Category Archives: Day Walks

Short distance walks generally less than 25 kilometres.

Mt Moffatt National Park Circuit Drive

The Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park is a remote and relatively pristine landscape occupying the headwaters of the Maranoa River.  It features broad sandy valleys, basalt tablelands and outcrops of sculpted sandstone rising abruptly from the plains. I first visited Mt Moffatt National Park on a 10 day natural history campout in 1988 and have returned a number of times , drawn back for exploratory hikes to Mt Moffatt’s high country on Consuelo Tableland , the upper Carnarvon Creek gorge and more recently the Carnarvon Great Walk. The report that follows is the first of the many accounts that I have written covering Mt Moffatt National Park.

The Chimneys. Mt Moffatt.
The Chimneys, Mt Moffatt.

Location of Mt Moffatt Section

Mount Moffatt has a rich human history.  Aboriginal art is abundant as the Bidjara and Nuri occupation of the Carnarvon Ranges stretches back at least 19,000 years. Excavations were carried out in the 1960s by Professor John Mulvaney at Kenniffs Cave and the Tombs. At Kenniffs he found the remains of campfires extending three metres below the floor of the cave. Mulvaney used the new technology of radiocarbon dating to dial back the story of Aboriginal occupation of Australia 19,500 years. The Bidjara and Nuri had lived through the Pleistocene Ice Age.

Aboriginal Stencil Art: Mt Moffatt.

  • The Tombs: Kangaroo foot stencil
  • The Tombs: Digging stick or shaft of spear stencil
  • The Tombs: Shell pendant. Che-ka-ra. Collect by Cape York people and traded 1300 kilometres to Carnarvons.
  • The Tombs: Boomerang stencil.
  • The Tombs Art Site.
  • The Tombs: Full human figure stencil.
Mulvaney, J. and Kamminga, J: Prehistory of Australia. ( Allen & Unwin, 1999).

European Occupation of the Upper Maranoa District. The Mountain Cattle Runs.

The first European to pass through the area was the explorer Thomas Mitchell who, in June 1846, travelled along the Chesterton Range, Mt Moffatt’s western boundary, looking to extend the colony’s pastoral frontier northwards. The ever optimistic Mitchell wrote glowingly of ‘ excellent open forest land’ and a landscape that ‘was park-like and most inviting’. Land hungry squatters soon followed his tracks and studied his sketch maps , with pastoralism in the Carnarvon Ranges commencing in the 1860s .

1896 Cadastral Map of Upper Maranoa River.
1896 Cadastral Map of Upper Maranoa River

The Mt Moffatt run was originally made up of five blocks cut from the Mt Ogilvie run, blocks three through to seven. These were first taken up under licence by George Fullerton in 1867. Fullerton visited the upper Maranoa when he went out on an exploratory expedition in 1861 ( towards the Wombebank andTooloombilla runs ) with his brother-in-law , a Mr Moffatt. Moffatt was the nephew of Mr Thomas De Lacy Moffatt, later to become Queensland’s Colonial Treasurer.

The Queensland Lands Department described the run as‘ rough and mountainous but generally well-grassed…fairly good pastoral country and very suitable for breeding cattle ‘. The rough country made it difficult country to work and its ownership changed hands a number of times. The Waldron family took up the run in 1939 and built a family homestead that is now used by park rangers. In 1979 Mt Moffatt was purchased from the Vincent family and converted to national park status. Reminders of the area’s life as a cattle property are to be found in the homestead, old stockyards and fencing.

The De Lacy Moffatts

The name Mt Moffatt is likely connected to the De Lacy Moffatt family (or Moffat ). Queensland’s Geographic Placenames Board can shed no light on the matter, but I think it is named after the De Lacy Moffatt family . Thomas De Lacy Moffatt ( 1824-1864) was a Queensland politician and Queensland’s second Colonial Treasurer, serving from 1862 to 1864. He was a squatter and established the run Callandoon on the Darling Downs. He was elected to the first Legislative Assembly of Queensland in April 1860 for the District of the Western Downs. My guess is that the Mt Moffatt run was probably named for Thomas de Lacy Moffatt by his son or his nephew.

Thomas De Lacy Moffatt: Colonial Treasurer !862-1864.

The Mt Moffatt Circuit Drive.

Our little 4WD convoy piloted by my friends Frank and Julie left the Dargonelly Rock Holes Campsite just shy of an unusually tardy 8.45am.  Come the following morning, our leader Frank had whipped us into shape and earlier departures ruled.  Today we would traverse sandplains at 700-800 metres, derived predominantly from Jurassic Precipice sandstones.  These sandstones are the bottom stratum of the Surat Basin, deposited 200 – 186 million years ago. 

Map of Mt Moffatt National Park: Circuit Drive

Mt Moffatt. Circuit Drive
Dargonelly Rock Hole , Mt Moffatt NP
Dargonelly Rock Hole on Marlong Creek
Campground at Dargonelly Rock Holes
Campground at Dargonelly Rock Holes

The Surat Basin sediments had their origins in a depositional phase after the momentous tectonic activity of the Triassic Period (250 – 201 million years ago).  Sedimentation in the ensuing Jurassic Period was restricted to the Great Artesian Basin and its component basins: Surat, Nambour, Clarence-Moreton, Laura and Carpentaria.   The landscapes of many of Central Queensland’s highly scenic National Parks, including Mount Moffatt, date from this period.

The component layers of the Surat Basin from oldest to youngest are:  Precipice sandstone, Evergreen sandstones, its distinctive Boxvale and Westgrove Members , and Hutton sandstones.

Precipice Sandstone
Crossbedding in Precipice Sandstone.
Crumbling boulders of Hutton Sandstone
Boulders of soft Hutton Sandstone at the base of The Mansions.

Some three kilometres north along the Circuit Drive was our first stop, Marlong Arch.  As we glided into the car park, two Eastern Grey roos and a joey took flight, one adult collecting a barrier post in its haste to decamp.  But no harm done.

