Summer 2017/18 – a wrap of nature’s peak season in South East NSW

A Spotted Harrier, more common in western NSW was spotted at Candelo during the summer of 2017/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.
A Spotted Harrier, more common in western NSW was spotted at Candelo during the summer of 2017/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Summer is nature’s peak season in South East NSW. Fauna and flora look to those warm rays from the sun to flourish and keep their species going.

Survival of the fittest means something new in these days of rapid environmental change; creatures of feather, fur, and fin are responding differently to those influences, and it’s often something that can be witnessed first hand.

With the first licks of winter being felt at dawn and dusk, a report card on the summer of 2017/18 was released by those observing the local environment at close quarters.

Sham Eichmann, is the Acting Manager of the Batemans Marine Park, for the NSW Department of Primary Industries. She says the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rogersii) has been one to watch over summer as the impacts of sea urchin barrens become more widely noticed within the Batemans Marine Park.

“Long-spined sea urchins are a native species on the east coast of Australia,” Ms Eichmann says.

“Small barren areas are part of the natural marine ecosystem and have been found to provide benefits to smaller cryptic fish species. Not all barren areas can be considered ‘bad’ for the marine environment.

“There is concern that the barrens are expanding more rapidly and are detrimentally impacting a range of social, economic, and environmental values within the marine park.

“The scale of this change and its causes are unknown,” Ms Eichmann says.

Long Spined Sea Urchins and the barrens that create are being studied in the Batemans Marine Park. Photo: DPI.
Long Spined Sea Urchins and the barrens that create are being studied in the Batemans Marine Park. Photo: DPI.

For the time, the Department of Primary Industries is asking that people don’t take matters into their own hands and begin killing urchins.

Many species of sea urchins inhabit local waters including red, green, and slate pencil urchins, which play an important role in the biodiversity of reef systems.

In NSW a bag limit of 10 sea urchins applies to all species, and urchins can only be taken by hand. Hammers, mattocks, chisels, small spades, and screwdrivers must not be used to kill sea urchins.

Sanctuary zones within the Batemans Marine Park are no-go areas for urchin collection. Download the Fish Smart App to learn all the rules of fishing within the park.

Ms Eichmann says urchin barrens will continue to be studied by the Department and university researchers.

Shark Bay to the south of Broulee Island. Photo: DPI.
Shark Bay to the south of Broulee Island. Photo: DPI.

The other feature of the local summer just gone was a combination of king tides and very hot temperatures, which led to a fish kill at Shark Bay, Broulee over the Australia Day long weekend as temperatures spiked towards 40 degrees.

“Marine Park staff attended the site and determined the fish kill was due to a pulse of nutrients into the system,” Ms Eichmann says.

In the lead-up, big swells had washed a large amount of seaweed on to the beach and into rock pools, the fatal rush of nutrients flowed into the system as the overwhelming amount of seaweed started to break down in the extreme heat.

On the flip side, summer saw some good fish catches according to the Marine Park’s Acting Manager.

“Particularly Jewfish in the Clyde River, and DPI is investigating claims that Jewfish numbers are increasing within the Marine Park,” Ms Eichmann says.

Little Terns at Mogareeka, near Tathra. Photo: Leo Berzins
Little Terns at Mogareeka, near Tathra. Photo: Leo Berzins

Bird movements also point to the changing seasons. As I sit here tapping away, Gang Gang Cockatoos are settling into the bush outside, the birds move down from the high country each autumn ahead of the approaching cold.

Far South Coast Birdwatchers meet regularly in different locations to spy on and track bird activity in the region. Twitcher Leo Berzins says the past summer has not been a good one for beach-nesting birds.

“There are currently ten breeding pairs of Hooded Plovers in the Bega Valley Shire. These birds are critically endangered in NSW,” he says.

“Unfortunately, only one chick made it all the way through to fledging this summer.

“It takes five weeks from hatching through to fledging, predators include foxes, ravens, gulls, and goannas and on some beaches, domestic dogs are also a threat,” he says.

