiversity hotspots.
The Leeuwin-Naturaliste region is Wadandi Noongar country. Before European colonisation, it was heavily timbered. Noongar people rarely or never felt the need to fell a large tree, and instead favoured small scale elements such as bark, leaves, roots, flowers, sap, and branches. Many of the tree names we use are Noongar in origin. Karri, Yarri, Marri, Jarrah, Tuart, and Bullitch; ancient names that resonate with the unique spirit of place.
All our trees are endemic to the south-west. Each species has a character all of it’s own; a place, or role in a niche. Each individual tree also has its own personality, or way it has shaped itself into the landscape.
For me, photography gives a purpose for seeking them out, learning their shapes, finding faces, sensing shifting moods at different seasons or times of day. Tree imaging presents a particular array of challenges: tricks with light and shadow in the forest, and issues of scale and representation.
This gallery is a personal interaction; an incentive for getting out onto country in a meaningful way. My intent is not to produce professional quality photographs: I use minimal editing. My focus rather, is to explore the character of the trees. Noongar culture has a long established relationship with them. Likewise, in European culture there is an ancient body of lore that has been accumulating for thousands of years: deep knowledge of the oak, elder, and yew, amongst others. But in Australia, with a diverse array of newcoming cultures, we are still building our familiarity with the local spirits of place.
Most people who spend time out on country will have an instinctive impression of the character of trees; by sharing our stories, writings, and art, we can express these meanings and build our own tree lore specific to the south-west. By expanding our culture of trees, we can create a stronger connection to country, and foster sustainability and stewardship into the future.
Karri (eucalyptus diversicolor)
Karri, with their huge size and gleaming pale trunks, capture the imagination of all who see them. Many 19th century visitors waxed lyrical about this tree: meanwhile the largest were being hunted out, measured, felled, and exported for use as sleepers, road pavers, and bridge timbers. Perhaps the largest tree ever recorded in Western Australia was the King Karri of Karridale. Located within the bounds of the Davies timber empire, Davies forbade it to be felled and it was shown off to visitors. Tragically, the tree was twisted out of the ground by a tempest that struck in 1900.
These twin karris are growing close to the location of King Karri, in a stand of regrowth in Boranup Forest. Given centuries, and enough rainfall, they may one day swell to the immense proportions of the felled forest giants.
A dwarf Karri on the coastal margin of the tall tree zone at Boranup
Jarrah (eucalyptus marginata)
Jarrah (eucalyptus marginata) These trees hold the most favoured timber in the south-west: deep red and particularly hard and dense. Most of the the tall straight Jarrah were felled before the 1930s. Regrowth is very slow, and it will be centuries before the return of large strong trees. Here and there are ancients that survived logging: twisted, hollow, or burnt out, they are fascinating characters, and the elders of the forest. My first tree gallery is devoted to the Jarrah.
Looking out from a Jarrah house. The inside of burnt-out trees have multiple textures, from the crackled glazing of charcoal, through the tempered pale hardwood, to the living shell of bark that cloaks the deadwood centre of the tree. The living skin of a Jarrah is a deep, flaky red like blood.
Bemused face in the deadwood of a living tree. Jarrah, Great North Road.
The phenomenon of twist: a Jarrah in coastal woodland at Boodjidup. This is a tree of many faces.
Paperbark (melaleuca preissiana)
The many tangled mouths of the paperbark swamp. Freshwater paperbarks live in micro-climates along creeklines. This variety, known as “Moonah” in Noongar, have a very different outline to the more common paperbark, growing very large boles at the base and long winding branches like arms.
Layer upon papery layer, a multi-dimensional universe of small habitats. The papery bark has multiple uses, from wraps for preserving and cooking food, to the roofing and flooring of shelters. They have an undeniably eerie presence.
Marri (corymbia calophylla)
The witchiness of an old Marri in the Wooditch river valley. The Marri is an abundant provider within the ecosystem, with it’s sweet white blossoms, bountiful nuts, medicinal red sap, and deeply textured bark.
Responding to the challenges of life grows character and resilience. This Marri I was almost afraid to approach. It stands on the edge of the Nindup Plain, in cave country.
An avenue of marris on Point Road in Boranup.
Yarri (Blackbutt, or Eucalyptus patens)
The Yarri with Flare, Ten Mile Brook
There are a few tree species I am still working on imaging: the Bullitch (eucalyptus megacarpa), the Wonang, or Peppermint (Agonis flexuosa), the Yate, (eucalyptus cornuta) and the rare Hamelin Bay Mallee, (eucalyptus calcicola), which grows only in a 15km stretch of coast in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
Grasstrees (Xanthorrea pressii) and Yate (Eucalyptus cornuta), Boranup
article and images by Jinni Wilson
For a sense of the real Margaret River, you can’t beat sleeping out under the stars with the rest of the wildlife! Our campgrounds are all unique natural environments with a history and sense of place all their own.
There are private camping options available, but here I focus on government campgrounds in the National Park and State Forests. There’s already plenty of information online about facilities: travelers these days are generous with sharing their experiences! This article aims to provide more of an insider view. Some have been campsites for many thousands of years, and they all play a role in the lives of adventurous locals.
For online bookings and information about fees and facilities, visit the DPAW Parkstay website All the campgrounds will be busy over school holidays, but midweek at quiet times you might just have them all to yourself!
Just be aware there is no free camping anywhere, unlike other regions in Western Australia where local shires make facilities available for travellers passing through. This is a real shame, and I hope it doesn’t make us seem unfriendly. Locals can get a bit wild or upset if they come across people camping freestyle wherever they like. During peak times in summer, and grape harvest in autumn, illegal camping becomes a real problem. From our point of view it’s a bit rough finding campers lighting fires in the bush during fire bans, and toilet paper lining our favourite walktrails. The rangers are really onto this in busy times, and will show no mercy!
Travelers have been camping at this lush bend of the Blackwood River since the bridge was built in 1897. It was designed by the same engineers who built the Leeuwin Lighthouse. In 1969 the current Alexandra Bridge was built, and the Brockman Highway re-routed. The old bridge became a favourite recreation hotspot. I can just imagine kids jumping off it on hot days. But the Blackwood has a large catchment area and swells with the occasional massive flood, and in 1982 the old bridge was swept away.
But the bend at Alexandra Bridge has an even longer history. In 1831, the peninsula where the campground is was claimed by English colonists. The Bussell brothers had arrived in 1830, settled in Augusta, and chose 40 acres of land 19 kilometres upriver from the townsite. It’s amazing that educated, middle class newcomers ventured so far upriver into an unknown land. The Adelphi was one of the very first colonial homesteads in Western Australia. Only two years later it caught fire, and today nothing remains to be seen except a thicket of young trees.
It’s possible that the farmland you see on the way into the campsite was originally cleared by the Bussells, making it the oldest cleared land in the south-west, outside of Augusta. Alfred Bussell, the youngest of the brothers, went on to build his own homestead at Ellensbrook, which has been recently restored by the National Trust. Ironically, Wallcliffe, the second house he built at Margaret River, was destroyed by a bushfire in 2011.
Alexandra Bridge campsite is large, open and sociable, but still feels cosy and sheltered under the graceful peppermint trees common to campgrounds in the region. And you can really feel why the Bussells chose this place for a farm, with the beautiful white paperbarks reflected in the sheltered black water of the river.
The southern end of Boranup forest is a maze of miniature hills and gullies. It’s also a mosaic of different forest types, due to the undulating, underlying layers of limestone. The campground is sheltered behind the northern end of the Boranup Sand Patch, a giant shifting sand dune stabilised with marram grass in the 19th century. A big bank of sand lurching about the countryside was too unnerving for the timber cutters of Karridale. Once the marram took hold, other vegetation moved in and now the west face of the dune is covered with trees.
Boranup campground is quite close to the site of old Karridale, which was destroyed by a bushfire in 1961. There is a small creek running close-by, a sign that the area may have been a campsite for a long time. Just a kilometre away over the dunes is an archaeological site, a tool manufacture and living area dating back 11 000 years. The shifting dunes create the perfect shelter, which you’ll discover if you stay awhile in one of the secluded nooks yourself!
This campground is right next to Boranup Drive, a small unsealed road. Usually it’s quiet and peaceful but it’s closeby an access to the only 4WD beach for miles, so there might be a bit of local traffic when the surf is up or the fish are biting.
Canebrake is a small campground on the upper Margaret River. It’s alongside just one of a series of unique pools along the river as it flows downstream through the State Forest. Canebrake Pool is the largest of them, and has been a campground for Wadandi people for many thousands of years. It’s also the first recorded mention of the river made by a European colonist, when John Bussell wrote up an exploration by four men and a few dogs from Augusta to Vasse in 1831. You can read more about that in Wooditch, or the Margaret River.
The small floodway upstream from Canebrake is Rapids Crossing, used by colonists traveling between the two first settlements in the region. It was already part of a Wadandi trail network existing well before any Roman roads were made in Europe. If you’re into exploring on foot yourself, have a look at the Augusta-Busselton Heritage Trail. Going south it takes you through some spectacular jarrah forest. It was logged over a century ago but is now protected by the Rapids Conservation Park. If you’re really keen you could try walking all the way to Augusta, although many of the trail signposts are missing or overgrown, and a bit further south parts of the trail disappear as well!