Marlong Arch, Mt Moffatt NP
Marlong Arch

Marlong Arch is an arch of Precipice sandstone standing 50 metres or so above the surrounding plain.  It is probably the most photographed feature in Mount Moffatt.  Even the famous Australian Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley came to Mount Moffatt (in October 1949) and photographed Marlong Arch.  The photo, which shows Brenda Vincent on her pony Cupie under the arch, appears in his book Queensland, a Camera Study.  Brenda Vincent had lived and worked on Mount Moffatt when it was a remote highland cattle property.

Brenda Vincent under Marlong Arch. Circa 1950.
Photo: Frank Hurley. Brenda Vincent on Cupie. Circa 1950.

Frank Hurley, famous Australian Photographer visits Mt Moffatt

The photograph above was one of many taken by one of Australia’s most well known photographers, Frank Hurley ( b. 1885 ). Hurley was the photographer for Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition. He recorded the demise of their ship Endurance as it was slowly destroyed by pack – ice. All the crew survived the ordeal and Hurley returned home to then become an Official War photographer for the AIF serving in the trenches with another famous Australian, Hubert Wilkins.

Frank Hurley’s classic book: Shackleton’s Argonauts. Published in 1948 by Angus and Robertson Ltd.

An excellent write – up of Hurley’s visit to the Carnarvons ( Tracks in the Sand – Frank Hurley and the Carnarvon Ranges ) can be found on Robert Ashdown’s blogsite.

Galley of images taken by Frank Hurley on his visit to Mt Moffatt Station in 1949.
  • The Tombs, Aboriginal rock art site, Mt Moffatt, qld, 1949.
  • Racecourse Campsite, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt, Qld 1949.
  • Mountains and Cliff faces, Consuelo Tableland, Qld,1949
  • Trees in a valley, Consuelo Tableland, Qld , !949.
  • Booringa Shire Clerk, Arthur Donnelly leading a pack of horses, Mt Moffatt Station, Qld,
  • The Tombs, Aboriginal rock art site, Mt Moffatt, Qld, 1949.
  • Four men sitting at the head of a canyon, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt Station, qld.
  • Booringa Shire employees in their Blitz wagon on a log bridge, Mt Moffatt Station, Qld 1949.
  • Five men riding with pack horses, Carnarvon Range, Qld, 1949.
  • Frank Hurley: Pack Horses, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt
  • Men and Horses at a logoon, Jimmy's Shelf above Carnarvon Gorge, Mt Moffatt, Qld, 1949.

Marlong Arch formed in a narrow, elongated outcrop of Precipice sandstone.  A capping of harder sandstone remains intact while softer layers below have been eroded away, leaving the arch of rock.  Around the base of the outcrop are caves, overhangs and tunnels, a number of which we investigated, finding stencil art, and roo and bat scats. 

Open grassy woodlands clothe the surrounding plains, part of a diverse flora of more than 750 species in the national park.  The dominant canopy species here are smooth-barked apple (Angophera leiocarpa), white cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla), bull oak (Allocasuarina luehmannii), and budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolius).  The shrub layer was more diverse but getting past its prime wildflower display.  That said, Calytrix longiflora still provided brilliant massed displays of its pink star flowers.  This was the case over much of the park. 

Open grassy woodlands. Mt Moffatt
Open grassy woodlands on sandy plains.
Calytrix longiflora
Massed flowering of Calytrix longiflora on the sandy plains.
Angophera leiocarpa
Angophera leiocarpa
Fibrous bark of Budgeroo.  Aborigines used cylinders of Budgeroo to wrap dead bodies.
Fibrous bark of Budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolius). Aborigines used cylinders of Budgeroo bark to wrap dead bodies. Items such as necklaces, nets and plants were placed with the bodies. The cylinders were then bound with twine made from animal fur and sinew and placed in sandstone tunnels high up on cliff-faces. The Tombs is just one of many mortuary sites in the Carnarvon Ranges.

Other components of the shrub layer that we identified (thanks Frank) included Xanthorrea johnsonii, Boronia bipinnata, thread-leafed hopbush (Dodonea filifolia), wild rosemary (Cassinia sp.), slender rice flower (Pimelea linifolia) and beard heath (Leucopogon biflorus).

Xanthorrea johnsonii
Grasstree: Xanthorrea johnsonii

The ground cover was dominated by swathes of buck spinifex (Triodia mitchelli), but there was still a significant assemblage of other ground covers:  kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), fake sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia violacea), Chloanthes parviflora and Lomandras.

Buck Spinifex. Triodia mitchelli
Buck Spinifex. Triodia mitchelli

After morning tea at the arch, we drove on to Kookaburra cave.   In a couple of the trees at the car park we saw babbler nests, and on cue two grey-crowned babblers appeared.  Kookaburra cave is a shallow elongated overhang at the southern base of a bluff of Precipice sandstone.   The cave takes its name from a hand stencil which resembles a kookaburra with its beak open.  As an art gallery it is nowhere near as spectacular as the Tombs, but it does have art work which includes stencils, abrasions and peckings.

Stencil art. Kookaburra Cave. Mt Moffatt.
The ‘ Kookaburra ‘ stencil at Kookaburra Cave.

On checking my reference book Visions of the Past by Michael Morwood, it would seem that this assemblage of Aboriginal art is typical of what he classifies as Central Queensland Phase 2 artwork dating from 5,000 to 36 years BP.  Some of the other information from his Central Queensland Highlands research includes:

  • Hand stencils in Central Queensland sites are frequently associated with rocky outcrops which served as mortuaries, as found at The Tombs in Mt Moffatt.
  • Many of the varied hand stencils at Central Queensland correspond to hand signals reported by Walter Roth for the Mt Isa area of NW Queensland.  It is thought that some of these were used when hunting and on other occasions of enforced silence.  Kookaburra cave has several examples of distorted hand stencils.
  • Stencils are very useful to archaeologists as they provide evidence of Aboriginal material culture before the time of European contact: boomerangs, axes, spears, clubs, nets and pendants. 
Morwood, M. J. Visions from the Past. The Archeology of Aust. Aboriginal Art. Smithsonian , 2012. The book contains a very comprehensive chapter on Queensland’s Central Highland sites.