Pied Oystercatchers raised at least ten fledglings in 17/18, including this one at Mogereeka. Photo: Leo Berzins.
Pied Oystercatchers raised at least ten fledglings in 17/18, including this one at Mogereeka. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Pied Oystercatchers fared somewhat better with at least ten fledglings, including one at busy Short Point in Merimbula. These birds are listed as Endangered in NSW.

“Another endangered bird that nests on beaches in our region is the Little Tern,” Mr Berzins explains.

These birds arrive in late October to establish breeding colonies before departing in early February.

“The most reliable nesting location is at Mogareeka, near the Bega River mouth. Another location used this summer was Bird Island in Lake Wallagoot, where some thirty nests were established before being decimated by gulls,” Mr Berzins says.

Following the loss of this colony, many of the birds seemed to move up to Mogareeka to nest again.

“Only ten or so chicks made it through to fledging, well down on recent years. The main threats were again foxes, gulls, and ravens,” he says.

A Red-Capped Plover, raising young at Tathra in the summer of 17/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.
A Red-Capped Plover, raising young at Tathra in the summer of 17/18. Photo: Leo Berzins.

One beach-nesting bird that is not yet endangered continues to breed successfully.

“The little Red-Capped Plover is better at concealing its nest than other hoodies and sometimes succeed out in the open at a busy location such as Tura Beach,” Mr Berzins says.

Another positive was the sighting of a number of Beach Stone-Curlews; it’s rare to see them this far south but Mr Berzins says sightings have increased in the last couple of years, especially at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet.

“The question remains whether there are more Curlews in the region or whether the same birds are being sighted in different locations at different times of the year,” Mr Berzins says.

Away from the beach, some uncommon birds were observed over the summer of 2017/18.

“Two raptor species, birds of prey, a Black Kite at Tanja and a Spotted Harrier near Candelo,” he says.

“These birds are much more common further inland and are not often seen in the south-east. Possibly dry conditions further west drove the birds further afield in search of food.”

The Beach Stone-Curlew has been spotted at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet. Photo: Leo Berzins.
The Beach Stone-Curlew has been spotted at Spencer Park Merimbula, Whale Spit in Twofold Bay, Mogareeka, and at Bithry Inlet. Photo: Leo Berzins.

Summer in South East NSW bloomed according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Local rangers spent a lot of time in the field surveying and monitoring the unique plants and animals that call this place home, as part of the “Saving our Species” program.

“Some of the region’s most threatened species burst into flower over the warmer months,” a National Parks spokesperson says.

Researchers from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage spent summer collecting seeds from a range of plants across a large area, from the mountains to the sea, including Wadbilliga National Park, South East Forests National Park, Bournda Nature Reserve, and Tinderry Nature Reserve, west of Batemans Bay.

Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) in Wadbilliga National Park. Photo: D Ansell OEH.
Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) in Wadbilliga National Park. Photo: D Ansell OEH.

“Seed was collected during the peak flowering period of each species, which included Parris’ Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae), Merimbula Star-hair (Astrotricha sp. ‘Wallagaraugh’), Kydra Dampiera (Dampiera fusca) and Genoa River Correa (Correa lawrenceana var. genoensis),” the spokesperson says.

This work is one of hundreds of projects the Saving our Species program is undertaking, with the aim of ensuring the long-term future of threatened species in NSW.

“We work with the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, and the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan to safely store the seed and undertake germination trials.”

Parris' Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae). Photo: D Ansell OEH.
Parris’ Bush-pea (Pultenaea parrisiae). Photo: D Ansell OEH.

“This seed collection work often involves travelling to remote locations for field work and many hours of searching for very small and difficult to find plants.

“We collect the seed firstly to provide some insurance against threats to the remaining populations, and secondly to see what makes the seed germinate, to help with future management plans,” the National Parks spokesperson says.

Did you notice anything interesting in nature around your place over summer? Please share your experience below.

#This article first appeared on RiotACT

Far South Coast beaches weed free but for how much longer?

Mogareeka, the mouth of the Bega River at Tathra. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Mogareeka, the mouth of the Bega River at Tathra. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

The beaches of the Bega Valley are clean and largely weed free for a reason. It doesn’t just happen.

