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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'.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Walk in the Centre; an easy stroll to the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station

Not long ago we were in the beautifully situated, sometimes challenging, Alice Springs in the central deserts of Australia, heading home from a trip to the tropics. I know it fairly well, and Lou lived there for six years, but we still managed to find a new lovely little walk to do before we left. The historic Telegraph Station on the northern edge of town is a popular destination for visitors and locals, to visit the restored and interpreted buildings and surrounds, to picnic on the shady lawns by the Todd River or to walk in the rugged low hills of the Historical Reserve across the river looking for flowers and wildlife. 
Telegraph Station buildings.
Grassy picnic area sloping to the Todd River on the left, shaded by beautiful River Red Gums.
Built in 1872 it was the site of the first European settlement in central Australia, and one of twelve such stations along the route of the revolutionary Overland Telegraph Line linking Darwin and Port Augusta (and ultimately Adelaide and even Perth) across 3,000kms of desert. From Darwin it linked to an underwater cable to Java and thus the world. It was a triumph of nineteenth century engineering, but that's a story for someone else to tell, and many have done so. 

Perhaps most visitors aren't aware of the substantial reserve that includes the station itself; I have read a surprising range of figures for the size of it, ranging from 400 to 2000 hectares! However 445ha seems to be the most convincing figure. Our walk, the Spencers Hill Walk (though it's nice and flat) is a 1.5km stroll each way between the station and the northern edge of the old suburb of East Side (you can find maps for it easily enough). It passes through open woodland between the low red sandstone hills and the Todd River. Actually, let's lay to rest any misconceptions about the Todd at this point! Here's what it usually looks like.
The Todd River at the Telegraph Station.
However that's not always true, and when I was there a couple of months previously it had a substantial amount of (non-flowing) water in it. That was the first time I'd seen it thus, and there was still some left for our visit.
Also at the Telegraph Station. It is said that if you see the Todd with water, you'll come back.
Well, I came back several times before I got the sign that I would do so!
Anyway, the walk - and I confess that this is a busy week, so the rest will be mostly pictures, but I think that's all we need. We started from East Side; here are some scene-setters.
Daisies; it had been an unusually wet season (as per the water in the Todd) and the
understorey flowers were abundant.
Typical rocky hill in the low range which the route passes along.

Ghost Gum Eucalyptus (or Corimbia) aparrerinja.
This glorious tree is one of my favourites, and I've talked about it (including the intriguing name) in some detail before - here, if you're interested. Nonetheless I can't stop taking pictures of it, and here's another.
A particularly magnificent old Ghost Gum along the walk.
The ghost gums dominate, but they certainly don't have it all to themselves.
Cork Tree Hakea lorea; a common central desert tree.

Southern Ironwood Wattle Acacia estrophiolata.A lovely pendulous wattle, with extremely hard timber, in common with other slow-growing desert acacias.
Dead Finish Acacia tetragonophylla.The common name is supposedly a reference to its hardiness - when it dies of drought, there's nothing else left.
Sadly not all is pristine, and not just because of the proximity to town. Buffel Grass Cenchrus ciliaris is one of the great tragedies of central and northern Australia. It grows naturally from east Africa to south Asia, and is believed to have been brought here as stuffing for camel saddles. However there was nothing accidental about its subsequent choking spread across millions of hectares; graziers loved its hardiness and brought in seed. They are still planting it across vast areas, despite its smothering growth and high flammability. It grows in sandy creek beds - once they were fire breaks, but now they act as wicks. The intensity of the fires threatens the River Red Gums.
Wall to wall Buffel Grass along sections of the walk, under River Red Gums.
The only depressing aspect of the walk.
It was late morning when we walked, so not a lot of animals, but we witnessed some drama - or at least a tense stand-off - for some time. We first saw some delightful little Black-footed Rock-Wallabies Petrogale lateralis sitting upright and very alert on the rocks - but not concerned about us.
Female Black-footed Rock-Wallaby with pouch young.

This species is found scattered in arid ranges across central and western Australia.
For more on the fascinating rock-wallabies, see here.
A Euro Macropus robustus, a big tough hill kangaroo, also came from total relaxation to alertness as we approached - but again his unease was not directed at us. He watched us approach but didn't bother to get up, until something in the other direction got his attention.
Judging by the ear, this bloke had seen a scrap or two!

The problem wasn't long in making an appearance.
Dingoes Canis lupus dingo are common in the reserve, and are unfazed by people - several domestic
dogs have been killed by them there while accompanied by their owners.
This one initially focussed on us, but I had the feeling it was more to do with we might have that was
appealling to it than because it was worried about us.
More on them here.
In fact there was a pair, who initially appeared on each side of the Euro, but he wasn't going to back down - he was probably safer up where he was.

The rock-wallabies vanished, presumably into crevices, but with the advantage of awareness they could almost certainly have fled successfully across the rocks. We watched for a while but it seemed to be stalemate and we continued to the telegraph station. When we returned, Euro and Dingoes had moved on, and the rock-wallabies had warily reappeared.

I love a good natural drama, but was glad that this one didn't get any more dramatic than that!

A couple of familiar birds were present, including an old favourite.
Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula on the Telegraph Station lawns, where it
is used to scrounging crumbs.
A flock of Zebra Finches Taeniopygia guttata, always a welcome addition to the day (hence their appearance
here in a very poor photo!), was searching for grass seeds.
The bird star however was a stunning male Splendid Fairy-wren Malurus splendens, a parade of blues. The species is found over much of the inland and the south-west, where they replace the south-eastern Superb Fairy-wren as the common and familiar bush and garden wren.
Impressive as he is, this is only the start of his glory, as he moults into breeding plumage.
Soon his wings, underparts and tail will all be different shades of blues.
Well, that's probably all you've got time for at this time of year, so I'll leave it there, but next time in Alice Springs, make sure you leave a couple of hours for the Spencers Hill walk - who knows what you might see!

I'll be back once more this year, for the now traditional last day of the year photo summary of the year - I hope to see you then.


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Susan said...

I remember doing a walk here with K and photographing a dragonfly on the ground. A couple of women came up to us and asked us what we were looking at. I pointed out the dragonfly and they went 'humph!' and walked on, completely unimpressed! Too bad they didn't catch us up when I was photographing Euro poo. Imagine how nonplussed they would have been.

Ian Fraser said...

Ah, you have to feel sorry for some people Susan! Mind you, living in Alice can make some people odd too... Joyeux Noël!

Flabmeister said...

Is the lawn at the Station always that green? If so am I right in assuming it is irrigated (or at least watered?

Do you and Lou attract more dingoes that the average tourist?

Ian Fraser said...

Definitely yes to the first two, insufficient data to answer the third, but anecdotally a definite maybe.