Why did I fall in love with the Australian bush?

I haven’t uploaded a post for a few weeks now, the strains of a PhD and the general stresses that accompany life during a pandemic has consumed my time, however, I’m back! And ready to talk to you about my trip away to the Gawler rangers. Two weeks ago, I ventured out into Hiltaba Nature Reserve, located at the border between the Gawler Ranges and the Eyre peninsula. I travelled 7 hours out of Adelaide to assist a fellow PhD student with their field work. This trip was funded by the Nature foundation who manage and take care of this land so that people like me can enjoy it and carry out research work. You should definitely read more about their great work in this link. So what science was I doing out here? Well, I was helping to gather information about the diversity of organisms that visit freshwater rock holes in this area. By sampling these freshwater holes that occur in rocky granite outcrops we can analyse the water samples using eDNA and assess the invertebrate community that live in these holes, as well as the animals that may stop by for a drink. These holes take many years to form as the water has to weather away the granite but, if maintained correctly, they are a safe source of drinking water. This PhD project is a fantastic piece of work in a beautiful setting, find out more about it here as well as several other funding partners that made this trip possible.

The traditional way these freshwater rock holes were managed by local Aboriginal people, the traditional land owners, was to lay logs parallel across the rock hole and arrange rocks to hold the logs in place. This prevents animals falling into the water hole and fouling it.

Unmanaged rock hole
Managed rock hole

The granite outcrops at Hiltaba are one of the most beautiful sites I have seen. I was apprehensive about coming out here as I am more of a water baby and prefer the ocean, however, the intricacies of this landscape took my breath away. I was lucky to visit in winter to observe freshwater rock holes with water in them as they often dry out in summer, this also meant I got to witness the entire landscape come to life when it rained. Precious water not only cascaded into the rock holes but the lichen growing on these rocks expanded to soak up the moisture, turning an ordinarily red landscape into greens and yellows. 

Lichen coming to life after the rain

While camping for a couple of nights, I surprised myself at my survival skills, managing to cook an entire dinner on a fire, through the rain and with only a butter knife. Unfortunately, my packing skills were something to be desired…but if everything goes perfectly you won’t have any fun stories! The mornings were bitterly cold and fog surrounded the campsite, but I hiked up the granite outcrops to the top, where the first morning light was breaking through the fog. It was magical, droplets of water collected on the tips of leaves reflecting the morning light and creating a tranquil atmosphere.

Kangaroo bolognese
Droplets of water after rain
Morning light hitting the outcrops with fog below in the valley

The next day, on top of another outcrop, rain and hail decided to it. Hot tip, if you see dark clouds forming, don’t stop to admire how beautiful it looks, get down and find shelter! As much as I was uncomfortable it really was a lot of fun, the outcrops do get slippery when they are wet though so it was a challenge to keep my footing. 

Incoming hail storm

Can’t forget the abundance of wildlife I got to see! wombats, kangaroos, emus, geckos and a plethora of birds, my favourite sighting being a wedge tailed eagle. I was also lucky enough to see a green hooded orchid! This wild landscape appears to be simple, but if you take the time to look close enough you can observe how intricate and connected the environment is. Every animal and plant has its place, they have learnt to survive for thousands of years and if we take care of this environment they will survive for thousands of years to come. Safe to say, this is what compelled me to fall in love with the Australian bush.

Barking gecko
Green hooded orchid

The most perfect spider web I have ever seen

PS. As a side note, while I was away I got my PhD work featured in the latest newsletter by CERF, read all about it through this link, page 6.

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