The mornings were dedicated to ‘processing’ animals and collecting data, and the afternoons often to ‘sightseeing’ around Arthur River. Betty and I helped with data entry on a couple of afternoons when we were too bushed to go out again; a quiet afternoon quaffing coffee and working on spreadsheets was just the ticket then.
Betty hard at data entry
The dashing devil alarum
Spotlighting was done after dinner most nights. Darkness comes relatively late in Tassie at this time of year, before daylight saving ends.
So it was that Seb took a 4WD-full (including me) to see what we could see. He drove slowly while one person on each side of the 4WD shone a powerful spotlight to the side of the road and into the trees beyond, and a third person entered on a data sheet the numbers of whichever critter was spotted. We saw several wombats and many Bennett’s wallabies, and one group a ring-tailed possum up a tree (eyeshine is the thing to notice in trees; then you stop the car and have a closer look). But, possibly because of local farmers on a wallaby- and rabbit-shooting expedition (hence increasing the population of the pest, European wasps), we saw very little on our walk along a track with forest on either side. The sound of guns would have scared anything off. The spookiest thing was the eyeshine of a large group of curious black cattle in a nearby paddock.
The road to and from Arthur River has a stretch with a ‘virtual fence’. It is something like 12 km of poles on both sides of the road. Each one has affixed a sensor which detects car headlights and gives off an alarm and blue flashing lights in front of and as a car shoots past. This system has proven effective with deer in some parts of North America and apparently the number of roadkills has dropped on the approach to Arthur River because of this system. You can see a video of the alarms here.
‘Virtual fence’ poles emit sound and light at night in response to car headlights
Those of you who live in the countryside have probably had the night-time experience of something small and furry and very fast dashing from concealment past the front of your car. It’s a heart-stopping moment. So far (touch wood), I’ve not hit anyone.
So it was a very near thing – and our reaction times are just not fast enough when an animal decides to make a run for it – when a devil ran out in front of our ute on the way back to Arthur River! It was not in the ‘virtual fence’ zone. Seb slammed on the brakes and missed it. Oh the irony if he had hit it! Well done, Seb, for missing.
The inchman alarum
After checking traps one morning, Gini, Betty, David and I were about to get into the ute to go to another site when Gini got a call on her mobile that the team doing habitat surveys further along our track couldn’t find the remote camera. She and David went off to walk the 4 km round trip to help them find it. Betty and I stayed back; Betty pottered around looking for interesting orchids and I had a short nap in the ute. After I woke up, I got out and sat on a large log, and Betty chose one close to it. But shortly she was leaping to her feet, being bitten by the fierce native Tasmanian inchman ant. She had inadvertently sat on their nest hole, and they were not happy!
She was being bitten inside her trousers as well as on the neck and she had about 10 on the back of her shirt, so I tried to pull one off. OUCH! They are more painful than jumping-ant bites and last longer. So I yelled, ‘Take your clothes off, take your clothes off!’ and grabbed a fallen tree branch, with which I proceeded to hit the ants on her shed clothes. They wouldn’t come off any other way.
Now this would have been hilarious seen by anyone else, Betty dancing around half-clothed and me whacking away furiously, but luckily we were not visible from the road. I myself have been embarrassed shedding clothes after jumping ants climbed up me near the road on my property the moment a neighbour drove past. We saw the funny side afterwards, but the bites caused Betty a lot of irritation over the next few days.
Inchman model in Launceston museum
Inchman nest model
On the plus side, I now know what the top of an ant nest in a fallen log looks like.
Do not sit on one of these – top of inchman nest in decaying log; the ants have burrowed in and scooped out the wood, which piles on top.
The Edge of the World excursion
I did not take a photo of the plaque at Gardiner Point, aka The Edge of the World (there are plenty on the interwebs), but it certainly is a wild and woolly place. Winds scream in from Antarctica and Argentina and the surf crashes and smashes. In a winter storm it would be extraordinary.
Dead trees from floods have washed down the Arthur River to the ocean.
