Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Upper Shoalhaven Valley

North-east of Marulan, near Tallong, the Shoalhaven River cuts through some very complicated geological formations - of limestone (at Bungonia), then metamorphic rocks at Longpoint Lookout, then it heads off into sandstone country, from just past Badgery's Lookout. These lookouts are just on the edge of the western end of the Morton National Park.This huge ugly scar is the Limestone Quarry at Bungonia. This view is seen from Badgery's Lookout, which is actually further away from the quarry than Longpoint Lookout. The machinery and sheds are clearly visible on the right hand side. This is what the Bungonia Quarry looks like from the air.
This is the sight you see from Longpoint Lookout. The Shoalhaven River flows through two huge horseshoe bends, as it flows from the right (west) to left. It is just about to enter the classic Shoalhaven Sandstone country - with near vertical clifflines, such as one sees at Fitzroy Falls. You can see the beginning of such formations on the left of the photo - whereas, in the centre, the hills are steelpy sloping, but not with cliffs - indicating their different metamorphic geology to which I referred. The Limestone geology upon which the Bungonia caves are founded is actually just a couple of kilometres away, but it was out of sight from this point. I could hear the huge machines operating, while at this lookout. It is that close. So, again, that confirms the complex mixture of geological formations in this small area. I had written a reference to the "mighty" Shoalhaven River, but there is very little of it, in truth. But by Australian standards, it is a mighty river valley.
You will realise that I did not come down to this wild and inaccessible spot, just for the view. I was checking out this area for Orchids, of course. I only found Nodding Greenhoods (Pterostylis nutans) in flower, unfortunately.

There were a few plants, some with advanced buds. This plant sometimes forms great colonies, but, alas, not here. It is probably not wet enough for that to happen. This section of the Shoalhaven Valley is in a low rainfall area, and the geology is very rocky and the slopes are very steep - so any rain which does fall runs off almost straight away.
There were some fully mature flowers, such as this one, with the pollinia clearly visible inside the "hood" (galea) of the flower.Another Orchid growing here, but not in flower, is the Dockrillia striolatum (a.k.a. Dendrobium striolatum). In this region, this plant grows predominantly on rocks. The case here, where the roots are within a narrow crack in the rock is a typical manner of growth of this plant - on a vertical rock face. This plant has triangular shaped leaves (in cross section) strangely reminiscent of a "Pigface". The leaves are thickly coated in order to reduce transpiration and to maximise water conservation - which when growing on a vertical rock face, has to be a priority.Here is a photo of a female Grey Kangaroo, with a small joey poking its head out from her pouch, and a youngster (presumably from last year) still at heel with her. These Kangaroos were living on the relatively poor farm lands several kilomentres from the Longpoint Lookout.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bird Orchids still going strong

I have been away (to Brisbane) and then I have taken a break, to try and catch up with other writing. I have not achieved that goal, but I feel I need the discipline imposed by daily blogging. So I am getting back into it.

Today I am doing an easy blog - another story about the local Bird Orchids out on the Budderoo Plateau. Simpliglottis chlorantha, (a.k.a. Chiloglottis chlorantha), the Wollongong Bird Orchid. It is not found in Wollongong, but rather, up on the Budderoo Plateau, It is described as being located in the general "Knights Hill" area, but as Knights Hill is a basalt intrusion through the Sandstone Plateau, with rainforest habitat, even that locator is misleading. This area is adjacent to the better known Barren Grounds. As with the Barren Grounds, it is a classic Sandstone heathland habitat.
Wollongong Bird Orchid - Simpliglottis chlorantha
The red colour is underneath the "labellum" which is held nearly vertical.
I took Alan Stephenson from ANOS Illawarra to see these plants. At least we found many flowers, with some buds still to come. Alan has a contact, a scientist from the ANU who has studied pollination of Orchids (by pseudo-copulation by certain species of wasps), and he wanted to ascertain that these plants are still flowering, before advising this chap that it is worth the trip here. Well, yes, it should be.
A perfect bud
The "osmophores" (glands) on the Labellum.
The largest glands are red, and very large.
Smaller tall glands in the middle are yellowish green.
At the very front of the labellum is a series of rounded glands.
The largest one, at the front, is heart-shaped, and resembles a small blob of green jelly.

