August 31, 2012

Hot town

It's not the first day of spring in Australia until tomorrow, but for Brits in Bris it has felt like summer for weeks. The weather has been glorious: clear, sunny skies; pleasantly warm days and not-too-cool nights. Pretty-near perfect weather for north Europeans, I would guess. Two or three weeks ago the chill in the shadows disappeared, since when it's been warming up nicely. The sky has started to lose its intense blue and become heat-hazy (above). They predicted 28 degrees yesterday, although a gusty breeze kept the max temp down to 25.6 in the end. There were sprinkles overnight, but it hasn't rained in Brisbane since 19 July. It will get cooler before it gets hot-hot, but I have felt the promise of those long hot days ahead.

In common with many northern European expats, I bemoan the absence of light evenings here, even in the middle of summer. But, encouragingly, this week the sun is setting behind the right-hand reaches of the CBD, as seen from my city-side balcony (below), not out of sight around the corner of the building. You can't imagine how happy that makes me. Soon there will be morning sunshine on one side and golden afternoons on the other, and all will be well with the world. (Well, apart from the impact of climate change, but that's not for this post.)
As I walked to the CityCat with a friend the other day, she speculated about how on earth we were going to manage when we have to return to live in the UK. The soul-soaring effects of sunshine most days of your life cannot be underestimated, and she and I never take it for granted for a minute. I have always moaned about the weather back home, ever since I was a little girl and desperately wanted to live somewhere else in Europe. I'll have to have therapy so that I shut my mouth whenever I feel an 'Aah, when we used to live in Brisbane...' moment coming on.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the sparkling river and the Turner-esque sunsets and the spring flowers and the birds busy nest-building and the wonderful warmth. This morning I even woke up to find that Brisbane had miraculously relocated to be beside the sea.



August 30, 2012

A little bird

As I sat in my apartment last Friday, minding my own business, a small parrot-like bird* crash-landed on the balcony. It flew into a big patio window with a thud, making me jump. I saw a feather floating and then spotted the tiny thing sitting on the floor behind a plant pot. It looked stunned, and then a bit twitchy, but it wasn't moving much. For about half an hour it seemed to be checking if its wings were working; it hopped on and off an ornamental seagull – and then tried to fly, straight into the glass again. A few minutes later, it finally took off, careening into the balustrade a couple of times. I don't know if it could have survived: when I downloaded my photographs, I realised its face was bloodied and its beak scrunched. It had been a trying week.

First there was the harrowing Four Corners on the demise of the koala. I have since spoken to several people who watched the programme and they were all angry and/or upset. OK, so now you have to lobby those who have a mandate to stop the developers' dozers. If you didn't see the programme, watch it here and be very very concerned – http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/
2012/08/16/3569231.htm.

The next morning, Tuesday, we learned that escaping methane had been burning in the western Downs near Dalby since Saturday. It was suggested over subsequent days that this must be related to Arrow Energy's extraction of water to release coal-seam gas in their nearby Daandine gas field. Engineer and geologist Dr Gavin Mudd of Monash University explained that,
'By pumping out all the water, the ground water pressure drops allowing gas to start flowing in places it never flowed in the past. It could surface anywhere including from old coal wells. It beggars belief that companies fiddling with methane are trying to pretend there is no risk of gas leaks.'
Head-in-the-sand Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell denied that his advisors had briefed him that there might be such a connection. Drew Hutton, head of Lock the Gate, argued that any advisors worth having must at least have warned him of the likelihood, even if none of them wanted to believe it.

Since March, Queensland has had a Gasfields Commissioner. A former president of Agforce, the 'unifying voice of Queensland's beef, sheep and grain producers since 1999', John Cotter should be the right person to address farmers' concerns about the encroachment of CSG development on prime agricultural land and the increased risk of fire, especially in the upcoming bushfire season. Total transparency on the part of the gas companies and proper regulation of their practices by government will be what landowners expect Mr Cotter to help deliver. He backed calls for an investigation of the causes of the fire. But did we ever get a full explanation of why the Condamine River was bubbling 'like a spa bath' (Drew Hutton) a few months back?

