October, 2001

  This is a sample of our Newsletter's diverse and interesting content.
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 On the Larapinta Trail

 Soilborne Diseases Symposium

 Wattle Day

  What's in a Name

  The Common Bronzewing

  Farewell .. Friend Number One

 Margaret Wallner Memorial Bench

Helping Hand

Palm Colony

On the Larapinta Trail

Anne PhillipsVolunteer Guide

Our purpose for going to Central Australia was to walk the Larapinta Trail, a long-distance walking track (at present over 150 km and currently being extended) along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs west to Mt Sonder an Mt Razorback.   This ancient, arid landscape, the same as depicted in the paintings of Albert Namatjira and Rex Battarbee, held an attraction for Margaret Lynch, Delores Saulter and me.  
Being guides at ANBG, we were very keen to see the plants, and our introduction to these was by Peter Fannin at Uluru.   The brother of Anne Urban, author of Wildflowers and Plants of Central Australia (soon to be in print again), Peter had us sucking nectar from Grevillea eriostachya and feeling the difference in sharpness between Triodia irritans and Triodia pungens which is softer, but sticky.   We also saw the Desert Oak (Allocasuarina decaisneana) standing like a grey/green sentinel while sending its roots deep down, and only after many years, when the tree is quite tall, does it develop its canopy branches.  
We were treated to a visit to the warehouse where the Aboriginal carved artworks are stored before being sold either locally through the Maruku Art and Craft Centre, or wholesale to shops and galleries around Australia or overseas.   The two main timbers used for these carvings are River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), the most widely distributed eucalypt in Australia, and the yellow roots of Mulga (Acacia aneura).   I'd never seen so many lizards and snakes!  
Our second introduction to the flora was at the Desert Park at Alice Springs with its wonderful display of Sturt's Desert Pea (Swainsona formosus).   There were lots of birds to see, and in the nocturnal house were some rare and endangered animals including the bilby and mala.  
Then we began the eight-day walking trip with five others as keen as us for the quiet, open spaces, plus our guide and our caterer/driver from World Expeditions.  We set off from Alice Springs Telegraph Station, a 17 km walk to Wallaby Gap, encountering Port Lincoln Parrots and a Child's Python.   Two plants we were to see throughout were Indigofera leucotricha, blue/grey pincushions dotting the landscape and Ptilotus spp with their pink fluffy heads.  
You've heard the saying "it never rains in the desert".   Well, a storm hit us at Simpsons Gap, soaking the swags, and as we couldn't pack them away wet, we only did a short walk next morning while they dried.   We saw a 300-year-old Ghost Gum (Eucalyptus papuana), and a large flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.  

Day 4, Jay Creek to Standley Chasm, though only 12 km, was the hardest.   Up and down steep ridges, I could have done with an oil can to lubricate my knee and hip joints.  But it was a gem of a day - weather perfect, scenery spectacular and flowers fabulous.   The camera happily clicked all day.   I came across a small pocket of Holly Grevillea (Grevillea wickhyamii).   Up the side of a steep incline was red-budded Finke River Mallee (Eucalyptus sessilis), and the rare Hakea grammatophylla, bright pink and beautiful. 

Eucalyptus sessilis

A singular showing of Hibbertia glaberrima, then a small patch of Eucalyptus orbifolia with its blue/green heart-shaped leaves and miniritchi bark.   We had an arduous descent into a gully filled with Macrozamia macdonnellii.   And at the end of the walk another taxing descent, squeezing through rock holes, shuffling along slippery logs and wading through crotch-deep (to those with short legs) water to arrive at the back of Standley Chasm.  

Macrozamia macdonnellii

We were rained out again that night - more sodden bedclothes.   Thank goodness there were vacancies at Glen Helen Gorge Resort (outback hotel/motel standard), situated on the Finke River, said to be the oldest river in the world.   From here we drove to Ormiston Gorge for an 8 km walk.   Spied Sturt's Desert Rose (Gossypium sturianum), on the side of the road. 
Next day, clear but windy and cold, we climbed Mt Sonder, 1,380 m, doing the 16 km in record time.   It was good to get back to camp early and catch up on identifying the plants we'd seen.   A singer/guitarist was playing at the hotel that night with a repertoire of Simon and Garfunkel et al.   Hmmm!   "Let's have a game of darts." But sadly, in the box the barman produced from under the bar, among the broken tails and brass shafts, was one complete dart, and by the end of our long game, its tail also fell off.  
Our last camp was at Finke River National Park where we walked through Palm Valley, the home of about 3,000 rare Red Cabbage Palms (Livistona mariae).   These palms have survived here for some 20,000 years.  
Back at Alice Springs and our final destination before flying home was a visit to Olive Pink Botanic Garden.    Sorry George, but Eucalyptus chippendalei hasn't grown much since it was first planted 30 years ago.  
As always, time runs out and there is so much more to see.   But I'll definitely go back to see some of these places again.   And I will certainly go back to Sultan's Turkish Restaurant in Alice.   They had one of the best belly dancers I had ever seen.

