A Summer Holiday Down Under

Part 2: Mornington Wilderness Camp

Mon 2nd June and Tues 3rd June 2008 . . . Days five and six.

In brief : Getting into the mood of the place, we rise early for a bird walk, go canoeing in Dimond George (see map) and end with champagne by the Fitzroy river at St John's as the sun sets.

Weather : The dry season - sunny with blue skies from morning to night.

The self drive or accompanied trails map for Mornington Camp

Click here for our wider travel map


Anyone who knows us will know we are more sunset folk than sunrise folk, but holidays do strange things to people.

This one sees us volunteering to get up before dawn for an early morning bird walk !

However, when the mood takes you, you just have to go.

We booked ourselves on a bird walk and our guide, Gill, took us a short way out of camp in the 4x4

and stopped to catch the dawn chorus.

The savanna and spinnifex grasslands used to be cattle country, but the new owners, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, have de-stocked the station and are actively promoting wildlife and the return to indigenous flora and fauna.

Here, out on the grasslands under the slopes of Mount Leake, we stop to look and listen to the sounds of the morning.

Bird photography is always difficult but we manage a fair number of species as we walk quietly though the grassland.

Our list of sightings during the day included Purple Crowned Fairy Wren, Great Bower Bird, Red Winged Parrot, Carellas, Rock Pigeons, Crimson and Double Barred Finches, Peaceful Doves but unfortunately not the rare Gouldian Finch.

Seed bearing grasses are now available for the finches.
We also check out the termite mounds.

This is rough territory and the spinnifex is one of the few grasses that can survive.

After breakfast we are off again, this time in search of Dimond Gorge.

Gill has packed lunch, plenty of water, and three sets of paddles but this first creek on the way out is shallow enough not to need them.

A classic Boab Tree.

Related to the Baobabs of South Africa, this is a stunning tree, it's bare dry season branches giving the impression it has been planted upside down.

The fruit of the boab can be used to make a rich vitamin C drink, a bit like a unsweetened barley water, and it's seeds can be toasted to give a coffee like brew.

Fitzroy Bluff from the Lookout.

These sandstone rocks are amongst the oldest known sedimentary rocks in the world, some 2,000 million years old.

They take us back in time to when this part of the world was underwater and the rock was laid down on the beds of ancient lakes and oceans.

Ann and Gill at the Lookout.

Click here or on the photo above for a wider panorama

Despite the drought conditions, some plants still have colour.
This is the Yellow Kapok plant (Cochlospernum Fraseri)

The soft fibres of the Kapok seed was used by the aborigines in former days as body decoration. They could eat the young roots of the plant as a food source.

In maritime context, a similar but different variety of Kapok (Bombax celiba) was used for stuffing Kapok life jackets.

A well disguised Spiniflex Pigeon on top of a large termite mound.
A close up of the cliff face of Fitzroy Bluff

Driving through the next creek there was a disturbance in the water which was not caused by our bow-wave.

Stopping to look, we found this amazing Red Necked Turtle.

External of Turtle
Internal bone structure.

It may seem a funny subject for a photo set but I picked up on the second shot in a book about aboriginal art.

The internal skeleton can be seen as a representation of the Dream Time characters of the aboriginal people's history, carried the ideas of creation through into modern life.

To those who understand the art, this keeps the spirits as relevant today as when the cave paintings were drawn all those thousands of years ago.

The example of Bradshaw Art to the right, was taken later in the holiday. Note the similarity.

There we are - you learn something every day - and because we stopped so promptly, the turtle survived to see another day.

Motoring on, we drove the rough road around Fitzroy Bluff and found the river again at Dimond (pronounced Diamond) Gorge.

We off loaded the paddles, life jackets, lunch and drinks bottles and made our way to the river.

Up and over a high bank and we looked down on this wonderful view of Dimond Gorge.

Our canoe was waiting down near the beach, and we faced the prospect of a slow and leisurely paddle in the midday sun.

Ann and Gill . . . starting that slow and leisurely paddle in the midday sun.

Closely followed by myself. with the lunch.
Sandstone rock art of a primeval nature

The Fitzroy River drains a large area of outback and has broken through the sandstone hills here to form this dramatic gorge.

Enjoying the view.

High above us the midday sun is hidden behind the cliff.

The lighting effect throws the rock into shadow and highlights the vegetation growing close to the edge.

