Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bunya Mountains, no Bunyips around.

Early in August some mates and I went to a place in Queensland called the Bunya Mountains. This has been an annual trip for the last three years. I was fortunate to tag along this year. We ate, played games, hiked, played with parrots, wrote stories, and just relaxed for our time there. While we had hoped for some snow, we had a pleasant burst of weather that made the trip great. Well, the location and company made the trip great, but the weather helped.

Each of the meals for the trip was assigned to a team of chefs (usually 2 people). We ate like royalty. Well, we ate like what I think royalty would eat like... maybe with fancier dinnerware and stuff. We had tons of left over food. I must say the other blokes were very generous in their food offerings. This is the very first meal, which had two lasagnas, a shrimp pasta, and a vegetarian pasta. Yes, that's FOUR pastas for the SEVEN of us.

This was the view from the large porch of our cabin. We initially had two cabins, but consolidated to the one on Monday. Did I mention that we were there from Friday night until Wednesday? Yeah, it was 5 days of fun.

There are many plants and trees unique to Australia. I'm sure most people might recognise the bottletree, but I'm also pretty sure the Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) is not as familiar. The tree is very large, with the branches only towards the upper portion. The tree is most known for the huge pine cones. The nuts in the cones are edible and very tastey. In fact, Aboriginal families used to claim trees and pass them down through the family. Every three years the local tribes would gather and forget past wrongs and disputes to harvest the nuts from the trees.

Another "tree" is the strangler fig (Ficus watkinsiana). This is a vine that produces seeds that the birds eat then poop out when they land in the trees. The seed sprouts and then becomes a vine that works its way back down to the ground, using the tree it began life on as support. Eventually the vine grows larger and chokes the tree until it dies. You can see in these pictures one tree that is still hanging on to life, and in the other where the inner tree has died and decayed away leaving a hollow tube.

In between all the terrific food prepared by the other guys I managed to introduce these Aussies to the wonder that is a smore. Thanks to my sister I was able to bring some real American graham crackers. We used Aussie marshmallows, which are much better than the ones in the US. We also found some chocolate that seemed to work okay. Not much in the way of Hershey bars around these parts.

The cabin was in a gated community where heaps of wallabies lived. They were everywhere. Some of them had little joeys in their pouches like this little jill. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get any good pictures of the joeys, they turned out rather blurry. There was quite a bit of wildlife around in addition to the wallabies, like large worms (think of a hot dog wiggling across a path through the forest), an antechinus, and especially birds.

I think a highlight of the trip for me was the chance to see very colorful birds. They sell bird seed to visitors who didn't happen to pack some for the trip. Somehow the birds show up within about 5 minutes after setting it out for them. Not just one bird, mind you, but flocks of them. We had all sorts showing up for some chow, and they were tame enough to actually hop onto your arm and eat out of your hand. They even pose for pictures sometimes.

The Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) were the most common. They'd come in groups of a dozen or more, and there'd be one or two "alpha" birds that would push the others out of the way. We were fascinated by the hierarchy of birds that came to eat the seeds, not only between species but among birds of the same species as well. The bright red and blue guys were all males, as the females have a greenish tinge.

The Red-browed finch (Neochmia temporalis) was a bit harder to photograph. These little guys are so jumpy and skittish around the larger parrot birds. For a much better photograph check out this website. They went for the smaller seeds, and actually gathered underneath the deck to pick up the seeds the larger birds dropped through the cracks.

We also had a visit from a mating pair of King parrots (Alisterus scapularis). They were the largest birds to come eat our seeds, but we only had the one pair stop by. You will note that the male has a red head, and the female is all green. I wonder why the females are more green than the males. Hmm, things to ponder.

We ended on this meal. I mean, seriously, how can I feel like a student when this is what I'm eating? For my family reading this, you have no need to worry about whether or not I'm being fed. I can't actually remember what the dishes were, but one them is vegetarian. I'll have to seek some reminder help from those who made these wonderful meals.

There were heaps of plants around that were endemic to the area. Besides the Bunya Pine, ones that were particularly distinctive were the grass trees (Xanthorrhoea glauca). These plants grew from about 4 to 10 feet tall. You could tell that they had been around for a while, because the base is just the stumps of the grass that grows on the top kinda like the way coral grows. Thanks to Monica Pawlan for explaining the following on her website:
"Xanthorrhoea plants are also known as balga grass to the Australian aborigines, which is their word for black boy. The Aborigines probably called these plants balga because after a wild fire, the bottom leaves burn away revealing a singed black trunk with long green reed like leaves extending from the top of the trunk giving the appearance of child like black figures."

I'm not sure that the wallabies can actually read, but I thought it was nice of the folks to put a sign up so they would know where to cross the road. They even considered the poor, little, illiterate wallabys by putting a picture of their kind on the sign. Since I'm just a "tourist" in Australia, I decided not to break any laws and steal the sign, but if I ever get my residency...

What a wonderful weekend we all had. Definitely something I will always remember. Ta to all the guys who were a part of it.