This is a photo of the very first flower I found open (this year), on 19 July 2008. You can see that the leaves have been chewed heavily, presumably by slugs or snails. In this location, one would assume that these would be native creatures. You can see that the plant closes the labellum against the "column" to protect the stigma, once the plant has been pollinated. Judging by how severely this plant has been chewed, that looks like a good survival strategy.
Here is the very same flower, as photographed on 19 July 2008 . You can see the distinctively bent stem (photo taken from a different angle).Here is the side-on view of the same flower, as taken on 19 July 2008 (6 weeks ago). Given that there are still a number of small buds in this little colony of plants, they obviously have a long flowering season.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

News for Fungi enthusiasts, plus Slime Moulds

Good News for Fungi enthusiasts.

Don Gover from the Sydney Fungal Studies group sent me a copy of an email from Lee Speedy, the new co-ordinator of FungiMap, which is associated with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. That itself is good news - that they have appointed someone. Or have they attracted yet another volunteer? The world of science would collapse without volunteers, it seems.

Anyway, here is a link to the page where all the Fungimap Newsletters are published. A useful historical resource.

The latest Newsletter, No. 35 - August 2008 has lots of good contact details for State-based groups interested in Fungi, and, best of all, the contacts lists are Australia-wide.
Read it here.

So, Gaye and Mosura and Junior Lepid and Duncan and Gouldiae and Boobook and Mark and Sherryl and Sarah and all you other Aussie Nature Bloggers with an interest in fungi, this is a really useful link. You might just find there are other fungi experts in your backyard who perhaps you didn't know about - or more likely you just didn't quite know how to contact them. This is not actually a list of names or emails, of course, but the various State-based groups are contactable.

Happy fungi hunting!

I shall not be posting for a few days. A planned break, not a collapse, but then again, given how hard I have been working on the Kangaloon Aquifer issue recently, it might be both.

For Sherryl who was discussing Slime Moulds the other day, here are two photos of different stages of one which looks like "dogs vomit". The first is the "motile stage" (mobile) and the second is the spore-forming stage. Effectively these things "crawl" up grass stems or tree trunks until they are high enough to be able to spread their spores. They are mobile, but barely so, - most only move a few inches, but the black-red one was about 1 metre off the ground. But I don't know where it started from - if you get my point.

Anyway, the ability to move or relocate is a "break-through" in evolutionary terms, if you get my drift. These days the Slime Moulds are regarded as their own "kingdom" - not within the Fungi, but Fungi books are the only place you will find easily accessible (or rather comprehensible) information about them.

Some Slime Moulds look like bright yellow or orange blobs and others are like black hairs growing in a group. Very weird creatures, these things.

"Dog Vomit" Slime Mould - "motile stage"

"Dog Vomit" Slime Mould - Spore-producing stage
This is the spore-producing stage of a Slime Mould.
Probably a Stemonitis sp.
Very dark stems, with rich red-brown spores - a very fine powder.
In the forest the whole structure looked almost black.
You had to look closely to see it was like a series of hairs, not a single blob.
This was taken with flash, and lightened slightly so you can make out details.
Click on image to blow it up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A fairy tale morning in Robertson.

I told you it would be white! It was like a fairy tale morning in Robertson.
The freak weather conditions of snow, sleet and rain, followed closely by a hard frost, made for some gorgeous images of "snice" on leaves and flowers. It also serves to give me a new weather word - "Snice" A combination of snow and ice. It sounds better that the ugly word "snost".

It seems there was not just rain which fell, and froze, which is what I thought last night. People told me today that there was snow and sleet as well as some rain. This is evident in the granules visible on the lower levels of the windscreen of my little blue car. It obviously did fall as crystals, not drops of rain - which would not build up like that.
Here is Lena - looking cold - on the frozen driveway.
The ice on the water in a spare Rubbish Bin shows you it was pretty cold. Ice crystals always make for pretty images - no matter how mundane the container is.

