Wednesday, May 23, 2018

takayna in words and images - article in Ozarts

Here's an account of local, Sydney region, experience of 'Tarkine in Motion 2017', in the latest "Ozarts", edited by Carolynne Skinner. The two Sydney artists who exhibited at Gallery 188 in Katoomba, Gillian Hughes and Marie Dalliston, write about what it meant to them - their paintings deliver a powerful message also. I write about my collaboration with Sofia, in the context of this artists' campaign to save the Tarkine from the numerous threats assailing it.…/oz-arts/2018-autumn/tarkine.pdf

Monday, November 6, 2017


Tassie devil pen - sleep time
This is the full text of my article submitted to BMCS's "Hutnews". The editor, in her infinite wisdom, chose to publish an abridged version, without pictures, in November's edition. 

What kind of future should a female Tasmanian devil have after she has fulfilled her breeding duty for a conservancy?  Secret Creek Sanctuary at Lithgow felt she should be shown all care and consideration in her senior years. Trevor Evans, owner of the sanctuary, took charge of precious cargo from Devil Ark several months ago, as I mentioned in my article in the July “Hutnews”. A friend and I went to visit ‘the retirees’ in mid-July, and were very interested in what the Australian Ecosystems Foundation is doing for these and other endangered species.

a cool shelter for macropods in summer

All the animals are kept on 10 hectares within their own spaces, inside a well-engineered fence which runs into the ground. The two devils have big dens and a big swimming hole to cool off in the warmer weather. Lithgow is a suitable climate for them, being 1,000 metres up and therefore somewhat Tasmanian. Although they’re creatures of the night, one of them poked her nose out of her den briefly to check us out. It took Trevor seven years to get the license to keep devils. The Tasmanian government “owns” their iconic species, and this creates complications, not only for Secret Creek but for devil  conservation efforts. In the Tarkine, Channing Hughes ( University of Sydney, see previous article) spoke about the unfortunate effects of this policy.

The Australian Ecosystems Foundation’s mission is to breed endangered species at the sanctuary, species that were common to our area before the advent of European settlement. They have been breeding quolls, both the eastern Dasyurus viverrinus (endangered in NSW, critically endangered in the Commonwealth) and the spotted-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus. I was thrilled when I saw the spotted-tail female, sunning herself. She was pregnant. She moved slowly away from my gaze and my camera. After hearing about this quoll for 20 years, and musing on the Gurangatch (giant eel) and Mirragan (quoll) songline of the Gundungurra nation, this is only the second one I’ve seen. D. maculatus is rare in the mountains.

pregnant spotted-tail or tiger quoll - D. maculatus

On our first visit, Trevor talked about the little floor-dwelling mammals that are ‘forest engineers’. Bettongs, potoroos and bandicoots were once numerous in our area.  In various ways they act like little mulching units on the forest floor. Bettongs are bred at Secret Creek and also at Mulligan’s Flat in the ACT, following a very similar model. They have had remarkable success there by first building a fence, clearing the grassy woodland of exotic pests such as foxes, cats, rabbits and hares, and then introducing bettongs (miniature kangaroos). 

Trevor showed us another ground-dwelling species, the bush stone curlew, inside the large aviary. It is a night bird and eats insects, grassy box woodland is its habitat. It was last sighted on the Newnes Plateau in the 1970’s (NPWS). Other species in the aviary included a double-barred finch, a white-browed woodswallow and a dusky woodswallow.

Apart from the fence, the sanctuary is protected from introduced predators such as foxes and cats by dingo urine. Every morning two honey-coloured Alpine dingoes patrol the outer perimeter of the fence with their walkers, and naturally they relieve themselves. They’re marking their territory with a urine message: “This is ours! Keep out!” Walking the dingoes is one of the opportunities for volunteers. The Australian Ecosystems Foundation is a not-for-profit and relies upon input by volunteers. It was founded by Trevor, who is currently its secretary. Briefly, the sanctuary also performs other functions such as hosting scientists. They’re building accommodation for researchers which is a miracle of recycling, reflecting the values of “conserve”.
in background, the fence - dam for waterbirds
We returned to the Sanctuary in mid-August, and all the quolls had pouch young. Over lunch at the vegan cafĂ© there, Trevor said, “We are about educating people about what they’re missing out on because of foxes and cats”. The leek soup that my friend ordered was magnificent, my tea was great, and the bill was modest. This place is looking to the future in more ways than one. gLithgow has more to offer than coal-based industries. Here is one example of a local leading the way.
Trevor with Riley 

If you’d like to visit the Sanctuary,  contact Trevor Evans on: M.  0408 695 958. The restaurant can be contacted on: P. 6352 1133
Their websites:

"I'm getting away from this pesky human!"