 Soilborne Diseases Symposium  

John Nightingale, Director of Living Collections

A staff bursary awarded by the Friends  of the ANBG was used to pay for my travel to and registration at the Second Australasian Soilborne Diseases Symposium which was held in Lorne, Victoria, from 6 to 8 March, 2001.    Around 140 delegates from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and North America attended with the vast majority of these being plant pathologists from departments of agriculture or primary industry, CSIRO and universities as well as primary industry groups and suppliers of plant protection products or services.  

In reflecting the complexity of interactions between plant roots, pathogens and soil environments the papers presented were generally of a highly technical nature and focused on topics such as the development and marketing of new molecular diagnostic techniques for soilborne diseases;   the biofumigation benefits of rotations using some brassica crops;  alternatives to methyl bromide for soil fumigation;   and the use of organic amendments as a disease control strategy.   Much attention was given to controlling a range of soil inhabiting nematodes which affect the productivity of many farming systems.   A number of papers looked at the future directions of plant pathology with a focus on the need for sustainable development in plant protection and the protection of environmental systems.  

Of greatest interest to me were a number of presentations on the fungal pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi which included studies of the effects, both beneficial and otherwise, of phosphite sprays to control this pathogen in natural ecosystems, resilience of different ecosystems to the disease and the development of improved resistance to the disease in waxflower crops.  

Armillaria luteobubalina , our worst plant health problem at the ANBG, received little attention beyond a poster presentation titled Molecular Detection and Identification of Armillaria species in Eastern Australia which was produced by researchers from Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and Sydney University.   This technique has been used at the ANBG to identify the different clones of Armillaria on our site.  

I consider my attendance at the Conference to have been very worthwhile.   Besides enabling me to become acquainted with the current direction of research into soilborne diseases and crop protection strategies in Australia and overseas, it confirmed the need for integrated management of plant pest and diseases to help ensure a sustainable future for us all.   I thank the Friends of the ANBG for making my attendance possible through the granting of a staff bursary.

Wattle Day 

Andrew Walker, Volunteer Guide


The Farrer Primary School Choir
Photo by Andrew Walker

While wet weather may have deterred many people from attending the Wattle Day celebrations held at the Gardens on 1 September, it failed to dampen the spirits of those who came.  

Proceedings kicked off in the Crosbie Morrison building with a live radio broadcast of Canberra's popular Gardening Show, hosted by Alex Sloan and Mark Carmody.   Predictably, the program's successful formula of relaxed, friendly banter, laced with a wealth of useful gardening advice, attracted an enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were eager and entertaining participants.  

Perhaps the highlight of the day was the citizenship ceremony at which 34 people became Australian citizens.   ACT Chief Minister Gary Humphries officiated at the ceremony and all those present were treated to a lively and well-presented performance of several choral pieces suitable for the occasion by members of the Farrer Primary School Choir.  

Other attractions during the day included Mulligan's Bush Band and Cassidy's Ceili.   Their performances were superb and it was a pity that more people were not there to hear them.   Canberra's spring weather has a lot to answer for.   The Friends supported the occasion by organising the refreshments and by leading several special wattle walks for those who were not affraid of getting wet.


What's in a Name?

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

The Crosbie Morrison Building - A Centre for Environmental Education.  

This building at the Australian National Botanic Gardens was opened in 1992 to provide classroom facilities for student visitors to the Gardens.   It was named to honour Morrison's enormous contribution to natural history education in Australia.  

Philip Crosbie Morrison (1900-1958) was born and educated in Melbourne.   In 1918 he was on the staff of Wesley College's preparatory school as a chemistry demonstrator.   To raise funds for university study he spent eighteen months on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, with a firm that extracted resin from the local 'grass-tree'Xanthorrhoea tateana.   He started zoology at the University of Melbourne and won a scholarship to carry out research on reef organisms, particularly plankton, on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.  

