The Top End (part 5)

Day 3Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery

After the rest had motored off for their all-day trip, I took some painkillers, strapped on the borrowed back-support belt and sat in the park by the sea across from the hotel. Kath had leant me Penny van Oosterzee’s 2014 book, A Natural History and Field Guide to Australia’s Top End and I was determined to get in some research before Kakadu. The park was peaceful and I had never seen so many peewees (magpie larks, Grallina cyanoleuca) in one spot – there were at least 40 pecking for insects to eat.

Magpie lark; photo by SuperJew, Wikimedia Commons

The weather felt a bit cooler. Anglo folks currently name only two seasons in the Top End, but apparently the ‘build-up’ to the ‘wet season’ is soon to be recognised as a third season. The Aboriginal peoples sensibly recognise six seasons. We were in Wurrgeng, which spans early June to mid-August.

The Indigenous six seasons are marked by ‘calendar plants’ and events – for example, the blooming of certain flowers indicates other changes in the environment such as the availability of certain foods (plants or animals). This extensive and intricate knowledge has been worked out and passed down over more than 60,000 years and enables good living off the land. There are academic arguments over this figure, but it still means a couple of thousand human generations. The humidity is relatively low with daytime temperatures to around 30˚C (it was 33 to 36 while we were there) and night around 17˚C (it was mostly 23 for us). This is the period when most creeks stop flowing and the floodplains dry out. Traditional Indigenous burning, which starts in the previous season (Yegge), is continued. Birds and animals converge on the shrinking billabongs.

Birds gathering around a billabong; artwork at the museum

After a while, I felt able to go for a walk so I got a map from the hotel desk clerk and wandered to the nearby mall, where I spotted an independent bookshop called, well, “The Bookshop”. Here I bought Brock’s Native Plants of Northern Australia (2022), which gave me another overview of the ecosystems and a field guide to the plants.

Since I had the whole day at my own pace, I decided to go to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which wasn’t on our official itinerary. I normally would have walked there to get a sense of the city, and it’s amazing what you can stumble across, but decided that would be asking too much of myself. So I walked to the nearby Information Centre where a staffer gave me a bus map, told me to flash my Seniors Card, which would give me a free trip, at the driver, and directed me to the bus depot around the corner.

While waiting for the bus, I chatted to a very helpful local and a couple of other tourists (recognisable because of them clutching the same bus map). Having driven from Perth (4,000 km or 2,500 miles away), they were having their RV serviced before driving back, and using the time by going to the museum. This couple confirmed what I’d heard on the media – that very many people were travelling post-covid lockdowns (although we’re still far from post-covid). They said that they could usually be very flexible and book accommodation in the morning for that night, but now they had to book several days ahead and if they didn’t turn up at the hour they said they would, their room would be given to someone else.

As a former museum staffer (scientific officer, Marine Invertebrates, South Australian Museum) and sometime museum volunteer, I am still a museum enthusiast. This museum concentrates on Northern Territory and nearby birds and animals of the tropics. I avoided the Cyclone Tracy rooms – been there, done that, lost the T-shirt and most other things. I could hear the recording of the shrieking winds and it still gave me a shiver.

Model of a cathedral termite mound with Territory bird and fish taxidermies in the background

Model of nest of the great bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis); the male maker is on the left

The strange and unique Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)

Various kinds of box jellyfish – you don’t want to encounter any of them while swimming

Green turtle skeleton

Sawfish

The basement display of large wooden fishing vessels – local ones and some from nearby islands and Indonesia – was very impressive. You can tell I like boats and ships by the number of photos I took. It’s a shame I usually get so seasick – thanks, Dad, for not giving me your seasickness-proof gene (I love you anyway). The shop was better than the usual, with little of the plastic tat seen in most museum shops. I bought two books – the one that Kath had leant me and Lindley McKay’s 2017 A Guide to Wildlife and Protected Areas of the Top End. The latter was the most detailed book I’d seen, with sections on all sorts of invertebrates as well as the expected frogs, mammals, birds and reptiles, and I leapt on it with great glee. Research!

After a couple of hours perusing the galleries that were open – some were closed for refurbishment – I walked back to the bus stop where I chatted to a couple more tourists who had just finished a multi-day coach trip from Perth. They mentioned that covid was rife on the coaches, but fortunately their bus hadn’t had it. They were flying back later that day. I don’t think I could stand such a long bus trip, even without covid.

