The Drum
 

      SEPTEMBER 2012

  • The Drum Goes Inland - The Darling River And The Cooper Creek
  • New Stock At Urban Salvage
 


The Drum Goes Inland - The Darling River And The Cooper Creek

Northbound on the Kidman Way in mid-western New South Wales, the intensively-managed agricultural belt peters out near the Lachlan River and the pastoral leases are represented by tracts of scrub and open woodland. Viewed from the road, the woodland is frequently mallee with low shrub and grasses. Or White Cypress stands with belah and wattle understory. Sometimes this woodland is dense with a canopy reaching fifteen metres, but on certain soils the reach of woody plants is much less, and the scrub takes on the cast of a savannah woodland with a grassy understory. 

These woodlands have much in common with the landscapes that lie ahead of me on this trip inland to the Cooper Creek - in that they are populated by native flora adapted to survive in low rainfall zones upon poor soils and rocky ground. Some of the flora is 'survivor' genera - species that tough it out through drought and flood. Some of it is 'reviver' genera - mostly grasses, wildflowers and the ephemera that lie dormant in seed for years awaiting flood and fire. They are the two recurrent events that have determined the pattern of species occurrence and dominance in the arid Darling and Eyre Basins, and the higher range country that divides them.

 

  
Red Gums on the creekline, Native Cypress on the rocky slopes in Mutawintji National Park
  

Mutawintji National Park lies north of the Darling and west of the Paroo River, and its gorges cut deeply into the Byngnano range, often ending in cool, dark rock pools. Mark Sutton, a member of the Malyankapa people that shares traditional ownership of Mutawintji - and our guide on a tour of the indigenous rock paintings in the park - knows the flora well. His knowledge embraces a modern taxonomy of plants. River red gums at Mutawintji are recognisably variant on the genus found elsewhere. Eucalyptus camaldulensis - subspecies obtusa, he offers, to my inquiry about the unfamiliar weeping form found regularly in the gorges. 
 

 
Mutawintji National Park
 

Traditional owners embraced moiety - a formally structured social order that allocated custodianship of animals, plants and places to kin members. While essentially religious and totemic in nature, it introduced a stewardship of the natural environment, sustainably-purposed, that balanced the years of good rainfall and times of drought. This tradition - though arcane in detail and understanding - might hold more promise than the short-term thinking, the periodic degradation of land and resources, and the carping didacticism we have occasionally replaced it with - in the era since Burke and Wills' journey through this country. 
 

 
Mulga tree
 

 
Mulga woodland at Mutawintji National Park
 

In these arid regions, it is not intentional clearing of bush for agriculture or pasture that has caused greatest long-term damage - though that is part of the story in some of the dense acacia landscapes on the north-eastern fringes of the arid zone. The widespread loss of woodlands around Broken Hill was for fuel in smelting and pit props in mining. The landscape is poorer for it, with watercourses entirely bare of old red gum and scant evidence of mulga scrublands on the rocky rises 'til you track many kilometres north towards Mutawintji. The black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) too, is more profuse on the grey sedimentary floodplains of the Darling River basin towards Pooncarie than it is near mining settlements.
 

  
A lone Callitris grows on an exposed rocky site
 

Soil structure is one more critical variant. Overstocking of sheep and cattle in past decades, and the on-going grazing impact of feral goats and pigs, depleted native grasses and wildflower shrubs so critical to surface binding on the red earth rises. Rabbit burrows in the scrublands exposed these lightly-structured soils and the roots of woody plants to strong seasonal winds. Sutton makes plain the essential fragility of red earth soils. They typically develop a cake-like crust - partially bonded with an organic mulch overlay - which protects against wind and evaporation of water near the root base. The localised damage caused by visitors on walking tracks mirrors the more widespread damage from grazing herds.