He became a competent photographer, a skill he learnt from his father.   He was a cadet journalist on the Melbourne Argus and was successively a general reporter, shipping roundsman, leader of the State parliamentary press gallery and a member of the literary staff.  

He was poached from the Argus by Sir Keith Murdoch of the Melbourne Herald who appointed him editor of the new monthly magazine Wild Life.   The magazine was published from 1938 to 1954.  (It helped to develop my own interest in natural history).    To publicise this magazine Morrison began a series of radio broadcasts about natural history at 6 pm on Sunday on Melbourne station 3DB-3LK.   This was an unpopular timeslot which lacked a commercial sponsor, but before the program was five years old, a survey found that 78 per cent of all Victorian radios switched on at that time on Sunday evening were tuned to Morrison.  (This was pre-TV!).   Later the program was relayed throughout Australia and New Zealand, and was extended to South Africa.   It ran for over 20 years.  

Morrison's warm and clear speaking style and very wide knowledge guaranteed him an interested and faithful audience.   He inspired many to specialise in aspects of natural history study.   For example, one young man from Maryborough, Victoria, was inspired by Morrison to supply Red-back Spiders to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the production of antivenene, and in 43 years supplied more than 50,000 spiders.  

Morrison's talents as a speaker were in great demand.   He was a popular part-time lecturer in natural history for the Melbourne University Extension Board (Council of Adult Education).    In 1942 he was appointed an honorary lecturer in the Australian Army Education Service and visited troops in the Northern Territory and in occupied Japan to show films and to talk about wildlife to Australian servicemen and women.  

He was a trustee, vice-president and later chairman (1955-58) of the National Museum of Victoria.  

He developed a keen interest in Victoria's national parks, and became chairman of the Victorian National Parks Association.  He urged the creation of a national parks authority in Victoria, and when the Austhority was formed in May 1957, Morrison was appointed its first director - a position he held until his death in March 1958.

The Common Bronzewing

Denis Wilson, Volunteer Guide

Photo by G Chapman

The most gentle birdcall in the Australian National Botanic Gardens is frequently heard in springtime - from now until Christmas, in fact.   It is made by a bird, which epitomises the spirit of gentleness.    A dedicated vegetarian, it is non-aggressive, unlike some other vegetarian birds such as the parrots and cockatoos, which regularly squabble with each other and make an unseemly din with their raucous calls.   In its colourings, this bird's subtle hues blend perfectly with the soft pinks, greys and shiny greens of the Australian bush to produce a perfect camouflage.   And patience must be this bird's ultimate characteristic.  

I remember vividly when leading one of my first guided walks through the Gardens, this time two years ago, slowing my group down till they all realised, without a word being spoken between us, that there was a bird walking along the path, a mere 20 metres in front of us, through the Sydney Region.   We slowed to match our speed with that of this bird's stubby orange-pink legs.   We then proceeded along till our path joined another cross-track, at which point our bird went one way, and my group went another.   And we all started to breathe again, and talk in excited whispers.   Because this bird has such a calm manner about it you never want to startle it into flight.   

When walking through the Gardens people often hear a gentle, low OOOMM sound, repeated at brief intervals, for minutes on end.   They do not recognise it as a bird call, but it is the call of the Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera).   This is a large bird, a plump pigeon - much larger than the busy little Crested Pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) which have made Canberra their home over the last 10 years or so.   Apart from cockatoos, currawongs and ravens few other birds seen in the Gardens would be as large as the Bronzewing.  

The bird has the subtle colours of the Australian bush washed all through its plumage.   There is a large buff patch on the forehead, the back and wings are gently marked in shades of brown and grey, and its breast is a lovely pinkish grey, fading to cream underneath.   Its wings carry a distinctive sheen and give a light refraction effect to bring up wonderful iridescent colours of green, orange and purple in certain light.   Although these colours may sound dull, they are the colours of the Australian forest floor, of bark and leaves amongst which this bird finds its food.   But they achieve a gentle blending which would do justice to any artist's palette.  

The Bronzewing is just one of many Australian pigeons to have iridescent markings on its wing feathers.   Another of these, the Crested Pigeon, which is now a regular visitor to the more open section of the Gardens along the bottom fence, also has a patch of iridescent feathers on the centre of its wing.   However, these feathers tend to be predominantly pink and purple rather than the green and bronze tones of the Bronzewing.  

