Hastings Point marine museum

I’m a bit of a museum nut. Having worked as a curator’s assistant in the South Australian Museum of Natural History (marine invertebrates section), I appreciate the tremendous dedication, enthusiasm and plain hard work that goes into such places.

Large state museums are one thing, but there are other, off-the-radar places quietly doing their thing to educate kids (and adults, which I regard as just as important) about the fabulous creatures of the sea and the work we need to get on with to help that environment (which is, after all, helping ourselves, even if some of us don’t value it for itself). You just have to know where to find them.

One such place is the Marine Environments Field Study and Resource Centre (aka Adventure Education) at Hastings Point, northern NSW. The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website explains:

Ted Bram­bleby BSc is the found­ing direc­tor of Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion. For the past 45 years his goal has been to immerse stu­dents into the won­ders and the mir­a­cle of the marine world. Ker­rie Trees left  sec­ondary teach­ing after meet­ing Ted under­wa­ter in Byron Bay in 1998. Together they have cre­ated the only pri­vately run and funded Marine Edu­ca­tion field trip facil­ity of its kind in Aus­tralia. Using a mul­ti­di­men­sional approach to edu­ca­tion through a phi­los­o­phy that true edu­ca­tion hap­pens through active par­tic­i­pa­tion in the envi­ron­ment and not lim­ited to the class­room today the facil­ity based at the 5 star North Star car­a­van park at Hast­ings Point receives vis­i­ta­tion from over 80 schools for Day Vis­its and 1–3 night field trip camps.

The Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion team of Teach­ers and Marine naturalists facil­i­tate a range of pro­grams that are edu­ca­tional, informative and fun. In addi­tion to immers­ing them­selves in the nat­ural beauty of the Hast­ings Point ecosys­tems Stu­dents, teach­ers, guests of the North Star and com­mu­nity groups also expe­ri­ence the most com­pre­hen­sive and unique Marine Museum on the eastern sea board of Aus­tralia with over 200 hun­dred pre­served and dried marine spec­i­mens. Inter­ac­tive edu­ca­tion ses­sions com­bine detailed bio­log­i­cal con­cepts with the fas­ci­nat­ing visu­al­iza­tion of stereo micro­scope pro­jec­tion of live pre­served marine spec­i­mens to big screen tele­vi­sion. All stu­dents and guests will be inspired to lighten their car­bon foot­print and to make a dif­fer­ence in our collec­tive efforts to pre­serve our ocean planet home.

Ted also wrote “Australian marine fish workbook” and “Marine biology for beginners: tropical Australia” with Neville Coleman, and was awarded “Queensland science teacher of the year”.

Ted Brambleby

Ted Brambleby, marine biologist, educator and enthusiast

Adventure Education_1 Adventure Education_2 Adventure Education_3 Adventure Education_4

Shovel-nosed ray mouth

Shovel-nosed ray mouth

The Venus flower basket (below) is fascinating. It is the skeleton of a sponge that lives at depth, and a couple of shrimp (male and female) use it as a permanent shelter (see the Real Monstrosities website for their story). It is also home to bioluminescent bacteria, making it a glow-in-the-dark beauty.

Venus flower basket

Venus flower basket (front)

Adventure Education_7

Hastings Point area, showing the snorkelling and rock pool areas (left)

Adventure Education_5 Adventure Education_6 Adventure Education_8

Adventure Education_9

Adventure Education_13

Dugong skull

Adventure Education_10 Adventure Education_11 Adventure Education_12 Adventure Education_14 Adventure Education_15 Adventure Education_16 Adventure Education_17

Adventure Education_18

Well done, Ted and Kerrie. Photographs do not do justice to the place.

The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website also lists more such small facilities Australia-wide. You might like to visit some. I certainly intend to.

Posted in Fish, Molluscs, The sea, Travels | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Yes, we have some mammatus

Finally, on the way back from Hastings Point, we spotted a cloud formation I’ve been keen to see. It’s the aptly named ‘mammatus’.

Mammatus cloud formation

Mammatus cloud formation


Mammatus in context

Other people have been in the right place at the right time and seen truly spectacular examples.

Mammatus clouds over Regina, Saskatchewan (Image: Craig Lindsay/Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds over Regina, Saskatchewan (image: Craig Lindsay, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds (image: Zachary Hauri, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds (image: Zachary Hauri, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus in San Antonio, USA (image: Derrich, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus in San Antonio, USA (image: Derrich, Wikimedia Commons)

They are associated with severe storms, and the Wikipedia article on mammatus details how they form and has more photos. The Cloud Appreciation Society also has pics.

We certainly appreciated these clouds!

