Native stock in bloom. Photo - photolibrary.com
The Outback goes green
The Australian outback is a carpet of bloom as once-in-a-generation rains bring exuberant growth and brilliant flowers to the desert. Birds are flocking to the newly drenched watercourses and brimming lakes, and so are plant lovers. Angus Stewart shares the thrill.
The rolling hills around Tibooburra, self-styled capital of Corner Country, where the border of NSW, Queensland and South Australia meet, are part of an ancient landscape. This landscape is adorned with spectacular mounds of rounded granite boulders and it appears that the name Tibooburra was derived from an Aboriginal word of the Wangkamara people (the traditional owners of this area) meaning ‘heap of boulders’. It was the geology of the area that led to European settlement when gold was discovered and an inevitable ‘rush’ of prospectors arrived in 1881. The legacy of that era is a classical outback townscape of stone and corrugated iron buildings punctuated by large trees. It is a world far removed from Australia’s urban centres and the locals seem to have taken on the timeless aura of the landscape they live in.
Saltbush in full flower. Photo - Angus Stewart
Those distinctive piles of granite boulders have witnessed extraordinary changes in the landscape over the millennia as the lush forests and grasslands that supported megafauna such as giant wombats gradually dried out to the semi-arid climate of today. Over that time the diverse flora and fauna has evolved and adapted to the conditions so that when the rains come the whole landscape explodes into a vibrant and dynamic changed world. And come the rains certainly have over the last couple of years, with further heavy falls at the start of this year, keeping the watercourses and lakes full for the swelling populations of birds and other animals.
Poached-egg daisy has a brief 8-week life cycle, and is here in flower atop the red sand dunes on the Strzelecki track between Cameron's Corner and Innamincka. Photo - Angus Stewart
My trip to Tibooburra in November 2010 was rich with magical moments. One of the best was a burnt orange sunset along a creekbed near Tibooburra where I was mesmerised by a flock of hundreds of budgerigars moving from tree to tree with a whoosh that sounded like a small jet engine every time they took off.
The Sturt’s Desert Pea is undoubtedly the star of the botanical show in this region and it did not disappoint. At Sturt National Park, just outside Tibooburra, I found a stand that was like an intermittent carpet along the creekbed for an area of several hectares. A stunning display of this iconic native plant is almost assured through spring and early summer in the current verdant conditions as the soft grey foliage and stems produce flower buds continuously as they extend across the rusty coloured soil. The effect created by the glossy red and black blooms is almost surreal and is one of those memories that anyone interested in Mother Nature will cherish.
The desert pea was named after the explore Charles Sturt (Swainsona Formosa). Photo - Angus Stewart
Several of the mulla mullas (Ptilotus species) are constant companions through this region with their fluffy flower spikes in pinks, mauves, purples and greens. Drifts of different species of native peas provide vivid highlights in red, pink and purple. A particular delight for me was finding stands of Australian native bulbs in the wild such as the Darling lily (Crinum flaccidum) and yellow bulbine (Bulbine bulbosa). These fascinating plants bury themselves deeply in the alluvial soils along the creekbeds and wait patiently for the rains which trigger mass flowering that struck me as an Australian version of Wordsworth’s classically English ‘ host of golden daffodils’.
Mulla mulla feather flowers. Photo - Angus Stewart
Shrubby species are also thriving after the rain with the creamy candelabra-like flower heads of Grevillea stenobotrya flowering profusely amongst a fascinating flora that is found along the sinewy red sand dunes that flow throughout the region. In the rocky hills of Sturt National Park there are treasures to be found like the rare and endangered Grevillea kennedyana with its silvery grey needle-like foliage contrasting brilliantly with the scarlet flowers, set amongst an ancient landscape of flat-topped yet rugged hills.
It is hard to convey the unique atmosphere of the outback in springtime in an abundant season. You really need to get just out into it to absorb the ambience and beauty: we may wait a long time for the rains to come again.