On Thursday came the news that Tony Burke, Federal Environment Minister, had approved, with 19 conditions, the Alpha Mine in the Galilee Basin and the associated rail corridor to Abbot Point coal-exporting port. The Minister has emphasised the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the Caley Valley Wetlands, but his conditions also include a management plan to protect threatened fauna listed by the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation). And, of particular interest to those of us waiting to see whether the China First Coal project also gets approval, there is another condition: that the Alpha Mine developer, Hancock-GVK, must set up a trust, with initial funding of $2 million, to conduct research on the Black-throated Finch and the Squatter Pigeon, 'with provision for a more strategic approach to protect all key species in the Galilee Basin in the event that any further mines are approved in the basin'.

Another condition of approval is 'significant and comprehensive land offsets to protect listed threatened ecological communities and species'. Those who have read my Bimblebox updates may recall that I promised to tackle the subject of offsets at least a couple of months ago. My reluctance stems from deep misgivings about how offsetting can possibly work in the case of, for example, an isolated remnant ecosystem. Just as I never quite understood how planting a few trees could offset my carbon footprint from flying across Europe on holiday, I can't imagine how you can replicate a unique area, of desert upland for example, elsewhere in the eastern bio region. There are no matching pieces of land, with the same soil profile for instance, which is established over time and supports plant and animal species that thrive in that particular ecosystem alone.

A land-based offset management plan must meet a number of criteria. The most interesting of these is a demonstration of ecological equivalence, which is defined by 'ecological condition' (such as whether or not there's a tree canopy or large amounts of organic litter) and 'special features' (such as whether an area is a strategic ecological corridor or contains a large variety of species). Each category has 14 ecological equivalence indicators. I have so far been unable to find out if certain indicators have been earmarked by the Department of the Environment as relating specifically to the survival of species seriously threatened by the Alpha coal project, or if it is up to the developer to identify the significant characteristics of an ecosystem as they create an offset management plan. For a complete list of equivalence indicators, see http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/
management/environmental-offsets/measuring-ecological-
equivalence.html.

Minister's Burke's Alpha approval didn't quite satisfy Mr Newman's deputy, Jeff Seeney, however. He complained that Mr Burke's decision was overdue and, moreover, he has many other projects on his desk awaiting approval. The Federal Minister denied this was the case, and so the spat that began a few weeks ago when Queensland's Co-ordinator General approved this project was rekindled. On 26 July Minister Burke sent Premier Newman and open letter, which means it was a media release as well. In it he said:
'Let me be clear, if what you want is for me to give approvals without conducting checks, then I will stand in your way. If you want the Government to let you trash the Great Barrier Reef, we will stand in your way. If you want to clear fell every acre of koala habitat in south east Queensland, we will stand in your way. This Government will continue to work with industry, we will continue to get good environmental outcomes and good employment outcomes for Queensland, but no matter how many times you ask, if you want to indulge in environmental corner cutting, shambolic process and environmental vandalism, we will have none of it.' 
Strong stuff, eh, from Mr Burke?

There is currently much talk of Australia's mining boom being over, or half over, or still as strong as it ever was. Federal Government ministers talked at cross purposes last week – who's talking about an investment boom and who's talking about commodity prices? – while BHP Billiton shelved their expansion plans for Olympic Dam, a large mining centre (copper, uranium, gold and silver) and processing plant in South Australia. Of course, Tony Abbott, leader of Federal Opposition, blamed BHP's decision on the carbon tax even though the company cited commodity prices. The day Abbott utters sound-bites that don't include churlish connections to the 'carbon tax' will indeed be newsworthy.

* It was, in fact, a Budgerigar, and a domestic one, my friend thought, going off its colouring. (I can never understand why people must keep birds in cages here, when there is such a rich variety of birdlife right outside their front doors.)
This post was last edited on 2 October 2012



August 21, 2012

'Koalas declared extinct in Australia'

'Yesterday the Federal Environment Minister, Anna Rose, reported to a silent Parliament in Canberra that, since there have been no koala sightings in the wild for the last 18 years, her Department had reluctantly revised the animal's conservation status to EW – extinct in the wild. She added that numbers in wildlife sanctuaries in Queensland and Victoria had failed to recover significantly in the last five years, and that breeding and translocation programmes had been largely unsuccessful.'
Did you see Four Corners: Koala Crunch Time last night? If you did, how long do you think it will be before you're reading something like the above on the ABC or in The Age? Twenty years? Fifty years? What did you think as you watched the programme? It can't have come as a complete surprise to you to learn of diving koala populations, in Southeast Queensland in particular, where there is an insatiable demand, still, for development, and apparently at any cost.