Monday, August 21, 2017


Things that are flowering now: Hardenbergia violacea &

Bosseaia rhombifolia &

I've had a haiku accepted for publication in the next "Windfall". Appropriate title of this Australian journal for the season! My haiku is about a native bee, the stingless native bee Tetragonula carbonaria.
Acacia ulicifolia - prickly moses &

Boronia ledifolia

I can't gazump its publication - but here is a haiku for our current season in Sydney, to go with the flowers of "sprinter":

bounding across the road
don't run over it
....wind-blown magazine

Thursday, August 3, 2017

WEA haiku ginko ; WEA history walk

Hmm, writing a poem about this flower. Could you do it? I bet you could, if you came on my next haiku course, through the WEA.
Or what about this? It's all rather grand - but if you walked through it and kept your hand moving and your senses alive, there'd be something, maybe in the grass? Haiku is especially suited to the small and insignificant - but in that small thing, may be the whole world.

My course starts on Monday August 28 at 9:30 - 11:30 am, runs over 5 weeks. We'll have two wonderful ginkos in the course, maybe here, maybe elsewhere.

Here's the link:,+tours+and+travel/educational+walks

I'm also leading a history walk here in the Blue Mountains, Wednesday September 6. See the above link for details.


I've just edited "Mind Moon Circle" for the Sydney Zen Centre, the theme was "trees". You can get a taste of it, by looking at SZC's website:

A haiku for the season...

let the sunshine
of that wattle
bloom in me

Acacia terminalis on Newnes plateau

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Second place, Big Beet Poetry Slam, Katoomba, 15 July

Me at the Frankland 

Frankland River forest - 41A & B* 
took the judges' fancy at the Big Beet, Saturday night a week or so ago. It has also just been published in Mind Moon Circle - Trees, the autumn/winter issue of the Sydney Zen Centre's journal, which I edited. You can read another article, "When you Breathe in Thank a Tree" by Gillian Coote on their szc website, here:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tarkine in Motion - Part 2, Tasmanian Devils

Jean-Francois DuCroz releasing a devil with GPS collar     Photo: Kyler Abernathy, National Geographic

We who were camping in the Tarkine with the Bob Brown Foundation over Easter were not the devils, though some in the resources industry might think so. We had the exciting opportunity to meet up with Channing Hughes and his team from the University of Sydney, who were researching the Tassie devil in our area, the Frankland river. As you may know, this carnivore is under threat from a deadly facial tumour which has been spreading rapidly throughout the population. Until recently it had not percolated through to Tasmania’s northwest, but the researchers are now finding some individuals with these horrible lumps on their faces. However the conservation effort is taking a hopeful turn.
On the second day several carloads of us found Channing and team out in the forestry roads, where they were checking traps. He had just released a devil from a trap which it had been lured into with a fragrant piece of pademelon. (A pademelon is like a kangaroo but terrier-sized and very cute.) We did not see the devil but smelled it - the stink! Channing was engaged in cleaning the trap in preparation for the next night. He told us that the tumour is very unusual, because it is a cancer that is transmittable. The devils bite each other on the face, especially in the mating season, or if they’re scrapping over some carrion. The cancer cells then carry over and lodge in the competitor’s face. By contrast, when devils are being handled by people they go into a kind of torpor. They’re so passive that researchers can open their mouths ( no doubt pegging their noses first) and fiddle with their teeth. Some of these little guys are fitted with GPS tracking devices and ‘devilcam’.
Myrtle foliage

We were keen to see a devil for ourselves so we followed the team around as they checked their traps.  That morning there were no more devils. Channing had told us that a vaccine has been developed for the tumour and it is working. I was traveling in our guide Jef’s car, and he told us what is happening on Maria Island, where he works. It is functioning as a grand devil experiment. They were not an original part of the island fauna, neither were the feral cats. Devils were introduced to Maria Island, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, with GPS collars and without. Jef says, “The devils were released on the northern end of the island and quickly established themselves down to the southern end.” They have outcompeted the cats who  now reside in extremely steep and rugged areas on the eastern side of the island. “Gps trackers and remote cameras are evidence of this”.  Isn’t this great news? A bushwalker who’d been on Maria last year, told me of the numbers of devils scavenging around campsites. There are also eastern quolls on the island, and they form part of the native predator mix.
But there is a down side for the island.  Two years after the devil release, penguin numbers plummeted. They are now surviving “on the south end of the island where steep granite cliffs by the water offer refuge from devils,” says Jef.

