Adventures at Shipton’s Flat …

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.

Stinging Tree

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 …

Bennett's T K

Honest, look carefully, it’s right in the middle.

Atherton Tableland …

An early start from Etty Beach and we were soon on our way up onto the tableland. This is the premier bird watching destination in Australia but one the party had visited quite a few times before. We had allowed ourselves two days here and we intended to wring the absolute maximum out of our stay.

We drove up via South Johnstone and Millaa Millaa and made our first birding stop at Hypipamee National Park. We were quickly rewarded with Fernwren and Mountain Thornbill but after that birds were fairly slow to surrender and some of the regular suspects didn’t turn up at all. But if we were surprised at that we were even more surprised by Mark’s discovery of a Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo wide awake in the mid morning …



Our destination for the night was Malanda, specifically chosen so that we could spotlight for this extraordinary creature, the best way to find this always elusive animal. They feed on leaves of rainforest trees in which they are agile and competent climbers aided by impressive claws and the ability to use their hind legs independently. When they come to the ground they bound along in the same fashion as other kangaroos. Generally they spend the daylight hours curled up in dense foliage sound asleep.

Hypipamee is also called The Crater in honour of its striking geological feature, a diatreme created, so they say, when gas exploded beneath a granite surface layer blasting a pipe to the surface. The pipe is 70 metres in diameter and contains a lake. It is 58 metres from rim to the water level and the water is another 70 metres deep. It would appear from the viewing platform that visitors have made a significant effort to fill it in with thrown objects. If it weren’t for the 400 metre walk from the carpark it would now be full of fridges, TVs and old mattresses. The walls are shear but somehow a population of Saw-shell Turtles has made its home there. I suspect though that their descendants will not be making any contribution to the wider gene pool.

From there we made our way up Highway 1 towards Atherton. The next stop was the Wongabel Forest walk. Much of the tableland would have been forest but most has been cleared for agriculture. For some inexplicable reason the patch that the walk is in was reforested. It must have seemed a quite revolutionary idea at the time. Many of the trees are labelled, it makes for a very pleasant and informative walk.

A complete contrast awaited us at Hastie’s Swamp where we quickly notched up a list of water birds along with a few migratory waders. We had lunch there. A majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle also dropped by for lunch causing considerable unrest among the residents. From there to Malanda we looked out for Brolga and Sarus Cranes, there are often quite large flocks to be seen in the surrounding fields but on that occasion we were not successful.

For a commercial caravan site Malanda is a very pleasant place to camp. There is plenty of room and easy walking access to the Johnstone River and the Malanda Falls Conservation Park. There is a new and rather splendid visitor centre in the conservation park. We took tea in the company of Red-legged Pademelons and two of Australia’s Megapodes, the Brush Turkey and the Orange-footed Scrubfowl. These are mound building birds. They lay their eggs in their mound where the vegetable matter they have incorporated composts providing all the necessary heat for incubation. The youngsters hatch, dig their way out and are immediately able to fend for themselves.