Nature Conservation Margaret River Region have liaised with researchers to produce river health action plans. Protecting Aquatic Diversity contains heaps of information about the unique species that live in the pools on the upper Margaret River. All of them are small and protected species, so there’s no fishing allowed!
Chapman’s Pool campground is next to Chapman’s Brook, a tributary of the Blackwood River which joins the main channel just a few hundred metres downstream. It’s only 20 minutes drive from Margaret River but so peaceful it feels like a different world.
The area is very significant for Noongar people. The Blackwood river marks a boundary between Wadandi and Bibulmun territory. A few kilometres upriver is a gathering area where the two groups would formally meet to exchange marriage partners. There is a walktrail alongside Chapman’s Brook at the campground with Noongar interpretive signs. You’ll see why this area was a favourite, with plentiful resources and permanent water.
The Undalup Association website has lots of information if you’d like to learn more about local Aboriginal culture.
There is no longer a boatramp here, out of deference for the fragile riverbank, but you can still launch a canoe and glide off onto the black waters of the river. Just watch out for tigersnakes. One once shot out from the bank where I was sitting and went swimming with my kids. Luckily it was much more shy than they are and soon realised it’s mistake!
Like Canebrake, Chapman’s Pool is on the Augusta-Busselton Heritage Trail. Sadly, the section that runs north has disappeared back into the forest. The track leading south along the river to Alexandra Bridge is still traversable, although I haven’t walked all of it myself. The track passes through beautiful jarrah forest, with remarkable old trees and lush, healthy undergrowth. You could happily get lost in there for days.
The Blackwood is the longest river in the south-west, and has an ancient palaeo-channel that started forming sometime after the last glacier covered the area, around 300 million years ago. It may have originally flowed west from Chapman’s Pool, but with the uplifting of the coastal granite, turned to follow a new gradient south to Augusta.
The upper reaches of the Blackwood Catchment have been heavily impacted by clearing and agriculture. But downstream from Nannup, the banks of the river are in almost pristine condition. The Blackwood Basin Group co-ordinate the care and restoration of the river, and are a fantastic resource if you are interested in knowing more about it.
Contos is about 20 minutes drive south of Margaret River in one of the most beautiful areas of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. It’s a bit of a monster, with 116 sites. But they’re all good, and there’s a range of types, from cosy private nooks under the trees to more open coastal dunescapes. The older part of the campground on the eastern edge is cosier. The western side is more open but allows caravans and has new camp kitchens and toilet blocks.
Contos sits on the apex of a limestone dune, with Boranup forest downhill to the south, and Nindup to the north. Only 10 kilometres south is one of the oldest human habitation sites in Australia, dated at 48 000 years. The Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge has been a favoured place for campsites for a very long time.
In the colonial era, Contos was part of Wallcliffe Estate, a dairy farm established by the Bussell family at the mouth of the Margaret River. They called Boranup “Karri Chase”, in reference to rounding up cattle in thick forest. The original clearing at Contos was probably a remnant of the early cattle days. Frances Bussell almost rode her horse into the nearby doline of Lake Cave in 1876. Boranup was later sold to MC Davies, who set up a timber empire at Karridale. But Contos is right on the northern edge of the heavily timbered land and escaped logging. Later, it was again part of a cattle lease where cows were left to roam right down to the coast.
Contos feels like it is at the centre of everything. The Cape to Cape Track runs along the edge of spectacular limestone cliffs, before passing through the campground and south into Boranup. Contos Beach and Cape Freycinet are just down the rugged limestone road, a fabulously wild and rocky coastline for exploring.
This campground has a resident murder of ravens, who are extraordinarily clever and mischievous. They know all about you and what you’ve got to eat before you even arrive. I really enjoy their company, but make sure you contain rubbish securely or you’ll be cleaning up after them. Hanging it in a bag on a tree just doesn’t work, trust me!
Here you’re really in amongst the trees. Not just any old trees, the jarrah and marri standing at Jarradene are survivors and regrowth from a timber mill that once stood here. It’s hard to imagine the shrill whistle that went off every morning to drive the workers out of bed, and then the clattering of the saws that screamed away all day. In the words of a travel blogger from 1909, the forest at Boranup was spectacular, but
“….. coming out of this Eden into the mill centre at Jarrahdene shows the grimness of man’s enterprise when opposed to Nature’s lavishness. Of course toil makes all things ugly until the accomplished end. The whizz and whirr of many saws is on the air, and resonates through the narrow clearing.”
Now, it’s more likely to be the ravens or kookaburras that you’ll be cursing!
A vast amount of timber was cut out of the surrounding jarrah forest, sawn up at the mill, then loaded onto the railway and sent down to Hamelin Bay, where it was exported out across the world. Quite a lot of it went to London, where it ended up as blocks paving city streets. Jarrah is very slow growing, and it will be hundreds of years before the young trees now gracing the campground match in size the giants that were felled over a century ago. Still, it’s nice to imagine!
Jarrahedene is the newest of the campgrounds near Margaret River. It was only finished towards the end of 2017, so the facilities are still sparkling. In a bush-sensitive way of course. DPAW have done a fantastic job designing this campground. The flow of the walkways, building design, campsite spacing: it all rolls in together beautifully.
Many of the old logging and railway tracks are still there, asking to be followed. You could walk for days in the forest around this campsite. You can also head across Caves Road and into Boranup Forest, with the tall white Karri trees you’ve probably heard all about already. But the Jarrah forest is more diverse and intriguing, with a beauty all of it’s own.
Feature image: sculpture at Jarrahdene campground
Have a read of my article The Wild Guide to Margaret River for more information on independent travel in the region.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Around mid-year in Margaret River we all start feeling the winter blues: cold short days, gusty winds, endless rain. But for those who brave the elements and head out to the coast the blues are edged with gold and silver.
Walking the beach in winter is a different story to the lazy sun soakings available for most of the year. Indoor lethargy is blown away by the roaring sea and chill wind. Walking becomes an artform; leaning into the wave- carved sandy slopes, dodging showers, and waves that leap up the beach the moment you take your eyes off them. Braving a good cold front is a bit like plugging yourself in to a battery charger.
The winter ocean has a more complex colour palette than the endless turquoise and dark blue of summer. A single moment of shifting light can transform the sea from dull grey to intense green or blue. The surface takes on a metallic glint, or is flecked with white foam from the wildness of windblown waves. Cloudbanks refract sunbeams, and rainbows abound. Even the sand shifts colour in winter. Minute grains of garnet and quartz eroded from the granite are more reflective when wet, and beaches glow with a richer hue.
Margaret River has complex weather patterns. The Leeuwin-Naturaliste region juts out from an exposed corner of the Australian continent; Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Indian Ocean to the north and west. In summer, a succession of high pressure systems usually dominate the weather pattern, with an endless procession of dry sunny days. Winter is characterised by blustery winds and chilling rain.
Nearby in tropical Asia, the seasons are less distinct. In Singapore, temperatures are warm year round, with little variation day and night, and over 100mm of rain falls every month of the year. But below the Tropic of Capricorn, things are dramatically different. Any time of year is unpredictable: all can be subject to sudden changes and reversals. Sometimes multiple seasons flit by in a single day, a surprise for the unprepared.
European colonial culture has imposed four seasons upon southern Australia, defined by the calendar and a set of expectations that have little relation to local conditions. We have inherited a negative concept of winter from northern and western Europe, where snow, ice, and very short days are not only depressing, they are a challenge to survival. The cultural baggage of the European winter can blind us to the wonders of a warm temperate climate.
The Wadandi custodians of the Margaret River region have thousands of years of experience with local conditions. In the Noongar language, there are six seasons, based not on a standardised calendar, but on observable signals from plants, animals, and weather. The calendar ‘winter’ runs through June, July, and August. Wadandi people recognize more subtle seasonal shifts. Makuru is the first winter, when the rains really settle in around the beginning of June. Djalba begins around August, when the days are warming up but it is still windy and wet. The Busselton-based Undalup Association Inc. run fantastic workshops about Wadandi seasons, country and culture. Visit their website for more information, and you can follow their facebook page here.
There are multiple factors driving the climate in the south west. A belt of high pressure called the Sub Tropical Ridge cycles westward across the continent. This creates the generally predictable hot sunny weather. Around Antartica, a pattern called the Southern Annular Mode creates a series of westward flowing cold fronts. These are the rain-bearing systems that deliver most of the annual rainfall to the south-west. During summer, the high pressure systems block the cold fronts, keeping them south of the continent. In autumn, the high pressure belt usually shifts further north, allowing the cold fronts to move up from the Southern Ocean, bringing the wild windy weather and rainfall.
Another driver of local climate is the Indian Ocean Dipole, created by variation in temperatures on either side of the northern Indian Ocean. Some years, ocean temperatures are higher near Africa and cooler near Indonesia: in other years it is reversed, or even neutral. Similar to the El Nino pattern in the Pacific, The IOD affects the direction of airflow and moisture across the ocean, and influences the rainfall received in different regions.