The open woodland around Kookaburra cave was slightly different from what we had seen at Marlong Arch.  Here we found a dense stand of budgeroo, as well as mature woody pears (Xylomelum cunninghamianum).  Also in the canopy mix were a grey gum and a stringybark.

Under the canopy we identified (and photographed!) bush iris (Patersonia sericea), sandstone boronia (Boronia glabra), box-leaf wattle (Acacia buxifolia), spreading flax-lily (Dianella revoluta) and the alien-looking hair plant (Astrotricha cordata).

Patersonia sericea
Bush Iris: Patersonia sericea
Boronia glabra

Always on the hunt for things geological, I spied on the steps leading up to the cave some trace fossils.  These were probably the grazing trails of molluscs and worms.  They were on a slab of the reddish-brown Boxvale Sandstone (an upper member of the Evergreen Formation). 

Trace Fossils In Boxvale Member of Evergreen Sandstones.
Trace Fossils in Boxvale Member .

Next stop, Lot’s Wife, is a pillar of white Precipice sandstone, the solitary remnant of a bluff that extended across the area.  Warwick Wilmot, in his book Rocks and Landscapes of the National Parks of Central Queensland, mentions the localised anomalous geology of Lot’s Wife.  Sixty metres to the east is the parent bluff.  But this is an outcropping of Boxvales at the same elevation as Lot’s Wife.  The Boxvale sequence should be higher altitudinally, suggesting a minor localised fault between the two outcrops: with the Boxvale layer down to the east and the Precipice sandstones raised to the west.

Lots Wife
Lots Wife
Book: Rocks and landscapes of Central Qld.
Willmott, Warwick : Rocks and Landscapes of National Parks of Central Qld. ( Geological Soc. of Aust., Qld Div. 2006 ).

On our walk back to the cars, Judy pointed out stands of kurrajong (Brachychiton populnea) on a high ridge to the west of Lot’s Wife.  Kurrajongs, frequently associated with Vine Scrub/Thicket were also found in a soft-wood scrub south west of Gee Gee Gap that we visited on the next day.   On our 1988 Mount Moffatt trip when we visited Gee Gee Gap, Rodney Tait, a keen botanist and fungi expert reported bottle trees and many seemingly “out of place plants, including a valley of many rainforest or softwood scrub species”.  These are growing in soils derived from the basalt that caps the highest parts of the tableland.

On track to Dooloogarah  Station near Gee Gee Gap
Near Gee Gee Gap on track to Dooloogarah Station

Departing Lot’s Wife and its apostrophe-deficient signpost, we headed for Marlong Plain for lunch.  The side track to the plain winds through a woodland of silver-leafed ironbark (Eucalyptus melanophloia) before fetching up at the southern edge of Marlong Plain.  This is a vast, near-flat expanse composed of shallow Holocene alluviums derived from nearby basalts and sandstones.

Woodland of silver-leafed ironbark. E. melanophloia.
Woodland of silver-leafed ironbark: Eucalyptus melanophlioa.

Ecologically, Marlong Plain is a very special place.   It is a treeless plain dominated by a bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum).  This is an endangered regional ecosystem (11.3.21) with less than 10% remaining in this province (Brigalow Belt 24: Carnarvon) and only 10 – 30% remaining in all of Queensland.

Marlong Plain
Marlong Plain: an endangered regional ecosystem: RE11.3.21.
Qld Blue Grass. Dicanthium sericeum
Bluegrass: Dicanthium sericeum.
Marlong Ck traversing Marlong Plain
Marlong Creek

Overall Marlong Plain protects rare and threatened flora which is why the stand of willows in the lower end of the plain is somewhat puzzling.  I saw these willows on our 1988 trip and they are still flourishing in 2021.  The weedy wheels of the Queensland Parks Service move ever so slowly.

Our lunch break was enlivened by a passing nankeen kestrel checking out the plain for its own lunch.

Leaving our shady lunch spot on the edge of the plain, we continued on round the circuit drive and took the side track to West Branch camping area.  A far quieter area than caravan central at Dargonelly Rock Holes.

West Branch Camping Area
West Branch Camping Area

West Branch is also a pleasant overnight campsite for hikers walking the 87 kilometre Carnarvon Great Walk – a circuit walk starting and finishing at the Carnarvon Gorge section of the park.  The walk’s West Branch ‘entrance statement’ is an excellent information board and a rather expensive suspension bridge over the usually dry bed of the west branch of the Maranoa river.

Frank and I were aware that an old map of Mount Moffatt showed an ochre mine and dance ring at the southern end of the campsite.  We poked around and did find an outcrop of soft white clay in a small cliff face on the eastern bank of the river, but whether this was the ochre mine I cannot be sure.

Ochre Mine
Ochre Mine

Onward through woodlands of poplar box (E. populnea) and narrow-leafed ironbark (E. crebra) to the Mount Moffatt Park HQ and its first-rate information centre next to the old cattle yards.  Hours could be spent looking at the display boards which cover Aboriginal occupation, grazing history, natural history and the unsavoury saga of the Kenniff brothers.  A stop not to be missed. 

Photos from Booringa Shire Heritage Library: Waldron Family Collection.

Life on Mt Moffatt Station 1930s to 1950s.

  • Mt Moffatt Homestead. 1950s.
  • 'Grizzlin Annie'. Bush shed houses old station truck called 'Grizzlin Annie'. Note camp stretcher.
  • Written on the back of the photo: " Stockmen at Mt Moffatt before leaving for mustering camp,1940s.
  • Aboriginal stockman. Fred Stockman at Kenniffs Lookout.
  • Mail Truck from Mitchell.
  • Ringers in cattle yard . Mt Moffatt Station.
  • Incineration Rock. 1920. Rock slab where the bones of Albert Dahlke and Constable George Doyle were burnt after they were shot by cattle duffers, the Kenniff Brothers.
  • Waldron girls on wash day. Mt Moffatt Station.

