Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Author: peter (page 1 of 22)

A Richmond Range adventure

Please do not cite this blog post in a report or paper. It’s not peer-reviewed and is simply an informal account.


Between 23 August and 26 August 2017, I attended a camp for university at Cambridge Plateau, which is part of Richmond Range National Park, approximately 35 km west of Casino. Richmond Range is a dividing point between the watersheds of the Clarence River to the west, and the Richmond River to the east. Both of these rivers are part of what gives the Northern Rivers region its name. (The Tweed River is the other one).

We made camp at the picnic area at Cambridge Plateau, which is ordinarily not legally possible, but the NPWS of NSW has given the uni special dispensation as we were a research organisation and ultimately will be benefiting the national park (and environmental science in general).

Where we were:

Area map for Richomd Range NP

Area map for Richmond Range NP (Source: Google Maps)

The picnic ground is along the ridge, with a very scenic view facing eastward, and Mt. Warning (Wollumbin) could be seen if conditions were clear. Interestingly, the picnic ground is a transition between two biogeographical areas, with dry eucalypt forest to the south, and subtropical rainforest to the north. There are two scenic walks accessible from the picnic area, a short ten minute walk, and a longer, more challenging hour-long one.

The rainforest component of the national park has achieved World Heritage listing, and the visitor’s information signs at the picnic ground state that the entire park has among the highest biodiversity in Australia. During my stay at the picnic site, a lace monitor (Varanus varius) wandered in occasionally, and a red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) was seen along the road to the south, in addition to the myriad of birds that could be heard, especially the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) with its ear-shattering shriek.

After setting up camp, we were briefed as to the activities and projects we would undertake, then we travelled to our assigned transects (ours was in the eucalyptus forest) and laid out Elliott traps and infrared motion detector cameras. The box traps were baited with a rolled ball of oats, peanut butter and honey.

Where I set up camp:

My tent at the site

My tent at the site

I did not have a great first night. My sleeping bag, which my youngest daughter currently uses as a doona, would not zip up, so I had to use it as a blanket. This was not very successful, as the cold from the ground seeped up through the inflatable mattress and made sleep a patchy affair. The net result was I had about three hours of productive sleep. So I was in a daze a good deal of the following day. Even with a mid-morning nap, I was feeling it throughout the day.

Anyhow, after breakfast, we went back to our designated transects and checked the traps. We retrieved the SD card from the camera, and found it had exhausted its batteries overnight (it operates on 6-12 AA batteries). So we caught nothing on camera there, but we had better luck with the Elliotts. We caught five animals from 25 traps, which gave us a 20% success rate. Four of the animals were the fawn-footed melomys (Melomys cervinipes), a native rodent and one Stuart’s antechinus (Antechinus stuartii), a marsupial. I never managed to get a photograph of the antechinus but here’s one of me holding a melomys. As is visible, its tail is longer than its body.

Yours truly and a captured melomys

Yours truly and a captured melomys

Like most rodents, the melomys is an omnivore, and is apparently an adept climber as one we released scurried straight up a tree. An interesting point about the antechinus is that it is semelparous, that is that the male has a single reproductive episode and then dies. The antechinus and a few related species among marsupials are the only mammals in which this occurs. As it happened, this time of year (August, late winter) is their breeding season, so the male antechinus we found was very feisty and highly-strung, and drew blood from its handler.

After checking the traps, we left them closed until the afternoon, where we re-opened them, as our programme called for trapping over two nights. Later that day we ventured down the same transects for a reptile survey, which mostly entailed us turning over logs and large branches. We saw a few reptiles, mainly small skinks and legless lizards. There were centipedes, millipedes and slaters (woodlice) as well. However our reptile count was below expectation, and we theorised this was due to low rainfall over the last month. In Casino, there has been 0.2 mm of rain in the month, which is the lowest in twenty years.