"Snice" on Sasanqua Camellia leaves
- with the first rays of sunlight just touching the leaves.
"Snice" on Polyscias sambucifolia leaves."Snice" on Wattle leaves (Acacia fimbriata "dwarf")
"Snice" on Acacia flower stem
Close-up of "snice" on Acacia flowers.

Of course, such fairytale crystals do not last long in Robertson. I knew it would be worth looking out for, so I set my alarm for an early start. I then went back to bed to warm up, and to recover from a very long night on the computer. I have today posted an important submission on the Kangaloon Aquifer. More about that later.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Storm at sundown - leads to sharp frost at midnight.

Monday evening saw a very loud thunderstorm roll up from out of the Kangaroo Valley. I was sufficiently alarmed to turn off the Computer and TV.
Eventually the storm passed over, and I heard on the radio, about an hour later, that it had dumped a bucket of rain on Wollongong, and was heading into the southern suburbs of Sydney. It was a fast moving storm. We are exactly 100 Km from Sydney (directly - according to the Bureau's Radar Map - which has a neat distance measuring device on it).
Just after Midnight, Lena needed to go out for a wee. She was keen, at first, then stopped on the front verandah, and looked back in some alarm. I went out myself, and realised that the temperature had plummeted. I could hear the frost on the ground crunching under my feet. That is a sound I remember from my days in Canberra.

I grabbed the camera, and obtained this image of a sharp frost on the much cover over the soil - taken with flash, of course. You can see the pinkish red shoots of the herbaceous Peonies (hybrid varieties) at the top of the image.
I imagine there will be a very white frost in the morning. I know Lena will be reluctant to go out then. As we got some rain before the sky cleared off, we will probably have a bit of permafrost, with ice crystals lifting up small stones and the very friable soil here. Brrrrr! Chilly, but pretty.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Nature of Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes did not live in Robertson, but his memory certainly does (in my head). And as death is certainly part of Nature, I am going to post my own personal Obituary to Isaac Hayes.

If you are under 30 - think of Chef from South Park. I am here to tell you that Chef from South Park School has gone to the great kitchen in the sky! Everyone else - think of the highly original musician behind the Theme from "Shaft!" He is credited with introducing "orchestration" into Soul Music.

Read this report and weep - but weep with fond memories!
"In the 1999 interview, Hayes described the South Park cook as "a person that speaks his mind; he's sensitive enough to care for children; he's wise enough to not be put into the 'whack' category like everybody else in town - and he l-o-o-o-o-ves the ladies".
But if you read the full details of this article, you will realise (if you didn't know already) - he worked bloody hard to establish his own style (when it was totally unfashionable).
  • He was "rapping" before the kids invented the word.
  • He wore more Bling than Mr T ever did, before Mr T was ever heard of.
  • He shined shoes (that archetypical "black man's job") back in the early 60s on Beale Street, Nashville - (what else, and where else for an out-of-work musician?)
  • Just watch American Basketball and you will see his legacy in the form of the Shaved Head look (especially for African American men). That is not a trivial contribution - for at the time, it was a revolutionary, and politically rebellious look. The fact that it has now become fashionable does not reduce the power of the image, in historical terms.
Photo: Isaac in chains - Joel Brodsky
Source: Stax Museum of American Soul Music

He quit South Park in a fuss over them supposedly mocking Scientology - and then the writers killed off Chef - but who cares? The guy lived the dream, wrote and sang the theme from Shaft which is the cooooolest music ever written for popular cinema. He almost single-handedly made being Black fashionable. And he was shameless about "loving the ladies".

Nobody is perfect. Love him or hate him, you have to admit he at least did it with a certain style and panache. In the many different incarnations of Isaac Hayes's career he created many great memories. Some might have turned sour - but that is part of the Nature of Isaac Hayes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Doing nothing - is it honourable or dishonourable?

Today I have a difficult task. I wish to discuss the politics of doing (or saying) nothing.

My first example is from the Beijing Olympics - and it is a comment on the way in which the Chinese People (there are so many of them they deserve a Capital P) are quietly protesting about the Beijing Olympics - by staying away in their droves. The mainstream media have noticed the numbers of empty seats but have not realised its full significance - as a slap in the face for the over-arching authoritarianism of the Regime in China.