But the pre-dinner nibblies clock was ticking and so we turned to our home at Dargonelly Rock Holes.  But not before the squatter pigeons obliged by squatting by the side of the track.  Probably not the best survival strategy.  These birds respond to disturbance by either ‘freezing’ or by darting erratically through grass tussocks.  Occasionally if pursued too closely they will burst into flight, heading for trees or nearby ground cover.

A black snake added to the excitement of our return journey.  This fellow was propped mid-track and made it obvious that he/she was not in the mood to move on.  Denise’s efforts to take a photograph produced a head-up pose and then thankfully both Denise and the reptile retreated.

After the obligatory showers, bucket baths and clean clothes, we gathered around Julie’s nifty EZYQ collapsible firepit to enjoy drinks, nibbles and companionable chit chat.  Just on dusk, our expected ‘Boobookians’ arrived: Craig, Michael and Eamon.   Boobook is an ecological consultancy based in Roma and established by Craig and Meryl Eddie in 2000.  They have since branched out and offer small group tours and adventure trips in SW Queensland.   Craig is the author of several field guides; his ‘Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs of Eastern Queensland Oil and Gas Fields’ is a widely used reference book.  And he has discovered 50 new species of land snails and 6 new plants. 

Eddie, C: Field Guide to Trees & Shrubs of Eastern Qld Oil & Gas Fields. ( Santos 2012 ).

We would have the benefit of the expertise of Craig, Michael (also an ecologist) and Eamon (scorpion expert) for tomorrow’s field outings and evening excursion.

While our three ecologists headed out to do some night field work down at the rock holes (finding cane toads but no frogs), the rest of us headed for bed, signing off on a very satisfactory day on the sand plains of Mount Moffatt National Park.

Other posts on the Mt Moffatt Section:

A Surfeit of Serpents

A Surfeit of Serpents

by Glenn Burns

You know where this is going. My friend Brian  and I were out and about over summer doing a recce for one of Brian’s throughwalks.

In this case along the spine of the Mistake Mountains in South East Queensland, across the North West Ranges to Mount Michael, exiting at Junction View.

Rainforest on Mistake Mountains
Rainforest on Mistake Mountains

Our access point was an old winch and timber chute at the end of the of Winder Track. Soon after setting out from the car park it struck us that the Winder was going to be pretty snaky: sunny and overgrown with lanky weeds and long grass. Snake heaven.

Snake Heaven
Snake Heaven

Having tangled with an antsy Eastern Brown a few weeks earlier in the Bunya Mountains I came prepared with leather boots, long canvas gaiters, compression bandages and my Leki walking pole to brush aside any long grass. Ditto Brian. Long trousers would have a good after-thought.

Winch at end of the Winder Track
Winch at end of the Winder Track

Sure enough, only 300 metres into our walk a grand-daddy Python lay comatose in the sun, stomach bulging with recent prey. We stepped around, took a few photos and walked on. The Python barely raised an eyebrow.

Small Carpet Python on Winder Track
Small Carpet Python on Winder Track

By the end of our 16 kilometre recce the snake score was:

  • 4 Pythons
  • 3 Red-bellied Black snakes
  • 1 Eastern Brown snake

At least I thought it was an Eastern Brown. One of my bushwalking friends from my youth was a bit of an amateur herpetologist and he would have grabbed it by the tail for a closer look. With the wisdom of years I realize this is definitely not wise. Unsurprisingly, he came to an untimely death, aged 39. Not from snake bite but in a downed F/A18 Hornet in the Northern Territory.

Making a lot of noise and sweeping the long grass generally does the trick. That said, I came close to standing on a curled up Red-bellied Black, my right boot hovering momentarily over the reptile. But some fancy footwork and an adrenaline rush saw me safely leap over our somnambulant friend.

But that’s not all. Later that afternoon as we drove down into the picnic area, a cute little bunny came bounding across the track, hotly pursued by a huge slavering goanna…fading fast. I’ll put my money on the bunny.

Maybe this snake danger thing is a tad overblown? Definitely when put in the context of other hazards we face every day. But while writing this report, a six year old girl from Walgett died from the bite of Brown snake. The Eastern Brown is the second most venomous terrestrial snake in the world.  Over the past summer the Queensland Ambulance Service has averaged two snake-bite call-outs every day. Eleven call-outs in one 24 hour period.

Evening at our camp ground
Evening at our camp ground



Mt Meharry: WA’s Highest Mountain


By Glenn Burns

To climb Mt Meharry in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is easy enough. A ramble of 11 kilometres will take you to its 1253 metre summit and back. A mere day walk for local Pilbara peakbaggers. But for this party of blow-ins from the east coast, the logistics of accessing Meharry were a bit more complicated. For Don Burgher, Brian Manuel, Judy and I, there was the five and a half hour flight to Perth followed by a road trip of four days through the outback of W.A. We touched down at Meharry’s base on a glorious winter’s day in August.

Mt Meharry summit
Mt Meharry summit

After an overnight camp at Dales Gorge in Karijini National Park we left Dales at 7.45am for the final 125 kilometre drive to Meharry. Despite what we had read about the difficulty of access once you leave  the sealed Northern Highway, it was all pretty straightforward. If you stay alert the unsealed Packsaddle Road-Juno Downs has adequate signage to get you close to Meharry’s base.

It wasn’t straightforward in 2002 when Nick and Ben Gough climbed Meharry as part of their ascents of the highest peaks in each state and territory of Australia. They described it thus:

… After  4200 kilometres of driving the final leg into Mt Meharry is along an old mining exploration track, overgrown with spinifex… There were a few washouts to navigate and plenty of spinifex seeds to remove from the radiator as we pushed through the undergrowth; there were also lots of spiders, angry at being removed.” Source: Wild No 87.

