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.
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
- subspecies obtusa, he offers, to my inquiry about the unfamiliar weeping form found regularly in the gorges.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Old bridge timbers remilled to board.
Same source, same gnarly grade but selling at a pretty fair
The holes give it away recycled cross-arms from old power poles.
They held isolators in the baking sun for decades.
Im certain they will be dry and seasoned as furniture timbers.
Good value hardwood in a great tabletop / benchtop milling suitable for edge-lamination to joinery
Long finger-jointed lengths of Jarrah for any kind of outdoor or indoor project balastrading, handrail, decking or