I promised to tell you more about Queensland in the 1960s.
After my first 3 years at University, I had become a full-time employee of the Botany Department, while still continuing study towards a higher degree. My collecting expeditions became more widespread. A group of us decided to visit Carnarvon Gorge, which is in isolated mountainous country 700 km north west of Brisbane. We camped there for about a week. We set up base in the camping area, and from there made day walking trips along the creek further into the Park. Part of the interest along the creek bed were the towering palm trees. No-one was really sure how they came to be there. The nearest dry-land palms we knew of, grew near Alice Springs in central Australia. We discussed whether our palms might be relics from an earlier wider distribution, or whether Aboriginal peoples had actually brought the seed here in times long-distant. More recently, other palms of this type have been found in the Dawson River catchment nearby.
Each night, our camp was invaded by very cheeky possums, who investigated all our belongings, and stole whatever food they could.
Here too was a very embarrassing night for me. I had been living in a flat and cooking for myself. The 2 girls who were our designated cooks had less experience, and before they prepared a curry, asked me how much curry powder to use. I suggested how much I would use, which they added to the meal. The result was so hot it was almost inedible. I then discovered they had a more expensive brand of curry powder than the cheap and nasty type I could afford as a student. Their brand was so much stronger than mine. I felt guilty, because I had not asked what they were using. But I was soon forgiven.
On our walks, we explored Cathedral Cave, a huge overhang which had been used by Aboriginal people as their camping site for ages past. The walls are covered with outlines of hands, and of boomerangs, made by blowing powered ochre around the object as it was held against the cave wall. In addition, there were petroglyphs, like bird tracks, pecked into the big rocks lying on the cave floor. We also visited hidden pools, where permanent springs dripped water down rocks covered with moss and ferns, and walked deep into side gorges so narrow that you could touch the walls either side of you as you walked, while they wound into the distance. I soon suffered from claustrophobia, and hurried back to the wider main gorge. Altogether, a fascinating time.
My research project was to study a type of grass that grew well-scattered places in Queensland. One such place was on Stradbroke Island, not far across Moreton Bay from Brisbane. I caught a ferry from Cleveland to make the short trip to Dulwich, where I stayed in a research station maintained by the University. The next day I walked from Dulwich into the bush, and was able to locate areas of the particular grass I needed. Once again, I could dry the specimens in a plant press, to take back to the laboratory for further study.
Another grass I needed to study grows on the sides of Castle Hill in Townsville. As my brother Cliff and his family were then living in Townsville, I was able to combine a family visit with an expedition to collect the grass, then christened by the family as ‘Barb’s grass.’ I flew to Townsville from Brisbane in a Dakota, my very first trip in a plane, and my strangest memory of that flight is that while on the ground, the aisle of the plane was not level. Instead, the hostess had to walk uphill to get from the tail to the pilots, then downhill when she came back. Is that memory correct?
I did not get to see a lot of the country around Townsville as we were visited by a cyclone while I was there. Not much wind, but lots and lots of rain! Another fond memory is of a group of us visiting the Glasshouse Mountains inland from the Sunshine Coast. We had decided to climb one of the 2 tallest peaks, Mt Beerwah. Again, I have to confess to an embarrassing memory. I had chosen my walking shoes for their strength, thinking they would give me good support. Unfortunately, they had leather soles, not rubber. Almost the lowest part of the climb involved a scramble up a sloping area of polished rock. Despite my best efforts at finding handholds, my slippery shoes always had me sliding back to the base. Frustrated, I was ready to give up, and offered to wait for my friends until they had climbed to the top of the mountain and back again. But between us, we found a solution. A combination of the neck strap from my camera, and a shoe-lace, was a long enough cord to enable my friends to haul me over the slippery area. After that, it was a relatively straight forward walk to the summit.
And the view from the summit was worth every effort. We could see from the sea in the East, to the mountains around Maleny to the west, and south almost as far as Brisbane. Not a house to be seen. Probably lots of houses now. We drove back to Brisbane through the wallum swamps, heathlands thick with beautiful wildflowers. Does it still exist more than 50 years later?
My friends from the Botany Department also planned trips to Bribie Island, and to Rainbow beach north of Noosa, then a small beachside town. Rainbow Beach was named for the different colours of sand that occurred in patches above the beach. We filled small bottles to display the different colours of sand, in bands.
Another trip took me to the Bunya mountains outside Dalby, where I could look south west over the Darling Downs, towards my home town of Chinchilla. A friend and I marvelled at the huge Auracaria pines which bear bunya nuts in massive cones, every couple of years. Once again, the hilltops were grassy without trees. Once again, my Professor was the one who maintained they were kept that way by Aboriginal firestick farming. He has been proven correct now.
Next time, I’ll tell you about 3 girls, driving in a VW beetle, from Brisbane to Adelaide in the middle of summer. Just over 2000 kilometers.