The wet tropics are famous for being wet. Even here, though, there are drier times and wetter times. The wet season had not yet arrived. Lewis and Charlie were working hard to keep their cattle fed. Lewis was cutting grass along the road and fetching it home to hand feed some of the more pampered animals while Charlie was walking others all over the district, an old Aussie tradition referred to as using the long paddock.
At the end of a hard days work Charlie was more than happy to take us spotlighting. Our targets were any of a number of possum species that are found only in that particular neck of the woods. So off we went, on foot and off trail. After about 45 minutes we were examining some very promising scratch marks around the lower parts of some tree trunks when the back of my right hand came in contact with the leaves of a Dendrocnide moroidies.
They are more popularly known as the Stinging Tree or Gympie Bush. Note the heart shaped leaves covered in fine hairs. This illustration was shamelessly filched from KrackersWorld. The plant is a pioneer that loves to grow in disturbed places such as alongside tracks. Small plants are as unpleasant as the larger ones maybe more so.
The pain was immediate, intense and persistent. Within half an hour the lymph nodes in my armpit were sore and swollen. The pain overnight prevented much in the way of sleep. Charlie was most apologetic … initially. This soon gave way to war stories about the numerous occasions on which he had been stung and what I could look forward to because this is no passing inconvenience. For any where up to 18 months hot, cold, getting wet or knocking the affected part causes pain. It is now five weeks since that momentary contact. The flow of cold air over my hand on the steering wheel is enough to cause severe pain.
Interestingly, although the pain is reminiscent of a burn there is no visible injury to the tissues.
Back at camp Charlie poured vinegar over my hand. This was as good an approximation of the recommended treatment as we could manage. Better would have been the application of a solution of 10-15% hydrochloric acid in water, followed by waxing the area to remove the stinging hairs.
If you’re heading to this region it is well worth knowing what these plants look like. They are often quite insect eaten when they look like <this>. The Cape Tribulation Research Station page is an excellent source of further information. Kids are particularly vulnerable. Long pants, closed shoes and dire warnings about wandering off the track are all useful preventative measures.
The following day it was Lewis’s turn to give up his time. He took us birding and then we switched our attention to a very special mammal. Both the brothers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world around them. Their conversation is peppered with the scientific names of the plants, frogs, birds and lizards. They know every bird call, when each plant will flower and what will visit them when they do. After showing us a goodly collection of Honeyeaters and calling up a Barking Owl we set off in search of Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo. It took some finding but we got it. We had about an hour of hard going over steep and trackless terrain in hot weather. Then we had to retrace our steps. On the way there I was buoyed by the chase, on the way back all I could think of was a long cool drink. Unlike the Lumholz Tree Kangaroo on Mount Hypipamee this guy did not present himself in the open for a photo session, but just to prove it was really there …
Honest, look carefully, it’s right in the middle.