The last week has been delightful. Camped up in the Rainforest of Far North Queensland, under the canopy of the Hinterland escarpment of Kuranda is a wonderful experience. We are clearing some of the dreaded lantana from the rainforest, restoring its majesty and enjoying its peace. Lantana is one of those pesky weeds, which was bought into Australia during colonial times in the height of idiocy as a decorative plant.
What for us makes it such a wonderful experience here in the wild forests is the song of the birds, those that rouse you at dawn. We listen for the harsh chatter of the local kookaburra and welcome its call to day at dawn. Occasionally we are visited by the wallabies, with joey’s in pouch, who breakfast on the tender grasses bathed in the night dew, as wet too break our fast as well, around a small fire with hot coffee in hand.
At night we listen attentively also for this bird song, as they too settle for the night, calling to their mates and neighbours. It’s the time when nests are built and families planned, whose chicks are born in the spring, just a half dozen short weeks away really.
Now it is mid-winter in Aus’ and the more southern regions are shivering in the Antarctic vortex as it sweeps through the southern states of the country. A small sign of the climate change that to some simply doesn’t exist, even in the historic evidence of past changed to be found in this ancient land. Some are simply blind to the heightened speed of climate change that we are burdening ourselves with by the hand of man.
Living in the edge of the vast wilderness that is to be found on the escarpment above Cairns has endemic risks. Snakes are ever-present though they are wary of man usually, and now they are more still and slow with the cooler temperatures in the last of the wet season. Crocodiles too are a risk in the rivers, natural carnivores and natures predators they are an ever-present in the tropical north. You swim with care, camp with consideration and fish with awareness. This is their land, their environment and we are the intruders here.
We keep an eye out for the cassowary, a beautifully tall and colourful rainforest bird, a family of these who we know lives in the forest nearby. They are treasured residents who individually tolerate human presence selectively. At night you can hear them call to each other in the low rumbling sound that echoes eerily through the forest trees, and you smile. They are well, they are breeding and in our world they are endangered and on the edge of extinction with the incursions of man into their native world.
However there is something that is the most dangerous thing here in the forest and it has claimed lives this week. This is the road, the ribbon of tar that winds restlessly like a serpent down the side of the escarpment. The Kuranda pass is treacherous, as is the other two passes carved through forests clinging to the steep cliffs, those that drop from the hinterland to the coastal plain around Cairns. To our mind the one most suited to heavy traffic and tow vehicles such as caravans, is the pass near Mossman, north of Cairns. The pass south of Cairns is also steep, and winds treacherously claiming its own cost in life. All three of these passes claim lives, but this week with the light drizzle from the end of the long wet season lingering has made the roads slick, and people will rush down and up the passes, often coming to grief with some meeting their deaths. Others are left physically scared and mentally disabled by memories filled with trauma. Driver’s and cars are the most dangerous and murderous of all the animals in the wilderness here. In comparison the wilderness can be a gentler domain, but a domain that is not our own naturally, not anymore.
Jan is a writer and novelist. You can read about her stories and publications under the tabs above. Her tales on Aboriginal Lore can be found at Amazon.com in both digital and print book.