Back at the hotel, I took a rest and waited for the group to come back from Berry Springs and the community gardens. I’ll write about them next.

Top End trip (part 4)

Day 2 – Afternoon – George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

In the early afternoon, we were picked up from the hotel by a minibus for a 2 km trip to the George Brown Botanic Gardens.

Who said, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”? That applies to me with plants, but I take the opportunity to learn whenever I can. Our two knowledgeable guides helped.

Our knowledgeable guides (right) from “Walk Darwin”

The gardens are very large – the 42 hectares (104 acres) were initially established in 1886 to test plants that would work economically and ornamentally in the tropical part of the new  British colony. Nearly 90% of the plantings were destroyed by cyclone Tracy in 1974. George Brown had started working in the gardens in 1969 and was curator from 1971 to 1990, so he oversaw the major replanting; the gardens were renamed in his honour in 2002.

The gardens concentrate on native tropical plants (especially monsoon flora), but have a selection of exotic ones as well. A current map is here.

Here’s a selection from my notes. The African baobab (Adansonia digitata) …

Baobab, an African species

… is different to the endemic Australian boab (Adansonia gregorii) …

Boab, an Australian species

There was a large undercover area with orchids and bromeliads, many of which were flowering. I can see why people get enraptured with orchids – they have such a variety of flower colours and shapes. Have we domesticated them or have they domesticated us? They’ve certainly trained us to grow them a lot.

Photo by Bruce Moore

Craig spotted this lovely rainbow bee-eater (Merops ornatus). I first saw one of these in my home town in country South Australia.

Rainbow bee-eater; photo by Craig Olive

Lurking in the undergrowth (and up trees) were various reptiles …

Not a real snake – it’s been there for years; photo by Bruce Moore

Honestly, Jerry, can’t you make him behave? 🙂

Delightful shapes, colours and textures held my interest …

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

I was astounded to see a coco de mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica). When I was a kid, I had a hollowed-out nut made into a container on my bedroom mantlepiece. Dad had brought it back when he visited the Seychelle Islands (the only place these palms grow) during his navy service in World War II. Sadly, I couldn’t find it in his possessions after his death. I’d really love to still have it.

Nuts developing on the coco de mer tree

Dad’s was a smaller version of one of these, sliced in half and with added hinges. They are the largest nuts in the plant kingdom …

Huskless coco de mer shells; photo by Pauk, Wikimedia Commons

Last on the agenda was the Mindil Markets, which are famous and apparently quite good. Although I love markets, it had been a long walking day and I was feeling pretty wrecked, so had decided to catch a cab back to the hotel. Another 13 of us decided the same thing so our guides summoned a couple of maxi-cabs to take us back.

After a rest, I felt I had enough energy to have dinner with Wendy, Toni, Jerry and Thuan at an Asian restaurant. Having lost my sense of smell and taste, I couldn’t pick up much except salt, but at least it was nutrition and the company was good. One of the things I regret missing out on was getting to know my fellow-travellers individually, but with the constant back pain and sleeplessness I just didn’t have the enthusiasm. Sorry, folks!

The next morning I was feeling very sleep-deprived and in pain, and it was going to be another big walking day where I probably couldn’t rest much, so the others went to Berry Springs and two community gardens without  me. I had a relaxed morning, then felt I could make it to the Northern Territory Museum – which wasn’t on our official agenda – with the help of local transport. I’ll write about that next.

The Top End (part 3)

Day 2 – Morning (cont.)

Still on Larrakia Country, after the street art tour, guide John dropped us off at Crocosaurus Cove. This tourist attraction is a combined zoo and aquarium, also functioning as an education centre about Northern Territory marine vertebrates (fish, rays and turtles) and reptiles (lizards, snakes and especially crocodiles). On the VIP tour, we were shepherded around by a knowledgeable guide for a couple of hours.

Wildminds says of Crocosaurus Cove:

… the place is home to the largest collection of Australian reptiles in the world. Their list counts over 70 species, most found naturally in the surrounding Northern Territory region. … Here you can find a large number of venomous snakes (including the deadliest in the world [the taipan]), along with the huge range of lizards, skinks, geckos, and more on display – most of these species being too elusive to ever see in their natural habitat … Another amazing attraction at Crocosaurus Cove is the 200,000-litre freshwater aquarium, modelled on a typical Top End river system. It houses an abundance of fish species, including the majestic whiprays (the freshwater equivalent of stingrays) and Darwin’s famous (and delicious) barramundi. The most impressive specimens are definitely the archer fish and their daily feeding shows in which they can show off how they shoot down prey with jets of water. … In another side of Crocosaurus Cove, the Turtle Billabong houses a colourful variety of adorable turtles, including red and yellow face turtles, pig nose turtles, and snapping turtles.