Also on the second day, we examined what bats were caught in the harp traps. The bats in question are microbats, carnivorous mammals generally smaller than their flying fox cousins. In fact, many of them are among the smallest mammals in existence. They are insectivorous, catching their prey on the wing by using echolocation. To facilitate this, many of them have elaborate ears and facial structures that have evolved for the purpose of sending and receiving the high-pitched frequencies.

The majority of echolocating microbats emit frequencies that are well above human ability to hear. We used a device known as a bat detector to hear their calls. This instrument bounces down the signal (often 40-55 kHz) to a frequency humans can hear. This little fellow below made a lot of noise while he was being measured.

The little forest bat (Vespadelus vulturnus) having his particulars measured.

The little forest bat (Vespadelus vulturnus) having his particulars measured.

Unfortunately, a number of captured bats died in the traps after antechinuses climbed into the trap receptacle and ate them. All up, we captured four different species of bat, and all surviving animals were released the following night.

In the evening of the second day we went spotlighting along the road near our transects. The object of this was to survey nocturnal arboreal mammals such as gliders and possums, and other creature we could see, such as owls. Along our transect, which was 250 m in length, we saw three greater gliders (Petauroides volans) in total. This species is renowned for simply staring back at a spotlight, whereas other glider species, and possums, tend to avert their eyes or get out of the way of the beam. The gliders we saw were 25-40 m high in the branches of the Eucalyptus trees upon which they feed. Their yellowish-white eyeshine is rather striking in the nighttime darkness.

I borrowed one of uni’s sleeping bags, and a neighbour gave me a blanket. That night, I slept infinitely better and woke on the third day feeling much happier about things. Firstly, we performed a bird survey along our transects, 20 m in from the road. Didn’t see much, but certainly heard a lot, especially the omnipresent belling from colonies of bell miners (Manorina melanophrys). These birds are problematical in the Australian bush, as they feed on the exudations (lerps) of psyllid bugs (a type of sap-sucking true bug of the insect order Hemiptera). They don’t eat the psyllids, but their territorial nature chases away smaller birds that do. The upshot of this is that psyllids flourish, and trees die from sap deprivation. This is known as Bell Miner Associated Dieback and is an increasing problem in the forests these birds dwell in. They are cryptic to see in the canopy, as their colouration matches the mottled green to yellow leaves of Eucalyptus well. Definitely one of the heard rather than seen creatures of the wild.

We then checked our Elliotts and found two female Stuart’s antechinuses, and two male bush rats (Rattus fuscipes). The latter is a very common species in the wild of Australia, though it avoids urbanised areas, which sets it apart behaviour wise from the exotic black rat (Rattus rattus). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of either of these species. Since our ground-dwelling mammal capture regime was to last only two nights, we took the traps up, as well as the SD cards from the cameras.

Later that day, we had briefings on career paths for environmental scientists as well as an opportunity to draft the introduction and methods of the report that will come out of the camp. That evening we went on the second of our spotlighting excursions, but this time we performed it along a rainforest transect. Alas, we saw nothing, but this is to be expected. While rainforests are often touted as centres of biodiversity, this is largely true in the floral and invertebrate sense. Most of Australia’s arboreal mammals do not dwell in rainforest trees. However, there was incredible epiphyte growth in some of these rainforest trees, with one specimen almost covered in staghorn ferns (Platycerium superbum).

That night, the uni’s sleeping bag unzipped and wouldn’t re-zip properly, so I had a mixed experience. If/when I go camping again, I will definitely apply lessons learned. Before I went to bed, I had a chance to show off my star-gazing skills with a few people, pointing out Aquarius and Capricorn, et al, to them.

Rainforest habitat north of the picnic area

Rainforest habitat north of the picnic area

After one very cold night, we performed another bird survey, with much the same results. To add insult to injury, the zipper on my coat broke, making this outing a chilly enterprise. Then it was time for pack up, and we got everything in order to move out, leaving the picnic area and the environment the way we found it. All rubbish was taken out with us. There were no bins at the site, only two composting toilets, and as I mentioned at the beginning, camping is not usually done here hence the lack of facilities. So I was four days without a shower, and I enjoyed having one when I got home.