But times have changed. Now you can do all this in a 2WD. But if you are feeling lazy and are blessed with a high clearance 4WD having a bit of grunt, you can bump and grind your way all the way to Meharry’s summit.  Cheaters. We didn’t, it wasn’t part of our deal. We parked our borrowed 4WD ( thanks  Joseph Mania) at the first major jump-up, under the shade of a solitary snappy gum. Here we left Judy in charge of birds, bees and botany while Brian, Don and I headed off for the five kilometre walk to the summit, an altitude gain of only 427 metres.

Parked under a shady snappy gum.
Parked under a shady snappy gum.

What’s in a name?

At the top of the first jump-up we had our first clear views of Meharry. The story on how WA’s highest peak was determined is worth recounting. Such is the isolation of the Pilbara region that as late as the 1960s it was thought that nearby Mt Bruce (Bunurrunna) at 1,236 metres was WA’s highest peak. Then, in 1967, an unnamed whaleback prominence 50 kilometres to the south east was checked out by surveyor Trevor Merky and found to be 17 metres higher than Mt Bruce. Meharry was named after William Thomas (Tom) Meharry, Chief Surveyor for WA from 1959 to 1967. After a bit of ferretting around in Native Title documents I found its aboriginal name to be Wirlbiwirlbi.  On Tom Meharry’s death in 1967, the Minister for Lands approved the name ‘Mt Meharry’ on 28 July, 1967. That should have been the end of the matter. The plaque on the summit is dedicated to Tom Meharry and WA’s surveyors and it reads:

Mount Meharry, at 1250 metres, is the highest point in Western Australia. It is named after William Thomas (Tom) Meharry (1912-1967), the states State’s Geodetic Surveyor from 1959 to 1967.
This survey cairn was constructed in September 2013 as a tribute to all surveyors who have explored and mapped the magnificent Western Australian outback.


Geoscience Australia gives the height of Meharry as 1253 metres, not 1250 metres as per the plaque or the 1248 metres on the summit signpost. Confused?

Gina Rinehart

Enter Gina Rinehart, daughter of iron ore baron Lang Hancock. In 1999 she applied to the Geographical Names Committee to re-name Meharry to Mt Hancock after her prospector father. They declined but Australia’s wealthiest woman wasn’t so easily put off. In 2002 she went to the top and lobbied then Premier Geoff Gallop for the change. Fortunately, he too rejected the proposal.

Pilbara region WA
Features named by F. T. Gregory or related to his 1858 and 1861 expeditions.

A Spinifex Steppe

From the first jump-up it is an easy two kilometres before the track does any serious climbing. At this point the track winds up an open spinifex (Triodia spp.) covered ridgeline. The spinifex was everywhere, easily the dominant ground cover: it grows in either doughnut shapes or hummocks Some species have long spiny leaves that dig into bare skin so it is a matter of self preservation to wear thick canvas gaiters when going off track. On warm days one of the common hummock species of spinifex (T. pungens) releases volatile oils, producing a very distinctive resinous scent. The resin from T. pungens (in the photo) was used by aboriginals as a glue to bind spear heads to their shafts. The resin is pliable when heated but sets rock hard.

The Spinifex Steppe
The Spinifex Steppe: Trioda pungens

It was mid morning so the temperature was creeping up to its predicted 30°C, but tempered by a light west sou’wester. We pulled in for a water stop under the only shade, a stunted snappy gum (Eucalyptus leucophloia) located fortuitously at one of Brian’s infamous ‘uphill flat bits’. This attractive and robust little gum is a familiar sight on the rocky hills and plateaus of the Pilbara, typically growing to three or four metres. A defining characteristic is its white powdery bark, sometimes pocked with black dimples. Hence the species name leucophloia, meaning white bark.

Brian standing in the shade of a solitary snappy gum on the flanks of Mt Meharry
Brian standing in the shade of a solitary snappy gum on the flanks of Mt Meharry

The only other tree we found on Meharry was the desert bloodwood (Corymbia deserticola). With its multi-stemmed mallee growth form and rough tessellated bark it is another very striking tree of the Pilbara and easily distinguishable from the snappy gum.

Desert Bloodwood
Desert Bloodwood

Another two kilometres of plodding over loose scree took us to the crest of the ridge, a false summit.  Meharry trig station was a further 800 metres on. But there is no mistaking the real summit as it is marked by an elaborate rock cairn. We had left Judy and the 4WD some one hour forty five minutes earlier. Not too shabby a performance by three elderly bushwalking codgers.

Brian & Glenn at Mt Meharry summit cairn
Brian & Glenn at Mt Meharry summit cairn. Don wielding the camera.

Geology and Landscape

The view from the summit revealed a spectacular landscape of red whale-back mountains, razor-back ridges and steep-sided gorges that make up the Hamersley Range, one of the oldest geologic surfaces on the earth. Karijini is the aboriginal name for the Hamersley Range. About 2,690 million years ago the Hamersley Basin began to fill with sediments forming the extensive deposits of banded ironstone formations (BIFs), cherts and metapelites collectively known to geologists as the Brockman Iron Formation.

Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF)
Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF)

Mt Meharry is predominately an outcrop of this ancient Proterozoic banded ironstone. Typically it appears as a very hard brown rock composed of iron oxide and fine grained quartz. Similar iron rich rocks occur in South Africa and Brazil but the best exposures occur in Australia’s Pilbara.

After the obligatory photos, a quick bite to eat and a good guzzle of water we turned tail and headed downhill, back to the 4WD and Judy who was busy dealing with the unwanted attentions of ‘sweat bees’.

It's all downhill from here.
It’s all downhill from here.

Sweat bees.

