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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'.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Ben Lomond - the Tasmanian one!

There is a lot of homesickness and a need to commemorate the 'home country' to be found in Australian place names, and Anglo-Tasmanians seem to have suffered particularly strongly from the malaise. Indeed it's hard to find non-British names throughout the island. One dramatic case in point is the magnificent 15 kilometre long plateau in the north-east of Tasmania called, with no evident irony, Ben Lomond! 
Ben Lomond from Launceston, Tasmania's second-largest town, some 40km away.
(Sorry about the ad - no sponsorship involved, I promise!)
Location of Ben Lomond National Park.
The name was bestowed by Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, Scottish-born William Paterson, who was dispatched by Governor King in 1804 to found a colony in Van Diemen's Land (as Tasmania was then known) to thwart any designs the dastardly French may have had in that direction. His colony, after a couple of false starts, was on the site of modern Launceston, so the massif would have been a feature of the colony's life. It was much later in the century that William Legge, commander of the queen's forces in Tasmania, locally-born and living to the east of Ben Lomond, explored the plateau and added another layer of utterly irrelevant names to its features. He'd been in England when news was all of the British search for the source of the Nile, so we find Nile Valley, Victoria Valley and Speke Gorge (for John Speke, one of those searching for the source) on the remote Tasmanian plateau!

To our eyes however, there is no doubt that we're in Australia, though like Western Australia, Tasmania represents something of an alternative Australia, product of tens of thousands of years of isolation. The Bass Strait however, separating Tasmania from Victoria to the north, only exists during inter-glacials; during glaciation, such as the most recent which only ended around 10,000 years ago, sea levels drop and Tasmania is simply a southern peninsula of the mainland.

Ben Lomond is truly Tasmanian in a very particular and obvious way. Dolerite is a basalt-like rock formed deep underground, especially when continents rip apart at continental plate boundaries and molten material pours in. This happened in the turbulent Jurassic, 170 or so million years ago, when Gondwana was beginning to tear apart at the seams. In Tasmania, more than anywhere else in the world, dolerite landscapes dominate, and Ben Lomond is a great example of one.
Dolerite landscapes, Ben Lomond National Park plateau.
Although only 1500 metres above sea level, at this latitude this means cold at any time of year, with heavy snow in winter, and cloud is common.

The steepness of the massif, high above the surrounding valleys, is evident in this shot.
The climb through the forests of the lower slopes is steady but not particularly steep; these forests are typical of other montane forests in Tasmania.
Eucalyptus delegatensis, Alpine Ash on the mainland, Gum-topped Stringybark in Tasmania, dominates the higher forests below the plateau. The bark of this sub-species is much paler than what I'm used to.
The final climb however, up the vicious zig-zag known as Jacob's Ladder, is spectacular and somewhat hair-raising.
Jacob's Ladder, only built in 1963 on the north side of the plateau to service the developing ski fields.
There is a relatively extensive ski village on top, but in summer it is oddly, even eerily, deserted, though the major building is open; it seemed an excellent setting for a murder mystery and we were glad to be out in the open again!
Once on top, the plateau is relatively flat with few major peaks, dominated by dense rich heathlands.
Ten of square kilometres of such heathland, prickly and rich in flowers in summer, dominate the plateau.
This is above the tree-line, which is at least 500 metres lower than in Kosciuszko National Park on the mainland.
(That link will lead you to a discussion on differing tree-lines at different latitudes.)

Richea scoparia, Epacridaceae (or Ericaceae, as is becoming more popular again); one of many species of the Australian heath family in these alpine pastures. This species is endemic to Tasmania.

Gentian Chiongentias diemensis, another island endemic.

Mountain Rocket, Bellendena montana, family Proteaceae;
in this case the whole genus - of which this is the only species - is endemic.
Bellendena is regarded as an early member of the family to have split off from the main line.
The red are fruits, quite different from those of most other Proteaceous plants.
In the forests below, wildlife is quite evident, but is not nearly so conspicuous on the plateau.
Green Rosella Platycercus caledonicus in montane forests below the summit.
This is yet another endemic Tasmanian species.
On the plateau, distant Black Currawongs Strepera fuliginosa and Forest Ravens Corvus tasmanicus call, but it is generally pretty quiet. There are eyes watching us however!
A face in the landscape.
This is a Bennett's Wallaby (known as Red-necked Wallaby on the mainland) Macropus rufogriseus.
On the way down, pause - if traffic allows, though it's likely to be pretty quiet in summer, at least outside of school holidays - to admire the tenacious plants clinging to the sheer dolerite cliffs, far above the valley.
Hakea lissosperma. I'm familiar with this shrub in the Brindabella Ranges above Canberra, where it's not common but does restrict itself to more conventional sites in montane forests!
If you go to northern Tasmania, unless conditions are consistently very cloudy (never out of the question there!) you'll be very aware of Ben Lomond. It may not be on your schedule, but I think you should consider adding it. It is a spectacular spot. More on Tassie in blogs to come.


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