Withal, it was an enjoyable and educational experience, despite the cold and personal under-preparation for camping.  It’s certainly given me incentive to look forward to a career in environmental science, and seeing as I’m halfway through the last subject I need to graduate, that reality isn’t far away.

 

The Red Door memoriam (poetry)

Yes, I know – I’m a terrible blogger. I did say somewhere that I find the idea  and the execution of keeping a journal unnatural. If you see a diary writer, well I’m the person farthest from them. Anyhow, here’s a piece of free-form I dreamt up.


Scent is a powerful memory trigger

There’s no doubt about that

Red Door, elevated above all other

She walks past, and my mind reverses

To an office building in the nineties

A carefree time, a moneyed time

She wanted to be my counsellor

But who counsels the counsellors?

The ancestry reeked of Old Europe

One who could launch ships with a glance

So spake the legend, writ in water

In the end, we never even got on a boat

Yet we were a grand pair

Neither of us right or solid in the head

We talk, we talk, we talk, husky breathing

Two damaged souls groping for solace

Scream and rage, immature anger, Asperger’s stricken

But I wander close and there’s Red Door

Oh, how I want to be invited in

Friends with benefits, pre-meme, pre-trope

One evening I found a way

Not a well-travelled road, not even a path to follow

Trough and crest, peak and valley

That’s how that road was trodden

The highest high you are to me

But I don’t want to think about the lowest low

I made vows and compacts, half-spoken promises

Still that Red Door was closed

Even if I had unlocked it

It could never last, not even in semi-permanence

Doom, fate, karma, name it at will

It fled over the horizon, and the Red Door slammed shut

Icehouse – Primitive Man

I remember buying this on vinyl back on 1982, and hoping Icehouse had kept up the rocking new wave, borderline hard rock they did on their debut. Nope, no sirree. This is synth heavy, Linn drum-machine laden and very representative of the era it was released. Only one song here really rocks, and overseas releases didn’t even include it, and that’s Break These Chains.

The band that recorded the debut no longer existed, and though John Lloyd was still part of the band, he didn’t drum on this, and it’s all via  machine. More than any other record, this one could be labelled a Davies solo project. Davies still thinks he’s some lovechild of Ferry and Bowie here, and he never really sounded like himself on a record till Big Wheel, and that’s perhaps debatable too.

Bare-faced influences aside, Primitive Man grew on me. Apart from the obvious songs that were released as singles, there are tracks that have a slightly eerie edge even if Davies hadn’t intended such a thing. More than any other Icehouse album, this one goes into mystic places, if only briefly. The whole album has an “abandoned” feel to it, like it’s the soundtrack to empty, open spaces where humans no longer exist, and it’s not just Great Southern Land that conveys that. There’s only one filler track here and that’s Mysterious Thing, which sounds like a B-side. The remainder of the record varies for dreamy to hard rocking. It’s a widely ranging thing, but held back by production excesses and Davies’ imitating his favourite performers.

There’s a case to be made this is Icehouse’s second best record, though Big Wheel may have something to say there.

Choice cuts: Trojan Blue, Break these Chains, Street Cafe

howlers yo

And Also The Trees – And Also The Trees

Definitely a front-loaded record, this one. Songs one through four get into your face with an urgency that makes you sit upright, especially the startling So This is Silence with its shouted chorus and conclusion. Talk Without Words and The Tease the Tear threaten to follow suit, but there’s a bit more space and restraint there.

Songs five through eight are precursors of the work this band is better known for through their long history: pastoral, reflective songs about love on the moors and in the gardens, the girl in the mist, true love with the rainbows, etc. Well, maybe not as twee as all that. There’s a definite darkness and a tinge of despair to a lot of AATT tracks, and these are no different really.

