William Blake when he wrote his famous poem was thinking of the Bengal Tiger. We have/had tigers in Australia. Well kind of – hmmmm not really. The Tasmanian tiger or to give it its proper name the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) once roamed all over Australia. But by the time the island continent was colonised it was restricted to the rain forests of Tasmania. I wrote a blog post about them a while ago. The thylacine is a tourist draw card in Tassie and it has become an icon for the tourist industry, but they don’t have a monopoly on it. Down in the South West corner of Western Australia, in the Blackwood Valley is the sleepy town of Nannup. Many of the locals are convinced that the Thylacine roams the forests in the valley and consequently it is now part of Nannup’s tourism campaign.
As it would happen we found ourselves in Nannup the other week. We weren’t looking for the tiger, but we certainly found them as we walked up and down the main street. Again like in Tassie the thylacine has been “gnomified” and can be found in front gardens all over the shop.
It’s not the first time we’d visited the town, but we’d not been for a while and it had changed quite a bit. With the winding down of the forestry industry Nannup is seriously chasing the tourist dollar and the place has been titivated to reflect that. Once you were hard pushed to get a decent coffee now it seems that every other building is a cafe. It presents as a nice up beat place with a friendly vibe.
Our accommodation was ideally located in the forest and only a stone’s throw from Kondil Wildflower Park. The park consists of new growth forest which contains an incredible diversity of flora. There are three walking trails within the park and I walked two of them. The Woody Pear Walk which is a 1 Km easy walk trail and the the Wildflower Wander which according to the information board is 3.5 Km but according to my GPS is 4.9 Km – either way it’s an easy walk on well sign posted trails.
Below are some of the orchids I found while walking around.
I went to the touristy olde world town of Richmond a little while ago and saw a Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine. It had been turned into a garden ornament – “gnomified” if you like, just like the Buddha has been.
Tasmanians have a very complicated relationship with the Tassie Tiger. Images of the thylacine can be seen everywhere, it’s on beer labels, the state coat of arms, the coat of arms for Launceston, the logo for Tourism Tasmania. In fact it is everywhere. You might, therefore, come to the conclusion that it is a much-loved animal. In a way it is, but the truth is it wasn’t.
The Thylacine was a shy reclusive animal, the last of its kind – a carnivorous marsupial that was an apex predator and whose relatives went back into the mists of the mammalian era some 5 to 23 million years ago (the Miocene). Computer modelling has shown that the thylacine was not a very strong animal and would have been incapable of handling anything larger than 5Kg and it is now widely believed that they were ambush predators who preyed on small animals such as bandicoots and possums. When the first aboriginal people crossed to the Australian Continent via a land bridge some 40,000 years they brought with them the first dogs, the descendants of what we now call the dingo. The dog was simply a much better and more adaptable predator than the thylacine and by the time British colonisation started they were already extinct on the mainland. When the first settlers in Tasmania saw the thylacine they named it the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf. There was an apocryphal tale appealing to Victorian gothic drama that can be traced back to just one source that the Thylacine was a blood drinker which preyed on sheep and poultry. That sealed its fate and a bounty was placed upon it and it was hunted vigorously.
The bounty of £1 for a dead adult and 10 shillings for a dead pup meant that by the 1920’s it was rare to see a thylacine in the wild. In 1930 a farmer by the name of Wilf Batty shot the last wild one. This was bad enough but the tale takes a more tragic turn. In 1933 the Hobart Zoo acquired a thylacine, which was later referred to as Benjamin, which lived there for three years. Inevitably the animal died not of old age but because it was locked out of its shelter on a very cold Tasmanian night. In effect killed by neglect. The last of a species going back millions of years killed because somebody couldn’t be bothered to make sure it was sheltered safely for the night. So after 133 years of settlement, thirty years after a conservation movement was founded seeking its protection and just 59 days after the Tasmanian government signed a conservation order to protect it the last thylacine had died. Optimistically it remained on the endangered list until the 1980’s , but with no confirmed sightings for 50 years it was declared officially extinct.Every now and again there is some crack pot scheme to clone it from DNA harvested from remains in museums, or some millionaire will put a reward for the capture of a live one, but the reality is that the thylacine is long gone because of an indifference to its plight.
In the mid 1990’s a biologist by the name of Nick Mooney gave an interview to the Hobart Mercury newspaper. Mooney was concerned that the attention the thylacine was getting was diverting the attention away from Tasmania’s other iconic animal – the Tasmanian Devil. He argued that the Devil should be researched and protected. Many people thought that he was barmy as there were more Devils in Tasmania then than at the time of first settlement and farmers were claiming that they were at plague proportions and were a threat to livestock. Fast forward twenty years and the devil is now on the verge of extinction from a combination of devil facial tumour (a transmissible cancer), habitat destruction, traffic fatalities and environmental pollution caused by high levels of flame retardant chemicals found in consumer electronics. These chemicals are banned and were phased out in the 1980’s but their effects are still being felt and it is thought that they play a part in devil facial tumour disease. Because devil populations are declining the gene pool is also diminishing this had laid the Devils very vulnerable to disease.