I last wrote about koalas nearly a year ago (see Koala alert, September 2011). I've been back to Noosa National Park several times since I last saw a koala in the wild, in February 2011. By August of that year, the park information office said they hadn't seen any koalas for a couple of months. There was better news a couple of weeks ago, a year on, although we didn't spot any on our walk to Hell's Gates. Our visitors had to content themselves with the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary at Fig Tree Pocket in Brisbane, which never fails to impress, but you can't beat seeing a koala sitting in a gum tree in the bush.

Last night's programme started in Coomera, at the northern end of, and inland from, the Gold Coast. Here a rural/rural residential area has been transformed into a new 'satellite growth suburb'. In 2006-07, the Gold Coast City Council estimated there were 500 koalas in the koala habitat of East Coomera, about 3640 hectares, and acknowledged that the proposed development would pose a serious threat to them. The Council's conservation project currently involves the 'translocation' of about 200 animals to a reserve in nearby Pimpana.

Coomera is just part of the story of the catastrophic fall in koala numbers in Southeast Queensland. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke put the koalas of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory on the endangered species list back in April of this year following a recommendation by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. They had calculated that between 1990 and 2010 the number of koalas in New South Wales had reduced by a third, and in Queensland by as much as 43 per cent. The Koala Coast Koala Population Report for the Queensland Government made even grimmer reading: between 1999 and 2010 koala numbers plummeted from 6000 to 2000. While in the Mulga Lands bioregion straddling the QLD-NSW border further inland, the population crashed by 85 per cent between 1995 and 2009.

You surely don't need any more evidence? My own experience – no koalas seen in Burleigh Head National Park in at least two years – suggests to me that Queensland, and other eastern states, face a very stark choice. If, my Australian friends, you want to save your cutest iconic symbol, you have to stop the destruction of its habitat. NOW. Endless development – and the clearing of land for mining and infrastructure is, obviously, just as devastating – means more roads, more koalas killed and injured by traffic, and more pet dogs attacking and maiming them. It also means starvation and greater susceptibility to stress and disease.

You have to ask yourselves, does the Gold Coast really need to spread further inland into a satellite suburb? And at what cost? You can't continue to delude yourselves that you can protect wildlife while building endless residential developments and leisure facilities and shopping malls and roads. Let your government at all levels know that the time for prevarication and kowtowing to developers has to end. You can't build here because these gum trees are protected in a koala reserve. And no, we can't move them out of the way. Go and build someplace else. Sorry we said a few years back that it was OK: in fact, it's not, so here are a few thousand dollars compensation for your trouble. Governments CAN do this if it is the will of the people.

Watching Koala Crunch Time made me very angry; possibly angrier than I've been since I got here. And deeply upset. See for yourselves at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/08/16/
3569231.htm.

John Callaghan, Koala Conservation Manager for the Gold Coast City Council, looked distraught as he released 'Nita' back into a tree, a huge tracking collar around her neck. She cried pitifully as she climbed the tree and I thought he would cry, too. If ever there was a man whose heart was not in his work, it was this one. I'd never heard a koala make a sound like that and I hope I never hear it again.

I am reminded of the 'tragic tale of the Tasmanian Tiger'*. Will we ever learn?

* See Tasmania: the beautiful and damned, May 2012
This post was last edited on 2 October 2012



August 20, 2012

Bimblebox 5: August update

I returned to the Tribal Theatre in George Street last Friday evening. I went to listen to writer and 'Woman on the mountain', Sharyn Munro. Her latest book (above) chronicles the impact of the coal and, more recently, coal seam gas industries on country communities and the Australian landscape.

