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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Kosciuszko National Park #1: on top of Australia

As foreshadowed last time, we have just spent an exhilarating weekend in Kosciuszko National Park, best known for its protection of the highest parts of Australia, the alpine areas around Mount Kosciuszko, but which also encompasses nearly 700,000 hectares of subalpine and montane forests. 

Looking east from Mount Kosciuszko.
It is New South Wales' largest national park, but even more importantly it is contiguous with Namadgi National Park in the Australian Capital Territory to the north, and the Victorian Alpine Parks system to the south, to create a co-operatively managed system of mountain reserves covering more than 1.6 million hectares, one of the world's great parks systems. (In Australia the states and territories are responsible for land management; in the case of the Australian Alps Agreement, the Commonwealth - the Federal government - provides a coordinating role.)
The Australian Alpine Parks system, courtesy of the Great Eastern Ranges website.
You'll probably need to click on the map to see it properly; Mt Kosciuszko can be seen half way between the two
KOSCIUSZKO NATIONAL PARK labels. The reason that the Victoria/NSW border suddenly becomes wobbly
in the middle of the parks is that from there on to the west it is defined by the Murray River, which rises in the Alps.
Mount Kosciuszko is only 2,230 metres above sea level, a rather puny 'highest point' by world standards, but it is all to do with the nature of Australia itself. The Australian Alps are an old range, and in the stable centre of a continental plate. Loftier ranges, like the Himalayas, the Andes and the New Guinea ranges, are young and growing; at the edge of their plates they are constantly thrust upwards by the irresistible mass of the plate itself behind them, crashing into the adjacent plate. Mount Kosciuszko is long past its glorious growing days, and is slowing but inexorably eroding away.
Mount Kosciuszko from 4.5 kilometres away, with the access track in the foreground. This track is sealed, and mostly raised above the boggy ground to prevent erosion, for its entire length. From the top of the chair lift at 1930 metres above sea level, above the resort village of Thredbo, the 6.5 kilometre track rises gently for another 300 metres.
One might reasonably suspect that Kosciuszko is not an 'Australian' name - or at least neither indigenous or Anglo-Celtic. One would be correct. 'Count' Paul Strzelecki (there is some evidence that the honorific was self-bestowed) arrived from Poland in 1839 as a competent field geologist who had worked in the Scottish highlands. The following year he undertook an expedition south from Sydney to seek grazing land  in what is now Victoria. En route he detoured to climb the highest part of the alps, via the precipitous ascent from the Murray Valley to the west. He climbed and named 'Kosciuszko' the mountain that he deemed to be the highest, after a Polish patriot and fighter for freedom, on the basis that the rounded summit supposedly resembled Kosciuszko's tomb in Krakow! Unfortunately it seems certain that he actually climbed nearby Mt Townsend, as it now is, which is lower by some 45 metres. For a short time in the 1890s the 'real' Kosciuszko was named Townsend (after the surveyor who first mapped the range), but in 1892 the names were officially switched to honour Strzelecki's intention. 
Granite boulders on the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko.
Before leaving Poland Strzelecki had tried to elope with Adyn Turno, but her parents intervened and they both remained single for life, corresponding for many years. He sent her a pressed flower from the mountain, "the highest peak on the continent - the first in the New World bearing a Polish name. I believe that you will be the first Polish woman to have a flower from that mountain. Let it remind you for ever of freedom, patriotism and love." Poignant stuff, though his prediction in the second sentence seems unnecessarily cautious!

As the football commentators like to say (apparently without irony), our walk was of two halves. It was windy pretty much throughout, but on the outward walk the clouds hung low and the views were mostly non-existent. It was very atmospheric though.
Granites predominate; in fact they underlie most of the park. They are the same 400 million year old rocks
that form the Lachlan Fold Belt, a 700 kilometre wide band under much of south-eastern Australia.
Small streams, fed by snow melt, are everywhere.