Here is a little Haiku I wrote to commemorate their "passive resistance" - an example of doing nothing as a Political statement.


My second example is a local body, the Upper Nepean Groundwater Community Representative Group. This group has submitted two excellent, detailed reports. One has been published by the SCA, but buried deep with the SCA's Website. I have personally republished it. The other has not yet been responded to. That has been re-published by Leon Hall, one of the CRG members, via the Robertson Environment Protection Society website. I am glad that Leon has done that.

Some of these people have (individually) done good work as a way of providing a feedback to the local community about what the Sydney Catchment Authority has been doing with the Kangaloon Aquifer.

However, I must ask, why has this body has been so passive, and inactive, at a time when the most crucial decisions about the Aquifer are about to be made? The CRG has gone missing. According to the SCA website, they have not met since 26 November 2007 - but that cannot be right, as I know they met to finalise their submission on the Environment Assessment, in May 2008. The fact that the SCA has not bothered to publish the CRG Minutes tells you something, though. And the CRG is not demanding further meetings, or even for the records to be updated. Is this a case of simply not rocking the boat?

The SCA is preparing its final submission to the Dept of Planning under the Part 3A legislation. Supposedly it will be a "Preferred Plan" which would appear to be a shifting of at least part of the Borefield into the heartland of Kangaloon - the rich red basalt soil country which has been the home of the local dairy industry for a hundred years. This is some of the most productive land in the State. No environmental studies have been conducted on the forest type involved. It seems incredible. I have personally raised this with several of the members of the CRG, and they just say: "Oh, that can't be right". Well, I am here to tell you that it is right. I have checked with the Environmental Consultants whose job it ought to have been to do such studies, and they said: "It was not part of our Brief".

I have emailed my concerns to the majority of members of the CRG (I do not have email addresses for all of them) - and have had not a single response from any of them.

What about sticking up for the local Dairy Farmers? The SCA have even been trying to buy up their water licences, for heavens sake. That would directly put these farmers out of business- and not just for now, but for all future generations of their families. This has been reported in the local Media, and is well understood by many members of the CRG.
What is the CRG doing about this threat to the livelihood of the community?
Nothing. Nada, SFA.

So, by contrast with the Chinese people staying away from the Olympics as a kind of passive resistance, the CRG is just doing nothing. They are not lobbying behind the scenes. They are deluding themselves that the crisis for the Aquifer is over. It is not.

So, back to the theme of the day:
In my opinion, doing nothing can be honourable, or dishonourable.
Passive resistance in the face of an oppressive regime, can be seen as honourable.
Inaction because it seems there is no immediate crisis to address, or else, perhaps you believe the task is beyond your power to control, or because you have simply not thought about it enough - that is, in my opinion, dishonourable silence.

It is time for the members of the CRG to shake off their lethargy, and stand up to counted. It is now or never for the Kangaloon Aquifer. Please convene a meeting, and demand to be briefed on the SCA's "preferred plan" before it is submitted to the Dept of Planning. For after it is submitted it will be too late.

The community needs you to fulfil this role - it is after all, what you have undertaken to do. The Community needs you to recall your title - Community Reference Group.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wind, wind, wind - and more to come.

The wind outside my window has been howling, like a train going past, for days. I am sick of the noise, and the bad psychological effects which wind has on me. I get edgy, irritable, and a little bit scared. Fortunately I have had tree branches trimmed away from the house. Given our high rainfall and rich soil, even sapling Wattle trees reach my roof height in 3 years. I do not have large trees planted close to the house which are likely to cause problems, but it is the noise of the branches scratching against the windows and the gutters which I do not like.

Here is the Bureau of Meteorology's official weather warning for coastal NSW for this afternoon and this evening. You will recall that Robertson is sitting directly on top of the Illawarra Escarpment, at approx 750 metres above sea level, so we cop all these supposedly "coastal" winds. This photo is taken overlooking Macquarie Pass - from just 5 Km east of Robertson. It shows Lake Illawarra and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Although taken late one
peaceful afternoon, the point is to show our proximity to the coast, and our exposure to "coastal" weather when warnings are relevant, as is the case tonight.
Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
New South Wales

Coastal Waters Wind Warning
For NSW Waters South of Port Macquarie
Issued at 4:10 pm EST on Thursday 14 August 2008

Synoptic situation
Vigorous southwesterly airflow over southwestern Tasman Sea with embedded cold fronts is expected to persist until Sunday.

