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A BOTANY STUDENT EXPLORES QUEENSLAND IN THE 1960S


My first expedition of significance was in Third year, when we began to specialise in our botanical studies. My interest was taxonomic, that is learning about the different groups of plants around us. Two stood out, seaweeds and ferns. The first trip took us into the rainforest at the Binna Burra lodge, where we stayed in log cabins around the communal dining room. I was greatly saddened during 2020, to hear the whole complex had been destroyed in a bushfire. So many happy memories gone. From here, our day walks took us into the forest, where the trees and ferns grew closely together, and where we were surrounded by the calls of birds, like rifle birds and lyre birds, though we never saw them. We ate our lunch beside the spectacular falls, while our professor told us stories of the history of the area. We walked carefully along the cliff edges, where careless photographers had fallen to their deaths, while stepping back to get a better view. We marvelled at the exploits of one of the founders of the Binna Burra lodge, who had walked though pathless rainforest for days to locate a plane that had crashed, and rescue the survivors. Of course, we were not there just to be tourists. We had to make collections of the ferns that grew in the rainforest, to preserve them, and later to identify them. As we were in a protected area, the University had obtained a permit from the Government to allow us to make the collections. Then we had to preserve the specimens we collected, by placing them in botanical plant presses. A plant press is comprised of two strong outer frames, made of wood or metal, constructed like a lattice, so there is lots of open space between the frames. The two halves are held together with adjustable straps. Then stacks of newspaper are placed between the frames, so that the straps can be tightened around them. We placed our plant specimens between the sheets of newspaper, and then pulled the straps as tight as possible. The plants were held flat by the frames, and any moisture they held was absorbed by the paper. After a few days, we had perfectly dry plants, that could be glued to strong cardboard, and would survive for many years. The damp newspaper would be spread out to dry in the sun, and could later be used again. In later years, as a teacher, I led this trip to Binna Burra myself, with another group of students. Our expedition to look at seaweeds (algae), took us to Noosa, then a small and isolated town on what is now the tourist mecca of the Sunshine Coast. We camped in the local car park, in tents. From there we explored the area. We walked single file through bushland, from the camp site to a rocky beach. I was about the middle of the file. I stepped over a log that stretched across the path, which many people had crossed before me. As I did, I felt something on my leg. I looked down to see a strange little face looking up at me. The reflex was to scream and kick out. Then I was sorry, as I watched a small harmless frilled-neck lizard go sailing off into the grass beside the path. I do hope he wasn’t hurt. Once again, part of the requirements for our study was to gather a collection of different types of seaweed, to preserve them for later study, and then identify them. We followed our leaders to a rocky cliff, which sloped down into the water. The face was covered with niches in which different algae species were growing. I scrambled across and down this slope on my own, fascinated with the range of species available. I was so interested that I forgot to keep an eye on the water below me. I was rudely brought back to my surroundings when an incoming wave, higher than the rest, broke over me on my rocky perch. I know I hung on grimly, fearful of being washed away, especially as I cannot swim. Fortunately my grip held. I later discovered that everyone else had moved on, and I was the only laggard caught in the wave. This trip concluded with us collecting large amounts of an alga called sea lettuce, which we cooked and ate that evening. I found the taste rather bland. A third collecting trip, again looking for ferns, took us to Cunningham’s Gap, south of Brisbane. This is a gap in the Great Dividing Range, between Mt Cordeau and Mt Mitchell. This is close enough to reach as a day-trip from Brisbane. We took the trail up the side of Mt Cordeau. It took us through rainforest at the base, then an area of dry eucalyptus scrub higher up, and finally emerged at the top on an area of open grassland. Our Professor Herbert believed that this grassland only existed because it had been burnt in a regular pattern by local Aboriginal people in the past century. At the time, his was a lone voice, but the idea is now widely adopted. This again, was a trip where I later became the leader.

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