Sweat bees is a generic term for a range of these inconspicuous little fellows (eg.Family:Halicitdae) who are attracted to perspiration, specifically the salts in sweat and as Judy discovered, can be quite a nuisance, just like Australia’s notorious bush flies.


And what of Judy’s birding and botanizing? Well, the avians weren’t co-operating. Hardly surprising. We were, after all, in a desert, with no nearby surface water and the ocean five hundred kilometres to the west. The semi-arid tropical climate has a highly variable rainfall of only 250mm to 300mm per annum; the evaporation rate is twelve times greater, hence the minimal surface water. The presence of surface water is very much dependent on incursions of the summer cyclonic rains sweeping in from the Indian Ocean to the west. Back in bird land the meager offerings were a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, a Yellow-throated Miner and the seemingly ubiquitous Galah.


Royal mulla- mulla
Royal mulla- mulla

However the abundance and showiness of plant life in the Australian outback is often exceptional, especially after rain. Pink Royal mulla-mulla (Ptilotus rotundifolius) covered the rocky Meharry landscape, occupying the interstices between clumps of spinifex. Royal mulla-mulla is a low perennial shrub growing to about one metre tall. The flower spikes are unmistakable: long, cylindrical and a bright pink. More than 35 species of mulla-mulla grow in the Pilbara and make for spectacular displays after good summer rains.

Other ground covers included the purple-flowering Flannel Bush (Solanum lasiophyllum), and the delicate blue pincushion flowers of the Native Cornflower (Brunonia australis). Brunonia australis is the sole species in the genus Brunonia which is the only genus in the endemic family Brunoniaceae. It is named after Robert Brown, naturalist on Matthew Flinders’ Investigator.

Flannel Bush: Solanum lasiophyllum
Flannel Bush: Solanum lasiophyllum

Wattles and sennas dominated the Meharry shrub layer and included the golden-flowering Gregory’s Wattle (Acacia gregorii). This dense spreading shrub grows to only half a metre and has golden ball-like flower heads. The name commemorates Francis Thomas Gregory whose 1861 expedition passed through the Pilbara.

Gregory's Wattle
Gregory’s Wattle. Acacia gregorii

Another wattle found here was Acacia hamersleyensis, the Hamersley Range Wattle. This multi-stemmed wattle grows to about four metres and features bright golden dense cylindrical spikes.
Thomas Francis Gregory: The North-West Australian Exploring Expedition. 1861.

Thomas Gregory was the brother of the outstanding Australian explorer and bushman, Augustus Gregory.  Their 1858 expedition to the Gascoyne River had attracted the attention of English capitalists interested in cotton ventures. The Home Office and Royal Geographical Society proposed a new colony on WA’s  north-west coast with the special objective of  cultivating cotton.

Francis Thomas Gregory; Source State LibQld
Francis Thomas Gregory;
Source State LibQld

Thus F.T. Gregory was contracted by Captain Rowe, Surveyor General of WA to head a scaled back expedition prior to setting up a full colony. On the 23rd of April,1861 Gregory departed on the barque Dolphin with a party of nine, ten horses and supplies of flour, salted pork, dried beef preserved meat, bacon, sugar etc. Enough grub for eight months. If the desert , horses or aborigines didn’t do you in then it was a fair bet that the diet would.

On the 22nd May Gregory had transferred men, supplies and horses ashore at the head of Nickol Bay. By the 25th June he had reached the western edge of what is now Karijini National Park.  On the 3rd of July he climbed Mt Samson and saw a high peak which he named Mt Bruce…

“I named Mt Bruce after the gallant commander of troops who had warmly supported me in carrying out explorations.”

And so, for well over a century, Mt Bruce was thought to be WA’s highest mountain. His journal also mentions  Mt Augustus which he had named on his 1858 expedition into the Gascoyne River District after his brother Augustus Gregory. It was from Mt Augustus that he first saw Mt Bruce.  But that is a story which I will keep for another time.

Mt Bruce:
Mt Bruce ( Bunurrunna): 1236metres.

Such is the isolation of this area, modern day maps of the Pilbara  still retain a plethora of the original names proposed by F.T. Gregory:

  • Mt Turner: J. Turner was second in command of the expedition.
  • Mt Brockman:  E. Brockman was a member of the expedition.
  • Maitland River.
  • Hardy River.
  • Hamersley Range: Hamersley was one of the expedition’s backers.
  • Fortescue River: Fortescue was the British Under-secretary for colonies.
  • Dolphin Island: from their supply vessel Dolphin.
  • Ashburton River: President of the British Royal Geographical Society.
  • Capricorn Range: presumably because it straddles the Tropic of Capricorn.

Readers interested in the expedition journals of the Gregory brothers  should acquaint themselves with an excellent facsimile edition published in 2002 by  Western Australia’s Hesperian Press.

Source: Hesperian Press.
Source: Hesperian Press.

Photo Gallery: Plants of the Pilbara.

Holly GrevillaHolly Grevillea. G. wickhamii. Named after John Wickham. Captain of the Beagle who collected this plant with Charles Darwin during surveys of the north-west coast 1837-1838.

IMG_2933Australian Desert Rose: Gossypium australe.




Sturts Desert PeaSturt’s Desert Pea: Swainsona formosa. Its name honours the explorer Charles Sturt but was first collected by Willim Dampier in 1699 on an island on the Dampier Archipelago.



Rock FigCommon Rock Fig: Ficus brachypoda. Found growing in cooler moist gorges of the Pilbara. Often clings precariously to ledges and cliff faces.






Sticky SennaSticky Cassia: Senna glutinosa subsp. pruinosa




Grey Whorled WattleGrey Whorled Wattle: Acacia adoxa.

After reading  this account you will have realised that Mt Meharry is no great challenge. For me,  its interest lies in the opportunity to traverse an arid zone mountain landscape, a walk of outstanding scenic beauty as well as exceptional geologic and botanical interest. And as a bonus you can bag Western Australia’s highest mountain, a remote peak in outback Australia. Mission accomplished.  Then it was back to the comfort of our camp site at Dales Gorge, under the welcome shade of a grove of Mulga trees.