Gale Warning
For the South Coast, from Gabo Island to Montague Island

W/SW wind 25/33 knots, reaching 34/40 knots chiefly offshore. Sea around 3 metres, reaching 4 metres offshore. S'ly swell increasing to about 3 metres.

Strong Wind Warning
For the Mid North Coast, Hunter Coast, Sydney Coast, Illawarra Coast, South Coast, from Port Macquarie to Montague Island

W/SW wind reaching 25/33 knots Sea rising 2 to 3 metres. S'ly Swell to 3.5 metres.

The next warning will be issued by 11 pm EST Thursday.

Please be aware
Wind gusts can be a further 40 percent stronger than the averages given here, and maximum waves may be up to twice the height.

Here is the Weather Chart for Thursday evening 14.8.08 at 4:00pm Eastern Standard Time. It clearly shows closely aligned barometric readings in the form of closely set parallel lines. With a low to the east of us (with winds circulating in a clockwise pattern), and a high to the west (with winds circulating in a anti-clockwise pattern), those two systems combine to push a huge volume of air, in a north-westerly direction, from the Antarctic region, well to the south of Australia, right up the length of the NSW coast, bringing about cold winds right up into Queensland.

And this is the four day prognosis - in chart form.
The winds should start to ease on Sunday night. If these are the famous "August winds" then I am sick of them. We all know that, in Robertson, they blow from May to December, but that's another story.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's in a Name?


"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Unfortunately, the Bard was not aware of the existence of Greenhood Orchids (which name he would have liked). But I confidently predict he would have hated the generic name Pterostylis.

The reason I have followed this line of argument is because I was challenged last week by an experienced Orchid observer to justify why I had written in the local REPS Magazine "Eucryphia" about Pterostylis hildae - when in the opinion of this gentleman, I was simply writing about the much more common Pterostylis curta.

Pterostylis hildae (left) - Pterostylis curta (right) - front view
Note the twisted labellum of Pt. curta,
and the honey-coloured "galea"(hood) of Pt. hildae.

I started to say its leaves were smaller than Pt. curta, and the tongue of curta is always twisted to one side. These "minute" differences were dismissed as insignificant (somewhat annoyingly, I admit, but I like and respect, my interrogator, and do not wish to offend him.)

Ultimately, my defence rested upon what was simply an "Argument by Authority" (as it was called in my Philosophy classes). I cited my favourite Orchid Expert, David Jones. His book: "A complete guide to the Native Orchids of Australia, including the Island Territories" is the most comprehensive
book about Australian Orchids which I know of.

Quickly the gentleman replied that he could buy another book which would not agree with my expert. True enough. But I ask, would his book be as "authoritative" as mine? Who can "settle" that argument?

Pterostylis hildae (left) - Pterostylis curta (right) - side view
The conversation then headed towards a discussion of the merits of "Lumpers" versus "Splitters". This is a familiar argument, much loved by conservative naturalists who hate "change" and "unfamiliar names". If you dislike the new names, disparage the authority as a "splitter". Of course, I acknowledge there are contrary arguments based upon individual variations in nature, and the readiness of some people to proclaim a "new species" based upon very small sample sizes. This debate is endless.

Lumpers and splitters: "Different taxonomists take different approaches about whether small differences in appearance should form the basis for new species or not. When lists are compared, those produced by lumpers will contain fewer species and will appear similar. This will lead to a conclusion that the communities are relatively cosmopolitan. Lists made by splitters from the same communities will include more species and there will be less overlap. Comparison of these species lists may favour the conclusion that the dissimilarity of the communities is as a result of endemism." Source: Lee and Patterson - see point 3 "Lumpers and splitters" at hotlink above.