You should read this book. You will be moved to tears in places, but your overwhelming feeling will be one of shock and utter disbelief at what is being allowed to happen in communities across all the states of this nation. As more and more opencast mines and gas wells have started production and older mining areas expand, farmers and families and retirees alike fight for their land and their futures in long wars of attrition. Time-consuming monitoring of mining companies to ensure that the conditions of approval are adhered to and environmental breaches recorded and investigated means people have time for little else in their lives. In the meantime, their health and that of their families deteriorates in an increasingly polluted environment; and the mental toll is often far greater. These are true Aussie battlers.

Sharyn spent over a year travelling to many parts of Australia, from Queensland's Bowen Basin to Margaret River in WA, recording the stories of hundreds of people. Her book is a detailed catalogue of their experiences; of their struggles and their heartbreak. Like Sharyn, you will ask why these people's local councils, state government and Federal Government aren't doing more to protect them from the ravages of mining. Most of what the mining companies are doing, of course, is perfectly legal. You will wonder why it is that many of these resources are being plundered by largely foreign-owned companies, and their spoils shipped far away. These are the deals bolstering the Australian economy, is the simple answer. As you read of broken promises to limit the devastation and rehabilitate the desecrated land and you get to grips with the scale of operations, you may care to imagine what large tracts of the Australian landscape will look like in half a century. Finally, you might like to consider the fact that, while the millions of tonnes of fossil fuels exported to other countries are exacerbating global warming nicely, Australians are not using much of these cheap energy sources themselves, or benefiting from job opportunities generated by their extraction (mining is highly mechanised). Tourism employs many more people, but how many visitors will be coming to these shores in 50 years' time. Will they be still snorkeling off the Reef, or road-tripping out west into the bush? And what state will much of Australia's current prime agricultural land be in by then?

The Tribal Theatre is where, in March, I watched the Bimblebox premiere, since when nothing has quite been the same as it was before.

There is no concrete news of the Nature Refuge's fate. The Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, on its Current EIS Projects web page, still has 'Supplementary report to EIS being prepared by proponent' alongside Waratah's 'China First Coal' project. (That's where all the coal will be going, you see. China, first and foremost.) The 'Construction proposed start date', 2012, is looking increasingly unlikely, however. No news is good news on this front, I feel, especially as Waratah CEO Clive Palmer has recently made himself unpopular with certain Queensland Government ministers (see LNP infighting: Who do you do?, August 2012). And speculation about nervous foreign investors and a limited, uncertain future for coal mining gains momentum. In late July, Deloitte Access Economics – 'Australian's leading private-sector economics advisory' – predicted the current mining boom will last just two years.
'Mining companies are making it clear the current spike in investment is due to decisions taken a while back, whereas we are getting few new mega-mining projects across the line.'
This may or may not be an unrealistic estimate. More importantly, the consequences of Australia's rather myopic attitude to its resources boom was considered a couple of weeks ago in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/the-paradox-of-debate-it-is-deep-only-in-so-far-as-its-in-a-hole-20120730-239y1.html). The complacency described in the article is by no means confined to this continent, however.

The Federal Government has only just returned to work following its winter break, so we haven't heard much more from Environment Minister Tony Burke following his disagreement with Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney about the approval process for mining proposals in Queensland. I wonder how much thought Minister Burke has given recently to the possible demise of the southern Black-throated Finches should Bimblebox become an opencast coal mine?

A lot has changed since March, in fact. Before watching Bimblebox that night in Brisbane, I had only heard the name a few times, and it was always accompanied by an explanation of its plight. Now, if you're in the company of anyone even remotely concerned about Australia's wild places or her strategic cropping lands, no one needs that explanation. Politicians and other interviewees on talkback radio no longer qualify references to Bimblebox.

Last Friday, Sheena Gillman of Birds Queensland introduced Sharyn Munro and the Protect the Bush Alliance, a recently formed group that includes the National Parks Association of Queensland, Wildlife Queensland, Birdlife Southern Queensland and Birds Queensland. Sheena outlined the aims of the Alliance – to promote the protection of areas of High Conservation Value, and to identify and encourage activities that improve understanding of the areas' biodiversity and environmental values. The practical side of these aims will include the collection of data about biodiversity on such sites and the preparation of submissions to inquiries.