Day's end @ Dales Gorge Campground, Karijini National Park.
A Job Well Done: resting back at Dales Gorge Campground, Karijini National Park.

Good info:

Bush Books series published by WA’s Dept of Conservation and Land management. These are pocket sized field books: Common Plants of the Pilbara, Wattles of the Pilbara, Geology and Landforms of the Pilbara.

P. Moore Plants of Inland Australia (Reed New Holland 2005)

P. Lane Geology of WA’s National Parks (Peter Lane 2007)

A.C. and F.T. Gregory Journals of Australian Explorations 1846-1861 ( Hesperian Press 2002). First published by J.C. Beal Government Printer, Brisbane 1884.

S. Mitchell Exploring WA’s Natural Wonders ( Dept of Environment & Conservation).

Hema Western Australia Road and 4WD Atlas

Aust. Geog. Western Australia State Map 1: 4 000 000

Artists Cascades

by Glenn Burns.

This pleasant little ramble is just the thing for walkers in Queensland’s hot and humid summers. Artists Cascades are a small set of falls and cascades on Booloumba Creek in the Conondale National Park, part of the Sunshine Coast’s forested hinterland. Although you could make this a short rock hopping trip, the  numerous crystal clear pools are an ever present temptation for walkers to linger as they make their way upstream.

 Cascades. Photo: Leanda Lane
Cascades. Photo: Leanda Lane

My five walking friends Alf and Samantha(leaders) and hangers-on Brian, Leanda, Joe as well as yours truly, left the Booloumba Creek Day Use Area soon after 8.30am, a bit of a late start for an overcast, humid but decidedly warmish November day. The walk is only four and a half kilometres to the cascades with an easier but slightly longer return leg on the Conondale Great Walk Track.

Booloumba Ck Map Final WP

 A pretty relaxed day, all in all.  In days of yore, before the advent of formed tracks, the Booloumba Creek walk was a different proposition. Hairy-chested bushwalkers generally entered a kilometre upstream of Artists Cascades at Booloomba Creek Falls near a feature called The Breadknife, an impressive blade-like slab of foliated phyllite, a flaky metamorphic rock. Below it, in a leap of faith, walkers would drop into Booloumba Creek for the start of the swim down through Booloumba Gorge. As my 1980’s bushwalking bible “Bushwalking in South-East Queensland” noted: “… the descent route in Booloumba Gorge… should only be tackled by competent scramblers.” Over nearly a full day walkers swam, floated and rock hopped down past Kingfisher Falls, Frog Falls, Artists Cascades to exit at the day use area, occasionally bruised and battered. Altogether a very satisfying little adventure.


The Breadknife: Booloumba Ck.
The Breadknife: Booloumba Ck.

Our walk was a modest affair by comparison. Initially, it starts as an easy amble on a flat gravelly creek bank, but as the walk closes in on Artists Cascades, the walking changes to rock hopping. On the way up we passed a number of beautiful clear deep pools, ripe for swims and more swims. Booloumba Creek is set in sub-tropical rainforest. Some of the emergent species which I recognised included hoop pine Araucaria cunninghamii, piccabeen palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, bunya pine Araucaria bidwillii, flooded gum Eucalyptus grandis, black bean Castanospermum australe, and the strangler fig Ficus watkinsiana.

Strangling Fig. Ficus sp.
Strangling Fig. Ficus sp.

As an afficionado of the Booloumba Creek run I had come prepared, decked out in board shorts, quick dry shirt, track shoes in place of my Rossi heavy duty boots, nylon day pack with other hiking paraphernalia sequestered away in a dry bag. A pair of spiffy goggles found at a nearby a swimming hole enhanced my aquatic ensemble.  No need to change into togs…sorry… bathers for you non-Queenslanders. Just flop or dive in.

Goggle Man
Goggle Man. Photo: Samantha Rowe

Not unexpectedly, we crossed paths with a lethargic snake, a rather large carpet python curled up and in no mood to move. As with all snakes, the golden rule applied: leave well alone, even though pythons are fairly harmless. Snakes are always a consideration in the Conondales so some of us were sporting knee length, heavy duty, canvas gaiters.

Fortunately, heavy flooding over the past two summers had cleared the dense mist weed (Ageratina riparia) from the creek bed, making it much easier to hop from rock to rock and to spot the odd sunbaking reptile or three.

Around lunchtime we made our way onto the rocky benches surrounding the Artists Cascades. These smallish cascades drop into a deep inviting rock pool. But we needed no invitation and were soon frolicking around in the refreshing cool, clear water.

Artists Cascades

Revived, we tucked into lunch, allowing us time to start drying before squelching off on the five kilometre return leg along The Conondale Great Walk Track. If you have time I recommend you sidetrack to the old Gold Mine site and also find the short track to the   “Egg”. The track was unmarked for a long time at the request of its creator but common sense prevailed and now it is well sign-posted. The construction of  The Egg morphed into a political hot potato. The Egg is a $700,000 wilderness sculpture commissioned by the Queensland Government in 2010, and designed and built by Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy. But more on that contentious issue another time.

The $700,000 Egg
The $700,000 Egg

Much of the conservation battle to save this relatively pristine area of South-East Queensland from further logging and mining was undertaken by the local Conondale Range Committee for which the bushwalking and camping fraternity can be thankful. If you are wondering about the origin of the name Booloumba as I did, my friends in the Conondale Range Committee provided the following information.  Booloumba is aboriginal, from the dialect of the Dullumbara clan who were part of the Gubi Gubi language group. It is pronounced and spelt Balumbear or Balumbir and means butterfly; sometimes extended to mean place of the white butterfly. The national park name, Conondale, derives from Conondale Station, named by pastoralist D. T. MacKenzie in 1851 after Strath Conon in Scotland.

Photo Gallery

To Borumba and Back

                                                by Glenn Burns.

