I am writing this post in a slightly sleep deprived state due to the antics of my furry friends, the nocturnal brushtail possums, Trichosurus vulpecula, which have been thundering across my roof more than usual lately. I’m not sure what has caused this increase in activity but I’m hoping they take a possum chill-pill soon and allow me a little more uninterrupted sleep. One of them likes to snooze on top of my open garage tilt-a-door, but during a gusty day recently, when the door started to flap, it was in danger of becoming a possum pancake so I had to encourage it out onto a tree.
Now if my possum friends were like this one I spied at the University of Queensland last week, I wouldn’t have bags under my eyes this morning. It seemed oblivious to the fact that it was daytime while it rapidly munched on a carefully planted garden. It didn’t seem to be blind, although that can be difficult to tell as they have an excellent sense of smell and good hearing. Wobbly Possum Syndrome can affect vision and cause daytime feeding; however, from what I’ve read this illness is currently only in New Zealand. Perhaps it was unable to feed the previous night for whatever reason and was simply ravenous. I’m a bit of a midnight snacker. Are there midday snackers in the possum world?
Now it’s time to talk about some of my latest wanders…
Why are she-oaks called she-oaks? Is pizza the ultimate hiking food? Why do biting midges like my blood so much and is my son trying to give me a heart attack? These were just a few of the important life questions that some of my recent walks in the Brisbane area left me pondering.
It was mid-year university holidays and my son and daughter were available for outdoor action. Bribed by pizza, the calorie-drugged offspring accompanied me to “the wilds” of Toohey Forest and the Mt Gravatt Reserve. I’ve already written in past posts about how important nature escapes are to the physical and mental health of city dwellers and to the preservation of native flora and fauna. This 260 hectare island of green just 10km south of the Brisbane central business district is another example of such an area. While it may not be a well known tourist destination, it gives great views of the surrounding city, ranges and coast and showcases the vegetation that used to cover much of Brisbane – open eucalypt, heathland, sandstone ridges, grass trees and damp rainforest gullies.
The Mt Gravatt Reserve is also known as Kagarr Mabul – “Place of the Echidna” – in the Yuggera language. The traditional custodians, the Jagera and Turrbal people used these lands as hunting grounds. It was opened up for European settlement after the Brisbane penal colony closed down in 1842. In 1874, 298 acres was designated a railway timber reserve but after action by the local community, about half of this was divided into a recreational reserve. Since the year 2000, the dedicated volunteers of the Mt Gravatt Reserve Environment Group have been caring for the area, supported by Brisbane catchment networks, Habitat Brisbane, local businesses, schools and universities. If you plan to visit the area, I recommend you read their blog as it has interesting information about flora and fauna you will see.
Due to time limitations we were only able to do the Toohey’s Ridge Track 3km (6km return), Sandstone Circuit 1km and Mt Gravatt Summit Track 1.2km (2.4 km return) but there are many other small tracks available. Most are easy but a few, such as the Toohey’s Mountain Track (2.4km return), are on rougher tracks and require a higher fitness level. There are a number of picnic areas within Toohey Forest park from which you can start and finish your walks. For detailed track information check here.
We began our first walk at the Mayne Estate and Toohey picnic area, Toohey Road, Tarragindi. The Professor and Tough Cookie marched off into the distance along the easy paths of the Toohey’s Ridge Track. Pram pushers, dog walkers and runners were out in force taking advantage of a perfect mild Brisbane winter’s day. In order to liven up the walk, my son decided to use a railing over a steep drop as a balance beam. I don’t have a photo of him as I was too busy trying not to pass out from holding my breath.
The red-brown coloration on some of the trees in the picture above does not indicate disease but is the “flowering” male black she-oaks. The native Allocasuarina littoralis is actually dioecious which means it has separate male and female trees. Here are the tiny flowers and cone-like fruit from the female tree.
And here are the “flowering” tips of the male tree “needles” which are actually cladodes with minute leaves arranged around each joint. This structure allows she-oaks to cope with dry conditions as it reduces water loss while still allowing photosynthesis to occur.
She-oaks also have nitrogen fixing bacteria on their roots, like peas and beans. The tough bark on the she-oak helps it withstand sand and wind blasts, especially on beachfront locations. I must admit even though I’ve been around she-oaks for much of my life I had never noticed the separate male and female trees before. Sheoaks were given different names for the male and female trees by some Indigenous Australians.
I tried researching where the term she-oak came from however there has been some disagreement. If you are interested in the etymology of the word you can read a discussion here. Another site will tell you many interesting details about its Indigenous and colonial uses as well as more botanical characteristics.