Drew Hutton of the Lock the Gate Alliance was also at the Tribal Theatre. He briefed us about the impending 'battle' for Cecil Plains on the Darling Downs. Farmers in this valuable agricultural region on the Condamine floodplain have been engaged in trying to prevent Arrow Energy's CSG development in the area. Here the soils are rich and the water used for crops comes from the Great Artesian Basin: farming involves precision drainage and cropping methods that are not at all compatible with gas wells and pipelines and all their trappings.

One more fight for survival and sanity. Several people I have spoken to recently seem to be anticipating that one day soon a local group of activists will succeed in focusing the attention of the whole nation on the plight of those communities fighting essentially for Australia's future. Will it be the farmers of the Darling Downs? Details will be posted soon on http://lockthegate.org.au of how you can help them out over the next few weeks. I will update that link when I have the information.
courtesy of Peter Lewis and the Newcastle Herald



August 17, 2012

LNP infighting: Who do you do?

There's this game we used to play; way back. It was called Who do you do? Each person had to choose between two equally appalling options, or die. Usually fortified by copious amounts of red wine, we absolutely had to make a choice between two individuals, however undesirable, even grotesque, they might be. The greater your anguish, the more fun your friends had. At its simplest, you would be offered desperately unattractive people: if they were an anathema politically or a religious zealot or some other kind of oddball, so much the better.

I was reminded of this game this week while listening to news of the latest spat between Campbell Newman and Clive Palmer: the former is State Premier and leader of the Liberal National Party in Queensland; the latter an eccentric billionaire, life member of and generous contributor to the LNP. Supposing in some bizarre constituency I had to choose between the two of them, I suddenly thought. Surprisingly, it wouldn't be that difficult. A harder choice would be between Newman and Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott; or Palmer and Federal Opposition Treaurer Joe Hockey. (In the UK, a truly awful choice, for me, would be between PM David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne.) And what about women contenders? Well, I've been trying to think of someone suitable to pair with Gina Rinehart. Or Julia Gillard. Or Federal Opposition Deputy Leader Julie Bishop.

I've noticed that since his election in March, Premier Newman has distanced himself from Clive Palmer on a number of occasions; either by claiming not to have spoken to him for ages or refusing to speculate when Palmer briefly flirted with the idea of running for State Parliament. Palmer loves calling press conferences, whether it's about his plans for Titanic 2 or a mega-mega resort on the Sunshine Coast, and unfortunately the media are willing listeners. This week, however, as the honeymoon for the LNP seems to be well and truly over, the large mining investor stepped up to pontificate on rather less trivial topics. He suggested that the State Government should stop hitting Aussie battlers by cutting their jobs in order to relieve Queensland's enormous deficit, and start investing for growth. An example would presumably be by approving Palmer's plans for a massive coal mining development in Central West Queensland so that the State receives lots of royalties in the coffers, right?

The reaction of Newman and his No 2 henchman Jeff Seeney was swift and vicious. They accused Palmer of sour grapes, having tried and failed to use his wealth and influence to lobby his LNP contacts in favour of his commercial and political interests. But he would have to go through the proper channels, they asserted, and would not be treated any differently from anyone else. Moreover, some of Mr Palmer's proposals 'frankly are inappropriate'. Newman and Seeney were on a roll: they almost sounded like environmental defenders for a minute.

Now, the public sector workers' union has claimed that Palmer is more in touch with public opinion than the Government. And Palmer is backing Labor calls for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate a potential conflict of interest in the fact that the lobbying company of a former staffer of Mr Seeney (when he was in Opposition) represents GVK-Hancock, who in June were awarded the right to build a rail link serving the Galilee and Bowen coal-mining regions. Clive Palmer was also in the running for that project. Oh what a tangled web we weave...