Little Ravens Corvus mellori on Mount Kosciuszko itself.
They forage for Bogong Moths Agrotis infusa which over-summer in the granite crevices.
I don't normally intrude pictures of myself here, but this portrait of us on the summit summarises the conditions.
No, you can't see wind, but my beard doesn't normally grow sideways!
However, as we sheltered just below the summit to eat something, the mist started to clear below us.
This is the valley that holds the source of the Snowy River, of some significance in Anglo-Australian folk traditions.
The ballad 'The Man from Snowy River' by journalist and poet Banjo Paterson is one of the best-known Australian poems; it was the title poem of a collection of his verse which sold 7000 copies in a few weeks in 1890.
From there on the views were stunning for our return walk.
This means lots more wonderful granites in large part!
This is also one of the very few glacial landscapes in mainland Australia, though glaciers probably only covered a few square kilometres up here in the most recent glaciation, ending some 13,000 years ago. For perhaps the previous 10,000 years here though, the ice was up to 100 metres thick. Some of the clearest - and most aesthetic - evidence is in the form of the series of glacial lakes. Most formed when the terminal moraine, the rocks and soil bulldozed down the slopes by the front of the glacier, created a dam across the gouged-out valley.
Lake Cootapatamba. The dam wall, comprising the terminal moraine, can be clearly seen to the left of the lake.
The U-shaped valley is another typical glacial form, carved by the ice as it progressed.

There is more I want to say of course, including about plants and (a few) animals, but this posting is probably already as much as you want to read for today, so I'll continue this in a couple more offerings during the week.

However, I must mention one surreal encounter, on the windy misty slopes of Kosciuszko, with a procession of Polish-Australians led by a man carrying a large wooden cross! Lou, my partner, is a journalist to her marrow, and whipped out her tape recorder (it's true!) and put together the story that you can read here if you like.



Flabmeister said...

From Wikipedia "The name of the mountain was previously spelt "Mount Kosciusko", an Anglicisation, but the spelling "Mount Kosciuszko" was officially adopted in 1997 by the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales." This story matches exactly what I was told by the person involved in making the change! Apparently the Polish Ambassador was extremely pleased with this correction!


Susan said...

Both Strzelecki and Kosciuszko were fascinating people in that vein of utter romanticism that Polish people seem to specialise in. Kosciuszko made a great impact on people, Polish or not, and was hugely admired, particularly in America, by the likes of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the executor of Kosciuszko's will, which included a legacy to be used to emancipate slaves. Jefferson never acted on this wish, and no slaves were ever freed as a result. Napoleon on the other hand, despised Kosciuszko and thought he was a self-agrandising fool. One of Kosciuszko's family, his great(+) neice, is a high profile politician here.

Ian Fraser said...

I remember when the name was changed - no great feat, it was only in 1997! - and there was minor predictable kerfuffle at the time. "Messing with our heritage" etc etc. If we're going to name things after people (and I'm no great fan of that) it seems simple common sense and courtesy to spell them correctly; I haven't heard any grumblings about it for a while now.

I knew that K got himself involved in the American Independence War (because our Polish contingent on the mountain told us) but I didn't know about his connection with Jefferson, so thanks for that. Sad story though re the will. Is the French political niece also Kosciuszko?

Susan said...

I would have thought that any kerfuffle would have more sensibly centred around the fact that Koscuiszko is not pronounced correctly in Australia. The Polish pronunciation is something like 'kosh-chyoosh-koh'.

His neice is Nathalie Koscuiszko-Morizet, known in France as NKM, and our former Ecology Minister. She's a Sarko diehard.

Anonymous said...

Welcome. //
I invite you also to the English version of this www.mtkosciuszko.org.au website. You will find there a lot of information about the conquest of Mt Kosciuszko the highest peak of Australia, and about sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki the explorer who gave the mountain its name.
Add a page to your favorites or send the link to a friend
Yours sincerely Thanks