ENSO, (or the El Nino/Nina) cycle is caused by air pressure and temperature variations in the Pacific Ocean, and impacts the east coast more than the west. However, the warmth from the Pacific flows between Australia and Indonesia and creates the Leeuwin current. This body of warm water flows south from the tropics in winter, making the ocean seem peculiarly warm compared to the icy-feeling temperatures in summer.
The Leeuwin Current brings warm water marine life to our shores. Sub tropical creatures like bluebottles, by the wind sailors and even turtles drift south with the current. They are then blown onshore by the westerly winds, along with other flotsam: multi-coloured seaweeds, plastics, driftwood, and dried boxfish. Winter is beachcombing season.
Those extended, glorious spells of sunny weather in late autumn and winter are one of the symptoms of climate change. Over the last few decades, rainfall in the south-west has decreased. Water tables are dropping due to reduced recharge, and to human impact. Most streams and rivers have been dammed, further reducing environmental flow. On the east coast, drought is having a massive impact on farmers. For whole communities, water security has become an issue. The rain-bearing cold fronts of winter are an environmental and cultural requirement. So, rather than despair at the cold wet days, head out into the weather and re-invent the winter blues!
Feature image: cloudbanks at Contos Beach
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Hamelin is a peaceful looking bay in the far south-west of Australia. For most of the year, its shores are sheltered from the swell by limestone reefs. Stingrays sweep the shallows feeding on scraps, people line-fish from the beach, and small children play in the wavelets.
But the bay has a dramatic history. For a few short decades Hamelin was the harbour for the timber industry based at Karridale and Boranup. Many ships lie wrecked in the bay. The safety of the anchorage was deceptive, for the south-west coast lies in the path of the low pressure systems generated in the southern oceans: fierce storms that circle the globe unchecked. Wildest of all was the tempest of 1900 that wrecked 3 ships in the harbour, and felled the largest tree ever recorded in Western Australia.
The wet maritime climate of the far south west fostered growth of the giant karri trees cloaking the southern part of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge. They can reach up to 80 metres high within a hundred years. Karris love the sea: they grow only in a small range along the south coast and depend on the high rainfall delivered by the cold fronts.
To the timber hungry Europeans of the 19th century, the karri trees seemed truly awesome. Not only is the karri one of the tallest tree species in the world, it can grow over 40 metres high without a branch, and a single tree can produce an unbelievable quantity of timber.
Colonists were overwhelmed by the size and majesty of the trees. Many took hard lessons trying to clear them from farmland. Some waxed poetic; others measured and calculated the amount of timber that might be harvested. Despite all the love and awe, economics dominated over romanticism and nature. The vast size of the trees seemed to equate with power gained by chopping them down. There was a flurry in the forests as timber hopefuls measured the largest and boasted about it. Western Australia was a small colony struggling to prove its merits, and timber was it’s most astonishing resource.
Without infrastructure, exporting the timber was impossible. But it wasn’t long before Maurice Davies came along: a bridge and railway engineer with an eye for a forest fortune. During the 1880s he put in a harbour at Hamelin Bay, built railways to snake through the forest, and imported engines from the UK to drive them. Communities sprung up around Davies’ sawmills at Kudardup, Karridale, Jarrahdene, and Boranup. A vast quantity of timber was exported to Europe and South Africa.
While the trees were falling, visitors came to marvel at them. Some were on route from Europe to the Eastern States, stopping to take an excursion to the famed forests of the south. Many came from the goldfields, 1000 km away on the margins of the desert. Few had ever seen trees of such gargantuan proportions.
“King Karri” was the most awesome tree of all. Growing somewhere along the rail-line near Karridale, it was the ‘show and tell’ attraction of the 19th century. There were a few trees carrying this title dotted around the south-west, but the Karridale king was hailed as the largest. With a girth of 34 feet (10m) a few feet above the ground, the trunk rose 44 metres before branching. Although taller trees were recorded at Pemberton, the Karridale tree held by far the most wood due to its girth.
People calculated the amount of timber it would produce: one author in 1899 claimed there would be enough to lay one and a half miles of railway, another that if milled and shipped, it would fill a quarter of the average cargo hold. But Davies forbade King Karri to be felled. It was showered with awe and respect; shown to visiting politicians and celebrities, and described as our ‘pet forest giant.’
Then came the storm.
Hamelin Bay was chosen as a harbour for its sheltered location, but Europeans had only arrived 50 years before and hadn’t yet experienced the worst of a southern ocean tempest. On a day in July 1900, the wind howled up from the north west, shifted to the south west by evening and built rapidly to gale force. The keeper at Leeuwin lighthouse estimated the wind reached 85 miles (136 Km) at 9pm. Residents at Hamelin Bay reported sheets of sea water blown inland by the gale, filling the lake and all the watertanks with salt. Those sheltering inland were terrified by the screaming wind ripping through the trees:
‘… the most peculiar feature of the storm was the twisting action of the wind,
which at short intervals would come whistling along through a narrow belt of forest, snapping off the tops of trees that were in its track like matchwood …’
Morning light revealed disaster. All three ships moored in the bay were wrecked. Two had men clinging to the rigging: the German ship Katinka had been ripped in two and lost 7 men to the waves. The train line from Jarrahdene to Karridale was blocked with debris: 350 trees lay across a few miles of track. King Karri was plucked out and tossed to the ground. Perhaps clearing such a quantity of trees left the canopy more open to the fingers of the wind, and a tree that had stood for centuries was left vulnerable.
Davies carried right on with business: funerals were held, telegraph lines repaired, debris cleared from the tracks, and within a week logging was back in action. King Karri was milled, and newspapers boasted about the amount of timber it had produced.
But it was only a few more years before all of the large timber had been felled, and the export of trees from Karridale ceased. Very little evidence of Davies timber empire remains. The jetty at Hamelin was gutted by a careless campfire in the 1920s, leaving only a few pylons jutting from the sea, like skeletal fingers pointing out ghosts of the sailors that drowned in the bay. The railway lines were dismantled and grew over. In 1961 a bushfire tore through the thick regrowth forest and incinerated the ruined saw mills, along with the village of Old Karridale. All that stands now is a brick mill chimney, old and lonesome in a thicket of trees.
The Karri once again rule in Karridale. Uncut for decades, they have reached for the sky. The older regrowth have gained their full height and are starting to fatten, but straight trees with a girth of even 4 metres are few and far between. Left in peace, some of them may grow into the King Karri of the future.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
There’s no denying that climate change will have a massive impact on Margaret River. Over the past 50 000 years, locals have witnessed dramatic changes to landscape and ecology, and there are likely many more to come.
Within the caves of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, Margaret River holds a record of climate change spanning over a million years. There is a fossil record that includes the arrival of the first Australians, the onset of the last ice-age, and the current warm period known as the Holocene. Scientists have studied the extinctions of megafauna; reconstructed past climates (‘palaeoclimates’), examined how people adapted to change, and are now working on reading past rainfall patterns laid down in the drip-stone stalagmites. Much of this research has been carried out in Boranup.
Boranup is a small area of forest 20 km south of Margaret River. It has become famous for the beauty and size of its karri trees: one of the tallest tree species in the world. There is something truly awesome about being surrounded by giants with pale gleaming trunks, that light up like paper lanterns when the sun shines out. The forest grows on ancient limestone dunes, and the trees stretch their roots down into cave systems famous for their beautiful crystal decorations.
But Boranup hasn’t always been a karri forest. During the last 50 000 years, there have been massive glaciations, fluctuating sea levels, changes in rainfall and vegetation, and multiple extinctions.
The limestone of the Ridge is itself the result of changes in the ancient climate. During an ice-age that began just over a million years ago, extensive sand plains were exposed on the continental shelf. The prevailing south-westerly wind blew it inland, creating mobile dune systems. Over time, these were consolidated by the action of rainfall and plant growth, into the soft limestone that characterises much of coastal Western Australia. Caves are then formed when rainwater reacts with surface plant material, to make a dilute carbonic acid which dissolves the limestone.
Ancestors of the Wadandi people used some of these caves as shelters. Caves are not only warm and cosy. They act as ideal preservation environments, holding a record of human lives in the form of hearths, bone material from meals, stone tools, and occasionally even personal ornaments such as bone beads. They also preserve a record of vegetation and fauna. From this scientists have reconstructed the changing environment, along with glimpses of how people responded and adapted over time.
Mammoth Cave was the first to be excavated. In 1904 cave custodian Tim Connolly found a giant bone when he was building a boardwalk. The bone was quickly identified as belonging to an extinct giant kangaroo (simosthenurus) and led to the formal excavation of the cave by museum geologist Ludwig Glauert. He extracted 38 cubic metres of bone material from the cave, and named three new species of megafauna. Unfortunately, scientific method was then unsophisticated and he removed the entire deposit, destroying valuable information in the process. Then, in the 1950s, Glauert sent a group of Perth zoologists, including my father, to Margaret River in search of more megafauna fossils.
One of the sites they surveyed was a small rockshelter in Boranup. They named it Devil’s Lair for the amount of bone material and disturbance left behind by tasmanian devils. No megafauna was found in Devils Lair, but signs of human occupation were reported to archaeologist Charlie Dortch.
