Rare adventures with my adult daughter, Tough Cookie, are always memorable, and the great finger debacle of 2016 was no exception. I’d planned to share our gory trip this week but photographs still need sorting and the final outcome for the finger is yet to be determined.
Instead, I’m showcasing another walk we did some time ago which had me leaping and twirling about on the slopes like a short, jiggly, tone-deaf and highly uncoordinated version of Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music. We may not have experienced whiskers on kittens, warm woollen mittens and sleighbells that ring, but Ravensbourne National Park delivered many of our own favourite things.
I value solo walks for many reasons but the company of my daughter was a special treat. I appreciate the unpredictable and often amusing directions our conversations take. She has a practical head which helps offset my risk-taking and her excellent first aid skills come in handy (as you will find out in the next blog post.) And to top it off she endures my singing which at best can be described as enthusiastic. What does she think of walks with her mother? Tough Cookie is also a diplomatic soul. What she likes best apparently is my “confidence in our ability to tackle any challenge.” It’s quite possible by confidence she really means “a blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life.” In other words, “Thanks for trying to kill me, Mum.”
I’ve discussed my love of history and art in previous posts and how they relate to hiking, but Ravensbourne National Park reminded us that music, literature and film exposure also influence our impressions of a walk. From the innocent delights of Sound of Music, Beatrix Potter and C.S. Lewis to less wholesome psychological thrillers and gruesome scenes from the anime, Akira, Ravensbourne triggered diverse topics for discussion. Thom Hickey from Immortal Jukebox describes how significant memories are often linked to artistic experiences.
“And, when we shuffle through these moments we will find many have been supplied by our encounters with the music, films and books that have become part of the imaginative and emotional furniture of our lives. Snatches of lyrics and melodies from favourite songs that you find yourself unexpectedly singing; scenes from films that seem to be always spooling somewhere deep in the consciousness now spot-lit in front of the mind’s eye, lines of poetry read decades ago that suddenly swoosh to the surface, seemingly unbidden, in response to some secret trigger.”
Ravensbourne National Park, 33km from Esk in Queensland, is one of the few remaining examples of rainforest and wet eucalypt vegetation which originally covered this area of the Great Dividing Range before Europeans arrived in the 1860s and 1870s. It was originally home to the Jawowair and Jagera people who for thousands of years welcomed travellers on their way to the annual bunya nut festivals in the Bunya Mountains.
After negotiating the scenic winding mountain road between Esk and Ravensbourne, we fueled up on morning tea at the Gus Beutel Lookout picnic grounds before exploring the trails. It was surprisingly cold on the exposed spur and my lizard-like daughter was feeling the chill. Even I donned a long sleeved shirt, bulky wind vest and track suit pants instead of my usual ti-shirt and shorts, which added to my “muscular” appearance.
As we gazed at farmland adjoining the 687 hectare park, it was difficult to believe towering forests of red cedar, blackbean, rosewood, piccabeen palms, blackbutts and Sydney blue gums once dominated the landscape. Back then, timber-getters were limited by hand saws and horses, which probably ensured the survival of Ravensbourne. Would it have remained if they’d possessed the chainsaws and bulldozers of later generations?
The lookout is named after a German immigrant who had a passion for preserving Ravensbourne. He was granted permission to clear a small section of land at the lookout for locals to use for picnics, tennis and dances.
While researching Gus Beutel, I was surprised to discover a link with my family tree. Some of my relatives also arrived by boat from Brandenburg and settled in the area at the same time as Gus. Like many from that era, his family experienced deaths from insufficient medical care. His partner, Anna, died of pneumonia a few days after giving birth to her ninth child, and baby Alfred died several days later from lack of milk. Some years later his twelve year old son, Bernard, also died due to a shortage of medication after Gus had to choose which of his two sick children could receive it.
The majestic views and powerful silence at the lookout have made it one of my favourite destinations. Despite the absence of human sound, Tough Cookie and I felt a strong presence. It was easy to imagine the laughter and songs of Indigenous and European gatherings from the past. I asked Tough Cookie why she felt so moved by the vista and why, like me, she was reminded of the The Sound of Music. She replied that rather than the grand view making her feel insignificant, it comforted her to feel part of the macrocosm. It reminded her that she is a part of something much greater and this was exhilarating.
We also discussed John Steinbeck’s use of song to symbolise emotion in his novella, The Pearl. Whenever Kino, an indigenous villager, experienced a powerful emotion, he would hear music – the ancient songs of danger, family and celebration. So, despite the superficial silence of the lookout it did seem as though,
“The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years.”
The farmland also reminded my daughter of English landscapes from children’s books. Tough Cookie spent her early years in hot, dry, flat outback regions of Australia, so it is not surprising that the rolling hills of English countryside would have appealed to her green-deprived life.
The peaceful lookout may have been devoid of real human sounds, but it was periodically alive with bird song. Ravensbourne is known for its many feathered species. Inquisitive eastern yellow robins became avian stalkers, following us from tree to tree. I was surprised by my daughter’s delight with them. She explained that red robins featured strongly in picture books and the tilted faces and fluffed up round chests of the eastern yellow robins brought back memories of Beatrix Potter’s animal characters. She could easily imagine a story involving these cheeky birds.
