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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Australian winters are different

Actinotus minor, the small flannel flower
This is an old piece, slightly freshened. Some of the pictures were taken in the past week, while the others are all species I saw during that time. As I say, our autumns are different, and so are our winters (which begin, officially, on 1 June).

At times, I can be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.  Once I get to a certain point with a book, I set myself artificial and demanding goals and deadlines.  If I am working on an article or a book, I can be even worse.

Actinotus helianthi, the large flannel flower
So winkling me away from the keyboard can be a bit of an exercise, but after a couple of wet days, I was only too willing to get out in the late afternoon sun, and walk a couple of tracks, a couple of months back.

We stepped out, and walked past the park behind our house where perhaps a dozen kites were flying.  I looked carefully at the kite people, but recognising none, we moved off onto the bush track that runs down to a nearby beach.

Eriostemon, probably.
I may have mentioned that my wife is a botanist, and it has probably become apparent to the reader that I have leanings in that direction myself.  So it should not surprise my readers to learn that we started counting the species of plant that were in flower.

Things did not begin well, for the first hundred metres revealed only five species of proper plant and two weeds.  I like to boast that our native bush can always produce a dozen species in flower, even in the lowest autumnal slough of despond.
Grevillea buxifolia, the grey spider flower
Later, we found several pockets of summer carry-overs, taking our total past thirty, but that was later.

We walked on, acknowledging those we passed.  This is an urban trail, a footpath rather than a track, and you can expect to pass maybe a hundred people along the way.  Normally uptight city people would not acknowledge each other, but on a bush track, a different etiquette applies, based on the myth of bush mateship.  Even if it is more of a footpath, it goes through bush , and that changes the normal rules.

Another Grevillea.
At least one member of a party greets at least one member of the other party, and the others at least nod or smile.  It is also acceptable to stop and ask for information about the track ahead from somebody going the other way, or even to draw attention to some feature that might otherwise be missed.  At least this is a step up from the British preoccupation with discussing the weather.

This is fine with us, because autumn weather is usually fine.  Sydney Harbour at this time of year is crammed with boats.  Yachts of all sizes, launches, floating gin palaces and sleek hoon boats all cruise the harbour looking for a peaceful anchorage, out of the wind but in the sun, and the headland tracks reveal glimpses of usually empty bays, crowded with boats.  A kilometre away at Store Beach, five identical floating gin palaces are tied together, and we speculate on their purpose briefly.
Acacia sp., one of thew wattles. We have lots.

Just then we pass an American man in his sixties.  He overhears us discussing a suspicious plant, an aberrant species that we do not recognise, and he asks us whether he can expect to see many more flowers up ahead.  The etiquette of the track is something that people pick up rather quickly, and as he has grasped it, so sensing a fellow human, we take him back 50 metres to see an unexpected orchid, and a sundew.

 A sundew, Drosera spatulata, an insect-catching plant. There was another species there, D. auriculata, which
flowers in spring and summer, but it was in bud already. Sadly, it's impossible to photograph in the field.


  1. ...seems to end rather abruptly Peter...perhaps a link to the full article would help?
    Nofoo Mx

    1. That was all there was to that story. Sorry!