The Premier took questions on talkback radio yesterday morning. You could hear the barely controlled anger in some of the callers' voices. The cuts are hurting; but my sympathy is limited. At the last election, so desperate were Queenslanders for political change and to punish Labor for selling off State assets a few years ago, that they threw democratic process out alongside Labor's Anna Bligh by denying her party as Opposition enough seats to be able to effectively debate, let alone challenge, the LNP's disaster capitalism. Yet already the voters are squealing with discontent.

Most people agree that public sector pruning was necessary: to an outsider, the bureaucratic burden of many systems in this country certainly needs overhaul. And Queenslanders do not shy from pulling together under duress.

Another caller this morning – and I detected Geordie in his accent – agreed with a suggestion that the Government is not selling its policies properly. Don't just bang on about how awful the state of the State is. Explain how sacrifice will bring forth betterment, less debt and, ultimately, greater wealth. That's not what disaster capitalism is about, however. You have to convince often a demoralised people just how appallingly bad things are so that unpalatable and unfair measures are tolerated in order to restore the status quo. What this retrenchment means, in practice, is the consolidation of the system whereby the few benefit at the expense of the many.

So, at the next opportunity, be very very careful who you choose.


August 16, 2012

I know it's only words, but...

Recently at my Pilates class I used the word 'crook' to describe my knee. I hadn't planned to: it just popped out. I'm not sure I used it correctly. Crook may mean ill or sick, rather than injured. I also surprised myself in David Jones (Australia's John Lewis) while looking for a cover for the thing that you snuggle beneath in bed when it's cold – a doona. Sometimes you have to use the vernacular otherwise people don't understand. 'Quilt cover' drew a blank.

I read Cloudstreet by Tim Winton: it was on my 'essential Aussie read' list. It's a good book that offers a brilliant insight into what it's like to be Australian, but if you're a newbie here you'll need an dictionary to hand. A new word to me – chiack (to jeer or trick) – cropped up a lot. I've no idea how to pronounce it so it doesn't sound like a bird call. In any case, I'm reticent to use new words. The nuances of language come with time, and I'd rather sound terribly English than someone desperate to be fluent in Strine.

My Aussie friends and I have highly entertaining times discussing pronunciation and the use of language. Last week's word was Cairns. I've been there: I've used the name with confidence. (Unlike when I went to Tassie and practised 'Launceston' beforehand so I'd get it right – Lon-sess-ton; three syllables). I've assumed for years the Northern Queensland capital was quite straightforward: Care-n-z, right? Well, not necessarily: ABC reporter and presenter Jessica van Vonderen pronounces it as if she's talking about things in tins. Some travel websites put '(pronounced Cans)' after the name. So now I don't want to talk about it, although I'm going there in a few weeks.

I'm still struggling with gouge and rort and stoush and spruik (see It's only words, December 2011). Now there are new words, phrases, pronunciation and uses of Australian English to acquire.

back-blocks = remote country out west (where are back-blocks in
   relation to Perth?)
bloomist = florist
dud (verb) = to swindle
firies = firefighters
furphy = rumour, fanciful tale
French press = coffee plunger = cafetiรจre
lure pronounced as if it was spelt loo-ah
medal (verb) = to win a medal (at the Limpics)
open slather = freedom to operate without constraint
permeate = by-product of separating cream from milk that has
   previously been added to milk but no longer is, so milk is
   advertised as permeate free or, most recently, 'naturally permeate
   free'. (I suspect most people didn't know they wanted permeate-
   free milk until the bottle told them so.)
realty = real estate (yet another Americanism)
as popular as a snake in a sleeping bag
protest the logging (or whatever). In this sense, protest is an
   intransitive verb, which means it doesn't take an object. You
   protest about something, but not in Australia.

Food opens up a whole new experience here. I am trying to get to grips with the concept of yoghurt cheese... with fennel. I think I must have led a sheltered life. I thought Quark was an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter until I went to Brisbane's Delectable Festival.
And finally, some of my favourite signs.
And, in support of my long campaign against the bastardization of apostrophes...