In nearby patches of invasive lantana, eastern spinebills feasted on nectar, brown cuckoo doves plucked berries, thornbills flitted and tiny wrens teased us with twitching tails.
Adjoining farmland was perfect for kookaburras, magpies, and butcherbirds to survey a buffet of insects and reptiles.
Within the forest we caught glimpses of large-billed and white-browed scrub wrens, brown breasted button quails, whipbirds, and white-headed pigeons. ( A big thank you to Carol Probets, birding extraordinaire and blogger for helping me with some of the bird identification in this post.)
There are 4 dedicated walks at Ravensbourne National Park and we did them all. Cedar Block at the lookout picnic grounds is a 500 metre, class 3, self-guided tour through rainforest and is a sharp contrast to the open, sunny lookout area. The walk is cool, dark and earthy with information boards showing examples of flora used by Indigenous people.
As well as prized timber, giant stinging trees frame the paths. There are few snakes, ticks, leeches and mosquitoes in winter, but the potential pain from this broad leafed species remains year round.
I’ve tried to describe my ambivalence towards rainforests in past posts. While I do enjoy my wanders through them, after a few hours there’s a tension in the air that’s almost claustrophobic. I imagine being lost in thick rainforest could be a profoundly unnerving experience. The rustling in the canopy and the forest floor from invisible creatures, the eerie cry of catbirds and the sudden silence could contribute to paranoia. But there’s something else. My daughter describes it best. She always does and should be writing this blog. My attempts are a stale vegemite sandwich compared to her three course dinner featuring duck a l’orange.
As she says, it’s not so much that the rainforest feels sinister, it’s just that it feels less forgiving. There is this sense that if you fall asleep you might wake to find yourself covered in roots, vines, moss and fungi. Everywhere you look in a rainforest, dead things are being rapidly consumed and concealed by living things.
When we lived in arid regions, meat eats, maggots, termites and carrion eaters disposed of the dead but even so, the bleached skeletal remains of large animals would remain for months, sometimes years. It was also the case with car wrecks, fallen trees and rubbish. In rainforest, not only do the dead rapidly disappear, but the living are targeted also. Strangler figs are an example. Massive trees eventually disappear after tiny fig seeds are deposited in their limbs and trunks through bird activity.
Epiphytes, fungi, moss, lichen and ferns cover rocks and trees. Vines and roots invade, squeeze, smother and suck out nutrients.
Sometimes it’s almost like we’re inside an enormous breathing, pulsing organism. In fact, the textures and shapes sometimes resemble anatomical features like veins, muscles, tendons and nerve cells.
Rainforests remind my daughter and me of many books and movies. We share an appreciation of Tolkien and it is easy to imagine his talking, walking tree people, the ENTs, inhabiting the forests of Ravensbourne. I’m also reminded of Day of the Triffids, Jungle Book and the dodgy TV series, Tarzan. For Tough Cookie it’s a little more grotesque. She’s a human anatomy student and also saw the internal workings of animals as a young child. She sees body parts in the rainforest and it also triggers scenes from the post-apocalyptic anime, Akira. In this Japanese animation, Tetsuo has a mutation causing his body to send out flesh which consumes people and buildings.
Inverting rainforest scenes illustrates what we mean by the abundance of life force that surrounds us on these walks. They may also help show what we mean by parts resembling human anatomy.
I read a fascinating article recently about The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web which is relevant to my musings. It describes the way organisms “communicate” and interact in forests, with an emphasis on the powerful influence of mycorrhizal fungi, and it raises the idea of whether we should approach forests as a single super organism rather than a grouping of independent individual ones.
Three other short walks are accessed by the Blackbean picnic grounds lower down the mountain. Rainforest Circuit is a 1.7 km, class 3 wander and contains evidence of Aboriginal yam-digging sites.
The 3.6 km class 3, Palm Creek Circuit is named after the piccabeen palms Archontophoenix cunninghamiana which cover the gully banks.
The Buaraba Creek walk is a class 4, 6.2 km return walk and contains a variety of vegetation types including wet rainforest and open eucalyptus and meanders downhill to a creek at the bottom of a gully. Most of the path is gentle and well cleared but there are some steeper sections which may slow people on the return.
While the Buaraba Creek track was only a short walk in terms of distance, it seemed longer in time. We speculated this was due to variations in vegetation which fooled our bodies into feeling we’d travelled much further, perhaps in the same way we may feel disconcerted after finishing a book or movie that spans years but for us only a few hours has passed. This “long” journey through different “lands” was a good excuse to overdose on chocolate anyway.
If you’re in the region, it’s worthwhile setting aside a day to appreciate Ravensbourne National Park. The 12km of walking trails and well equipped picnic spots at the Gus Beutel Lookout and the Blackbean carpark make it an ideal place to relax. Beware of the stinging tree branches which drape some of the paths though and apparently leeches and ticks are common in summer after heavy rain.
If you’d like to see others enjoying Sound of Music moments at Ravensbourne National Park, check out Neil Ennis’s blog post about a family trip there. It seems the place even inspires handstands.
For more detailed information about Ravensbourne National Park, please refer to the Queensland National Parks site.
And to finish up the post, I’d like to share ABBA lyrics triggered by the birds and invisible hill singers of Ravensbourne. Yes, I admit that 8 year old Jane was a diehard fan of the Swedish super band. I hope you will forgive me.
Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me.