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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'.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

On This Day 9 February: Francis Cadell born

As I've mentioned before, one of the many things that fascinates me about this wonderful world is the persistence of relic species in habitats that have survived in special situations when the world around them has changed. The survival of groups such as palms and cycads in desert ranges of central Australia is one such example. 

Another is the existence of the 'bottle tree scrubs', 'vine scrubs' or 'bonetree scrubs' of inland south-eastern Queensland, alluded to here. These are remnant dry rainforest patches that have survived within the formerly vast Brigalow Acacia harpophylla belt; this broader habitat is most unusual in dry Australia in being strongly fire resistant, and within this protection rainforest elements have survived and adapted. Long-nosed Bandicoots Perameles nasuta for instance survive in them, though at such latitudes are otherwise found only in much wetter habitats.

One tree species which can dominate in such situations, though now fairly scarce following past widespread clearing, is Ooline Cadellia pentastylis, from the small family Surianaceae (mostly Australian with one species widespread around the Paficic). Ooline is the only member of the genus.
Ooline, Tregole National Park, inland south-east Queensland near Morven.
It is a throwback to much wetter times, when rainforests dominated much of Australia. It extends in similar habitat into northern inland New South Wales.

It was named in 1860 by the great 19th century Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, who chose to commemorate a somewhat unlikely character. Francis Cadell was Scottish-born (on 9 February 1822), an enthusiastic entrepreneur and pioneer of the steam-driven river boat trade on the Murray-Darling River system. After knocking around for a while he came to Australia and focussed on the South Australian government's huge offer in 1850 of 2000 pounds for each of the first two riverboats - which had to be shallow-draft iron steamers of at least 40 horse-power - to navigate upstream as far as the Darling River junction. The government was trying to develop a river trade with the vast sheep and cattle stations far upstream, and ultimately to provide a shipping lifeline to the east without the extreme hazards of the coastal route via Bass Strait.

Cadell managed to persuade the government - who had no takers by 1852 - to up the ante, with the addition of more conditions to suit him, to 4500 pounds, and he had a boat purpose-built in Sydney. With much pomp he entered the Murray via the hazardous mouth, then proceeded upstream as far as Swan Hill in Victoria (beyond the Darling), making sure that one of his passengers was the Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Young.
Francis Cadell, late in life; photographer unknown.
Photograph courtesy State Library of South Australia.
Unbeknownst to him however, he was beaten to it by a young South Australian country flour miller from Gumeracha, who started from scratch and built his own paddlewheeler. William Randell had never even seen a paddlesteamer, but he was anxious to get his flour to the Victorian goldfields to take advantage of the high prices on offer. There are horrific stories of his early attempts, with the bulging steam box being held together only by bullock chains and his engineer (his brother) running for safety. Miraculously it held, and he set off up the river in advance of Cadell and got much further than Cadell did; it seems that they each only became aware of the other when Cadell's Lady Augusta overtook Randell's Mary Ann (named for his mum) near the Murrumbidgee Junction. It is most unclear whether Randell had even been aware of the prize on offer before that.

Outside of South Australia, Randell's role is largely forgotten, and there is little doubt that Cadell helped to ensure that, with the assistance of Henry Young who had three gold medallions struck to commemorate "the first successful steam voyage up the Murray" - one for himself, one for Cadell, and one for the Legislative Council. None for Randell.  

In responding to a toast at a banquet at his honour in Adelaide later, Cadell said that his ambition was the "waking up of a mighty but hitherto torpid stream" so that it might "fulfil its alloted duties, as intended by the Creator of all things, and to render it subservient to the uses of mankind". Hmm. I am not entirely amazed that he was murdered by a crew member in 1879 near Ambon, while trading in the East Indies; he was widely accused of mistreatment of his crew, including withholding of wages. An article in the Register of 1917 said that he was "a red-headed, red-moustached, pompous and bombastic man, who knew how to keep himself in the limelight and to reap what others had sown"

But, he got an interesting and attractive tree, for reasons that aren't clear to me. This is von Mueller's explanation from his formal description of the tree; my reading of it in my rudimentary Latin (since, and more significantly, confirmed by my linguistic friend Jeannie Gray) is that he simply praises Cadell's efforts in exploring the rivers and opening up the hitherto unknown inland. Perhaps he was trying to encourage Cadell to collect some plants for him in the future!
"Genus aucto carpidiorum numero in ordine alienum, transitum ad sapindacearum familiam ostendens, signavi nomine clarissimi Francisci CadelL praefecti navalis, qui navigationem fluviorum Murray et Darling animóse incipiens non solum explorationeni terrae Australis interioris adhuc incognitae faciliorem reddit, sed etiam expeditionem nunc in plagas Australiae centralis suscipiendam animo generoso adjuvit."

Names, as always, are just human conceits, but stories matter, and I've long found the story of Cadell and Randell an intriguing one, a contrast in personalities and motives. I'd have been happier if Ooline had been named Randellia though; he had no connection with or knowledge of the tree either, but I confess to liking him more...

Ooline stand, Tregole National Park.


Flabmeister said...

Is he also commemorated by the name of the area in the SA Riverland which is home to low security penal colony?


Ian Fraser said...

Yep, sure is. Also the Cadell Uplift Block north of Echuca, which realigned the whole Murray about 25,000 years ago. And Cadell Strait between Elcho Island and the mainland in far NE Arnhem Land; to be fair he did sail through it, and may not have named it.

sandra h said...

There's some interpretive signage about Cadell at start of a forest walk near Mathoura - apparently near the edge of the Uplift Block (and if I ever relocate the photo I took of it I'll send it on!) sandra h

Kath H said...

Ian, I became aware of the Cadellia pentastylis a few years ago when a friend referred me to a note on Mungallala where Dad once taught when I was a child. My brother remembers Dad talking about trees on the jump up and there is reserve near Morven where they are featured.
There is one reasonably close to the road in Section 7 at the ANBG and I have been trying to get the Gardens to feature it in some way as I think it is a very interesting relic tree.
I looked at the ANBG plant records and see there are some now in the Nursery from the NW slopes so perhaps they have been able to access some with known provenance. There is no provenance for the ones already planted out (some near the Brigalow section).
Thank you for the background on Cadell.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks for this Kath. Tregole National Park that I mention in the blog is near Morven, so it's probably the one you're thinking of. I hadn't realised - and should have - that they are in the NBG. I must look them up there soon. And keep up your efforts to have them interpreted in some way - they are indeed very interesting.