Two women, five books, two hundred and thirty four seaweeds

Photo by Peter Molitor on Unsplash

In the summer of 1830, a woman in a broad-brimmed hat and voluminous skirt picks her way over the rocks of a Devon beach. She gathers seaweed from the tidepools and places them in a creel. If other beach-goers think her eccentric, they keep it to themselves. Locals know her as the widow of a Cornish clergyman who died some years earlier. In scientific circles, she is known as the Queen of Algology.

Amelia Griffiths had a fascination for seaweed. She collected them, made observations about their distribution and life…


The world in five volumes

Razorback Lookout, Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. © Bronwen Scott.

…everything looks so old that it belongs to a different world…

Artist Hans Heysen, 1926, Flinders Ranges, South Australia

It is a two hour drive from Port Augusta to the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges. You head south for a few kilometres, across shimmering salt pans, and then turn east onto the Flinders Ranges Way. The road cuts across plains of wiry grass and grey-leaved shrubs, and winds through a gap in the hills near Saltia, passing over and under the narrow-gauge track of the Pitchi Ritch Railway on the way to…


Writer turns snail fancier

“Murex pecten, philippines, wd bledsoe, closeup_2016–02–23–11.13” by Sam Droege is marked with CC PDM 1.0

In 1839, Edgar Allan Poe wrote ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. That same year, he also wrote ‘The Conchologist’s First Book’, an introductory text to the scientific study of molluscs and other shelled organisms. It would not be difficult, with a little imagination, to identify a thematic link between the Usher home and dynasty and the intertwined fate of the two, and a book that examined the

…relations of the animal and shell, with their dependence upon each other…

But let’s not, eh?


Into the heart of the island

Village on the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, early morning. © Bronwen Scott

Years ago, I watched a BBC television series called ‘River Journeys’. It did what it said on the tin: the programme accompanied adventurers, writers, journalists, and academics on journeys along rivers. William Shawcross made his way up the Mekong, Germaine Greer travelled the Sao Francisco, Russell Braddon the Murray. In the opening episode, explorer Christina Dodwell paddled down the threshing waters of the Wahgi River in Papua New Guinea. To get to the headwaters of the Wahgi, which rises in the Central Highlands and flows south, Dodwell first sailed up the Sepik River. The…


Once the rain stops, the birds get busy

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (as Toothed-billed Bower-bird from Gould’s ‘The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands including many new species recently discovered in Australia’). Public Domain.

Well, there you have it. Predicting the end of the wet season is like hanging out the laundry or washing the car.

The wet season is over, I said.

Next minute…

More than 150 mm (6 in) of rain has fallen since I made my bold statement about a fortnight ago, most of it coming down in the past two days. None of this is unusual. Not the rainfall, and certainly not my emphatic statements being immediately contradicted by reality.

Still, the Pacific Koels and Channel-billed Cuckoos have left, the Sulphur-crested cockatoos…


Plant hunting in Far North Queensland

Rainbow Lorikeet on Golden Penda, Atherton Tablelands. © Bronwen Scott

Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) are in flower. One moment, these small rainforest trees are covered in lime green buds, the next those buds explode like supernovae. Birds, bees and butterflies waste no time. Those flowers are rich in nectar.

John Dallachy arrived in Australia in 1848. Born in Scotland, he had trained in horticulture in the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Chiswick and Kew. After spending a few years in Sri Lanka, Dallachy and his family moved to Melbourne, where he was appointed curator of the city’s newly established botanical gardens. …


A change in season means different sounds in the garden

“File:Pacific Koel — Long Reef.jpg” by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 [Image cropped]

Although the Coral Sea cyclone season ends officially on 30 April, I am going to make the call right now. Goodbye, swirly things. Hello, dry season.

I live in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland where ‘dry’ means ‘not as soggy as it is for the rest of the year’. Things are never quite as cut and…er... Some dry seasons see rain into the middle of the year. …


Travelling the old path

Travelling the old way on the Oodnadatta Track, South Australia. © Bronwen Scott

It is 600 kilometres (373 miles) from Marla to Marree on the Oodnadatta Track. The red dirt road follows a path used for millennia. Its route is guided by water.

Salt

The surface is hot and the sunlight dazzles on the salt desert of Kati Thandi/Lake Eyre. It looks barren, but there is life here. Metallic green tiger beetles (Pseudotetracha australis) with big eyes and bigger jaws scuttle across the surface in search of insects. Lake Eyre dragons (Ctenophorus maculosus) rest in the sand beneath the salt crust, emerging to hunt Melophorus ants along the lake’s edge.


Living and working underground in Australia’s Outback

A rare storm over Coober Pedy, South Australia. © Bronwen Scott

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was filmed in Outback South Australia. So was the Vin Diesel movie Pitch Black. Thomas Engelman, producer of Pitch Black, selected Coober Pedy for the three-sun desert planet because its landscape ‘looked more desolate and dangerous than Mars’.

In South Australia, the Outback starts close to the cities. Past Port Augusta, the houses, factories, and service stations shrink in the rear view mirror. The Stuart Highway cuts north across red dirt dotted with mulga, past gibber plains and salt lakes glittering in the sun. Flocks of green budgerigars swirl…


Nature Walks in a Mining Landscape

Walking paths, Great Northern Mine, Herberton. © Bronwen Scott

Gold finds at the Palmer and Hodgkinson rivers brought thousands of miners to Far North Queensland. As the rushes subsided, prospectors searched for new sources. In the ancient granite hills along Wild River, they hit pay dirt — not gold, but tin. Now all that remains of those gold mining boomtowns are house stumps and flagstones, but Herberton, founded on tin, is still going strong. It is the oldest town on the Atherton Tablelands.

In 1880, John Newell, William Jack and two colleagues bought 60 acres (24 hectares) of freehold land to the east of Wild River. Their Great Northern…

Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland.

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