THE BUSH AT BRISBANE’S DOORSTEP
Over forty years ago I started exploring Mt. Coot-tha; it’s forest, creeks and tracks.
It was and is a neglected area, ravaged by constant burn-offs and the consequent erosion, however, on my weekly visits I was sure to see wallabies and the occasional kangaroo, and massive lace monitors rending the eucalypt bark in their attempts to hide from my curiosity.
The place has changed little from my early visits, but the old barbed-wire fences that once criss-crossed the hills have now disappeared, and the mysterious concrete slabs, pads for long-forgotten buildings, are mostly obliterated by loose gravel and moss. Old gold workings also have mostly been smoothed-out by the years, and the permanent car-bodies sink lower each season as the steel turns to oxide, exposing the cast-iron and non-ferrous parts.
There are still small sanctuaries of rain-forest in the gullies and along the bigger creek-beds; rain-forest that would once have covered the entire hill were it not for the fire-crazed habits of human populations, continuing to this day. Fire seldom reaches these deep pockets of vegetation, as it always travels uphill. Even spindly hoop pines survive in places.
Near the old chip factory, which was busy producing not chips but crisps during my early visits, on the other side of the road by the car park, is a dell of turf surrounded by silky oaks, with a big bauhinnia and a few exotics: once a garden of some forgotten homestead perhaps. It is from here that it was and is my custom to walk and run a circuit of some five to ten kilometers, depending on enthusiasm. The accompanying dog has been gone for twenty years, but I’m now lucky to have my dear friend to discuss with and complain as we shake off the city roar and fume and climb up the little track through the trees watching the horizon get lower and Moreton Bay stretching out behind us. Soon the haze of traffic pollution hugging the city is below us and the air is clean, oxygenated, with nose-pleasing eucayptus, wattyl, greasy-grass, funghi, jequirity vine, and dozens of unseen plants. Until……..
Until walkers appear ahead, on the track, their presence often preceded by artificial industrial smells mis-called de-odorants, bad perfumes, hair-sprays, after-shave: all so unsuited and alien to the fresh forest. On a still day it may take a hundred metres before their stinkl dissipates, but then a new alien presence reveals its offensive mark: the small track, just the width of one or two pairs of legs, widens out to three, four, five metres, the trees and saplings removed, the ground excavated, torn, shaped and rolled, a new and un-necessary highway coils through the scrub, its smoothness waiting for the first tropical downpour to wash the surface into gullies and gutters.
Old footpaths are now deliberately blocked with rocks, tree-litter and plastic notices warning ‘Track Closed’. Fine outlooks are no longer available to new visitors, but regular hikers keep the way visible, stepping round the deposited rubbish and moving blockages.
Ten years or so ago, one tiny track I regularly used, along with many others, was the playground of a 1.2M Bobcat. The track was widened to two metres and advertised with cute wooden signs on posts. A couple of years later a change of heart ‘closed’ the track, for ‘revegetation’, though it wasn’t the walkers that had caused the erosion. The signs rotted away and the regulars ignored the ‘closure’, until another regime suddenly decided to put an even bigger machine in to wipe out any revegetation that had actually taken place. Old hikers see all the contradictions and laugh.
The prettiest place on the rounds, which was a favourite resting-stop after galloping through the bush like an idiot, was the nearly-always running creek and waterfall. There clear pools and wide rocks invited the walker to strip off shoes and sweaty socks and bathe red feet in the cool water. If the waterfall was active I’d float nude in the pool at the bottom, a most luxurious pleasure in the height of the Brisbane summer. I used to drink from the creek: crystal and icy, with a faint smokey taste. The water flowed from the watershed at the kiosk road, unpolluted by any human activity, until that is, they built a public toilet at the source, with a septic overflow. Fear of e. coli stopped my thirst-quenching, but I still chanced a swim after storms flushed the pool. But not any more.
That paradise has gone. Where once was picnic on the water-smoothed rocks of millions of seasonal storms, where the creek cascaded into the pool below, overhung by islanded calystomens, where sweaty walkers bathed feet in water that flowed between rounded boulders in a stream-bed carved from the solid rock, where there was often a family or two, with children scrambling in the water and down by the pool, now, now, is an industrial fibre-glass gantry overshadowing all with steps and landings, fences and balustrades and warning signs, springing from massive concrete footings in the creek itself. Not a delicate Japanese bridge upstream of the cascade, leaving the feature un-spoilt and the access free, but a factory fire-escape straddling the once-beautiful waterfall. Even the waterfall itself is now fenced with warnings and danger-signs. Brilliant. Perhaps the entire hill should be out of bounds as a danger threatening the life of anyone that ventures there.
There are projects on which money could be spent on Mt. Coot-Tha, but the garden-gnome syndrome is always uppermost in planners’ minds: litter an untouched space with toys and foibles unrelated to their surrounds. Someone with true vision stops the traffic, builds a pleasant mall with shady trees; the gnomers move in with junk to pack every space, never improving, just cluttering. The hill is one such garden which will not be left alone; every year sees one more eyesore, someone’s pet scheme, and yet still the car bodies remain, the eroded areas worsen, lantana proliferates, the preventable fires kill the saplings and further scar the ravaged, stunted trees where once stood giants. An old shipping-container wrapped with plastic barrier-fencing was dumped on one lovely picnic area; others were also left on the tracks where they stayed for years, and have just been removed.
Lantana, which normally is unsuited to the poor dry soils of the hill, is getting a hold in many places, and no attempt has ever been made to eradicate it, despite the constant tinkering with tracks and chainsawing and fatuous raking around: the real work never gets done. When it first appeared twenty years ago a couple of blokes could have kept it down: I doubt, now that it is common, that those policing the park even notice that it exists.
Some sensible works have been welcome; the barbeque fireplaces, a shelter or two, tapwater standpipes, the regular mowing of open ground, an occasional toilet. But all toilets must be dry-composting systems, not septic, and Round-up as an alternative to weeding has killed a fine bottle-tree and is not wild-life safe. New picnic places being built bristle with faults: lack of parking, accessability, situated on the busy traffic road, with no individual barbeques: all concrete, steel, car fumes.
The massive bulldozing of forest tracks is continuing, though. For whose benefit? Burn-offs are still threatened, just when the previous few years’ good rain has grown an excellent crop of fine saplings now of 100mm diameter and unspoilt by fire: these new trees could be the future magnificent forest replacing the poor stunted trees of 100 deliberately-lit destructions. The hill is easily managed for dousing accidental fire, being minutes from the city and airport. Fifty years fire-free would see rain-forest climbing out of its sheltered enclaves, fine tall eucalypts, ground mulch cover preserving soil and moisture, and possibly the return of marsupials, if machinery is kept out.
Leave well alone. But we know that’s too much to ask of the gnomers.
Mt. Coot-Tha forest park is a place where like-minded people visit to exercise, rehearse for bigger adventures in Nepal, walk the dog, or simply have a break in high, clear air amongst the gums and wattyls, away from traffic, industry, and the constant earthmoving of the city. Every person queried on council activities up there has been upset by the invasive crass interference of our small, wild area.