Charlie began excavating the rockshelter in the early 1970s. Radio-carbon dates came back at around 30 000 years, the first of such extreme age on the Australian continent. After years of excavation and painstaking analysis, the rockshelter eventually yielded a date of over 45 000. The site had been used sporadically until around 6000 BP (before present), when the entrance was blocked, and a layer of calcite capstone sealed the deposit. People had used the cave before, during, and after the last glacial maximum, and the site has yielded a huge amount of information about past climates and human adaptation.
During most of the period Devils Lair was in use, the ocean was much further away than it is as present. It reached a maximum distance of 40km west during the peak of the last glaciation 17 000 years ago. The exposed continental shelf was similar to the Swan Coastal Plain: open woodland, swamps, coastal heath, and estuaries. The climate was drier, and the forest type more arid and open. As the climate warmed, the sea rose, drowning the coastal plains and reaching the current shoreline around 6000 BP.
People would have lived, hunted and foraged on the vanished coastal plains. There is concrete evidence for this in the form of chert tools found at many sites along the ridge. Chert is no longer available in the region and it is surmised that the stone was quarried from locations now drowned by the sea. This is also reflected in Wadandi legends about rising seas, and the Nyitting, or the ‘great cold’.
But sea level wasn’t the only change: with warmer temperatures and a maritime climate, local rainfall increased. This had a major impact on the vegetation around Margaret River, but as the Devils Lair deposit was sealed during the recent warming period, another source of information needed to be found.
In the 1990s, Charlies’ son Joe excavated Tunnel Cave, on the northern outskirts of Boranup. He analysed charcoal in the floor deposit, finding that until around 10 000 BP the forest at the entrance was dominated by jarrah and banksia. Around 10 to 12 000 BP rainfall increased, and karri started to appear in the record. It selectively replaced the jarrah/banksia woodland, resulting in the mosaic of vegetation that we see around Boranup today.
The Karri trees have transformed the landscape, creating a ‘closed’ forest habitat, which supports a different range of species than the open jarrah forest that dominated the Ridge for thousands of years. Dortchs fauna analysis of the open-forest period indicates a higher presence of dryland species; such as lizards, the black-footed rock wallaby (or petrogale), the bettong (bettongia leseur), and the arid region bandicoot (perameles). These species disappear from the cave deposits around 7000 BP.
They followed into extinction many other animals including wombats, koalas, giant pythons, and the megafauna, which vanished between 50 000 and 30 000 years ago. Why the giant marsupials became extinct is still being debated, but the main factors are the long-term drying of the Australian continent, and an unknown degree of human impact.
Not only have the karri created a different type of habitat, they have changed the cave systems that lie beneath the forest. The caves are not just geological entities, they are an ongoing conversation between rainfall, vegetation, and limestone. Karris have a habit of dropping vast amounts of bark, creating a heavy layer of leaf litter, and a soil rich in humus. More leaf litter means more carbon material for the rainwater to turn into acid, thus accelerating the processes of cave formation. They also have a physical impact as their large root systems creep down into the water table and use large quantities of water. The physical intrusion of roots opens the way for more water to enter, destabilising the rock and even making new entrances.
But now, the rainfall is again diminishing. The underwater streams that form the cave systems are drying out, and watertables have dropped dramatically. It is still uncertain whether this is part of a long term change, or a shorter term rain cycle. In some parts of Boranup, the karri trees are beginning to show signs of water stress, with limbs dying off at the tips.
The landscape is constantly changing. Our climate in the south-west has been deceptively stable for a few thousand years, but changes have already begun. The ancestors of the Wadandi learnt to adapt to major long term shifts caused by global weather patterns. Now, we are all faced with sudden upheavals that we ourselves contribute to as a consequence of our daily lives. By learning from the tales Earth has to tell, we may be in a better position to share that wisdom with the future.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Farming one of the most ancient landscapes in the world has never been easy. Over the years, many of the sheep and cattle stations in the West Australian outback have been abandoned due to land degradation and drought. These stations are a major part of the States’ heritage, and rather than see them disappear back into the desert, innovative landholders are reinventing land management, and opening up country to visitors.
Melangata is a sheep station in the upper Murchison, nestled between the old goldrush towns of Yalgoo and Cue. The station is in desert country; red plains scattered with mulga scrub, granite breakaways, dry creeks lined with tall trees and laden with brilliantly coloured rocks. The house was designed by the famous catholic architect John Hawes, and was heritage listed in 1998. The Station is now open to visitors and I spent a night camping in the grounds underneath the mulga trees.
I drove in from Yalgoo, a classic outback town with fine buildings and wide deserted streets. Unsure of the empty roads, I pulled over by a house and asked some local Wajarri kids for directions before driving the 63 kilometres north into the rangelands. The smooth gravel road was periodically crossed by flood furrows from the recent rains. Driving slow gave plenty of time to admire the landscape, with its contorted outcrops of granite. More than two and a half billion years old, the granite has been eroding for eons, shedding plains of red earth peppered with a sprinkling of quartz. With all that remote beauty, it was a great relief to pull in and have Jo, the station-manager, shoot straight over to welcome us.
In 2016 the Melangata lease was purchased by Ken Darnell and Jo Clews, both from Margaret River in the far south-west. Ken was away when we visited, but I was entertained in fine style by Jo. She is celebrated in the north for her skills as a bush chef, and before taking on Melangata managed the Karijini Eco Retreat. She grew up in Cowaramup, surrounded by grass clad dairy farms and tall trees, but says she doesn’t miss the lush south. She’s really a big vista girl: tall trees and enclosed space make her feel tired. And it’s easy to see why she loves the Murchison, with it’s contrasting colours of mulga and red earth, and the expanse of sky free of light pollution and splattered with stars. I was lucky to visit a few days after a long drought was broken by a 50mm deluge. The ground was washed smooth by the flood: popping with fungi and all the mulga water-fat, and gleaming smoky green.
Jo was drawn to Melangata not only by the landscape, but by a love for heritage. Reading human history in the landscape is a powerful means of connecting into country. She has located many Wajarri camp and art sites on the lease, and hopes that the traditional custodians will come and re-engage with the station. Wajarri heritage in the region spans thousands of years, and is visible in the form of artefact scatters; tempting for fossickers but illegal to pocket. Most of the larger stones used for grinding acacia seeds and stored for eternities at waterholes were collected long ago; by explorers, gold diggers, or station hands.
European heritage is much more obvious; rusting metal, crumbling stone walls, mining shafts and tailing dumps. But the Murchison is also resplendent with fine buildings from the gold and glory days of the nineteenth century. The region has it’s own famous architect in the person of John Cyril Hawes, catholic priest and designer of a number of eclectic buildings, including the celebrated Geraldton Cathedral. The house at Melangata was designed around the time Hawes began work on the cathedral in 1916. It is built from the ancient friable granite that stands in breakaways and outcrops across the Station. The native red dirt was used as mortar between the stones, and where the surface has become exposed lizards feel right at home and like to burrow in between the cracks. Great for wildlife, but not so good for the integrity of the structure.
The house features exposed jarrah beams brought in from the south-west by train: local timber is neither straight nor long enough for building. Here, even the fenceposts are small and crooked, a quirky variation from the pine posts and weathered jarrah of the south-west.
Hawes was primarily a spiritual architect, and this shows clearly in his design of the house. The building is open plan, with large arched entries facing the compass points. The absence of doors allows the sun to shine through, and the internal space is lit by an ever-changing array of light effects, connecting the living space with the brilliance of the outback sky. Melangata was equipped with a private chapel, in an alcove alongside the dining room. The altar window faces east and is beautifully flooded with light in the mornings. The original painted glass windows were removed by a heritage worker for conservation and misplaced, but luckily one has been relocated by a previous owner. Once maintenance work has been completed on the chapel, the panel can be re-instated in one of the internal windows, safe from the harsh desert light.
The restoration of the house is a slow process, and Jo hopes to engage the interest of volunteers for some of the larger projects. Refacing the stone and replastering the fragile ceiling cladding in the chapel are specialist jobs. Well suited for a workshop-style restoration, like the one recently held at Ellensbrook in Margaret River. The chapel ceiling was originally clad with horse hair render, and Jo fears it may soon collapse onto the altar, or onto the plaster statuettes mounted on the walls.
Volunteers are already engaged in landscape rehabilitation work, rebuilding fences and helping to keep the place functioning as a station. Farming the Murchison rangelands has become more and more of a marginal operation, on lands degraded by livestock and feral animals, and impacted by drought. Some of the Stations around Melangata have been repurchased by the Government in a well meaning attempt at rehabilitation, but essentially abandoned. Dalgaranga Station, to the east, features another fine homestead and the remains of a dam built onto a granite outcrop. The house now stands empty, and the stock watering points have been cut.
Current generations are faced with the challenge of finding innovative ways to restore, rather than abandon the land. Abandoned country doesn’t prosper: it needs loving care and restoration. Like Melangata, some of the remaining stations have adapted by taking up tourism and welcoming visitors.