Our guide holding an “educational crocodile” while educating us about it

Saltwater crocodile skeleton

There are two species of crocodiles in Australia – the saltwater (Crocodylus porosus or ‘saltie’) and freshwater (Crocodylus johnstoni or ‘freshie’). We don’t have alligators at all.

We got the chance to gently handle a small crocodile, a python and a couple of lizards. The skins have interesting textures, and the snake was not at all ‘slimy’ despite its shiny appearance.

Python; photo by Bruce Moore

Salties

The saltie is the more famous of our two crocodile species, so let’s start with it. It’s the more infamous, too, since its rare attacks on humans, like those of sharks, are spectacular with somewhat gruesome outcomes for the humans.

Saltwater crocodile checking out whether we have any food – or could be food; photo by Bruce Moore

Saltwater croc foot; photo by Bruce Moore

The saltie is the largest reptile species alive on the planet. Males can grow up to around 6 metres (20 feet) and weigh upwards of 1000 kg (2,200 lb). Females are roughly half the size of the males. They live on the coast, in estuaries and in tidal rivers, sometimes getting washed further inland in the wet season when the land floods. Males are territorial among each other and the freshies that overlap their range.

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

Salties were hunted almost to extinction in the 1970s, but are now protected and have a healthy population of 100,000 to 200,000 adults. (It’s hard to get a precise number because of the remoteness of where they live and their tendency to lurk almost underwater.) Individuals considered a continuing threat to humans are trapped and taken to crocodile farms (where they can be made into meat and leather) or places like Crocosaurus, where they have educational value.

Salties are ambush predators, quite stealthy and yet quick-moving, and will go for anything that looks like it will make a decent meal. According to the Australian Museum:

Juvenile [saltwater] crocodiles tend to ‘sit and wait’ in shallow water for suitable prey to come within striking distance, although they may also chase small animals and can leap from the water to snare overhanging prey. Larger crocodiles actively hunt and are attracted to any movement that may represent a potential meal. When prey is detected the crocodile makes a stealthy approach under water, keeping any exposure to a minimum. Once in range the crocodile lunges rapidly and slams its jaws shut on the victim – the force of this alone may be enough to kill it. Small prey is simply crushed and swallowed; however, larger prey may be dragged to deeper water before being dismembered and eaten. If the meal is too big to be swallowed whole, the crocodile will grab hold with its jaws and shake violently or roll to tear off a manageable piece. Because the tongue and skull bones of a crocodile are not very movable, food is tossed around in the mouth to manipulate it into a position for swallowing. After eating its fill (a crocodile’s stomach is relatively small), the crocodile may store the remains in mangroves or underwater to feed on again at a later time. Estuarine crocodiles are also scavengers and will come on to land to feed on carrion or unattended catch.

The salties at Crocosaurus are displayed in freshwater – this does not harm them as it’s within their salinity range.

It was breeding season and one display featured a nest of vegetation. The females make the nest or bury the eggs in warm sand; the males do not help them incubate or raise the hatchlings at all. The temperature that the eggs are raised in determines the sex of the animal.

Crocodile eggs in vegetation nest

The crocs are used to being fed by the keepers, who get quite close but still need to be wary.

Yum, chicken! (Photo by Craig Olive)

We also were ‘treated’ to feeding a croc fairly close up, but still safely.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Moore

Freshies

Freshies are much smaller than salties: males can grow up to 3 metres and 70 kg and females 2 metres and 40 kg. They have a more slender snout and smaller teeth than salties. Freshies tend to be shy and don’t generally attack humans.

Again according to the Australian Museum:

Freshwater crocodiles inhabit various freshwater environments, including rivers, creeks, pools, billabongs, lagoons and swamps. During the wet season these habitats become inundated with flood waters which allow the crocodiles to move throughout the flood plains. As the water levels drop the crocodiles tend to congregate in the larger and deeper water bodies, where they prefer to inhabit the shallower waters at the pool edges. Despite the periodic flooding and drying of their habitat, freshwater crocodiles show a strong fidelity to their dry season water body, e.g. along the McKinlay River in the Northern Territory, 72.8 percent of marked crocodiles were found to return to the same water body in two successive dry seasons. …

Freshwater crocodiles may shelter in burrows among the roots of trees fringing the water bodies they inhabit.