Mark Sutton believes that mulga (Acacia aneura) - the dominant plant in the dryland areas of Mutawintji National Park and beyond - is perfectly adapted to the less than 250mm annual rainfall belt. The branching aspect of this wattle is upwards - limbs supplicant for rain. Leaf-like phyllodes with a furry texture reflect heat and deny evaporation through limited pores. They channel rainwater down the limbs to a waiting fine root matting just below the surface. One variant - the Umbrella Mulga - is able to provide broad shade to this root base throughout the whole day.

Nearer Cooper's Creek, the ephemeral plants - Barcoo, kangaroo and button grasses, crowfoot and parakeelya - dominate in loose sandy soil at the top of dunes and on rock-strewn slopes. Red gums are represented on the river banks, but the drainage lines and verge floodplains are dominated by coolibah trees (Eucalyptus microtheca). Away from the watercourses, coolibahs become progressively smaller and less abundant. Beyond a 200 metre perimeter only small hakeas, saltbush and dead finish (Acacia. tetragonalphylla) pepper the grey loamy clays. In the dune swales, myall (Acacia. pendula) and mulga bind the red earth and the sandy loams around small isolated wetlands lush from past inundation. This ability to hold trapped rainfall in shallow depressions shaded by native rush, sedges and tangles of lignum for months afterwards is an important function of the Eyre Basin landscape. 
 

 
Coolibah tree, Cooper's Creek

 

 
Lignum, grasses and wildflowers on Cooper Creek banks
 

We left the Cooper Creek travelling eastwards through Queensland, traversing the Bulloo and Paroo Rivers, and followed the Paroo south through Hungerford and Wanaaring. The mulga gave way intermittently to stands of mallee and taller thickets of brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) on the heavy clay and rocky soils. Clumps of bimble box (Eucalyptus populea), yapunyah (Eucalyptus ochrophloia) and desert oak (Casuarina pauper) - bordered the acacia stands. On a very good dirt road running south into Louth we surveyed a tall gidgee woodland (Acacia cambagei) which ran for a few kilometres on our eastern side. Piles of log from road widening works lay near the edge of the woodlands and I wondered how much sawlog I could find among the firewood. But as the afternoon was growing long shadows, I resisted the lure of yet another project. 

The road eased down onto a very flat and wide Darling floodplain. The sky seemed to dome in a vast roof above us. Herons rose from isolated wetland rafts in the grass plain. Fluorescent green flared suddenly in a lowering sun - a clutch of budgerigars dodging wildly across the windscreen view. Three emu chicks scuttled recklessly into our path - surviving a near miss - and then chased a skittish adult into grassland. The beer at the Louth pub would be reliably cold, I thought, as the distant grey line of River Red Gums told us that journey's end was near.
 

 



New Stock At Urban Salvage

 

Recycled (gnarly) Ironbark
180 x 28mm
   Rate: $29.00/m

Old bridge timbers remilled to board. 

Deeply-toned timbers with mild to moderate fracture or penetration feature – but still sound for use as furniture
– if you don’t mind the gnarly bits
.
 

 
 



Recycled Ironbark
120 x 28mm   Rate: $19.00/m

Same source, same gnarly grade – but selling at a pretty fair price.
 

 
 



Recycled Spotted Gum, Ironbark, Tallowwood
90 x 90mm   Rate: $69.00/m

The holes give it away – recycled cross-arms from old power poles.

They held isolators in the baking sun for decades.

I’m certain they will be dry and seasoned as furniture timbers.

Length limits 2400mm.
 

 
 



KD Sydney Blue Gum
140 x 42mm   Rate: $19.00/m

Good value hardwood in a great tabletop / benchtop milling suitable for edge-lamination to joinery standards.
 

 
 



KD Jarrah
125 x 30mm   Rate: $14.90/m

Long finger-jointed lengths of Jarrah for any kind of outdoor or indoor project – balastrading, handrail, decking or benchtop.
 

 
 



KD Jarrah
90 x 42mm   Rate: $19.00/m

Another well seasoned deep red for furniture applications.
 

 
 

   

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