Today Tasmanians mourn the passing of the thylacine even though there are very few people who are left alive that actually saw one. All that remains are a few preserved specimens in museums, some black and white photos and some grainy film footage. Tourist operators say that the extinction of the devil will severely impact their industry and slowly people are starting to wake up to the fact that the devil is likely to go the same way if something is not done. There has been some research on the on devil facial tumour disease which is fantastic. So is devil saved? Well some scientists believe that the only way for the devil to survive is to quarantine healthy devils in captivity and let the wild population die out. Even if the wild population could survive the current Tasmanian state and Australian Federal governments are working to open up Tasmania’s national parks and world heritage areas to commercial logging. The federal government is also not prepared to fund research into Devil Facial Tumour Disease. So at present your best chance of seeing a Tasmanian devil is either at a zoo, animal sanctuary or dead beside a road. In another twenty years all we could be left with is some video footage and some memories. I would urge every Australian and prospective visitor to Tasmania to write to:
Well in my last entry I said that it was raining and a week or so later it still is. The talk in the vast wheat belt metropolis that is York is all about rain gauges and how much has fallen in the last 24 hours. Serious stuff round these parts are rain gauges. We at Paul Amyes Photography (PAP) Towers don’t have a rain gauge as Frida, my bull terrier, ate it and so we’re now no longer able to participate in conversations about precipitation but just have to listen and nod sagely.
Speaking of things rain, this neatly segues into rain forests – notably the temperate rain forests of Tasmania. Before I went to Tasmania the only experience I’d had of rain forest was of the tropical variety which have voracious thirsty insects the size of small helicopters making you anaemic and the heat and humidity has you drowning in your own sweat. So the temperate rainforest came as quite a nice surprise. Cool temperate rainforest is characterised by an open and verdant, cathedral-like quality; a silent, cool, dark and damp place where both the trunks of trees and the forest floor are festooned with a luxuriant carpet of mosses and lichens. The first of these forests we encountered was at St Columba Falls, which is really just a short walk to the base of the waterfall which is quite impressive. But the best bit for me was walking along the creek amongst the myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and rock hoping on the boulders in the stream. The creek is home to duck-billed platypuses (platypi?) and they make their burrows in the banks but we didn’t see any. This heavily forested area was once home to the thylacines, commonly called the Tasmanian Tigers, which was once Australia’s largest carnivorous marsupial and has been listed as “presumed extinct” since 1986, fifty years after the last documented thylacine died at Hobart Zoo in 1936. There have been some 4,000 reported sightings of thylacines over the past 50 years, many in the north-east region and St Columba Falls was the scene of one famous 1995 sighting, when a local ranger reported spotting a tiger sitting on a rock ledge near the falls. It is very easy to imagine that this incredibly primeval environment could be home to the last of almost mythological creatures.
The next place we experienced the rain forest was in Mount Field National Park. The park is one of Tasmania’s oldest national parks and within its boundaries has a number of different ecosystems ranging from temperate rain forest, eucalyptus forest and alpine heath. The rain forest is located in the lower reaches of the park and probably the most visited area as there are a series of short easy walks that take you to such features as Russell falls, Horseshoe Falls, Lady Baron Falls and Pandani Grove. There is an excellent campsite within the park which allows visitors the opportunity to stay for a few days to really explore. True to its name – rainforest it was raining and my gore-tex was completely overwhelmed by the rain and I was soaked through to the skin. The sights and sounds were overwhelming. The sound of flowing water was never far away and this quickly turned into a roar as we approached the water falls. The tree ferns towered above us, I had always associated ferns with being pot plants and seeing these altered my perception. The tree trunks are so covered in lichens and mosses it is like they have a green fur coat on. These forests are the last remnants of those found the supercontinent of Gondwana and date back an incredible 110 million years. Again like Columba Falls this area was home to the thylacine and the last known wild one was captured in the park in 1933.
Photographically speaking these were quite challenging conditions. Firstly under the tree canopy not a lot of light reaches the forest floor so high ISO and or tripods are the order of the day. Occasionally you’ll frame up a scene that has a small clearing which allows sunlight to shine through and this plays havoc with your metering as the highlights in the clearing to shadow can exceed 13 or 14 stops far beyond what any camera sensor or film (if you’re old school) can record. If you meter for the shadow the highlights are lost forever, and if you meter for the highlights the shadows block up. I’m quite addicted to HDR photography at the moment (as if you hadn’t noticed!) so I was easily able to overcome those problems. The other problem is that there is a fair amount of moisture in the air especially near the waterfalls. I don’t baby my equipment at all, and have never cocooned my equipment in plastic and have never had a problem. The was beads of water forming or condensation on the front element of the lens. The only solution is to keep wiping this off with a lens cloth. I was wearing shirts by Rohan and one of the ingenious features of these shirts is that on the shirt tail on the button edge they have sewn in a lens cloth. They market the feature for glasses wearers but I reckon it is great for photographers. It means I can never lose my lens cloth as nearly every shirt I have has one built in. Brilliant!