We spent the weekend off on a short trip into the central wheatbelt of Western Australia. Tis’ the season for it – the wildflowers are well grown, the rains are almost over and the sun has returned, so the blooming is beginning to commence. August, September and October are the great wildflower season of this state. Many of the flowers are perennials, bushes that suddenly change from infinite variations of khaki to riots of amazing colour – incandescent yellows, electric purples, candy pinks, sky blues. The most famous though are the everlastings, the fields of paper daisies in pink, white or gold that sprout with the coming of winter rain, grow as hard as they can as soft green shoots then die a glorious death in endless multitudes, their dying moments captured on hundreds of cameras. The fields of everlastings bloom first in the north and slowly move south over four to six weeks. So too move the wildflower tourists.
We travelled the Great Southern Highway from Perth through York and Quairading to Bruce Rock, where we stayed the night, then the next day looped back up to Doodlakine and along the Great Eastern Highway back through Kellerberrin, Tammin and Northam to Perth again. The highways aren’t known as the best wildflower roads but it didn’t matter – the season hadn’t reached this part of the central wheatbelt yet. I chatted with one pair of wildflower seekers who had come to Bruce Rock on their yearly search, and were heading off again to try further north and east, perhaps out by Mukinbudin. I was happy enough with the plethora of acacias, and the many other plants easily overlooked because there was only one of them in a given spot.
The trip was partly about wildflowers, partly about granite rocks, and partly about dryland farming and landcare out this way. I haven’t touched base with the Wheatbelt for a few years and it was about time I did.
I love granite. Granite outcrops are one of my favourite places. So we had to stop at Kokerbin Rock, the third largest monolith in Australia (after Mount Augustus and Uluru). I love them for their own sake, but I’m also very interested in the water management stories that go with them.
I once read of a farmer in an African country that escapes me who’d begun reconstructing his farm from the granite outcrop at the very top of his hill and working down, following the way water ran when it rained, building sinks and swales and channels, patches that absorbed and held water – and the eroding nutrients it carried – and that let it overflow, so that the rain running off the rock created patch after patch of good growing space even though most of the farm was an eroded dustbowl.
The Aboriginal people of Western Australia were similarly aware of the water channelling and holding properties of the rocks. They didn’t farm there, but they used gnamma holes on the rocks as water source and storage in their movements. Which is crucial in areas with, like Kokerbin, less than 400 mm of rain a year that falls mostly all in one season. The immediate surroundings of the rocks are also much lusher woodland due to receiving the extra run-off and nutrients, so they support more animals and a different range of plants than the woodland just a little further away.
The farming pioneers took a different approach, cutting or cementing long lines of waterguide across the rock surfaces, deepening catchment holes, and turning the runoff into town water supplies. That’s once there were towns, after the farmers moved in. Before that, these areas were just spots on the route to the Goldfields. And those early travellers, needing water as they came to it rather than a municipal supply, built deep rocklined wells near the rocks, tapping into the water that flowed underground from the great rock surfaces. Several of these historic wells still exist. There’s one at Kokerbin, and another couple at Bruce’s Rock just outside the town of Bruce Rock.
So that’s granite, and wildflowers. As to landcare and dryland farming – I had much chance to observe different ways the land was being cared for and managed as we travelled. That however is worthy of a post all its own. Tomorrow.