This 225 kilometre strip of gold and sapphire coastline is tended to like a garden, a huge community effort that has just celebrated ten years of grassroots environmental action.

But as this collaboration between traditional owners, government agencies, and community organisations looks to the future; funding is uncertain.

A decade ago, the beaches that run from Bermagui to the Victorian Border were a different sight to what you see now.

In July 2007, alarmed by the growing threat he’d noticed on local beaches, Bermagui based botanist Stuart Cameron undertook an exhaustive 12-month survey of the Bega Valley’s 101 beaches.

“I recognised that we had a real window of opportunity along this coast,” Stuart says.

Stuart’s work identified about 90 invasive species that were starting to have a significant impact – Bitou, African Beach Daisy, African Boxthorn, and Sea Spurge were at the top of the list.

“We were at a tipping point, had the project not commenced, we would have had much greater infestation, which possibly could not have been controlled,” Stuart says.

“For example, at Murrah Beach and Merimbula Main Beach, there was so much Sea Spurge that it took teams of four or five people, four or five days to clear one beach.

“We can go back to those beaches now and deal with them in half a day,” Stuart smiles.

Botanist, Stuart Cameron, Project Officer, Protecting the Coastal Wilderness. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Botanist, Stuart Cameron, Project Officer, Protecting the Coastal Wilderness. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

What came from Stuart’s research was an impressive, first of its kind response, that with government support continues until Autumn 2018.

For ten years, backed by Commonwealth and State Governments via the NSW Environment Trust, the “Protecting the Wilderness Coast Project” has been a powerful, united effort; an umbrella that has pulled together what was a range of separate control efforts.

Agencies like Bega Valley Shire Council, South East Local Land Services, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and Far South Coast Landcare, recognised that combining resources and spending was the only way to tackle weeds in this vast environment.

But it’s the work of the traditional owners of this land, staff from the Merrimans, Bega, and Eden Aboriginal Land Councils and community-based Landcare and Dunecare volunteers that have been critical to the success of this war on weeds.

Far South Coast Landcare Coordinator, Chris Post says the program works due to its simplicity.

“Twice a year for six to seven weeks, these guys [Aboriginal Land Councils] are working on country, their office is the beaches of the Far South Coast,” he says.

“They walk the beaches and work with Landcare groups, removing weeds and rubbish from our coast.”

Over 70 cubic metres of litter have been removed by project workers over the last decade.

A huge collection of plastic and glass bottles, plastic bags, balloons, polystyrene, footwear, fishing line, and debris, all of which have the potential to harm marine life and, in some cases, seriously injure beachgoers.

Fortunately, the trend in litter volume is downwards.

Nelsons Lagoon, just south of Bermagui. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Nelsons Lagoon, just south of Bermagui. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

Many people in the community are unaware of the work that goes into keeping this environment in pristine condition, and while awareness around litter is high, the same can’t be said for the impacts of coastal weeds.

“Bitou can seem attractive with its mass of yellow flowers, but it has the capacity to displace virtually all native vegetation,” Stuart says.

“And there are others such as Sea Spurge which was an accidental introduction in ships ballast, that has a toxic sap.”

Weeds out-compete and take over native species. Most are home garden escapees or are washed ashore by the changing tide. In some cases, weeds deploy a range of weaponry as they take hold of a beach.

A few weeds have the capacity to actually alter the soil and make it unsuitable for native plants to germinate and grow.

“The value of biodiversity in this or any environment is a question of resilience and being able to recover from major impact like storms,” Stuart explains.

As the impacts of rising seas levels and more frequent storms take their toll on coastal communities, the weed work of the last decade is being rewarded.

“After the June 2016 storm there were huge areas that became de-vegetated along our coast,” Stuart says.

“Had we not [already] controlled weed species there would have just been a massive take-off of weeds.

“Over the ten years of the project we have massively depleted the weed seed bank,” he says.