Despite the common name, freshwater crocodiles may also occur in brackish waters up to 24% salinity (seawater is 35%). …

In the wild, freshwater crocodiles will eat a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey, including crustaceans, insects, spiders, fishes, frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, birds and mammals. Insects (both aquatic and terrestrial) appear to be the most common food item, followed by fish. Larger crocodiles tend to eat larger prey items; however, the average size of prey for all freshwater crocodiles is generally small (mostly less than 2 cm²). Small prey is usually obtained by a ‘sit-and-wait’ method, whereby the crocodile lies motionless in shallow water and waits for fish or insects to come within close range, before they are snapped up in a sideways action. However, larger prey like wallabies and waterbirds may be stalked and ambushed in a manner similar to that of the saltwater crocodile.

Other reptiles

Let’s look at some of the other reptiles on display.

Blunt-spined goanna

Taipan, one of the world’s deadliest snakes; photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

Photo by Bruce Moore

The Cage of Death

Jerry and Toni had been booked to go into “The Cage of Death”, which is a long, clear perspex tube that is lowered into an aquarium. A large croc is induced to go near with a bit of chicken. Jerry was in a natty old-fashioned bathing suit, with his iconic hat that he’s rarely seen without. This was Devin’s idea – I hate to think what he’ll come up with next.

Jerry and Toni enjoying (?) being in the Cage of Death

After watching Jerry’s hat (and the rest) not get eaten, Linda, Bruce and I had a snack at the Crocosaurus café and then walked back to the hotel for a quick rest. Next on the menu was a visit to the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, which I’ll write about next.

The Top End (part 2)

Day 2 – Morning walk around Darwin city

At breakfast in the hotel, we heard a strange screeching noise. It turned out to be from an orange-footed scrub fowl (Megapodius reinwardt) scratching around the gardens for seeds, fruits and invertebrates. It’s a mound-builder and only from the very north of Australia. Here I’ll show my bird-nerdiness by saying this was a TICK (a new bird for the list of birds I have seen or heard in the wild – if you count hotel gardens as wild; at least it wasn’t in a cage). At home I have local bush turkeys that build large mounds to incubate eggs, but this is a different species.

Orange-footed scrub fowl; photo by Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons

John of “Walk Darwin” again met us in the foyer and led us on the “Darwin Heritage Walk”, starting along the esplanade and pointing out various heritage buildings like the Parliament (within which sits the library, which I visited later). The walk encompassed:

Darwin’s history through the World War II bombings and Cyclone Tracy, to the current day. Discover many of the remaining buildings such as the old Court House and Police Station, Brown’s Mart and the Old Palmerston Town Hall ruins, all of which have been painstakingly reconstructed. View Government House, Parliament House and the Northern Territory Supreme Court on our journey through the streets of this modern tropical city.

Parliament House, Darwin

The many manicured public gardens are filled with tropical trees and shrubs, many flowering beautifully. As ever on the lookout for critters, I spotted quite a few nests of the green ant (Rhytidoponera metallica). First Nations people eat the abdomen – the taste is supposed to be like “citrus crossed with coriander”. You can read about that here.

Green ants on folded leaf nest


And there was a random dragonfly …

Craig took a taste of an ant and said it was a bit more astringent that the ones in Townsville – I’ll take his word for it.

There is a terrific art display of these green ants – you can read about the light sculptures and the artists here. Unfortunately I didn’t see them.

I had a sudden thought of a pair of shiny earrings with a design of the bright green folded leaves with a green ant or two on top – I imagine a glass artist would find that hard to do, and they’d break easily. Maybe in resin? I’d buy them.

There are several old buildings like the one at Brown’s Mart below, built of porcellanite (so called because it looks like unglazed porcelain). It is a common local stone so was utilised in the original buildings, many of which were destroyed by Cyclone Tracey in 1974 and rebuilt. We had seen cliffs of porcellanite (pointed out by guide John) on the previous night’s cruise of Darwin Harbour. Although it looks to the untrained eye (that is, mine) like sandstone, it’s apparently not as strong but is strengthened when mortar joins the bricks.

