Issue No. 6, August 2014 Autumn Walks at the Pinnacle
Welcome to the reinstated, reinvigorated, revivified (insert adjective of your choice) newsletter. It lapsed for some time, but now it is back. This issue focuses on three very diverse walks at the Pinnacle Nature Reserve this Autumn: a Bird Walk; an Indigenous Heritage Walk; and a European Heritage Walk, prefaced by an overview of Autumn at the Pinnacle.
The newsletter is a collaborative effort, and your comments, articles, ideas about possible subjects and authors for articles, even letters to the editor, will be very welcome. We plan to publish the newsletter quarterly, depending on interest and contributions. Please contact the newsletter editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison Milton is a Friend of the Pinnacle with a keen interest in birds, plants and photography.
Autumn in Canberra in 2014 was surprisingly mild with clear, calm, warm days. The fotpin calendar included a few interesting events, some in this newsletter and some in the next.
Autumn rains and warm weather created ideal conditions for sprouting fungi and I made several forays into the Reserve in search of specimens. I was not disappointed, though the species I'd seen a year or two ago were not in evidence.
It was on the last of these forays in late April that I met three other fotpin members who had just spent a few hours of dedicated weeding. They were visiting the patches of greenhood orchids, which were reportedly in flower. The two main areas near the Springvale Track had some great plants in bloom.
Someone had noticed this flowering and had sent photos to the Orchid Society and was subsequently asked for the location. There is always some caution attached to releasing details of an exact location, but the enquirer turned out to be very reputable. It was a great coincidence for him to arrive as we were examining the orchids. He turned out to be the Field Naturalists' winner of their latest annual award so there were no concerns about a misuse of the information. In fact Tobias' young eyes spotted three further unknown sites.
Apart from the privilege of being able to observe the wonderful flora and fauna in the Reserve, there is the more practical issue of the hard work that fotpins do to maintain and improve our wonderful treasure trove. More information about this will be in the next Newsletter. Without the help of all the volunteers fotpin would not be nearly as successful in its endeavours, so thank you all.
Bird walk Sunday, 6 April 2014
John Brannan and Alison Milton
John Brannan is a long-standing and active Friend of the Pinnacle. He is also a member of the Canberra Ornithologists' Group and undertakes regular bird surveys at the Pinnacle Nature Reserve. John leads bird walks at the Reserve, usually in Spring and Autumn. John happily shares his extensive knowledge of the birds of the Reserve with those on his walks, with his fotpin weeders and planters, and, indeed, anyone who asks a question.
In April, John led a guided bird walk with the hope of spotting some of the migratory birds that move through the Reserve every Autumn. It was a delightful stroll with many familiar faces and quite a few new ones. It included members of fotpin, the Field Naturalists and members of the public drawn in by it being widely advertised.
It is great to see a range of people of different ages and varying levels of experience with bird watching attending these walks, as they can exchange questions, knowledge, and perceptions. Young children are especially rewarding participants as they are so open to new experiences and the joys of nature. On this walk, one young girl was entranced by two Grey Fantails who displayed their talents within a meter or so. Perhaps she is a future birdwatcher or fotpin, or 'just' engaged with the environment.
Scarlet Robin [photo: David Cook]
Sightings, of course, included many non-migratory birds: parrots included the Eastern and Crimson Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets (not native to this area), Galahs and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos; there were Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Scarlet Robins and Speckled Warblers. The usual suspects were present as well – Pied Currawongs, Magpies and so on.
The Speckled Warbler was a particularly rewarding sighting. It is threatened across most of its range, including the ACT, as it nests on the ground and is particularly vulnerable to ground predators such as feral cats. The Pinnacle Nature Reserve has some good areas of suitable habitat, and this is getting even better with our land management strategies, with the result that numbers of the Speckled Warbler appear to be increasing.
Migratory species included a large number of Grey Fantails and flocks of the Yellow-faced Honeyeaters heard or spotted flying overhead.