Far South Coast Landcare Coordinator, Chris Post. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Far South Coast Landcare Coordinator, Chris Post. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

From an economic perspective, the project cares for the region’s key asset.

Tourism is the most significant local industry and the coastline is the main attraction for visitors.

In the year ending June 2017, Sapphire Coast Tourism reported visitor numbers of 876,000 visitors, injecting $412 million into the local region, generating nearly 5000 jobs

Local Tourism Chief, Anthony Osborne points to increasing visitor numbers on the back of the highly successful “Unspoilt South Coast” global marketing campaign.

“Tourism monitors tell us domestic visitor numbers remain stable with a significant and pleasing increase in international [visitors],” he says.

Bega Valley Shire covers one-seventh of the NSW coastline. It’s in a healthy, “unspoilt” condition and draws people to holiday and live here, however keeping it that way is the ongoing challenge.

“This program [Coastal Weeds] has grown into a beautiful example of what can happen when you glue together the passion of community people, with local and state government agencies that are brave enough to try something different,” Chris says.

The fear of those who live and breath this project is that future government funds might not be available, putting an end to the six-monthly weed and litter sweeps that are so vital.

“Funding that pays homage and respects what has happened in the past would be beautiful to see,” Chris says.

Tathra Beach, looking south from Mogareeka. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Tathra Beach, looking south from Mogareeka. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

Talk to those who have done this work over the last ten years, and they all say the same thing: “Weeds are relentless.”

“There is a need for ongoing surveillance, it doesn’t need to be as intense as it had to be in the early years, but it does need to be ongoing,” Stuart says.

The growth and development of people and networks has been just as significant as the reduction in weeds and litter.

“A large number of Aboriginal workers have gone on to full-time work in natural resource management with skills in plant identification and weed control techniques,” Stuart says.

Djiringanj men like Eric Bruce Carpenter, from Bega Aboriginal Land Council, says working on country means a lot.

“Yeah it is a bit of pride and I go back and tell my young fellas, and when they get older they’ll most probably do the same thing,” he says.

“It is a good thing for my people and for the community we are working for.”

Julie Green, from Bega Aboriginal Land Council, agrees.

“Last week I was in Merimbula and I had a lady and a man come up and ask me what I was doing,” Julie says.

“They said we’ve got one of the best-looking coasts on the East Coast.”

According to Chris: “Nature needs humans to be interacting with it in a positive way.”

“We remove humans and the work the group is doing, and we’ll be knee deep in Sea Spurge, Bitou, and Bone Seed in a couple of years,” he says.

Julie Green, Bega Aboriginal Land Council. Photo: Chris Sheedy.
Julie Green, Bega Aboriginal Land Council. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

One more sweep of Far South Coast beaches is planned before current funding runs out.

Those involved are hopeful their work and contribution to the health of the local environment will be recognised and the program will be extended.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

“When there are only 50 left, every koala counts,” – Chris Allen, NSW OEH

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
Briny the Wapengo koala found clinging to an oyster lease,  in care at Potaroo Palace before being released on Sunday. Photo: Chris Allen

Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.

Bega’s Chris Allen has been keeping watch over local populations since 1996, and since 2001 has coordinated a survey and research program through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Because it’s such a small population, and really widely scattered, maybe 50 koalas over something like 30,000 hectares, it’s been a very difficult project,” Chris says.

Bunga Pinch Road marks the northern edge of this key habitat, then extending 10km south to Smith’s Road and Tea Ridge Road, and west to Lizard Road is the main area of koala activity.

“But there are other important patches,” Chris says.

“Into Mimosa Rocks National Park, in the Nelsons Catchment, there’s good evidence of koalas.”

Two of these koalas have ‘gone viral’ in the last 3 weeks, social media delighted in seeing a strong, healthy looking specimen tramping along the side of the Bermagui – Tathra Road at Aragunnu.

This little fellow was spotted near aragunnu this morning

Posted by Catherine Clarke on Sunday, 24 September 2017


“Oh it’s just lovely, it’s a beautiful bit of footage, lovely that people are able to see it,” Chris smiles.