For me, travelling in the Murchison was deeply inspiring. I was awed not just by the landscape, but the amazing resilience of the inland communities, faced with a beautiful but challenging environment. These days thousands of travellers ply the coast road, startled by the turquoise ocean and the brilliance of marine life teeming beneath the waves. Many visit the dramatic gorges carved by the Murchison River down near its outflow at Kalbarri. Now more and more braver souls are turning to face the desert, venturing inland to the upper Murchison. Staying with the locals makes for a rich experience for those willing to make the trek.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
In the heart of a small town in Western Australia there grows an oak. Not a very big oak, just a young tree with a short history, but potentially a very long future.
When Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England in 1953, Margaret River chose to plant a tree at Memorial Park in her honour. The task of planting the tree fell to Bill Darnell, then Chairman of the Road Board (the Shire). When the time came he realised that no-one had thought to supply the tree, so he raced home and dug up the oak recently planted over a pit loo in his backyard. I’m sure the oak meant many things to him, but the story he took such delight in telling me had a larrikin element. I can just imagine him suppressing a laugh while he was filling in the hole.
In Europe, the oak is associated with royalty. The largest are often called “king oaks,” a title here transferred to the jarrah. The symbolism of this goes way beyond the royal family, and speaks of the fundamental character of the tree itself; huge, old, valuable, and revered for a timeframe stretching back thousands of years. Oaks are traditionally the trees under which druids gathered, law meetings were held, documents signed. Was the tree planted in Margaret River an oak by choice, or simply by chance, as the tree that came first to Bill Darnells’ hand?
In England many famous oaks that witnessed important events are registered under the heritage act; most of the ancient trees have been located and documented; many have their own profile and presence on social media. 3400 of them predate the Tudor era, more than in the whole of mainland Europe. Some are older than the English language itself; 117 oaks have been dated at over 800 years.
Despite having a tree planted for her, the Queen herself has made no impression on Margaret River. Bill Darnell, on the other hand, was a pillar of the district. During the depression in the 1930s he kept many of the group settlers alive on credit from his store in Rosa Brook, knowing quite well that people would never be able to pay their account. By the time I worked with him in his Witchcliffe store, he had served the community for over 60 years, was the oldest postmaster in Australia, and knew a bit of something about everybody.
The oak might be an exotic transplant, along with the imported cultures that now have a strong presence here, in Noongar country. But back in Europe, the reverence for trees is very deeply rooted in the ancient tradition of the world tree, or Yggdrasil. In some parts of Norway and Sweden, guardian trees are still maintained at the centre of the farmyard, and represent the binding and nourishment of multiple dimensions within the cosmos. While the tree is unharmed, it acts as a warden for the farm and all who dwell on it.
Given the right conditions, an oak can survive for over 1000 years. The Darnell tree is in a fabulous position to witness a far-flung future for Margaret River that us mere humans can only dream of.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
A selection of profiles of historical characters born or resident at Wallcliffe House.
Wallcliffe Estate overlooks the Margaret River, at the final meander before it opens to the sea. Across the black waters lie a stand of brilliant white paperbarks, and the property is sheltered from the ocean winds by ancient dunes and a towering cliff of soft tamala limestone. The cliff is shrouded in vegetation and pitted with caves. The cliff faces north over a small, but high quality and undegraded esturine system. The natural landscape features of river and cliff, dune and ocean all interact to create a place of great natural beauty and plentiful resource.
The Wallcliffe area is a major cultural landscape with differing significance to various sections of the community. It is a place the Wadandi have held sacred for many millennia. Wallcliffe Estate and the ruins of the house have major historical significance as the second European homestead in the Margaret River region. The natural beauty of the landscape has also endeared the place to the local community and to tourists as a recreational area, although Wadandi Elders now ask that people do not land at or visit the cliffs.
In 2011 a prescribed burn on the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge near Ellensbrook escaped custody. It roared southwards through the National Park, leapt across the river and destroyed historic Wallcliffe House. This was a terrible loss to posterity. However, the land has survived along with all the many threads of spiritual and historical significance, and new meanings may be seen, rising from the ashes.
Nandinong and Bungitch, Wadandi Elders
A Wardandi couple who were the traditional custodians and frequent visitors to the Bussell homesteads. Otherwise known as Jinny and Billy. The following extract from the introduction to “An attempt to eat the Moon” contrasts European and Noongar modes of sharing, and is a poignant example of the ironies of dispossession:
” …. Jinny (Nandinong) saw on a table some tempting watermelons. “Give me one watermelon, Edie,” she said to my aunt. “You can’t have one watermelon, Jinny,” replied my aunt, But I will give you a piece of ground and some seeds, and you can grow some.” Jinny just shrugged her shoulders and with a wide grin rejoined “Don’t be so poolish, Edie.” … Deborah-Buller Murphy 1958
Fred Isaacs 1882-1956
The son of Lucy and Sam Isaacs. Fred grew up alongside the Bussells at Wallcliffe, but maintained his Noongar language, family, and connection to country. He was on the electoral roll, highly unusual in Australia before the Aboriginal “right to vote’ referendum in 1967.
Fred was an active and outspoken member of the community at a time when racial violence and exclusion were the norm. He farmed “Fernbrook,” the Isaacs’ 100 acre property on the banks of the river at Wallcliffe. He continually won prizes in the Margaret River Show for his pigs, cattle, and poultry, and for the richness of his milk and cream.
His skill as a stockman made him an expert part-time poundkeeper, retrieving lost cattle and horses from the bush. Concerned at the short water supply available to the captives, he asked the Roads Board for a well to be dug. The request was refused. He once spent two hours rounding up stray cattle from the main street, only to have the owner appear and scatter the mob in order to avoid the fines. He took the issue to court and won!
Frances Lousia Bussell (Brockman) 1851-1925.
Fanny was born at Ellensbrook, grew up alongside Sam Issacs and spoke fluent Noongar. She roamed country on horseback, exploring and working the Wallcliffe cattle run, which extended for thousands of acres. It was while out chasing cattle in 1867 that she chanced upon the doline of Lake Cave.
Of Boranup Forest (“Karri Chase”), she wrote: “It is a beautiful station and strange. We killed a wild bull and had such a pleasant gypsy gathering in the evening. The great tall trees, the little mite of a hut, the glimmering campfires reflected from white stems.” Frances campaigned to have land set aside as a caves reserve, which later became the Leeuwin Naturaliste National park. She was one of Australias first female environmentalists.
Filumena Terry 1876 – 1944
The youngest daughter of Alfred and Ellen Bussell.
She was deeply connected to country, and lived most of her life at Wallcliffe, a landscape already rich in significance. She pioneered society in the district, holding regular fundraisers at Wallcliffe House, and was on the boards of the Margaret Cecil Rest House and the C.W.A. But she also spoke out in the defence of Indigenous culture and language.
The local people were regular visitors at Wallcliffe. As a child she must have listened wide-eyed as Nandinong taught her the stories of place in Noongar: “she quaintly interpreted as she went along and taught me to say the words correctly; when one can master the “gn” prefix it has a soft and musical tone.”
As the years flowed by, and her Wardandi friends passed away, she began to share their stories of place. In 1936 she gave a talk to the Roads Board, called the “Manners, customs and legends of the Aboriginies of the South West.” This later became a radio talk which was broadcast by stations all over the state. She published some of the legends as a series in the West Australian, including the Magic Stick, Edarite, and Boolaninda.
“The Seizing of Corrianne” is a tale of two lovers, that ends sorrowfully. The young warrior Medinite dies of a broken heart and is buried at Wainilyinup. Filumina writes: “The grave of Medinite is near my home, marked by.a pile of stones.” The pile of stones has gone now. Perhaps removed or scattered by people unaware of their significance.
Now, telling Indigenous stories would be seen as appropriation. But in the 1930s local culture was derided and brushed aside, and it seems that Filumenas’ sharing of the stories was a call to respect culture and country.
Deborah Drake-Brockman 1887-1965.
Daughter of Grace Bussell, and the “bride” of Brides Cave. Philanthropist, author and explorer. Married three times, she made her own fortune by opening rare mineral mines in remote parts of Australia. Her tantalum mines were taken over by the Government for the development of radar equipment in WW2.
In 1958 she published “An Attempt to Eat the Moon,” a collection of legends shared with the Bussell family by the Wardandi custodians of the river. “As a child I had read or told to me by my mother and father, and by my uncles and aunts, many of the legends of the Dordenup people, as other children have had read or told to them the fairy tales of Anderson or Grimm.””An Attempt to Eat the Moon” includes Old Man Rock, The Margaret River, Edareet, and White Hovea; stories which all relate directly to the river and cliffs at Wallcliffe. Now, retelling these stories would seem appropriation, but to the old residents of Wallcliffe, who were taught them by Wadandi custodians, the legends were an integral part of their lives.
(Permission to post image originally granted by Vivienne Webb for Spirit of Place in 2016)
Alfred John Bussell at the osprey nest 1890.
The osprey nest at Cape Mentelle first appears in recorded history in 1801, when it was noted by Baudin, the captain of a French scientific expedition. Just over 100 years later, it was photographed by an Australian scientist. A.J. Campbell was a bird naturalist, who made a collection of over 500 species of birds eggs. In 1890 he visited Wallcliffe, having heard of the famous osprey nest. John Bussell and a Wadandi man named Edarite took him to visit it. Despite the theft of eggs for science, the nest is still there 127 years later.