wildlife in a myrtle tree
 The second day of devil-hunting yielded two treats for the little boys at our camp. They saw a  trap containing a devil, and later on another trap contained a mother devil with a baby in her pouch.
Channing told us that their program, the Carnivore Conservancy, is linked with universities both here and overseas,  and zoos. There is an international effort going on. In our region, the sanctuary at Secret Creek near Lithgow is partnering with the devil breeding program at Barrington Tops. They have just begun to provide a “retirement package”, two months ago they took charge of two females who’ve done their breeding duty.

Me having quiet time by the Frankland River    photo credit: Isabel Mai Owe Young  

By the time you read this, the wedge-tailed eagle breeding season begins, which means a ban on logging in the Frankland river coupes. The devils and their dinners have a reprieve until February 10th, 2018.

You can read more about the Carnivore Conservancy at:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017



Bob Brown spent many years saving wild places in Tasmania. Now the people who have agglomerated around him and created the Bob Brown Foundation are campaigning to protect the Tarkine.  This area is in northwest Tasmania, “out of sight and out of mind”, but it contains the largest temperate rainforest in the southern hemisphere. In order to bring it into focus, they adapted the idea tried elsewhere in Tasmania,  of bringing artists to an area to respond to a landscape in their chosen medium. Mine is poetry, and I went to the third year of these camps, called Tarkine in Motion, over Easter.

leatherwood blossom

120 artists and 30 volunteers camped in about half a dozen different spots, some “ramblers” went on hikes, and some people kayaked up rivers. The Bob Brown Foundation launched a Pozible fund-raising campaign to pay for the food and transport needs of the artists. This exceeded the target, through a last-ditch effort. Above a certain amount, contributors were rewarded with little gifts; I have just received some greeting cards with beautiful photos of ‘takayna”, as the area is known to the indigenous people. Speaking of which, an important aspect of this campaign has been to partner with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.  

 I spent Easter camping at the Frankland river site, with  a group of about 20 people. I had asked for “river” : “coast” and “forest” were the other options. Turned out that the Frankland had been a protest camp, 100 people have engaged in various tactics and held up logging since the 14th February.*  Conditions were rough but that was amply compensated for, by the company I was in. We had volunteers who cooked wonderful meals for us over fire and gas, and a guide. One of the volunteers was Jenny Weber, who was one of the Gunns 20**.
Frankland river

A happy coincidence was the presence of researchers from the University of Sydney nearby, who were gathering data on the Tassie Devil. There are some very hopeful developments here, which I’ll write about in Part 2.

 I chose to saturate myself with that place, going with Jef, the guide, when he took us into the forest or to the river. It is a most  marvelous thing, to be in a forest with huge myrtles towering above you. As we walked around, or sat by the river writing or photographing, he would answer innumerable questions. He said, “ There’s more life in a dead tree than a live one” ( meaning one that is vertical). In the dark greenish light, crayfish chimneys poked from the ground.
crayfish chimney

a tangle of rot
the moss pretending
to be a tree

We swam in the tannin-coloured water knowing it is pure, and home to the giant crayfish (Astacopsis gouldi), the largest freshwater invertebrate in the world.

Frankland river

Over the days Jenny outlined the threats to the Tarkine. They are various and include off-road vehicle driving, mining and logging. The logging conducted by Forestry Tasmania makes no economic sense at all. It is in fact costing the Tasmanian taxpayer, last year’s bill was $67 millon.  I was shocked to learn that apart from the wedge-tailed eagle, any other species that is threatened or endangered gets no protection of its habitat under Tasmanian law.

If you’d like to see some of the beautiful work that was inspired by these places, go to:
The work from Tarkine in Motion 2016 has just been on exhibition in Hobart, and will travel to Melbourne in July. The exhibition of our work will open next year in Hobart around April. You might like to journey up to Avoca Beach Picture Theatre on Thursday June 6, to see “Tarkine in Motion”, a film by Dan Broun. There’ll be great roots music by Scott Bird and his band (he was at our camp) and a Q& A session. 7 pm, $20, see:

** in 2004 the woodchip company Gunns pursued legal action against 20 activists and organisations, who were campaigning to protect old growth forests. Eventually Gunns lost.

*On the 25th May peace will have reigned over the Frankland for 100 days.

This article was published in "Hutnews" Issue No. 348 June 2017