“I chatted with that person [who took the video] and in fact, it was just near the Aragunnu turn-off.

“He was just driving along the Bermi – Tathra Road, six o’clock in the morning, and here was this koala,” he says.

East of this spot is Mimosa Rocks National Park, on the western side there’s a bit of private property, then the newly created Murrah Flora Reserve.

According to Chris, there have been four or five sightings in this area, with one koala in poor condition rescued and returned to the wild healthy.

“That is one of the few points where koalas are crossing the road,” Chris says.

“Probably dispersing eastwards from the maternal home ranges we have identified in the Reserves.”

This is a really important stretch of road if this small population has any chance to grow in numbers, as Chris says, – “Every animal counts.”

“Slow down a bit, particularly at night,” Chris pleads.

And just this week, photos emerged of a young male who was rescued from the waters of Wapengo Lake clinging to the side of an oyster bag.

Farmer Brian Orr told Fairfax media, “He was pretty shook up, but he eventually came out onto the boat to get a little bit of sun and warm up.

“I was thinking about letting him out, but I called WIRES and they told me to have him checked by the vet,” Mr Orr told Fairfax.

How the koala came to be stuck on Mr Orr’s oyster lease is a mystery, perhaps he went exploring at low tide and got stuck.

The koala, which was named Briny in honour of Mr Orr and his saltwater experience, had a few days of TLC at Potaroo Place wildlife sanctuary at Merimbula, before being released in bushland north of Tathra on Sunday (Oct 22).

While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.

Our growing knowledge…

The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.

Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.

Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.

“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.

Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell
Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell

That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.

“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.

“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”

Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.

Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.

“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.

Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.

“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.

Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.

“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.

“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”

Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.

“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.

Wildfire and climate change the big threats…

Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.

“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.

Managing that risk now drives a collaboration between the Rural Fire Service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local residents, and the Aboriginal community.

“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.

The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.

“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.

The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.

“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.

“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.

“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.

Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.

“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.

The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.

“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.

Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.

“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.

Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.

“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.

“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”

A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.

“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.

Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.

The future…

This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.

“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.

“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.

“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.

The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.

It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.

A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.

The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.

While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.

“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.

Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen
Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen

About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members – thanks to Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Claire Blewett, Neroli Dickson, Jeanette Westmore, and Nigel Catchlove.

Time shift: the wonder of Kosciuszko’s caves. By Kate Burke

Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke
Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke

In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.

Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.

The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”

Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.

During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.

On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.

Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.

We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by limstone dams. Image: Kare Burke
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams. Image: Kare Burke

I hadn’t been underground for years.

I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.

Caves are like slow, slow gardens.

It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.

The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.

Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.

My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).

They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.

The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.

They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.

All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.

According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.

But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.

They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettucine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke

We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.

Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.

Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.

Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!

Click here for more details

Kate Burke is a sought-after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on ‘Raisin – Regional Science and Innovation’

Landmark Monaro tree hollow gets a resident

This old girl has seen a few Monaro winters and it seems she now has something to cuddle up to.

About Regional podcast – episode 1, October 4 2016

Candelo by Google Maps
Candelo by Google Maps

Episode one was recorded on the banks of Candelo Creek, south-west of Bega but takes in the full geography of South East NSW.

First, the tragic story of 10-year-old Noa Jessop.

When Noa was hit by a car and died at the gate to his family’s farm, a heavy sadness fell across the Bega Valley community.

Tears have been a big part of the days that have followed, but so too has something powerful and remarkable.

Also, democracy is getting a shake up in the Eurobodalla Shire, with a jury of 28 everyday people formed to shape the work and spending of the new Council elected on September 10.

And you’ll hear of the hard work of the Perisher Ski Resort and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They are in the snow on the side of Australia’s highest peak to protect the only Australian animal to hibernate during winter.

South Coast Music Camp
South Coast Music Camp

Music to finish from the South Coast Music Camp which has just wrapped up in Bega.

Around 200 people take part every year – including tutors from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Australian National Academy of Music.

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Listing and streaming options:

Click here to listen via Audio Boom’

Click here to listen via Stitcher’

Coming soon to iTunes!