Campbells’ article contains a fantastic account of Bussell crossing the rivermouth with his boots in his teeth, which explains why he was photographed without any pants! John grew up with Wadandi custodians of Wallcliffe and spoke fluent Noongar. He compiled a list of 26 bird names which are being used in contemporary language research.
Profiles first published for Margaret River Spirit of Place in 2016
Ellensbrook, the first of the Bussell homesteads, now managed by the National Trust.
article and images by Jinni Wilson
Wainilyinup, the final bend of the Margaret River before it snakes around to the sea. The cliffs are made from fragile sand dune limestone, and are far younger than the river itself. Blown here by wind in a process that began around one million years ago, the carbonate sand has been cemented and weathered into fantastic shapes by the action of the rain.
In Noongar, the name means “the dying place.” There are many dreaming stories here, for those prepared to listen. Stories of death, crying, and burial, but also of the creation of the river.
In the 1860s, newcomers were drawn to build here by the grandeur of the sculptured stone walls, the beauty of light reflected on black water, the startling white trunks of the paperbark trees. Since then, the cliffs have been weathered by climbing, the burial caves explored by curious visitors, the base of the cliff worn smooth by the passing of countless feet and defaced by graffiti.
It’s about time we asked local custodians how they feel about our stewardship of Wainilyinup. Let’s listen to what they have to say, with all respect due to the elders of this beautiful land.
First published for Margaret River Spirit of Place 11 Oct 2017
Since this article was published, Wadandi Elders have been consulted about the management of Wainilyinup, and they have asked that people avoid entering the cliff area.
University of Western Australia
The Margaret River was first encountered by European immigrants not as a defined channel, but as a confusing network of streams and tributaries.
In 1832 John Bussell published his account of an exploration from Augusta to Vasse. Four men and a few dogs spent a week walking through dense forest and scrubland, surveying as they went. Hunting, drinking from the streams, sleeping wet in shelters made from sticks. There and back again.
Bussells’ account is deeply observant; rocks, soil, herbaceous plants and trees, tracks of animals and people, but most particularly the water. Rivulets, torrents, rain; basins, pools, channels; overnight supplies drawn from the hollow rings of dead grasstrees, saturation of clothing from close contact with the bush. He describes water in all it’s facets: direction of flow, depth, speed, turbidity.
Somewhere near a southern tributary they meet an elderly Noongar man, too uneasy to respond to their attempts to speak his language, but who generously shows them the best place to cross a large stream.
They realize that the west flowing streams may flow into an unknown channel, “… the seaward and western branch of the Blackwood, or some other river, if such a thing exists between Cape Naturaliste and the White Patch.”
Wooditch, or the ‘the unknown river’ already had a name, a history, thousands of years of lore and culture, but was re-named and known as the Margaret.
Bussells journey is one of the earliest colonial explorations of the forests around the town of Margaret River. His perspective is a unique record of how Europeans first experienced the bush. You can read it online here: “Report on an excursion to the northward from Augusta”
Images: Canebrake Pool and Rapids Crossing, both likely to be places mentioned in Bussells account.
A limestone headland, looking down the prevailing wind from across the Indian Ocean. When the light is right, you can see the profile of a face jutting out from the stone: a vision of the spirit of place, the personification of a wild and rocky coastline.
Cape Mentelle is a rugged series of steep, cliff-lined bays. The soft tamala limestone was formed by rain seeping into sand dunes blown onshore by the south-westerly wind. The fragile stone is protected from the waves by a submerged portion of reef, but wind and rain have weathered the cliffs into bizarre shapes; delicate sand sculptures that can be obliterated in a moment by the passage of feet.
In 1801 a French expedition sailed by, surveying the coastline and collecting specimens for science. Captain Baudin named the headland Cape Mentelle after his geography teacher. Edme Mentelles’ enduring legacy was the invention of a multi-layered globe, by commission to Louis the 16th, the last King of France. It was made for the young Dauphin, but after the prince died of tuberculosis in 1790, the King gave Mentelle permission to use the globe for his own private lessons. He would assemble the layers of the globe during a series of twelve lectures, to some very mixed reviews. The globe now resides in the Dauphins’ room in the museum of Versailles. Despite having strong associations with the Kings family, Mentelle survived the French revolution. But he was criticised by his contemporaries for his style of geography, which was more about lists and names and locations than the inspired reading of people and landscape that might be expected from the age of enlightenment. There is a subtle irony here; that his name was bestowed upon a feature in a land already loaded with meaning, by a man from an alien culture aboard a passing ship.
The rocky headland already had a name and a personality bestowed by Aboriginal custodians: tales about the making of the Margaret River that snakes out to sea just around the point, and it’s meeting with the sea. Those are powerful stories of place. Stories that grew and adapted over the millennia, as the sea rose at the end of the last ice age, drowning the coastal plain that stretched far to the west, and creating an island out of the granite outcrop now known as Old Man Rock.
However those stories are not mine to tell. They belong to Aboriginal custodians, and not appropriating them is an important way for others to acknowledge Noongar ownership of country.
But we need stories. Myth and histories have a way of connecting us with country. They can be read from the shape and sound of the land itself by looking out for the spirits of place; the shapes in the stone, the way of the birds that nest there, the song the waves make with the shore. By engaging with them we grow a sense of belonging. And with belonging an ethic of custodianship, so we can better respect, protect, and share this unique landscape.
University of Western Australia
The old man is on a mission to reach the sea. He runs down from the rocky ranges and onto the flatlands, where the way is obscured by forest and scrub. He emerges onto farmland, his path winding through fields covered with grapevines or dotted with cows, then into the forest surrounding the town of Margaret River. Here he might pause to rest a little by a shady rockpool. With renewed energy he races on through rocky valleys, and on towards the sea. Wadandi-Noongar custodians call him Wooditch: to most people, he is known as the Margaret River.
In March 2018, the Bramley National Park in the town of Margaret River was renamed Woodtijup, in recognition of the traditional Wadandi owners of the region. To Wadandi people Wooditch is a magic man or sorcerer, an ancestor who created the river. The legend of Wooditch belongs to the deep cultural history of place, and reflects the unique character of the watercourse that bears his name.
The name ‘the Margaret River’ was bestowed by John Bussell, who in 1831 was one of the first Europeans to explore the upper reaches of the catchment. He named the river in honour of his sweetheart Margaret Wyche, who later rejected his suit and never set foot in Australia. But the name endured, and now represents not only the river and a town, but a renowned wine and tourism region.
When a new wave of settlers from Britain arrived later in the nineteenth century, they cleared the land for farming and felled the giant jarrah and karri trees for export. But much of the bush surrounding the townsite of Margaret River survived. It eventually became state forest, and then ‘A’ class reserve. The town remains bordered on two sides by forest, with people sharing habitat with countless species of flora and fauna. In 1999 the landscape’s high conservation value was recognised under the Regional Forest Agreement, and it was gazetted National Park in 2004. The new Park was given the name ‘Bramley’ after one of the state forest blocks. The name has unknown significance.
In 2014, the Augusta-Margaret River Shire Council proposed to change the name of the Park from Bramley to Wooditjup. It was hoped that the change would improve relations with custodians by recognising their cultural values, and in honour of the Margaret River and its role in the ecology and identity of the town. The plan quickly gained support from the Wadandi, from the tourism industry, and the Department of Parks and Wildlife (now incorporated into the Department of Conservation, Biodiversity, and Attractions).
Inspiration for resuming the ancient name of ‘Wooditjup’ reflects a new era of working in collaboration with local custodians. Many people in the Margaret River community are keen to hear the Aboriginal stories of place, and to engage with the landscape in a more fulfilling way. DBCA, in partnership with the Wadandi Undalup Association, have established a ranger program to incorporate Aboriginal skills into land management.
Recognizing Aboriginal place names is an important first step towards reconciliation, and the new name will have far reaching implications for the future of the Park. Valuing Aboriginal traditions and stories of place enriches the landscape with meaning and connects people with place. Stronger cultural connections between people and place creates a feeling of continuity with the past, and fosters stewardship for the future.
Wooditjup National Park is beloved by locals and visitors alike. It is networked with walktrails that wind along by the river; beneath tall timber, past rocky granite outcrops peppered with spectacular wildflowers in spring, and with fascinating fungi in autumn. Local kids love to swim alongside marron in the rockpools and weirs, and mountain bikers enjoy the rugged terrain and black cockatoos of the pine forest. Many love to just be present and ‘forest bathe’ beneath the canopy of tall trees.
Now once again, the name of Wooditch will be spoken with reverence, alongside the banks of the small and winding river in the far south-west.
University of Western Australia
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Documenting old and significant jarrah trees in the forests of Margaret River.
Jarrah forest is one of the major ecological niches in the wet south-west corner of Australia. It is endemic to the area, growing nowhere else in the world. Since the arrival of Europeans in 1829, vast areas of forest have been cleared for timber, agriculture or urban development. What is left is suffering from the effects of disease, changing groundwater systems, fragmentation by roads and infrastructure, and climate change.
Jarrah is a hardwood timber, beautiful and durable. By the 1870s the timber industry was in full swing. Hundreds of miles of railways were built to transport the timber to ports for export, or to local centres for construction of the rapidly growing towns. Jarrah became the dominant building material, providing structural timbers for bridges, railways, and dwellings. Weatherboard houses built solely from jarrah were the characteristic house type for half a century.