Some migratory birds spend one season here and move elsewhere at other times of the year. The Common Koel is an example of this; it spends summer in South Eastern Australia (to the annoyance of some human residents, as it calls raucously day and night) and winter in Northern Australia and New Guinea.
Some other species have a resident population here, which is boosted at certain times of the year as migrating birds arrive. Examples include Pied Currawongs and Grey Fantails.
The Yellow-faced Honeyeater migrates through the ACT in very large numbers – perhaps tens of thousands - in Autumn and Spring. In Autumn, the flocks travel along the waterways (e.g. the Molonglo) to the coast and follow the coastal forests (which provide food and shelter) to the North. In Spring they follow the same route in reverse to breed in the Brindabellas. They have a very distinctive call when flying - 'chip, chip'. Keen birdwatchers go to key sites along the rivers to witness the mass migration in season. We were lucky to see them at the Pinnacle Nature Reserve, because it is not directly on a waterway.
Towards the end of the walk, participants were able to see a Satin Bowerbird near its bower in a garden backing onto the Reserve. These birds mostly appear in gardens for the available food and can travel some distance to known, regular food sources.
The bird walk ultimately returned a total bird count in the low 40s. Not bad for a few hours' birding.
Keep an eye on our What's On Calendar and around the Reserve for notices of the Spring Bird Walk.
Speckled Warbler [photo: Tobias Hayashi]
Indigenous Heritage Walk at the Pinnacle Nature Reserve, 27 April 2014
Words and photos by Elizabeth Smith
Wally and Tyronne Bell are the eldest and youngest sons of Don Bell, the well known and highly respected Ngunawal elder. They have both worked in various ways over many years to support, protect and explain the indigenous heritage and culture in the Ngunawal area. They are from Yass, and are of the Yarr people, part of the Ngunawal cultural group.
On a cold and grey autumn morning, Wally and Tyronne Bell guided 48 people (a record number for fotpin) on a fascinating walk through the top end of the Pinnacle Nature Reserve, identifying and explaining specific aspects of aboriginal use of environmental resources. They also gave an insight into the traditional history of the Ngunawal area and the cultural use of the region.
Traditional creation of the environment
In the dreaming time, Budjabulya, a water spirit, was living under what is now called Lake George. Budjabulya, the local creator, who lives at Ngungara meaning 'flat water', poked his head up and saw that everyone was happy and doing well. Then, Budjabulya rolled around the area and created a flat place - now Lake George. Moving through the landscape, he created valleys and pathways past Bungendore to Pialligo, through to Tuggeranong and also out to Gungahlin.
These pathways were used by the original inhabitants to travel to a central meeting place at what we now call Capital Hill, the location of Parliament House, and to Blacks' Mountain (now Black Mountain), where the indigenous clans and tribes would meet to discuss and resolve differences and issues of law and for Bogong feasting.
Other significant aboriginal sites in modern-day Canberra include the location of the gates of the Australian National Botanical Gardens, which are built on a former corroboree site. The creek which is now subsumed in Lake Burley Griffin was a place for women's business and a birthing place, and limestone caves with rock art now lie below the Lake. Pialligo was also a significant gathering place and many artefacts from there have been transported along with the soil to other parts of Canberra.
Wally and Tyronne stopped with the group at various locations in the Reserve to explain the specific uses and purposes of plants etc, and to expand on their roles in indigenous culture.
As we walked along the Dowling Track, Tyronne found a stone artefact, which had been ignored by how many people over how many years? It looked at first sight like a simple chip of rock, but clearly showed chipped sharp edges and a 'bulb of percussion' where it had been struck from a larger piece of rock. Tyronne marked the location on his GPS ("white fellers' technology", as he said).