Brown’s Mart is one of many old buildings built of porcellanite; photo by Craig Olive


In a park near the Civic Centre, there’s a display honouring the naturalist Charles Darwin, consisting of an arc of 10 bells, each one topped by a species of Australian birds. The 11th bell is a replica of the bell of Darwin’s ship, the Beagle, and there’s a central sculpture of Darwin himself.

Beagle bell replica

Darwin sculpture; photo by Bruce Moore

The bells can be hit manually to produce a tune, if you have enough people; this happens automatically three times a day.

The Chinese Temple, still a working temple today, was very familiar to me from my time living in Hong Kong.

Chinese temple Darwin; photo by Bruce Moore

It was lovely to see, alongside the Taoist temple, my favourite Buddhist deity, Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy). Thuan said the tree next to it was grown from a cutting from the Indian Tree of Enlightenment the Buddha sat under when he finally figured out Life, the Universe and Everything (those last are Douglas Adam’s words, not Thuan’s). I gave her a bow, as is my wont.

Kuan Yin statue, Darwin

John then led us through the back streets to see some very impressive street art. Since 2017, there has been a yearly competition and the winning artists are commissioned to paint their designs on the large blank sides of buildings in the CBD and suburbs. A 10-day festival is held in conjunction. I think John said 10 paintings were selected very year. 

The first one is of the late Dr G. Yunupingu , as he is respectfully know after his death.  A Yolŋu man, he was one of the Top End’s most famous sons and the highest-selling Aboriginal musician. His music still gives me goosebumps – what a wonderful voice! The nifty thing with many of these artworks is that you can hook up with an app that shows augmented reality – in this case, it plays one of his famous songs.

Dr G. Yunupingu, famous Australian musician;  photo by Bruce Moore

The next one is of his totem.

There were many, many more artworks than the photos I’ve shown.

This one was, appropriately, on the back of the bookshop.

Not a dog!

While we were perusing the art, three policemen on Segways arrived. The head cop was very jolly, obviously knowing the tour operators and out to give us a bit of entertainment.

Police do their rounds on Segways; photo by Bruce Moore

Orange electric scooters are very popular in Darwin, used by commuters and tourists alike. They just get left in the street when you’ve finished with them, ready for the next person who has booked one via the appropriate app.
Darwin comes across as a small, busy, modern city, quite unlike the basic one when I visited during that fateful Christmas in 1974. The city was rebuilt well and apparently has not lost a building to cyclones since then. It’s very easy to walk around and if you’re interested in Indigenous art, there are a lot of galleries selling it. The city does rely a lot economically on tourists, who were very evident at the time we were doing our own tourist bit in the most popular tourist time, the dry season.
Last thing, John dropped us off for a VIP tour of Crocosaurus (in my opinion, Crocsploitation, but I hope for the good of the species). I’ll write about that next.

The Top End (part 1)

In June, I went on a 10-day group tour (organised by The Adventure Traveller and led by Jerry Coleby-Williams of TV’s Gardening Australia and much other horticultural and sustainable living fame) to Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory. Darwin and surrounds are known as the Top End. I’m usually an independent traveller, but my previous tour with this lot to Norway and the Norwegian Arctic had gone so well I decided to give it another go. Besides, two friends I had made on that trip and another I hadn’t seen for many years were also going.

I’ll preface this by saying that my health was really bad – I’d done something to my back the previous week and was hoping it’d settle down as the trip would involve lots of walking. It didn’t. My sleep was also very disrupted by breathing difficulties – probably not  helped by the smoke in the air in many places – so I was always very tired. I’d also lost my sense of smell and taste. Sometimes the combination of tiredness and sore back meant I chose to not go on some outings. Luckily an ex-GP, a medical translator and a clinical psychologist were also part of the trip and helped me get through it – thanks so much, folks, and to others who also helped along the way. You know who  you are. I’d have had to abandon ship without you. Despite all the difficulties, I’m glad I went.

Day 1 – To Darwin

I stayed overnight overnight with Linda and Bruce, who live west of Brisbane. This saved a 3-hour drive from my place to Brisbane airport and, more importantly, let me catch up with them pre-trip. I’d made friends with Linda and Bruce on the trip around Norway. We got up at stupid o’clock to drive to the airport early – there is much confusion and delay at Australian airports at the moment, mainly due to COVID-induced staff shortages so the earlier we could get to the security queue the better. It was relatively short, but we heard that later it got very long and stress-inducing.