The supply of jarrah seemed endless to immigrants newly arrived from Europe. Despite warnings from conservators like Charles Lane Poole, most of the large jarrah was stripped from the forests by the 1930s. The ‘King Jarrahs’, which caused so much excitement for their size and majesty, were promptly felled. There are a few survivors, like the heritage listed tree in Manjimup, now a tourist attraction. But the majority of the large remnant trees are those rejected by early loggers, being either hollowed out at the base by fire, or too twisted to make for easy cutting. The forest vistas have changed forever. But most of the forest around Margaret River is now protected in National Parks, a measure of the new respect for the forests as a valuable ecosystem in their own right.
I hope to gain recognition for the surviving old jarrahs by locating and documenting the largest of them. Twisted, burnt and hollow, they make dramatic and challenging subjects. The gallery will focus on the Wooditjup National Park, which encircles the township of Margaret River; Rapids Conservation Park, and the Blackwood River National Park. This will be an ongoing project, with trees being added as they are located. Please feel free to contact me if you know trees you would like to have included.
The tripod tree
Tripod tree sky spiral
Ten Mile Brook
King Jarrah: this one didn’t make it
The Maypole Tree
Blackwood River Valley
The challenge of capturing black!
Jarrah character studies
Copyright: If you wish to use any of these images please contact me and I can email you the original high resolution image for a small fee of $25. This fee will be donated to Nature Conservation Margaret River
Please note this article is not intended as polemic or political platform, rather as an art project hoping to encourage custodianship and awareness of our veteran trees
Tree Hollows Tour
If you are interested in exploring more about the trees of the Margaret River region, you might like to join me on a Tree Hollows Tour
Caves were forming in the soft limestone of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge long before people appeared on the continent. Growing softly, the rainfall of a million winters cementing beach sand into stone. Or mixing with plants on the surface and dissolving it, before crystallising it again, drip by drip.
Wadandi ancestors took shelter in the caves 50 000 years ago, during the extreme cold of the last ice age. More recently, they were avoided and treated with respect, as places of spiritual significance.
And then, not so long ago, newcomers arrived. People with bright lights, and curiosity stronger than caution. Some marveled at the beautiful delicacy of the cave formations. Others were not so respectful, and by the 1890s there were reports of damage and vandalism. In 1900 Irishman Tim Connolly was appointed as government caretaker and guide. Infrastructure was built to assist visitors, and gates were fitted for the safeguarding of the caves.
Before the opening of Lake Cave in 1901, Calgardup was the star of the show. Its most famous decoration was the meteoric shower, a ceiling to floor cascade of straw stalactites. Straws are delicate tubes made from calcium carbonate crystallising around a single drop of water, so fragile that a light touch will shatter them. Connolly would escort small parties in to view the chamber. In 1913, one anonymous visitor wrote:
“… Let us away with the local restrictions of meteor-orbits, and imagine rather every star in the firmament suddenly taking a dive towards earth, only to stop arrested, each at the end of his shining track…”
Connolly guarded the straws carefully, but after his death in 1935 visitors were left to enter the cave unsupervised. No-one seems to know exactly what happened to the meteoric shower. There are tales of drunken parties during the depression; or of a careless worker turning with a plank on his shoulder and wiping the ceiling clean. Perhaps it was gradual attrition over the years. Whatever happened, the straws have been reduced to stumps on the ceiling.
Calgardup is now a self-guided adventure cave. Unknowing visitors, ducking along the length of the old meteoric chamber, would never guess the marvels it once held. We all love to admire the fragile beauties of nature. We are drawn to the wild spaces, and the feeling of adventure.
The tragedy is: it’s such a fragile world.
BSc (hons) Anthropology
University of Western Australia
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Redgate Beach is famous for a dramatic 19th century shipwreck, swimming, waves, fishing, and granite framed sunsets.
But it is also has a deeper history. The stream that flows out onto the beach is millions of years old. It begins on farmland to the east. One tributary has its catchment on Nindup Plain, close behind Mammoth Cave. There, the bones of marsupial lions, giant kangaroos, wombats, and koalas were found, along with evidence of human occupation dating far back into the ice ages. The tributary flows north, before joining the rest of the stream and flowing west towards the sea.
Aboriginal people have camped and fished at the mouth of the brook for millenia, and the small estuary and surrounding dunes are a protected archaeological site.
Calgardup is the last of the ancient streams north of Karridale to still flow across the surface of the limestone ridge. The others have had their channels buried by wind blown sand and now flow deep underground, at the base of the dunes.
This year, Calgardup Brook has carved out deep channels, from a combination of heavy rain and storm surges. Rocks are exposed that have not been seen for years. A reminder that along the coast, permanence is an illusion.
The Margaret River has only a few large named tributaries: the Mowen River, Bramley, Yalgardup, and Ten Mile Brook. The upper river valleys of the Margaret were formed after sediments filled the sunklands left by the breakup of Gondwana. They flow westward and onto the granite of the Leeuwin Block, a remnant of the super-continent left behind by India as it pulled away to the north.
The Ten Mile Brook valley was lush and deeply forested, the result of ongoing weathering processes over millions of years. It supported one of the most diverse flora and fauna communities on earth. In 1994 the Water Authority dammed the valley to provide water for the townsites of Margaret River, Cowaramup, Gracetown, and Prevelly. However the catchment is too small to meet our requirements and the dam was originally supplemented by water pumped from the Margaret River.
Now, our scheme water is sourced directly from the Yarragadee aquifer and stored in the dam. There is some uncertainty as to whether drawing so much from the underlying aquifer could impact on the surface groundwaters supplying the base flow for the Margaret River.
We can never recover the valley. But we can be mindful of the origin of the clear sparkling water that comes from our taps.
Jinni Wilson BSc (hons) Anthropology, University of Western Australia.
Mermaids are the river-dreamings of northern Europe. Here in the south-west of Australia, the winter solstice falls with the first rains. The streams and rivers begin to flow, breaking the drought and releasing the dry and dusty old year back into the sea.
The cultures of the European colonisers, still dominant in Australia, look back to the German and Celtic lands, where the sun played a major part in the ebb and flow cycles of the year. At Midwinter the sun is at its weakest and all the land is cold and dark and hungry. The solstice marks the death of the old year, epitomised in the Norse tale of Ragnarok: the world tree is shaken by the serpent coiled at its base, and all living creatures are devoured by the ravening winter wolf. But Ragnarok is not really the end of the world, just the death of the old year to make way for the blossoming of the new.
The pagan traditions of the winter solstice were incorporated into Christianity as Christmas. The festival still has some relevance in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the south we have our seasons crossed. Not only do we observe Christmas in summer, the Australian winter has a different nature altogether. For a culture to be strong it needs to be able to reinvent its’ stories, to read the stories of the land.
But what of the Indigenous culture?
The Noongar peoples have the accumulated knowledge of thousands of years observing the cycle of the seasons. People watch the stars, the plants and the animals for signs of seasonal shifts. Knowledge is shared through myth and story, the cultural vehicle for making country meaningful, and for adapting to its changes. Winter solstice falls in Makuru, the time when the first rains come. Country begins to wake up in preparation for the spring blossoming. The purple and blue flowers are the first to appear. The ravens go quiet, the raucous calling suspended whilst they pair up for nesting. In Makuru people moved inland, away from the rains and squally wildness of the coast. The winter sea was left to itself.
We can listen, respect, and learn from the stories of local custodians. But those are Noongar tales to tell. We need to find our own way of sitting in Noongar country. So what elements of the European traditions are still relevant here? What lives on in our own heritage that might complement and support the local lore, without appropriating it?
The death and rebirth of the sun still has a hold on us. As a natural cycle to release the old and stagnant ‘stuff’ we no longer need, the symbolism is irresistible. It can also be seen as a timely moment to reflect on our own diverse cultural histories. What do we really need from our own past, on a different continent, but under the same sun? Encircled by the same all-embracing sea? What cultural elements can we reuse, reinvent, and revitalize? And what should we release, along with the flow of the river?
In Makuru, the rains come and the streams begin to run. Rainbows flower in the watery, sun kissed sky. At winter solstice all the river-dreamings wake up and replenish the land. In Noongar tales the rainbow serpent, or Waugal, dwells in deep pools in the rivers. It is a generative force, but is also dangerous, to be treated with caution and respect.
In the tales of northern Europe, merpeople haunt the rivers and streams. Under numerous names, they are shapeshifting water spirits who often appear as dragons or worms; the sinuous flow of the waterways. They lure the unwary with the otherworldly beauty of their songs, and drown them in deep pools or waterfalls. Or they might be nurturing spirits who gift wishes and warnings. They might even teach the water music to those who are willing and brave enough to listen.
Rivers and streams have a music all of their own. Trickling, bubbling, roaring, gurgling. Around each little bend you might hear a different voice calling the song of the river. By the end of summer they are silent, sleeping in the dark quiet pools, awaiting the autumn rains.