The Mt Borumba circuit. A golden oldie. Just like some of the nine  of us who lined up for this enjoyable ramble through the Imbil State Forest in South East Queensland to the fire tower on Mt Borumba. The 11 kilometre circuit, mainly on forestry tracks in the Yabba and Borumba logging areas, starts with a steepish climb. Then it wends its way gently uphill for another three and a half kilometres, first through park-like open Eucalypt forest and as it climbs towards the summit, it enters the cool shade of mature rainforest. The summit is topped by a decidedly rickety wooden structure known as the No.8 Fire Tower, now ringed with security fencing. The return trip, mostly downhill, features a gravelly descent and then a soggy track out to cattle yards.

Mt Borumba Cross section Blog image

Meanwhile back at the start of the walk our little band had formed up, my good bushwalking mate Brian Manuel in the lead. A quick vault over the locked gate and then up the dozer line that climbs vertically for The Beacon at 423 metres, an altitude gain of nearly 300 metres in one and a half kilometres. This must have been one intrepid dozer driver, no pussy footing around with zigzags, contouring or switch backs. Just straight up. And as I tottered my way up, one of those pesky elderly hares bounded by, calling out: “A good heart starter, hey”. No doubt about that. Fortunately for me, Brian called time, a welcome smoko break on the summit of The Beacon. A grassy glade shaded by gnarly old bloodwoods, a cooling breeze, fantastic views and a good feed.

On a crisp autumn day like this we had extensive views over Lake Borumba and the Yabba Creek catchment to the west. To the east and south were the high rugged hills and deep valleys of state forests, a verdant patchwork of rainforest, wet and dry sclerophyll forest, and plantations of hoop and bunya pine. These hills, now little more than 400 metres elevation, are the remnants of an ancient mountain chain planed down to a dissected plateau. The hard metamorphosed sediments, the Amamoor Beds, have resisted erosion, thus forming the elevated ridgelines that we were now following. Forestry areas are always full of places with tantalising names and intriguing stories to match.  Names like Breakneck Road, Derrier, Little Derrier, Tragedy, Buffalo and Gigher. One of my favourites was on a faded little sign outside Imbil which said: “The Foreign Legion.”  Not as in French Foreign Legion but an encampment of 150 displaced persons from World War Two.  Known generically as “The Balts”, they came mainly from Eastern Europe, few speaking English, and were allocated plantation work at one of three camps: Sterlings Crossing, Derrier and Araucaria.  The Balts lived a hard life in tent camps without electricity and running water. The children had a different take on any perceptions about hardship: “It was the best years of my life. We kids were allowed to run riot through the bush…It was simply fantastic.”

After The Beacon, we briefly took to a cattle pad before dropping down onto the Beacon Road. The route now meandered along forested ridgelines at about 400 metres, winding inexorably upwards towards Mt Borumba. Through gaps in the trees we caught occasional glimpses of the Borumba tower which was number 8 in a network of more than 30 fire towers spread across South East Queensland’s forestry areas. This 20 metre, three storey tower and its neighbours No.5 Mt Allan, and No.12 Coonoon Gibber, were used to fix the location of fires by triangulation. Interestingly, a large number of these fire towers were built by a Sunshine Coast resident Arthur Leis, all in days before fancy construction gear. Some of the higher towers like Jimna (47 metres) took Arthur three years to construct. No. 8 is a four -legged tower built in 1958, but variations included a three-legged tripod and the cheapskate model with boards nailed to a tree trunk. You can read more about Queensland’s fire towers in Peter Holzworth’s: Silent Sentinels: the story of Queensland’s Fire Towers.

No.8 Firetower. Mt Borumba
No.8 Firetower. Mt Borumba

It was not long before we swung south onto the No 8 Tower Road, as did a battered old 4WD ute, which caused a ripple of expectation among those of us plodding along in the rear. I recalled with deep fondness bygone days when said ute would grind to a halt and its driver, fag glued to bottom lip, would beckon walkers over: “Everything OK?”.  A longish chat about the weather, cattle prices or his bee hives, and then our Good Samaritan would say: “Wanna lift?”  This was the signal for us to pile in. But our latter day 4WDer merely glided past, stopping occasionally to nail up ever more  Horses Ahead signs in preparation for an Easter horse endurance ride.

At the intersection with Borumba Mountain Road we swung west and climbed the final kilometre to the summit. As a veteran of Brian’s many forays into peak bagging I knew not to get overly excited about the possibility of majestic views over golden plains extended. And so it was. A view obscured not by the usual wreaths of claggy mist nor by sheets of bucketing rain. Just a wall of trees. Still it was a thoroughly pleasant spot for a lunch break: plenty of shade, grass to stretch out on and time to cast a covetous eye over one of Kiwi Ross’s mouth watering lunches. Take a chunk of crusty bread, add layers of rich red sliced tomatoes and then haystack the top with several acres of fresh alfafa sprouts. Joe to Kiwi Ross who was just about to sink in the tooth: “Hey, Ross. Would you like me to run the mower over that lot before you eat it?”

Lunch time on Borumba
Lunch time on Borumba

 The inbound trip involved some backtracking for two kilometres until Brian suddenly executed a sharp left, and then plunged down an ever steepening trail mantled with loose gravel. Marbles on tiles.  Believe it or not, the best strategy is to jog down, skating over the top of the rolling gravel, just like those flocking sheep on NZ high country sheep runs. Michelle, Brian and Kiwi Ross, who are skilled exponents of this arcane ovine art, arrived first, fully intact. For the rest of us it was a matter of gingerly picking our way down, unfortunately not without mishap to a derrière or two. And then came the trudge along a sodden track before fetching up at the cattle yards. Leaving plenty time to scrape off the mud and head off for cold beer, coke or water at the Railway Hotel, Imbil. My thanks to Brian (leader), and fellow Borumbians Alf, Joe, Ross, Linda, Michelle, Robyn and Samantha.