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Dinosaurs on the move

The Dinosaur Discovery exhibition at the Queensland Museum (developed by the Western Australian Museum and constructed by Chinese animatronic specialists) is pretty impressive. The website says:

Dinosaur Discovery: Lost Creatures of the Cretaceous gives you a chance to experience life on Earth 145 million years ago.

Featuring more than 20 animated, life-size dinosaur models, including the fearsome T-Rex, and Queensland’s very own Muttaburrasaurus, Dinosaur Discovery: Lost Creatures of the Cretaceous will transport you back millions of years to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Get up close with these titans of the Cretaceous and see first-hand how they moved, roared, gnashed and bellowed.

Each dinosaur has been made to scientific specifications to capture the real look, feel, sound and movement of these magnificent creatures, giving you a close up look at some of the most extraordinary creatures to have ever walked the Earth.

You know you’ve reached the right place when you get to the museum. Note the dinosaur descendant at the top right of the photo.

Brachiosaurus animatronic at the entrance to the Queensland Museum

Brachiosaurus animatronic at the entrance to the Queensland Museum

They start you off with the small, cute ones …



… then progress to the slightly larger, more threatening ones (Australovenator) which roar, wave their claws and breathe. If you move away, they stop moving – if you go back, they start up again.



On to Australia’s 0.7 m long ankylosaur, Minmi paravertebra

Australia's minmi

Australia’s Minmi

Tail of the minmi

Wagging tail of the Minmi

The somewhat larger ornithopod, Muttaburrasaurus (Minmi in foreground) …


Our very own Muttaburrasaurus

Protoceratops from Mongolia …

Protoceratops andrewsi

Protoceratops andrewsi

Also from Mongolia, the Therizinosaurus



Therizinosaurus fossilised claw

Therizinosaurus fossilised claw

Amargasaurus (from what is now Argentina) with its peculiar neck spines …



Peculiar double spine

Peculiar ‘double spine’

Canadian Styracosaurus and baby …



Styracosaurus baby

Styracosaurus baby

From the USA, Deinosuchus, the extinct giant relative of alligators …


Deinosuchus (foreground)

The 5.4 metre high, 15 metre long Spinosaurus from North Africa …



Swordfish …

069AAnd I thought American bullfrogs were big – Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar were apparently big enough to eat baby dinosaurs …

Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar

Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar

The 4.3 metre high, 11 metre long African Carcharodontosaurus



The burrowing Oryctodromeus cubicularis from Montana, USA …

Oryctodromeus cubicularis

Oryctodromeus cubicularis

No dino exhibit is complete without Tyrannosaurus rex. This model had to be re-made 80% shorter as the original was higher than the room in which it was meant to be housed.

Tyrannosaurus rex

Tyrannosaurus rex

The exhibit was well supplied with just enough information – not too little, not too much – on each dinosaur and how they fitted into the scheme of things in the Cretaceous. Additional info was available through interactive games and apps on smartphones or tablets.

Humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs, but the thing I probably enjoyed most was standing still and imagining myself coming face to face with living versions of these – awesome!

T rex

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The cutest cockroach in the world

The enthusiastic volunteer at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane probably thought she’d get a rise out of me when she offered to let me stroke a cockroach. Ha! One look and I recognised it as one I’ve seen on my property, but hadn’t taken a photo of. So I gladly accepted her offer.

It’s the giant burrowing cockroach Macropanesthia rhinoceros, also known as the rhinoceros cockroach. The largest cockroach in Australia, it can weigh 35 grams and reach 8 cm in length.

Hello, my little lovely! Giant burrowing cockroach

Hello, my little lovely! Giant burrowing cockroach, Macropanesthia rhinoceros

These cockroaches don’t have wings. They live, yes, in permanent burrows and eat dead leaves on the forest floor. The ‘dent’ in the ‘forehead’ can help differentiate males from females – the males have a bigger dent. Females give birth to live young rather than laying eggs, and adults can live up to 14 years. Apparently they make good pets.

Giant burrowing cockroach_2 Giant burrowing cockroach_3There are something like 450 species of native cockroaches in Australia, and they don’t go inside houses. Esperance Blog (from Western Australia) has good photos and info on other Australian native cockroaches. Thanks to the volunteer at the museum for being so knowledgeable and keen. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Posted in Animals on land, Insects | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A whole lotta muscle!

Things that go bump in the night are always intriguing around here. Last night it was a crash from the back deck that had me investigating. It was the local carpet python (Morelia spilota), probably the one that occasionally lives in the roof, and it had knocked over a ceramic candlestick.

Python_2This beauty is over three metres long, if the shed skin I found two years ago is anything to go by. It’s probably much bigger by now, and is easily thicker than my upper forearm.