A short detour to complete the sandstone circuit offered more opportunities for my son’s circus acts on boulders and an extra work out for my heart.
A magpie gave my son a stern look on my behalf.
The Professor’s hijinks were due in part to him having been closeted in a laboratory for far too many months and also due to my forgetfulness. Unfortunately, I’d left my camera SD card in the computer so he kindly lent me his DSLR. This was my first attempt at using one and after he gave me a quick tutorial on what to do, my fuddled brain promptly forgot the instructions immediately.
Without a camera to slow him down, my son was left to flex his muscles instead, hence the gymnastics which raised my heart rate. These activities combined with enthusiastic conversation with his sister meant the wildlife went into hiding but the point of this little jaunt was fun so this didn’t matter, especially since there were plenty of other walkers to scare away the critters.
We accidentally took a detour which we thought was the official Grass Tree Track, but that proved to be further along on the left.
The unofficial path did provide me with more flowers and fungi to photograph though and plenty of grass trees.
Toohey’s Forest struck my daughter and I as rather unusual as it reminded us of small elements of other national parks we’ve visited. The grass tree areas reminded us of Mt French, the sandstone rocks and heathland like Girraween National Park, the open dry eucalypt areas like White Rock and the thicker forested areas like parts of the Glasshouse mountains. My daughter made the comment that it almost seemed like it was artificially made garden showcasing different examples of vegetation. There is apparently rainforest in gully areas although we were unable to easily see these at the time.
The next day I returned with Lycra Man who was interested in checking out the cycling opportunities to the summit of Mt Gravatt before he returned to watch the Tour de France highlights.
Before beginning the 2.4km return Mt Gravatt summit track it would have been helpful to have printed out the excellent self-guided tour brochure written by Michael Fox and Susan Jones which gives highly detailed information about the plants, animals and geology of various points along the walk. There are markers along the way which are referred to in the brochure.
The walk begins at Gertrude Perry Place and follows a sealed vehicle road for a short time.
This road cuts through very distinctive red soil and rocks and we saw small tunnels in the banks which are nesting homes for striated pardalotes, Pardalotus striatus. There were a few larger holes such as this one and I wondered if they were home to kingfishers which also like to tunnel into banks.
The track quickly turned into narrow dirt paths bordered by tall native trees and shrubs.
On this day the midges couldn’t get enough of me and a cloud of the blood suckers gathered around my face whenever I stopped to take photographs.
We passed an interesting bright red rock and soil cavity.
The midges feasted on me for 10 minutes as we watched this rainbow lorikeet couple excavate a nesting hole.
Red leaves among dull vegetation caught my eye also.
Information sites online describe the delights of the Echidna Cafe at the Summit lookout but when we arrived it was closed. Being a coffee addict, Lycra Man was more than a little disappointed and in desperate need of caffeine. This along with the continuing midge attacks on my face may have contributed to the speed of our descent.
Here’s a rather smoky view of Brisbane city in the distance. I imagine it would be a great spot to watch a sunset.
Before descending I checked out some of the native tree and shrub plantings of the Mt Gravatt Environment Group, designed to encourage wildlife and to stabilise the slopes.
I’m not sure what kind of insect spun this silken home among the flowers. (UPDATE: Thanks very much to Craig who wrote in the comments section that this may be a yellow silken egg sac made by a Pirate Spider- Australomimetes sp.)
If someone knows what this weird flower/fruit is please tell me. UPDATE: Thanks to Mike Fox from Mt Gravatt Environmental Group for identifying this flower as Blue Tongue, Native Lasiandra . Here’s a link.
The bubbly protective surrounds of spittle bug nymphs called to me.
As did lichen…
And tree trunk varieties…
Towering gums made me feel even shorter than usual.
While I didn’t sight the rainbow lorikeet couple again on the way down, I managed to annoy a solitary bird drinking nectar in the carpark.
This was a very comfortable short walk that gives great views of the city and also allows you to experience the kind of environment that used to cover much of Brisbane. Don’t expect the coffee shop to be open when you get to the top though and if you are prone to attracting midge bites like me take some protective measures. I still have a spotty face from their loving attention! Brisbane dwellers are very fortunate to have such an escape so close to the heart of the city and we have the work of many passionate volunteers and dedicated supporters over the years to thank for this.
My next write-up will be about a few chilly but beautiful days spent in the mountains south. It gave me a chance to test out my theory that I am more suited to colder climates. What was my conclusion? If my possum buddies allow me a few good nights’ rest, you will find out.
Thanks for reading. 🙂