Ultimately this debate comes down to the consensus of experts, as to whether your "new species" is accepted by the scientific community. Another way to look at this is to ask how long has the species been accepted?

In the case of Pterostylis hildae, it has been around for a long time, for it was named by famous Orchidologist, William Henry Nicholls (1881 - 1959). It is not one of the "new names" created by David Jones and Mark Clements. (That would not worry me - but clearly it would worry my debating colleague) It is also accepted by the conservative botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney) and their PlantNET on-line reference.

In my opinion, Pterostylis hildae is a "good" species.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Green and Gold

This is NOT an Olympic posting. But if it were, you could work out which country I would be supporting.
This is a group of young "Green Wattle" Trees (Acacia decurrens). They are some of the "ferny leaf wattles". but dark green in leaf, not silvery leaved, like some species.

These trees have grown like crazy since they were planted on 17 May 2004. They were pruned when just above head height after about 18 months. Then at the age of just over 3 years they were damaged by wind, and pruned hard, as a result. Now they are not quite 4 years and three months old. They need pruning again, once they finish flowering. You can visit this posting from last year to see what the bare field looked like on the day Zoe and I planted these trees.
By the way, why were the Aussies in blue and white track suits?
I note that the Swimmers are sticking to their traditional yellow swimming caps. And so they should.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bright Moment in a freezing cold day

The wind was blowing ice crystals across the garden this afternoon. Some of them landed on the deck, for a few minutes. Not real snow, but close enough for my liking.
I went outside to capture the image of the large particles of ice making diagonal lines across the garden (unsuccessfully). But Lena came with me, and she stood there wondering why she had been enticed outside. Actually, she always accompanies me when I go outside, in case we are going somewhere, but alas, not, today. But she stood there, leaning into the freezing wind. At least she is adequately rugged up for it.She decided to pose for this image, wagging her tail, optimistically, while waiting for me to tell her if we were going in the car. (Another of life's disappointments for Lena.)
Then I went to check to the view to the south of the house, and noticed this male Golden Whistler, looking beautiful in the afternoon light.
He did not stay there very long, as he and his female companion were busy searching for insects amongst the open, deciduous trees and shrubs. You can see his wings beating, just as he starts to fly off - but his head and feet are stationary.
One bright moment on a freezing day.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Deer, Oh Dear!

Feral Deer are a declared threat to certain classes of habitat in NSW. In fact there are six species known in NSW.

Kim had shown us some shrubby trees which has been killed by deer by stripping off the bark. We were surprised, for although we knew Kim had seen Deer on her property, we were not expecting to see trees killed by the Deer.

First we saw evidence - and then there was "proof positive"!
This young buck is probably a Fallow Deer, judging by the markings, the ears and the long tail, prominently used as an alarm signal. "A black dorsal stripe extends down the tail and around the area at the base of the tail but the under-tail is white and quite distinctive when raised in alarm." (Aust. Deer Association - Fallow Deer). Mature Fallow Deer "bucks" have a distinctive broad set of antlers. but this is a young animal, and is not carrying the distinctive antlers - but it does not have other characteristics of the Red Deer - which is the next most likely species. So, I call it as "probably" a Fallow Deer - but I am not an expert on deer identification. I am happy to be corrected. This youngster has lost one side of the set of antlers, so he looks lop-sided.
This young Deer, having studied us, decided to move away.
It had a stiff gait - almost a set of "springing movements".
It is well reported that they like revegetation areas: " ... grazing fallow can live quite comfortably in open country, but like to have timbered cover available. They are most successful in semi-developed country, along the edge of forested areas or in regeneration areas where first-order regrowth species, such as bracken fern and wattle, are dominant."

When it got to a safe distance from us, it stopped to check us out
and then headed off to a regeneration area looking for fresh vegetation.
Kim and Peter have created a nice environment for these Deer. Oh dear! That was not the intention.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Wingecarribee Swamp collapse - 10 years on.

