Following the Warada Track, Field of Mars Wildlife Refuge

It is a testament to the community spirit that this area exists at all, tucked alongside creeks in urban Sydney. The Field of Mars was part of a large land grant given to soldiers in 1792 by Governor Arthur Philip, originally taking in the entire area north of the Parramatta River from Dundas to the Lane Cove River. Over the decades the surrounding area had been carved up and allocated, and part of the reserve had been used as a tip. Moves to redevelop the remaining pockets of bush were challenged by local groups, and since 1975 the site has been available for the public to enjoy as well as being a sanctuary for animals, birds and other wildlife.

There is an Environmental Education Centre in the reserve, and it is a popular destination for school groups offering excursions along several tracks. The Visitor Centre, open each weekend, is supported by volunteers from the Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society who provide friendly assistance and knowledge in regards to the various tracks available. Walking tracks can also be downloaded from the Ryde Council website.

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Along the track

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a brush turkey. It paid little attention to me although when I was leaving another one appeared and seemed keen to follow me home. These birds are famed for the huge leaf-litter mounds which are maintained by male birds for up to nine months each year. They are up to five metres in diameter and one and a half metres high. The mounds are constantly turned over, waiting for a female turkey to come along, test the temperature and lay a clutch of eggs.

Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey (young/immature)

The Warada track is named for the Aboriginal heritage of the area, and the track’s proximity to the only known waratah plants in the reserve. They would be a spectacular sight in springtime – the one below was spotted in the upper Blue Mountains last October.

Waratah

Waratah (telopea speciosissima) spotted in upper Blue Mountains, Oct 2017

The track climbs upwards with sandstone ledges acting as steps in some parts. There are Sydney red gums throughout the walk, their roots holding tight onto the sandstone until the stone eventually crumbles. Some of the trees are marked with sap; this indicates that the tree is being attacked by insects, but it defends itself by exuding gum, called kino.

Sydney red gum

Sydney red gum with kino – gum – exuding as it defends itself against insects

Banksias and scribbly gums appear along the path, along with hakeas and boronias. There were several large termite nests along the way, perched high up in the trees. The path turns, winding away along a ridge before snaking down towards Strangers Creek. According to field notes, the creek was named as there were homeless people living in the area until the 1950s, with local residents and farmers warning children not to venture near this creek alone.

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Termite nest remnants

The bush was alive with various birds including magpies, white cockatoos and rufous fantails. On the path leading back towards the Visitor Centre, alongside a stretch of mangroves, a pair of white ibis birds were foraging about. A short distance away, a kookaburra rested on a branch, watching the ground for any treats.

It was a delight to spend some time in this reserve and it will be worth revisiting during different times of the year to see various wildflowers and shrubs in bloom.

Have you taken a different track lately?

[Photo: Field of Mars Reserve, East Ryde]

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Writing, Nature and Presence

Recently I attended the inaugural Eleanor Dark lecture which formally closed the Blue Mountains program of the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival. The lecture, held at the grand old Carrington Hotel, was given by Delia Falconer.

Falconer is known for her novels including The Service of Clouds which I’ve referred to previously as one of the books that is intricately linked to the fictional world of the Blue Mountains. Falconer’s book on Sydney as part of the series of books on the Australian capital cities was also wonderfully evocative of place, history and atmosphere. And so it was with interest that I attended this lecture which had as its focus the themes of writing, nature and presence.

It was fitting that Falconer was chosen to deliver the inaugural lecture as she had written part of The Service of Clouds whilst in residence at Varuna, the National Writers House bequeathed by the Dark family. Falconer spoke of her time there with fondness, of coming across Eleanor Dark’s gardening journal which illustrated her exacting practical mind, and the joy that Dark took in the local eccentricity of Katoomba life along with the magnificent landscape.

Falconer noted that part of the motivation behind Dark’s landmark trilogy The Timeless Land was distaste at the mindless celebrations around the sesquicentenary of European settlement. Dark’s response was to carefully research and write a fictional account of the early years of the colony from the viewpoint of the colonisers and the Aboriginals; this may be seen as clunky from our current perspective but it was revolutionary at the time. The natural world featured strongly in these books, and Falconer quoted someone as saying that Dark’s work gave the reader a sense of sunlight and the scent of boronia. It can be seen as a precursor to Australian nature writing.

From this foundation, the lecture moved to the challenges of writing in a world marked by the loss of abundance in nature. A simple example was given of driving at night through the countryside – or anywhere outside the suburban sprawl – when the windscreen would soon be choked up with moths and the like. Or the movement en masse of Sydney fruit bats over the city skyline at night. Both examples, which were commonplace, are now relatively rare. Some writers in this field maintain that we are going through the sixth great extinction, a time of rapid loss of species that is unprecedented.

I was interested by the idea that we are indirectly impacted by the kind of animals and plants that surround us, yet it is hard to know what you haven’t seen. This in turn could lead to environmental generational amnesia, where elements of the natural world are entirely lost or become so rare as to no longer be on the human peripheral. There is now a term for the psychological distress caused by such significant environmental shifts – solastalgia.

But what can writers do in such a period of change and uncertainty? Falconer urged writers to tell the story. Use autobiography to look back and understand what has changed. Make it uncomfortable. And think ahead to the future.

[Photo: view from Govett’s Leap lookout, Blackheath]