VIRUS 2020

15 November VIRUS 2020

15 November, VIRUS 2020

Cases top 54 million; deaths 1.3 million. Bloomberg

Scientists link record-breaking hurricane season to climate crisis. The Guardian

Pied Cormorant chicks

First stop on a birding day, a check on the young Pied Cormorants at Urunga.
The bend in a Bellinger tributary at Fernmount, hemmed with Crinum Lilies in full bloom.

The road from the coast inland up to the mountains is a pleasure and deadly, we stop for the Jacarandas’ mauve-blue and catch the stink of a dead bandicootThe roadside changes to privet white past Dorrigo then bluish bluebell mist from the wahlenbergia on the verges.
We meet the birders at Griffiths Lookout, someone says they would like to live up here in Dorrigo. Winter bites, I say.

Breakfast on the BBQ at the Glades in the Gondwana rainforest with an interloper, a young Red-bellied Black moving beautifully.
Hear the Paradise Riflebird close but no sighting this time, they stay high in the rainforest canopy. I am lucky to have seen all three of Australia’s birds of paradise (New Guinea has 39): the Paradise Riflebird, Victoria’s Riflebird and at the top of Cape York, the Magnificent Riflebird. I catch an Eastern Robin on the nest, but she takes off before I fire the camera. Brown Gerygones galore, and we watch a pair of Whipbirds feeding a fledgling, a pair of Yellow-throated Scrubwrens follow for the scraps. I take photographs, but it’s so dark, my jack of all trades camera can’t cope. You can look anywhere to see wonders.

A Brush Turkey digging into its mound, tests the temperature ignoring us, then has a rest and stares back.

I miss the Logrunners and a Bassian Thrush, but pose Wyn in amongst the vines.

Total: 54 birds including Welcome Swallow nestlings being fed in a nest outside the Visitor Centre.

and one snake.

View of the sea from the Dorrigo sky walk

By mid-January more than 50% of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests had burnt in the bushfire crisis. These temperate rainforests are some of the oldest ecosystems on Earth, lush and damp from before the dinosaurs. There is only one explanation – climate change.

Wyn and I leave the birders behind and continue west over the Great Divide, pausing at Ponds Travelling Stock Route (previously called Daisy Hill TSR), catch a family of Choughs bathing, but no Scarlet Robins or Diamond Firetails. The high country deals in dead trees in their pyjamas from epicormic growth, from the fires a year ago.

Ebor Falls is burnt country.

Trees are cracked open, wild flowers appreciate the heat and smoke.Australian Painted Ladies court the daisies.

The falls are running, the most reliable of many falling off this range, they run towards a denuded landscape, scapulas showing. The lower falls are closed, viewing points have been lost, the least of the deficits – huge loss of trees and animals. The fire was started deliberately in the Guyra Road area, during a total fire ban, and one of the worst droughts on record, by someone trying to save their illegal stop a cannabis crop. (Gavin James Gardiner was jailed for 3 years).


Next stop, Point Lookout. This this time not wreathed in fog and dripping mosses and ferns, but a view.


An old (unfinished) poem 

Our beautiful amnesia, Point Look Out,  March 2018

We should have known
the night that tidied up the cliffs and hid them
had the same question on its tongue for us.
   Judith Wright

We walk under green flesh dripping, scarves of lichen and moss

the forest looks dilapidated, old, it is, a Gondwana remnant,

The trees are dressed in all kinds of lichen, cabbage-green

and pale-fingered fructose, silver forking spines and thick blankets of Dicranoloma mosses,

to the edge of the world, a pure white abstract architecture, the past trapped

in this amnesia filling the world, no need for darkness.


I sense a vast hollow, hiding ancient ruins, a future megalopolis, coral sea, sea of ice?

The past trapped in this whiteness, history homeless for so long, horizon missing.

Sound is dampened, incantations sink into the Snowgrass, the air a sponge thick enough to walk on

substantial as albumen, bread, oats, felt, fish, paper, softening the earth’s crust,

fallen trees felted in moss melt. Trees wear all kinds of lichen, green silver

This is an island that might have offered new beginnings once upon a time.

Judith Wright is revered but her lyrebirds are not avian, and her black stick figures

have no hair. I looked for names, but can find no online documentation,

but violence happened everywhere, ‘the culture wars’ unbelievable, the violence

totally believable, what details there are were homeless for so long,


Distance glides to a halt, how far is there to fall?

What’s on the other side of this of our public statements,

of how we wash and step over recumbent forms?

A neighbouring ridge is a crease vague prow with scrawls of Antarctic Beech

The air must be wrong if Antarctica’s is polluted.

It is lovely, a magical cloud forest but you really want to wake it up.

Leaving we chat to experts for Mount Annan Botanic Gardens

just arriving looking for flowers and extraordinary, minute discrepancies.

Up here eight times a year and  rarely see the view.

The wooden fencing is bearded, World Heritage listed.

With binoculars you can see the waves breaking.


We should have known, from ‘Nigger’s Leap, New England’. This poem was based on Wright’s father’s story about the driving of Aboriginal people over a cliff opposite Point Lookout, but I can’t find any online sources. Later, I talked to a volunteer at Armidale’s ‘Keeping Place’ who told me Dunghutti oral histories are being actively collected.

‘The exact death toll from massacres and the frontier wars is unknown, but it runs in the hundreds of thousands.’ Calla Wahlquist, ‘Map of massacres of Indigenous people reveals untold history of Australia, painted in blood’, The Guardian, 5 July, 2017.

Point Lookout ‘does not quite qualify as cloud forest because it experiences sub-zero winter temperatures that support only a few rainforest species covered by a protective blanket of low Antarctic Beech canopy. Snowgrass, snow gums and hardy leguminous shrubs fit the conditions much better.’


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