Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, May 29, 2008

From one end of the Shoalhaven Valley - to the other

Today I went with my friend George on a long-promised voyage back through history, to Sassafras and Tianjara Falls, via the Budawangs area. We were to travel from one end of the Shoalhaven Valley (my backyard - in Robertson) to the other, at Sassafras.

For me, my first contact with the Sassafras district was in early 1960s when my father was an amateur bird-bander with CSIRO Wildlife Division. For several years, we visited the Banksia-rich flora of the Shoalhaven Valley, at Tianjara Falls, in order to band hundreds of Honeyeaters, in the autumn and winter seasons, when the Banksia ericifolia bushes are in flower.
Banksia ericifolia shrub in flower today
We stopped visiting this spot following huge fires which burnt through this area in mid-1960s. The Banksias were killed outright by the fire (as is normal) and then the plants needed to regenerate from seed. Today, one could not see any sign of that particular fire having nearly wiped out the Banksia shrubbery of the area (in the 1960s). Such is the cycle of life.

Years ago, George had work-contacts with this area, including the coastal villages south from Nowra, and as far west as Sassafras. It seems there were more cottages in Sassafras, in those days, but no Nut Tree plantations. He travelled these roads frequently, it seems, but had not been back for many years.

Today we took the "road less-travelled", via Porter's Creek, and the Little Forest Plateau.
Here we were at a wonderful natural lookout-point in a very thin saddle, between the Clyde Valley behind us, and the coastal escarpment. This view looks out over Lake Conjola, with a local sandstone bluff in the foreground. A wonderful contrast between rainforest vegetation immediately below the rocky cliffs where we were, and the coastal plain far below, and dry sandstone rock-shelf vegetation (heathland) immediately across the road, behind us.
Further along we came to this wonderful view of Mt Bushwalker, and Pigeon House Mountain far in the distance. In the foreground was a wonderful area of sandstone plateau with mixed heathland and sedge. Pigeon House is 719 metres high, but because of its isolation, and distinctive shape, appears more prominent than the other hills.
Below is Flat Topped Mountain, far in the distance, in the inaccessible Budawang Ranges. This mountain is deceptively high, at 837 metre above sea level.
Here is a late afternoon photo of Tianjara Falls. At the end of a very dry month of May (and a generally dry autumn), there is very little water going over the falls. However, my memories of these falls include once getting isolated for a weekend by the creek having risen and flooded the (former) low-level crossing. On that particular day, there was a veritable torrent going over this cliff-ledge.I was interested to see the advanced plantations of Nut Trees which are now established at Sassafras. When I lived in Canberra, I lived just around the corner from the (late - and great) Wilf Crane who was one of the persons who helped develop the nut-growing industry at Sassafras. Today, in Robertson, I live just up the road from Wilf's former mentor (from his days in CSIRO and the ANU Forestry School) - Hugh Waring. Small world. Wilf died in an ultra-light aircraft accident, in 1992, when returning to Canberra from visiting the nut plantations at Sassafras. Both Hugh and Wilf made a study of tree growing, with particular emphasis on nutritional requirements of trees. Therefore it is no accident that each had an interest in Sassafras and Robertson - both areas famous for their rich basalt soils.
Sassafras and Robertson are at opposite ends of the Shoalhaven Valley system - I can see the hills of Sassafras and the Budawang Ranges from my back verandah - on a clear day. This is approximately 60 kilometres away, in a direct line. Today the round trip, via Kangaroo Valley, Cambewarra Mountain, Nowra and Sassafras, and back was 250 Km of driving - a full day's trip.

A comment on the roads.
The roads around the Sassafras district, and down to Nowra have been improved greatly since the 1960s. Indeed there is a very large road construction project occurring now, west of Sassafras, at Bulee Gap, above the Endrick River. That patch of road was always a very narrow, steep climb up the back edge of the escarpment up towards the high point at Sassafras. That road develpment has been promised for more than 45 years, that I know of - and probably far longer, as, of course, it was intended to link the two parts of the ACT - Canberra and the port of Jervis Bay - an arrangement entered into in 1912 when the Capital was declared.

It was a great day out - seeing wonderful country, landscapes and birds and wildlife - from one end of the Shoalhaven Valley to the other.

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