The Common Bronzewing breeds each year in the Gardens, typically making a flimsy nest on a horizontal fork in a large eucalypt, or sometimes in a more dense shrub, such as found in the Myrtaceae plantings in the lower slopes of the Gardens.   I have also found it nesting in a clump of Wonga-wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana) - which is slightly ironic, as that plant shares its name with yet another Australian pigeon, but one which is not found in the Gardens.  

When you hear the call of the Bronzewing, it may take many minutes to trace the source of the call, because each call lasts less than a second, which is not long for your ears to pick up the direction from which the call is coming.   If you get close to the bird, it may simply cease calling.   Don't be disheartened by this.   It means you are very close indeed.   Stand very still for a few minutes, and if the call does not resume, quietly move away, and listen for the call to resume.   If it does, almost certainly you were probably directly underneath where the bird was sitting, patiently waiting for cooler weather in the late afternoon.    Their favourite perch is on a stout branch high in a Brittle Gum (Eucalyptus mannifera).   When feeding, primarily in the morning and late afternoon, these birds will be found walking along on the ground, collecting some of the abundant harvest of Acacia seeds spilled onto the ground every year in the Gardens.   This makes the Gardens a wonderful home for these delightful birds.

Farewell ..
Friend Number One

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

Late in 1990 Margaret Hendry was enrolled as the first member of the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. In 1989-90 she was one of the members of a committee set up to establish the Friends.

In her early years she worked as a gardener and went to night school, saving enough money to attend one of the few full-time courses in landscape design available at that time. After graduating in horticulture from Burnley Horticultural College, Melbourne, in 1948, and teaching there for two years, she studied Landscape Design at Durham University in the U.K. and worked with Dame Sylvia Crowe on town development. She travelled widely in Europe, returning to Australia via the USA where she did a course at the University of California.

During 1963-74 Margaret was a landscape architect with the National Capital Development Commission in Canberra. There she was associated with the design of the Cotter Dam Recreation Reserve, Gungahlin Cemetery, Belconnen Town Centre, and many playing fields, housing areas and shopping centres.

During 1974-85 she was the inaugural Senior Lecturer, School of Environmental Design, Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra). She retired in 1987 because of ill health but continued to offer her expertise in consulting roles.

In 1982 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

Margaret Hendry was involved in a wide range of activities in the Canberra community including helping to establish the Motor Neurone Support Group. She did much behind the scenes. She was an active member and President of the Soroptimist Club in Canberra, and President of the NSW Division of the Professional Women's Clubs.

Margaret died on 20 March 2001.


Helping Hand


Photo by Barry Brown, ANBG

The attractive plant featured here is the cultivar, Helichrysum 'Helping Hand', especially selected as the flower of the International Year of Volunteers. Identifying and propagating this special plant has been a co-operative project between Volunteering ACT and the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

This flower will be officially launched at Parliament House on 2 November by Senate President Margaret Reid, ACT patron for the International Year of Volunteers 2001. Appropriately, this will take place during the National Conference of Volunteer Guides in Botanic Gardens, hosted by the Friends of the ANBG.

Helychrysum 'Helping Hand' will be available for sale and can be grown successfully across most of the nation.


Margaret Wallner
Memorial Bench

A special bench in memory of Margaret Wallner, former Friend and Volunteer guide who died in 1998, was installed in the garden behind the Banks Centre on 23 August. The bench was designed and crafted by her nephew, David Appel, from Desert Oak (Allocasuarina decaisneana), the warm, red timber of which is both very attractive and weather resistant.


David Appel and Darrell Wallner on the new bench.
Photo by Andrew Walker

Palm Colony
for the Rainforest Gully

Some new additions are coming to the rainforest in October. The Friends have donated $5,000 to purchase some mature Livistona palms - L. australis (common on NSW coastal slopes and southern QLD) and L. decipiens (occurring from Fraser Island to Townsville, so hopefully their maturity gives them the strength to withstand Canberra's cold weather). The trees have come from a Rockhmapton tree farm and are being planted in time for the Guides Conference in late October.

When next you are in the gardens and visit the rainforest, say hello to Toby Golson who looks after this project, and he'll tell you more about the palms.


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Compiled 20 November, 2001 by Shirley McKeown   -  email : wombats1@tpg.com.au