Uses for the Red Stringybark
As we moved up the Forest Track, Wally stopped at a couple of Red Stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees that had been damaged by recent track grading. One had a large chunk of bark stripped off and the other had been knocked over completely. Wally showed us how the bark of the stringybark would be used for temporary shelters (like a lean-to) or for canoes. The loose fibres on the outer bark would be rubbed together and mixed with sap to make rope.
Wally showed us how the base of the Dianella (flax lily) stems provides a rich energy snack. In season, its blue berries are edible and are a good source of antioxidants. In addition, the base of the Dianella leaves can be made to form a whistle. This sounds like a bird in distress and attracts snakes, which you can catch and eat, should you wish to. Wally emphasised that his people would only kill what they need to eat, when they need to.
The indigenous people burned to regenerate growth and so used 'cool burns'. When they saw 'the caterpillars', they would know that this was the time to start burning. ACT Fire Management authorities now seem to be taking on some of the advice from indigenous people about when and how to burn.
Rock People (Burial Customs)
Tyronne found a cluster of rocks which encouraged him to tell us about his people's burial customs. The Ngunawal people come from the rocks and return to them. People will be buried facing east, where the sun comes from, or interred in other ways. If they are buried in the ground, they may have stones placed over the grave in a patterned way. Tyronne wasn't able to say whether this might be a burial site or not.
Possible burial site
A fallen acacia (wattle) showed evidence of grubs having burrowed through the wood. Wally's father used to take him out to collect these grubs, mainly as fish bait. Wally has eaten them but, as he says: 'they are an acquired taste'. Rather than finding the grubs by cutting off a branch or ringbarking it, they would hit the limbs with a stick to find a section which sounded hollow. They would then cut notches above and below this section and insert a thin twig into the bottom of the hole to 'tickle' the grub out the other end. They also used the acacia sap as a 'glue' to stick stringybark binding onto tools.
Flat Area below the Pinnacle
At the base of the Pinnacle Summit track there is a flat area where the land slopes down to the south on one side and to the north on the other. This is a place where the indigenous people would have worked stone tools (or later materials such as glass or ceramics after the arrival of Europeans) while keeping an eye on the surrounding countryside. Archaeologists would call this a PAD (potential archaeological deposit) site. Aboriginal people would call it 'the place where we used to sit down'. There are several differences between the indigenous people's more 'spiritual' approach to such places, especially burial sites, and the archaeologists' scientific approach of investigating sites, including excavating and analysing, as needed.
The Pinnacle itself provides an excellent 360 degree view to the waterways, connections and pathways and also a view of where rival groups may be approaching from. The rocks in the tree at the top of the Pinnacle are not an indigenous artefact.
The Scar Tree
Some way south of the Pinnacle, there is a large tree showing a significant scar where bark was removed, probably to make part of a shelter. Wally and Tyronne's description of the use of the bark and how it would be reached high up the tree, harked back to their talk about the uses of Stringybark in the Forest Block.
As the group headed back to Dungowan St and to Tyronne's fascinating demonstration of indigenous artefacts, a pair of Scarlet Robins gave us a lovely farewell display. A very suitable end to a great day.
This Indigenous Heritage walk was the third of six walks in the Ginninderra Region (including Belconnen, Gungahlin and across the border in to the NSW areas of Hall and Wallaroo). It was organised by the Ginninderra Catchment Group (GCG) and is part of the GCG's "Aboriginal Heritage in Ginninderra Project", supported by an ACT Government Heritage Grants.
These walks have been very popular with many more people attending than usual and the GCG is seeking funding to continue and expand walks such as these.
European Heritage Walk, 4 May 2014: Belconnen Hills - the Changing Landscape
Craig Wainwright is a Parkcare Support Officer with the A.C.T. Parks and Conservation Service. He has lived in the Belconnen Hills since 1972 and it provides him with a strong sense of place.
Forty years of memories are tied up in this landscape for me; but what of its pre 1970s past and what of its future when I am gone? What did it look like, what shaped its present appearance and what will it look like? What legacies exist and what is our legacy? These thoughts led me to the theme 'The Changing Landscape' for my interpretive walk.