Many people have resident pythons around here, great for keeping down the numbers of rats and mice (and possums – see here). If you have chooks, you need to protect them against hungry snakes or be prepared to lose a few.

Python_3Python_4What are you looking for, peripatetic python? Do you want to say hello to my medusa?

Python_5She’s got more snakes than you, but then she is already stone. Must have looked in a mirror.

After annoying the hell out of the python with the camera so that it crawled into a ball, we turned off the lights and let it go in peace. Happy hunting, my little lovely!

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Best mailbox ever!

Here in the countryside, we often see interesting things used as mailboxes – old milk cans, small metal animals and so forth. An acquaintance has an old toilet bowl (cleaned) with lid at the bottom of her driveway, as she figures her bills deserve nothing less. Fortunately no one has made more, shall we say, appropriate deposits.

About 40 km from Tenterfield, nearing the small town of Deepwater (I keep wanting to call it “Dark Water”, after the penultimate Doctor Who episode last season), we were playing I-spy to pass the time … paddocks, boulders, cows, trees, sheep, sheep, dalek, sheep – WHAT?!

A dalek called "Dwater"

A dalek called “Dwater”

It’s about 5’6″ tall, and designed as a mailbox. A plaque nearby tells the story …

The story of the Deepwater dalek

The story of the Deepwater dalek

I can imagine this dalek wandering the hills looking for verminous victims to exterminate – did it shriek “Ex-vermin-ate!”?

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When is a paddock not a paddock?

When it’s a wetland, and apparently the pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana) thinks ours qualifies.

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana)

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana); photo by Aviceda, Wikimedia Commons

I heard this bird for the first time last night, and the description on the Michael Morcombe and David Stewart bird app of “noisy” is about right – a repeated loud squeaking. I was scrolling through the app in bed last night trying to ID it, and the call is unmistakeable. “Distinctive shrieking calls” is another description that fits the bill (and the whole bird).

The bird is apparently uncommon in our area, the southern end of its range. It is listed as vulnerable by NSW Environment and Heritage. That website says:

 In NSW, bush-hens are an apparently uncommon resident from the Queensland border south to the Clarence River, though the species appears to be expanding its range southwards with recent records as far south as the Nambucca River. …

The pale-vented hush-hen is secretive and cryptic, usually remaining in dense vegetation near watercourses or at the edges of wetlands.

I can’t say I blame it for thinking our place is currently a wetland. The weather over the past few days, courtesy of a few lows plus the fall-out from Cyclone Marcia, has produced a distinctly sodden environment. It’s still raining although the cyclone has now moved east out to sea. We had 110 mL over 24 hours, and 215 mL over five days so far. That’s not anywhere near a record, nor as bad as for folks further north, so I think we got off quite lightly with this weather system.

We have some springs, a couple of small ponds and a narrow creek with dense vegetation (and, sadly, much lantana among the macadamia trees – you’ll notice the photo above shows the bird in lantana), and apparently the bush-hen likes such cover. I suppose I can console myself that the weeds provide protection for a vulnerable species.

The Environment and Heritage website also says:

  • The pale-vented bush-hen inhabits tall dense understorey or ground-layer vegetation on the margins of freshwater streams and natural or artificial wetlands, usually within or bordering rainforest, rainforest remnants or forests.
  • Also occurs in secondary forest growth, rank grass or reeds, thickets of weeds, such as lantana (Lantana camara), and pastures, crops or other farmland, such as crops of sugar cane, and grassy or weedy fields, or urban gardens where they border forest and streams or wetlands, such as farm dams. Can also occur in and around mangroves, though rarely do so, if at all, in NSW.
  • Key elements its habitat are dense undergrowth 2 to 4 metres tall and within 300 metres of water.
  • The diet consists of seeds, plant matter, earthworms, insects and some frogs, taken from ground cover or by wading at edges of streams or wetlands.
  • The breeding season is from spring to early autumn, October to April.
  • The nest is a shallow bowl or cup of grass stems, often partly hooded, built close to water in thick ground vegetation such as dense blady grass (Imperata cylindrica), mat rush (Lomandra) or reeds, often under or growing through shrubs or vine or beneath a tree.
  • Birds lay 4 to 7 eggs in a clutch and will re-lay after a successful breeding attempt and make multiple attempts after nesting failures.
  • The incubation period is about 3 weeks. The hatchlings are precocial and can run soon after hatching; they are probably dependent on their parents for 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.

I hope our bird is breeding happily before the paddock reverts to its usual self.

Posted in Birds, Weather | Tagged , | 2 Comments