Dr David Tranter spoke at REPS tonight, to remind us that it is 10 years since the collapse of the Wingecarribee Swamp.
Floating islands of dislodged peat and vegetation
in the Wingecarribee Reservoir

The swamp had been mined for peat since 1967. The lease had expired in 1992, but mining continued. The renewal of the lease was eventually reviewed by the Mining Warden Inquiry. the renewal was opposed by Sydney Water Corporation, the Environment Protection Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW), the then Department of Land and Water Conservation, the Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney), the NSW Heritage Council, the Australian Heritage Commission, and the Wingecarribee Shire Council. Other volunteer environment groups including REPS, the National Parks Association were also involved in arguing the case against the renewal of the mining lease before the Mining Warden's Inquiry. This was a very intense and closely argued case, thanks mainly to the action of lawyers for the proponents who set out to ridicule the expert opinions of geologists and environmentalists who argued against the renewal of the Lease.

The Mining Warden was in the process of writing up his findings when the Wingecarribee Swamp collapsed.

"The Barrage" - a wire and steel containment system
designed to keep the peat islands from floating
further out into the Reservoir, and potentially blocking the sluice gates.

A huge "rainfall event" occurred on 7 August 1998. Some 200 mm of rain fell in 24 hours, mostly in a single morning. Events like this had occurred previously (in 1991) without any similar collapse - but in this case, the mining of peat had greatly increased prior to the collapse. This had changed the water level within the peat, and, in turn this allowed the peat to dry out. Also there was a physical weakness in the peat, along the line where the dredging had occurred. This combination of circumstances caused the relatively dry peat to "float like a cork" when the rain occurred, as a huge upwelling of groundwater from the Kangaloon Range above the swamp occurred underneath the body of peat. The body of peat floated and in the process dislodged the dredge, which itself floated from its moorings, and tore a line through the peat, as it floated down through the swamp and out into the Wingecarribee Reservoir.

The rest is history. In due course, the Mining Warden handed in his report granting the renewal of the lease. The applicant had won the case, but by then the swamp had been irreparably damaged, and the mining had been abandoned. You can read all about this in the detailed website by Prof. Sharon Beder, and sponsored by REPS.

The Sydney Catchment Authority, which was formed after the Ghiardia and Cryptosporidium scare in Sydney, was given responsibility for the Wingecarribee Reservoir (and Swamp - in joint management with the NPWS). Since the collapse of the Swamp, they have spent a large amount of money on consultants reports, which has indeed confirmed the advice which was freely given to the Mining Warden's Inquiry by Professor Emmett O'Loughlin (but rejected by the Mining Warden at the time).

Now the SCA is paying to try to repair the damage to the body of the swamp caused by the loss of integrity of the peat, when it floated out into the water of the Reservoir, exposing (behind it) disturbed areas of the original dense mass of peat, which had been covered originally by dense growth of reeds and sedges. Chunks of dry peat are still evident in the privately owned farmlands adjacent to the swamp - light and dry and no longer forming part of the original swamp. Damage like this cannot be recovered.
The opened surfaces where the reeds and sedges were disturbed were colonised by seed from Willows from upstream. Now vast numbers of young Willows (mostly Pussy Willows) are growing madly in the swamp. Some are out in the floating islands of peat - but mostly they are taking over in the top end of the swamp where the peat was also disturbed by being lifted in the "floating" process, and being cracked. Out in the swamp, one finds small islands of raised vegetation, with deep cracks between, where there is exposed water at about 1.5 metres lower than the tops of these little islands. It is along the sides of these little "islands", where the raw peat was exposed, where the willows have taken root. Workers are paid to cut and paint the Willows with RoundUp Bioactive, however, I fear they are fighting a losing battle.
This is a StoneFly, a water-loving insect which spends its immature phases as an aquatic insect, but then matures as a flying creature, as here seen on a TeaTree bush growing adjacent to the Wingecarribee Swamp. I had never seen this insect before this chance encounter.
Tadpoles (and Willows) in the creek adjacent to the Wingecarribee Swamp.
The RoundUp which the SCA contractors use is designed to be non-toxic to insects and frogs in wet environments - which judging by the huge populations of frogs, insects and snakes in the environment close to the Wingecarribee Swamp itself, is a good thing. We wish them all well, for the "Swamp Rats" (as they term themselves), have a huge and difficult job to do.