I love looking out the window in planes to see the geography. It’s a 4.5 hour flight to Darwin so there’s a lot of varying geography to see, starting with the wet east coast and gradually moving to the much drier Outback. But I’d had bad sleep the night before, so nodded off fairly soon and woke up over the Gulf of Carpentaria.

View from the plane to the east of Darwin (photo by Bruce Moore)

Top End coastline (photo by Bruce Moore)

Eventually flying over Darwin city, I could see it was bright, shiny and new, very unlike my last view of it after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Darwin is a modern city with about 150,000 people, multicultural with White, First Nations, Chinese, Indonesian and other Asian cultures having an influence.

On the ground, the first thing that hit my senses was the 32 degree C heat and humidity. Coming from maximums of 17 at home, it was a bit of a shock. The second thing was the smell of smoke – from the air I’d seen plumes rising from forests around Darwin and later learnt that the dry season is also burning season.

Burning off country in the dry season (photo by Bruce Moore)

Because this was a tour and pretty much everything had been organised for us, we were bussed from the airport to Palm City Resort on the esplanade. There we settled into our rooms and I caught up with Kath, who I hadn’t seen for many years. We first met up at WIRES, a wildlife rescue organisation, in Sydney.

Next, John from “Walk Darwin” guided us along the esplanade, pointing out various features like Parliament House, to Stokes Hill Wharf where we embarked on a sunset cruise on the harbour. Tapas and champagne were served, and we saw one of the spectacular sunsets Darwin is known for. It was very relaxing out on the water, and Kath and I had a lot of chatting to do.

Darwin sunset (photo by Bruce Moore)

I asked John about the smoke. He replied that government, land owners and First Nations people take advantage of the early dry season to safely burn. Penny van Oosterzee et al. (in “A Natural History and Field Guide to Australia’s Top End”) says:

Today, fires are lit by pastoralists, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal land managers and park managers. In some areas Aboriginal people use fire to manage their traditional estates, for a range of hunting, gathering and cultural responsibility purposes. Aboriginal people and park rangers light fires in the early dry season to protect important plant and animal communities such as the monsoon forests and creek lines, and some of the special waterholes and swamps from the hot destructive fires of the late dry season. Graziers light them to open up the country for cattle and game to feed on the new shoots. Some fires are lit to provide fire-breaks to protect forest, woodland and pasture from the ravages of hot season wildfires.

It turns out that this burning, or rather the frequency of it, is not universally applauded. There are arguments for and against the view that biodiversity is increased, but I won’t go into them here, just to record what Lindley McKay (in “A Guide to Wildlife and Protected Areas of the Top End”) says:

Every year about fifty percent of the Top End is burnt, sending about 60 million tonnes of organic matter into the sky. Any given area is burnt on average every second year. Australia’s north is the site of about seventy percent of the nation’s fires and a major emitter of [polluting gases]. … Many land managers aim to reduce fuel loads in order to prevent hotter late season fires from damaging property.      Unfortunately fuel reduction is based on two misconceptions, firstly that a late season fire is inevitable, and secondly that the reduction is needed. In fact, termites reduce the same amount of fuel as an early-season burn, consuming the primary fuel of a fire … grass and leaves. … immediately after a fire, leaf beds, grass and other plants close to the ground are removed, resulting in an open understorey. Small ground dwelling animals must either move to a place with greater cover or be exposed to higher risk of predation. Many larger creatures also rely on thick grass for cover, and insufficient areas of unburnt grass during the dry season are a primary cause of the decline of the Northern Brown Bandicoot.

      In the long term, frequent burning of woodland suppresses growth of both saplings and mature trees. In frequently burnt forests, trees that die are not being replaced by new ones. Fires can also result in forests with fewer tree species. One well-known tree negatively affected by fire is the Northern Cypress Pine Callitris intratropica, northern Australia’s only native cypress. Adult trees can withstand low intensity fires but are killed by hotter fires, and seedlings do not withstand any fire. Consequently Northern Cypress is a declining feature of the Top End landscape.

      Frequent burning kills and suppresses the regrowth of mid-storey plants: the demise of an entire strata of life within the forest, and all the possible shelter, food and other resources it contains. Black-footed Tree-rats, dependent on the presence of mid-storey, are in decline throughout NT.

Food for thought, indeed.

I’ll continue the trip in the next post.