To inform my presentation I drew on a wide range of resources – archival photos and articles, books, conversations with older inhabitants of the area and their resources , as well as references and ideas from other friends and colleagues.
The structure of the walk was to:
Unpackage the past through discussing how the land was manipulated to support the goals of its past inhabitants.
Identify its present status and discuss the goals and actions of the last 25 years.
Contemplate how present decisions/actions are shaping the future landscape, and what challenges and opportunities exist for the future.
The walk began by looking at the landform of Belconnen Hills: a ridge where the northern slopes are consumed by suburbs and its hydrology severely affected (Ginninderra catchment); and the southern slopes, comprised of reserves and rural lands, where its hydrology remains mostly unaffected (Molonglo catchment). An acknowledging of past names: Black's Mountain (Black Mt.), Round Hill (Mt. Painter) and Stringy Bark Hill (The Pinnacle) and a brief discussion of pre 1820 Canberra was enhanced by the Bell brothers' indigenous interpretive walk held at The Pinnacle Nature Reserve in the previous week. It was important to contextualize indigenous people as long-term land managers who shaped the landscape to meet their goals.
We set out for a lookout point at the Bottom Pinnacle. As we passed through the Stringy Bark forest, with its relatively undisturbed native understory and ground cover, it offered a glimpse into the areas past natural appearance. As we moved out of the forest the impacts of European settlement were immediately evident. We referred to turn of the century maps and mid-century aerial photos signifying the dramatic changes to the post 1820 landscape.
There were many indicators of compounded impacts that reshaped the landscape: extensive tree clearing; stocking and furrowing of paddocks; 100 years of rabbit plagues; all combining with extreme natural events such as the 1 in 100 year storm events that occurred three times in the 1860s and the extended drought periods in the 1900s, particularly during the 1930s.
Craig displays a remnant of post-1820 development
among recent plantings [photo: Jean Geue]
Our contemplations of post 1820 land manipulations were countered by turning our attention to contemporary goals and manipulations as we viewed ripped rabbit warrens, discussed weed control and observed revegetation plantings from 1984 to the present. 1980s/90s planting maps and a series of aerial photographs of the Pinnacle from the 1960s to the present revealed effective rehabilitation work that can be largely attributed to volunteers. It was important also to recognize the substantial work of The Pinnacle Environmental Group, from 25 years ago, as we now reap the rewards of their labours. This view offered a chance to acknowledge Friends of the Pinnacle's present efforts and how their legacy will serve to benefit and be appreciated by future generations of Canberrans.
Passing an ant highway and an outcrop of 150 year old Scribbly Gums we arrived at the Bottom Pinnacle to look out over the landscape east of Kama Nature Reserve towards the Molonglo - an important time to reflect on this landscape and mourn its loss to soon to be built suburbs. Reflecting on the impacts suburbs may bring to the area we headed back and viewed the new Advanced Offset block located at the southern end of Kama North Agistment, which directly connects the Pinnacle to Kama Nature Reserve. Viewing this future addition opened a discussion on what opportunities may exist in the future to extend the reserve system in the Belconnen Hills. Contemplating future opportunities was a positive note to end the walk on.
Thank you to everyone who took an interest in the walk and contributed their vast understanding and knowledge to the discussions. I look forward to future opportunities to share our aspirations, observations and knowledge of the natural landscape, its history, its inhabitants and its conservation.
Molonglo landscape from the Bottom Pinnacle [photo: John Brannan]
This issue will probably include a surprise or two, and articles about plantings in Autumn 2014 (it was a very busy Autumn!) and the background to plantings – that is, all the work necessary to identify the need and location, obtain the grants, and the plants, prepare the ground, coordinate the people for the hands on work and so on.
Any other suggestions and contributions for articles are very welcome, to the above email address. Looking forward to hearing from you.