That said, the last four are simply not as good as the first four. They drift and ramble, and there’s certainly a lack of focus. The end track, Out of the Moving Life of Circles reins things back in for a tightly constructed closer.

Much has been made of Lol Tolhurst’s production and this band’s early association with The Cure. I can hear the latter band’s influence here, particular some of the more sombre moments of Faith or Seventeen Seconds, but And Also The Trees forge ahead with their own ideas and vision, and are hardly your typical “tribute band”.

Withal, it’s a good entry into the post-punk canon and you could do a lot worse than this record. But be heartened with the knowledge they’ve done better and they have a deep discography that just begs one to go and explore it.

Choice cuts: The Tease the Tear, So This is Silence, Talk Without Words.

AATT

Xmal Deutschland – Tocsin

his group dispensed with their Siouxsie and The Banshees imitations for their second record. Fetisch had some great moments and the low-key production gave it a real feral quality, but it wore its influences on its sleeves and every other article of clothing. It put the “d” in the word “derivative”.

With Tocsin, Xmal Deutschland go deeper into Goth territory and less into rock. The results are immediately appealing as Mondlicht is one of the finer songs from this period. Things don’t change much through the remaining eight tracks though the instrumental Xmas in Australia is an odd break from the poppy and melodic goth that pervades this record.

This album has two main problems, or three if you consider similar sounding songs an issue. Drama one is Anja Huwe’s voice. Every now and then listening to Xmal Deutschland, you wish she’d sing. Rather, she bellows. She also throws her voice at the end of every sentence. If she stopped these New Wave-isms and actually let her voice breathe, some of these songs would be raised to transcendent level. As it is, she just puts it there. I know it’s indicative of the times and places her band existed, but it’s a crying shame she just didn’t try to sing rather than shout.

The second is Mick Glossop’s even-handed production. This is another New Wave-ism and it’s the one thing that truly dates this record. Drums, synths and bass are way up the front of the mix, and the guitar buried deep down. Lo-fi as it was, Fetisch had everything up front and the result was an in your face record. Tocsin sounds like any one of a thousand albums produced at the time, which doesn’t suit this band’s strengths.

It’s a great record with mostly catchy songs, but it’s soured by Huwe’s delivery and the serene production.

Choice cuts: Mondlicht, Nachtschatten, Begrab mein Herz

tocsin

The Church – Sing-Songs

I didn’t know this EP existed at first. I saw the band live late 1984 and they played a song that I’d never heard before. It wasn’t something off the forthcoming Heyday either, as they hadn’t started work on that. It wasn’t one of their obscure B-sides like Bus Driver or In a Heartbeat, as I knew those. That song, as I later learned, was In This Room.

I actually called EMI in Sydney and asked them about The Church’s discography, and the polite young lady who spoke to me promptly told me I’d missed Sing-Songs, a 5 track EP they’d released between The Blurred Crusade and Seance. A 5 track EP that went nowhere in the charts and died a natural death.

I lucked out and found a vinyl copy in a K-Mart of all places and fell over myself getting home to play it. I loved it. There wasn’t a truly weak track on it, apart from maybe the Simon & Garfunkel cover which I can live without.

In This Room is the highlight, but the other three Church originals are almost as stellar. Ancient History with its smarmy lyrics, the Night is Very Soft with its quiet surge (and red serge settee!) and the jangly A Different Man.

The only hang-up with Sing-Songs is the garage band-level production, which renders four out of the five songs sounding like demo outtakes. I am a Rock was done by Bob Clearmountain so it at least sounds fuller, whatever its other merits.