In Makuru, the Margaret River begins to flow. People watch avidly for it to break through at the Rivermouth, where it surges into the sea. But the flow begins upstream, from all the myriad of small streamlets feeding in from the upper catchment. This year, I first heard it on a walk through the forest at Ten Mile Brook. A wild and happy gurgling resounded all along the river. The banks were veiled too thick with greenery to approach. But I felt the pull of the watersong, the urge to sidle in and gaze upon it.
If we listen long and patiently to the songs of the river, we can learn new stories, refreshing new energy to carry us on through the cycling of the year ahead. And by listening to the voices of country, perhaps we might learn to become better custodians, finding ourselves peacefully slipping into the dreamings of the land.
Feature image: Mermaid at Rivermouth Beach, Margaret River. Sculpture by Russell Sheridan 2013. Taken at the setting of the solstice sun, 21st June 2018.
Jinni Wilson BSc (hons) Anthropology, University of Western Australia.
Surfing Margaret River just got a lot more legendary. The cancellation of the 2018 Pro event may seem like a disaster for the surfing industry, but the strength and resilience of local culture means we can turn it to our advantage. Although the risk of shark attack is minimal it takes courage to face the waves. Some, including pro surfers, are just not up to it.
Surfing has its roots in alternative culture. The soul of the wave warrior is attuned to risk and adrenaline, which feeds straight back into respect and awe for the ocean. And the southern Indian Ocean demands respect: the massive, bold and unpredictable swells are not for the fainthearted.
Over the years, surf culture has become commodified. The local economy now anticipates the seasonal tides of surf events and entourages. But facing the raw power of nature is hard to reconcile with the risk minimising strategies of the corporate surfworld. The World Surfing League, organizer of the Margaret River Pro, is now rumoured to be wavering towards mechanized pools. Cancelling the Margaret River event and blaming the sharks has sent waves surging through world media. The impact on the local economy is potentially enormous, but sitting back and suffering the hit is not an option. Face the fear and take the challenge!
Tourism in Margaret River is nature based. People are drawn to the deep blue of the Indian ocean; but also to the wild spaces of the coast, the beauty of the tall white trees, the wildflowers, and the caves. We can build a sustainable economy if we get creative and diversify rather than take revenge on the ocean and cull the sharks. Killing an endangered species is not a good look for a region based on nature tourism.
Instead, lets promote the health of our oceans. Margaret River is blessed with some of the cleanest, healthiest beaches in the world. We can turn the Great White Pro into an opportunity to encourage respect and awe for the denizens of the deep. In Hawaii where surfing originated, sharks are seen as sacred allies or guardian spirits. Perhaps they are reminding us to respect, rather than exploit the oceans. Inviting us, in a toothy sort of way, to become legends of ocean lore and make custodianship part of our image.
The return of the great white is an indicator that our southern oceans are recovering from the extremes of seal and whaling industries in previous centuries. Whale populations have boomed over the last couple of decades. Whale watching has become a favourite with tourists and a flourishing local industry has grown up around it. (Naturaliste Charters) The sharks follow the whales on their migrations, feed on seals, dolphins, and the occasional human.
For decades the great white was thought to be a descendant of the prehistoric megalodon. But a recent fossil find in Peru suggests that it is more likely evolved from the fish-eating Mako, as an adaptation specially moulded for the consumption of mammals. But through education and understanding locals and visitors alike can minimize risks and continue to enjoy the ocean.
Rather than succumb to fear of the shark, the local economy can benefit by recrafting fear into a powerful attractant. Humans are fascinated by large predators. South Australian shark attack survivor Rodney Fox invented cage diving as a way to promote the conservation value of the species (shark expeditions) Diving with sharks might be hardcore, but in other regions shark tourism has become the mainstay of the local economy. Sharkwatching and photography expeditions generate massive incomes for South Africa and Guadalupe Island (guadalupeconservationfund) Managed sensitively, experiences with sharks foster empathy and can recruit visitors into ocean conservation (article)
The Great White is the result of millions of years of evolution. It is superbly adapted for life as apex predator in the oceans: adapted to everything except predation by humans. We however, evolved by being flexible to change: if we put our hearts and minds to it, we can adapt to anything.
Jinni Wilson BSc (hons) Anthropology, University of Western Australia.
Granite-gneiss on the Leeuwin-Naturaliste coast. Made from molten rock twice-forged deep underground. Cooled and crystallised into individual components; pegmatite, quartz, garnet, feldspar. Differences in pressure and temperature created veins, intrusions, domes and weak zones. Lifted aeons later by the effects of continental drift, and brought to the margins of earth, sea and sky.
Released from the weight of the earth, the rock expanded as it surfaced, cracking along lines parallel to the earth. Radiant heat from the sun travels 150 million kilometres to warm and crack the stone. The same light draws water into the atmosphere, forming clouds and weather systems that infiltrate the cracks with molecule upon molecule of water. The gentle flow of eons, wearing away at the softer rock until only the harder core remains. So there it stands, catching the light, framed by the clouds. A snapshot moment of an eternal process, a monument to the ephemeral power of sunlight and rain.
SCULPTURE BY TREE
Bleached and weathered; scored, lined and hollowed. A large marri, centuries old, collapsed across the swamp like the shin bone of a giant. Nourishment for myriads of small creatures and a feast for the mind that has the time to pause and wonder.
The life history of a tree can be read in the skeleton it leaves behind. Wood shaped slow. Built of soil particles, transported by water and fuelled by the sun. The silhouette of the tree is shaped by light; by the shade of neighbours, and the breath of the wind. But look closer and there are nuances of centuries in an old dead tree; sculpted by growth, invasion, inhabitance; small details documenting an insect bite, the void left by a young branch, fungi.
After the tree falls it is shaped by the agents of weathering; termites, rain, moss, lichen; a home for small marsupials, lizards, snakes. Carbonised into fantastic patterns by the passing of a fire, dappled black on silver.
Shaped underground, formed by slow expansion, pushing between grains of sand and sticky clay. Hundreds of years deep in the earth, searching and seeking out, the weavings of a tree extracting what it needs from the soil. Microscopic filaments stretching outwards, attracting water molecules and minerals, feeding them upwards into ever larger roots. A whole network of fingers, seeking, transmitting, balancing and grounding. Working as conduits for water molecules drawn upwards through the tree to the leaf, siphoned to the heavens by the power of the sun.
Until finally the tree falls; the weight of the accumulated wood wrenches the roots from the earth into the sky, where they reach out like a bouquet of hungry ghosts, seeking to hold and draw you in.
It’s the middle of March. Autumn by the European calendar, for those in the southern hemisphere. But in Noongar country it is Bunuru, or the height of summer. Hot and dry, the bush is dusty and parched. The Marri trees withdraw sustenance from some of their leaves, allowing them to desiccate and fall, minimising the need for moisture. This year the leaves are falling after a massive blossoming, the most prolific for years. So much sugar pumped into the flower, and so little water.
I climb up and along the curve of the fallen log and sit there, absorbing the nuance of its presence. There being no wind, the bush is silent. Just the rustle of soft footfalls like ghosts sidling up, invisible behind the trunks of trees. Unnerving until I see a leaf fall; tumbling, spinning, whispering dryly as it impales itself on a grasstree spike. A long pause and then a pair, drifting down together in a long crackling spiral to merge back into the soil on the forest floor.
The madness of seeing faces in nature: or the art of reading the story of place?
Here I see the wide open scowl of a skull. The ghost grimace of a tree, solidified in wood. In every tree you might find a face, if you are open to the intuitive language of shape. “Imagining” a face is one way to glimpse the personality or history of a tree. Reading shapes and filling the land with story creates an empathy with all things, making it much harder to treat our forest, stone, and water as objects for us to use. It’s a way to open a dialogue with the world, to enter into a meaningful relationship with place.
Shape and movement in nature is the stuff that myths are made of. By looking out for it we can dream ourselves back into relationship with the land.
A knot is the shape of growth from experience.
Branch reaches out for the sun. It wields leaves for transforming light into sugars, drawing them in and nurturing the tree. A bulge forms around the eruption of a branch; the weak point is buttressed, fed and encouraged.
It may sometimes be that what sustained the tree decays, the branch no longer feeds the tree but grows painful and must be shed. Old wounds we cannot erase, but life flows on and around. The space left at the old join is sealed, and energy shifted into the new.
Of all the diverse water saving devices to be found in a eucalypt forest, this must be the most perverse. Ironically, most plastic is made from oil or gas originating from the decay of forest millions of years old. Like wood, it is made from carbon and oxygen but bonded in a way that is not only toxic, but non-biodegradable, meaning that it is tasteless even to a termite, and so dependent on the action of sunlight to break it down.
Termites are vital to both the birth and death of a tree. Not only do they recycle dead wood into easily digestible form that can be used again, the network of tunnels they build underground enables water to pass through and hydrate the soil.
This colony will have a food source for decades. The roots of the tree, still partly embedded in the earth, are one entry point. There is another at the other end of the tree, the shattered remains of the crown. The termite mound is now poised in sculptural balance with the tree. But the balance will change, the log will be eaten out from the inside until transformed into a hollow shell filled with termite dung and clay. Then it will collapse, fold itself into the earth, where rain will saturate and scatter its remains until the work of centuries has been fully recycled back into the soil for the searching roots of future generations of giants to find.