This post was last edited on 29 September 2012



August 13, 2012

Perfect peace... and granite

There is a place, just over three hours' drive from Brisbane, where I guarantee you will find perfect peace. No distant traffic rumble, no roaring motor bikes, no over-revving of unmuffled engines, no overflying aircraft, and only the occasional, essential gadget. You'll have lots of Eastern Grey kangaroos for company and hear birdsong from first light to sundown. And the Milky Way will straddle the darkest night sky with billions of stars forming a cloud bridge to the further reaches of the galaxy. For this is a special place: this is Girraween.

Girraween lies just east of the New England Highway between Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe in Queensland's Granite Belt, and Wallangarra on the New South Wales border. If you turn off the Highway on to Pyramids Road for the few kilometres to the National Park, you'll pass Girraween Environmental Lodge, where we have stayed before and where we returned last week – to realise our visitors' desire to see roos in the wild.

We'd been in Byron Bay for three days before heading off on the Bruxner Highway (Route 44) across northern New South Wales, via Lismore and Casino, to Tenterfield. Along the way, up on the Richmond Range, we saw Mt Warning from a new angle, and crossed the Clarence River on what is reputed to be the longest single-span wooden bridge in the southern hemisphere, at Tabulam. Beyond here, the Bruxner Highway traverses increasingly remote country, winding up through native forest (with Bell Miners tinking) and pretty deserted rural districts with names such as Sandy Hill and Black Swamp.
Tenterfield is the 'Federation town', where Sir Henry Parkes, an English-born New South Wales Premier, delivered a speech in 1889 that ultimately lead to the federation of the Australian territories 11 years later. We stayed in the delightful, colonial-style Annie's Folly and ate barramundi that evening in the local pub. The New England Highway passes straight through the middle of this small agricultural town (population about 3,000): next day, we shopped for provisions before heading north.
A few kilometres north, a lovely old rickety-rackety railway bridge over Tenterfield Creek sits alongside the highway, but you take your life in your hands to get a decent pic. Less than 20 kilometres up the road is the railway's destination – the border town of Jennings (NSW)/Wallangara (QLD), where the disused station has a plaque describing an old rivalry between the two states.
Girraween Environmental Lodge is surrounded by the National Park on three sides, but has 400 acres of its own that you need never leave if you bring enough provisions. You can walk for hours through open eucalypt forest (and the occasional stand of conifers), crossing creeks and climbing impressive granite outcrops. This time around we combined Rock Pools with Giants Marbles. At the Rock Pools, Ramsay Creek tumbles through pot holes formed along a weakness in the rock: Giants Marbles features a huge granite slab littered with various-sized remnant boulders and dotted with moss- or lichen-filled depressions. Everywhere brilliant-yellow wattle was enhanced by sunlight.
The wooden cabins are set far enough apart in the bush for you to believe you're on your own. Wood-burning heaters make them toasty-warm even on frosty nights – it's 900 metres above sea level here. We had company on an early-morning walk in the form of Tasman, GEL's lively dog-in-residence, but the roos were unimpressed.
 
We observed lots of Crimson Rosellas and King-Parrots, and spotted an (Australasian) Darter, as well as the usual suspects such as Kookaburras, Masked Lapwings, Magpies and Honeyeaters. And on our walk I think I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Long-nosed Bandicoot.
The quickest route to Girraween from Brisbane is down the Cunningham Highway (Route 15) off the Ipswich Motorway west of the city. Join the New England Highway north of Warwick and head south for Stanthorpe (see Great Granite, October 2010). Alternatively, you can take Route 93 at the top of the Cunningham Highway, then Route 90 to Boonah and the Falls Drive (off the Boonah-Rathdowney Road) as far as Killarney Road (see Off road: Mt Superbus and the source of the Condamine, May 2012). Heading south, Killarney Road joins Mount Lindesay Highway (Route 13) at Legume: south of Liston take Amosfield Road to Stanthorpe. This latter route includes an unsealed section, but you won't need a 4x4 under normal weather conditions. 

Whenever I've been to Girraween, I've revelled in the natural sounds and the silence. There are few places down Australia's eastern seaboard where you can escape all forms of noise pollution. The landscape here has a remote feel, yet it's benign and soothing. There's something very pleasing about granite, gum and wattle. In spring the wildflowers are spectacular, and I imagine this place would provide a cool respite from summer in the city. Go and see for yourselves.