The rock strata tells of the distant past when the Kimberley rock mass (tectonic plate) collided with the old Australian continent

forcing the normally flat sedimentary layers into wild contorted shapes.

Livistona Palms, unchanged over the centuries, line the banks of the river . . .
. . . while amazing gum trees just grow out of cracks in the rock.

Towards the bottom of the gorge we turn and land at a small beach.

Behind us we heard the sound of running water.

Just a short distance upstream we turn a corner and find this delightfull waterfall and pool.

A fine spot for swim before lunch, as Ann will testify.

Afterwards, all that remained was to pack away our empty lunch boxes and make our way back to the beach for the trip back up the gorge.

Bird life once again provided much interest along the way.

Our sightings here included White Necked Herons

Eigrets and this Pied Cormorant.

Journey's end back at the head of the gorge

where we replaced the canoes ready for the next group of people from the camp to use.

On the way back in the 4x4, we diverted toward the river again for a swim at Cajeput Waterhole.

Here the water is warm and the banks are lined with Cajeput Paperbark trees.

In the river bed, the Terminalia Bursarina Trees, affectionately known as Bendee trees, are testament to the strong force of the river during the wet season.

With the river flowing full force, the trees maintain their tenuous hold on the river bed by bending with the current.

We returned in time for an excellent evening meal . . .
. . . followed by an outdoor power point presentation all about the AWC.

- - - o o o - - -

The following day we had a lie in - only needing to rise for breakfast at a leisurely 7.30 am.

During the morning we met up with Gill again for an Ecology Walk around the campsite.

The Mornington station is also a research facility for the AWC where they attempt to understand the ecology of the outback.

On our walk along Annie Creek Gill explained the various methods of live trapping and recording of insects and animals.

We ventured up onto the hill overlooking the camp

to appreciate the difference between the water rich creek vegetation below and the dry stoney savanna woodlands just a short distance up the slope.

Here we stopped to enjoy the view over towards the Lady Forest Range.

Batchelors' Buttons ( Gomphrena Canescens )
Cannus Metalicus !!

Mount Brennan across a recently burnt hillside.
New growth where the old tree has fallen.

After the walk we discussed the fire regimes that they are now trying to introduce.

It is far better for the landscape and the animals to have small controlled burns at the start of the dry season rather than wild, uncontrolled late season burns which sweep through with uncontrolled rage and destroy all before them.

Time for lunch in the shade of the camp restaurant I think.

No peace for the wicked as we join Gill again for an afternoon drive to St John's.

On the way we pass an area particularly rich in termite mounds.

Mistaken once as native houses by early explorers (viewing them through telescopes from the sea), these are the homes to millions of Spinnifex Termites.

On this inland site, the termites eat the Spinnefex grasses and along the way build earth mounds in which to live. Each mound has one Queen termite and up to a million workers or soldier termites and together they form an important part of the natural cycle of grassland life.

Mornington has erected some useful signs to explain to visitors the significance of the site.

Note everyone has the benefit of a Gill in the car !

Termites are insects, not ants.

Nearing the river again, we disturb a flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, who fly off in spectacular style.

Paperbark trees line the river at Bluebush waterhole.

No salt water crocs here - we're too far inland . . .

. . . so we opt for another swim in the afternoon sun - this is getting a rather nice habit !

4.30 pm finds us down at the Fitzroy River again, at the exit of the St John Gorge.

The sun is going down fast as it does over here, The sandstone rocks are responding by turning golden in the light of the late afternoon sunshine.

This small lizard basks in the last of the sun's warmth.

In the wet season the river flows fast and deep, reaching up to the trees on the banks opposite.

Today it as peaceful as it looks.

The sun sets on St John George

Sunshine at St John's.

( Hold your cursor over the picture to see the change of colour as the sun went down. )

Changing colours as the sun sets

The sandstone glows gold in the brief sunset.

( Hold your cursor over the picture again to appreciate the change of colour )

After all, sunset wouldn't be complete without a snack, especially after all our exertions.

Anyone for champagne and cheese ?

As the last of the sun dips below the horizon we make our way back.

Photography, as you no doubt can imagine, becomes difficult

in just the the truck's headlights, on a bouncy unmade road, leaning out of the passenger window, not to mention the glass or two of bubbly beforehand !

I wonder what tomorrow will bring ?

- - - o o o - - -

Technical note: Pictures taken with my Cannon G7 or Ann's Ixus 75 Digital cameras.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

This site best viewed with . . . a swimming towel and a rather nice picnic hamper.

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