Choice cuts: all five of them. Go forth and dig them, yo!

sing songs

 

Models – Out of Mind Out of Sight

After the consistently catchy and funky The Pleasure of Your Company, Models hit the Australian big-time with this record. And big-time it is. If there ever was a record that summarises the production excesses of the 80s, here it is folks. Practically every song is drowned in thunderous drums courtesy of Australian go-to producer Mark Opitz. Nick Launay (another 80s go-to man) had given the previous record a hard edge that suited the keyboard/bass foundations of the band. Opitz on this platter just turns everything up and its a reverberating mess. Even on slower tracks like These Blues, the production gets in the way.

It’s not all Opitz’s fault. Reggie Lucas did Big on Love and its drum sound, if anything, is even more bombastic.

The title track was the biggie, but for mine, it rates near the bottom in its worth. It’s a relic, and what sounded like a great tune back then just makes one roll their eyes in this age.

But, production aside, this album’s prime issue is a distinct lack of decent material. It’s absolutely jam-crammed with filler, with rubbish like Ringing Like a Bell and Seeing is Believing, which sound like studio outtakes. Even Cold Fever, released as a single, sounds like a B-side to a B-side.

Well, this was the band’s apex and they went nowhere fast after this. The next (and last) record is even more packed with filler than this one, and suffers bing-bang production blammo as well. Utterly faceless and the band called it quits not long after – and so they should have.

Models were great white funksters once and deserve some renewed interest. Just end your listening excursion at Pleasure of your Company and things will be fine.

Choice cuts: These Blues, Stormy Tonight, King of Kings. Everything else is effluent.

a flavell howler

 

Gary Numan – Warriors

Oh dear. This is the record where Mr. Webb officially loses it. There were signs on I, Assassin that he was fast running out of hooks, melodies and good song ideas, but its comes full and terrible circle here. From the kitsch of the cover to the random saxophone blasts, this platter screams that it is an unwanted relic of the 80s, to say nothing of it being an unwanted relic in Numan’s discography.

I mean, if you knew nothing about this record or even its creator, you’d scan the song list and see promising things like My Centurion, The Prison Moon, Love is Like Clock Law and you’d maybe think there’s some good science fiction based prog-rock or otherwise catchy and fulfilling music within. I mean, wouldn’t you think a song title like The Rhythm of the Evening promises something? You would, for sure.

And wouldn’t you be kidding yourself?

Instead, what you get are nine virtually identical low-key meandering tracks all laden with crawling fretless bass, grating female back-up singers, out of place saxophones and Gary Numan dialling his vocal performances in. This is bad pop music processed and regurgitated through the “I’m Short of Ideas” machine.

This record is a disaster, but alas, it was the start of an undistinguished era for Numan. He amps things up a bit on his next record, but until we come to 1993’s Sacrifice, it’s all a mostly sad voyage through blasterino loud 80s synths, booming drum machines and the ever-present female back-up. Oh yes, and the sax. Can’t forget the sax.

Choice cuts. Scraping the proverbial, but The Prison Moon is arguably the best of a sorry bunch.

 

Warriors

INXS – Kick

INXS were a singles band, let’s make that clear straight away. Their albums – all of them – are loaded with filler to a lesser or greater degree. Sometimes they’re jam packed with terrible songs that don’t even qualify for filler status. Kick is the one platter in their discography that has the least amount of both filler and dreck.

In that regard, it’s a step up from Listen Like Thieves and it’s certainly a mile ahead of anything released afterwards. There’s only two songs on this record I regard as filler – Tiny Daggers and Calling All Nations. And, why oh why, did they feel the need to re-record The Loved One? Their Deluxe Records era cover is just as good.

All the aside, this is the culmination of their Stonesy pub-rock/new wave incarnation. They perfected this sound, something they’d increasingly been working on since Shabooh Shoobah. I Need You Tonight, New Sensation, Devil Inside, Mystify are all great tracks.

But this is their last great record, with “great” being relative. The 90s weren’t kind to pub rock bands and INXS never did quite wrap their heads around the sounds and trends that decade generated.

Kick

Thirty days of gratitude – day thirty

What talent or skill do I have that I’m grateful for? My writing.

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