A woman was swimming in the cold water, albeit wearing a wetsuit. Other occupiers of the beach were detected by their signs: a Tasmanian devil and a Bennett’s wallaby. The devil has a peculiar lope on the balls of its feet, as evidenced by the three footprints together and lack of heel print. The larger pair is from the Bennett’s wallaby. Wombats also cruise the beaches for plant snacks.
Tassie devil (left) and wallaby (right) footprints on the beach
The beaches were exceptionally clean, with the odd bit of kelp and old shell.
The riverboat excursion
I like me a nice boat trip (especially one where I can’t get seasick) and the one down the Arthur River on the MV George Robinson was relaxing and informative.
MV George Robinson; note the backburn and original vegetation in the background
According to the captain, Greg, the Arthur River is the only completely wild Tasmanian river. It has never been logged or dammed. There hasn’t been a hot fire through this part of the Tarkine Wilderness for almost 650 years, so the river remains much as it has been for thousands of years.
Greg and Lesley know their river and the Tarkine wilderness so we got a lot of information. A pair of sea eagles knew they would get a feed, so were readily attracted for a photo.
Sea eagle on Arthur River; photo by Dianne Bennett
Their huge nest, used for generations, was lodged in a giant tree fork.
Sea eagle nest
The boys compare their (very expensive) toys while Lesley takes coffee orders and David immerses himself in the Disc World.
We got off at a landing and walked along a track into the cool temperate forest (the greatest of cool temperate rainforest in Australia and the second largest expanse of cool temperate rainforest in the world) and Greg continued his interesting botanical information. Manferns (Dicksonia antarctica) were all over the place.
It was a very worthwhile five hours.
The petroglyph excursion
Seb kindly offered to take a 4WD-full of volunteers to Sunset Point to see the petroglyphs.
Afternoon excursion time
As usual with petroglyphs, no one really knows how old these are. The local indigenous people are happy for tourists to see them, but there are others along the coast in more secret locations that no one is allowed to see (not even them). And fair enough, too.
There are many middens and signs of old habitation along the beaches and in the hinterland. These sites are protected by law, but that doesn’t stop wilful destruction by certain members of the beach-driving community, unfortunately.
We also saw ancient stone tools, but respectfully left them there (it is illegal to take them).
The Preminghana excursion
We had the privilege of spending an afternoon at the Preminghana Indigenous Protected Area. Our task for the afternoon was helping get rid of the infesting weed, gorse.
Betty shows great glee ripping out that horrible gorse.
In return, Jarrod and Vic guided us up the mountain to spectacular views. I’m not allowed to publish those, but let me tell you it was worth the twisted ankle I gained on the way down. Absolutely spectacular!
We were the first white people up there for 15 years. ‘I don’t know how I feel about that,’ said Jarrod. We were welcomed to country and smoked, which I found very moving. These men have such a positive vision for their country and long may they prosper.
The fossil excursion
Greg Jordan and Mike McPhail, the palaeobotanists, were after fossils. They knew of a road cutting on the Corinna Road, but weren’t sure where it was exactly, as there was no GPS last time fossils had been found there. So the hunt was on, travelling through the burnt lands.
These were not great as fossils go – the soil around them was very crumbly and yet they were estimated to be 33 million years old (!) – and the palaeobotanists were actually after microscopic spores and seeds. So they took a few samples to be analysed in the lab later.
The devils’ dinner excursion
We were hoping to see Tasmanian devils feeding in the wild. This had happened in the past courtesy of Geoff King, a farmer and environmental advocate who regularly arranged a devilish feast on his property. But with Geoff’s death in 2013, another venue was needed.
Our fearless leaders had negotiated with another local farmer who was willing to give it a go. He’d staked out roadkill in a particular spot on his property over each of a few days prior, and it had disappeared by morning so we were optimistic about our chances. But, of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals.
Seb doing his Van Helsing impression, staking out roadkilled wallabies
So we waited, very very quietly, in the wind and dark for the devils to show up. I have to say it was very pleasant just standing silently, listening to the rain and wind and night noises in the Tasmanian bush. It’s amazing how quiet 15 people can be when they want to. Two hours later Menna called it a night. Ah well. Maybe next year.