Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs

Property 368 – Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

As a child I was fascinated with the theory of continental drift. To me it seemed logical that the continents could move around, especially seeing how neatly the Americas docked with Africa and Europe. But what really captured my imagination was the idea of vast ancient continents, formed by the collision of ancient landmasses and then sundered again leaving the geological and biological debris of our present world.

These ancient supercontinents have been reliably reconstructed and evocatively named. Gondwana (or Gondwanaland) was centred on the south pole and was comprised of the land that now makes up Antarctica, Australia, India, Africa and South America. The temperate rainforests which were believed to have covered much of Gondwana are now mostly gone, but some segments remain in eastern Australia along the Queensland-New South Wales border. This is the World Heritage property in question – a fragment of super-ancient forest which has already yielded such living fossils as the Wollemi Pine.

The part that I visited was in the cake-themed Lamington National Park, inland from the Gold Coast. I’d love to say that I could write about the whole property, but what could I meaningfully say about hundreds of thousands of square kilometres? Lamington will have to do.

I visited ancient Gondwana with friend English Matt and a couple of six year old kids. Most national parks are in inaccessible places, presumably because the easily reached parts are rapidly turned into farms and pasture.  Lamington surrounds an ancient shield volcano which, although now extinct, is still very high up. Happily we were able to drive rather than walk, but with no small amount of bitching from the back seat on account of the time it took. Perhaps we should have walked instead.

The drive up had remarkable views, which I was unable to stop and enjoy as I was busy stuffing snacks into the children’s faces to deaden the noise of the whining. Pastures gave way to woodlands, which in turn gave way to utterly impenetrable forest. As English Matt said, it seemed like we were driving through the island from Jurassic park. Ancient vines wrapped around gnarled and drooping trees, their woody tentacles as thick as my torso. A primeval grey-green gloom was the only available light at the bottom of the canopy. It may have hidden a pack of velociraptors for all I knew.

And then, bafflingly, we were in a car park at the summit of a mountain. Around us lay blue-green forests of eucalyptus and the smell of bad coffee wafted across from a nearby cafeteria. The back-seat complaints briefly halted as I released the juvenile animals from their captivity.

They loped towards an incongruously located passenger aircraft from the 1930s, painted luridly in red and blue. It turned out that this was a model, but a similar aircraft crashed in the general vicinity and the survivors were rescued from perdition by a local outdoorsman. Gazing out over the ocean of green all around me, it seemed that rescue would be difficult even today.

My small pack headed off on a child-friendly walk through the local forest on some well-maintained paths. Not 200 metres into the forest we got the feeling we were watched. To my disappointment it wasn’t a velociraptor, rather a family of small kangaroos. They seemed unconcerned with our presence and carried on eating.

The character of the jungle around us was appealingly ancient. Tall trees were crowned with fern-like fronds that stuck out at right angles. Fig-like monstrosities crowded out the canopy, all the while supporting themselves in the shallow soil with comically large buttress roots. I understand why this property has the evocative title that it does – all the vegetation that I saw seemed to pre-date humanity by a large margin. More than that – it seemed to pre-date mammals, flowers and possibly fish.

My reveries were interrupted by a complaint emerging from the height of my armpit about sore legs. The complainant’s wretched expression resolved somewhat when I suggested that we stop for lunch on a nearby log. As we munched away I reflected on how transient the surface of the earth is. We are lucky enough to have access to ancient pockets of vegetation from place to place, but sooner or later it will all be swept away. Maybe the climate will become much drier and the eucalypts will take over. Perhaps it will turn to desert. Perhaps, much later, this area will be colonised by entirely new plants and animals that don’t even exist yet.

My reverie was interrupted by a resumption of leg-related complaints. I was keen to continue, but I have enough parenting experience to know when a mutiny was brewing. We plunged back into the vines and creepers in search of the carpark and a revitalising but horrendous coffee.

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