May 23

Today we began the day with a tour of the London Bridge Reservoir.  The area is a dried up reservoir used by the city of Canberra.  While it was originally created as an emergency reservoir for the city, it has been drawn out of in recent years due to water shortages.  The lack of rain has left it empty with dried up river beds clearly distinguishable.  The land consisted of shale and limestone and most of the grass was a shade of brown.  Despite the lack of water, the land was beautiful and resulted in some amazing pictures.

We were fortunate to have two Aboriginal guides, Jay and his father Warren.  Jay began our tour by showing us a sheep shearing shed and shearers’ quarters from the 1930s.  The shearing shed ran off of a steam pump, and while the basic processes were similar to those used today, the technology was not as advanced as what we saw being used at the sheep farm.  The shearers’ quarters were very basic, with not much more than a bed, couch, and fireplace.  Being a shearer in the 1930s involved back-breaking labor, with nothing more for entertainment than playing cards and watching the fireplace, which Jay called “bush T.V.”.

Jay then took us on a tour through the area, pointing out plants used by the indigenous people from the area, including one that, when ground up and placed in the water, stunned the fish making them float to the top much like dynamite fishing.  I found this very interesting and a good example of how the Aboriginals used the resources available, such as plants, to survive.

The highlight of the tour was the London Bridge Arch itself.  The Arch was naturally formed by water eroding the limestone over time.  It was discovered by European settlers and named after the London Bridge from their homeland.  While the London Bridge Arch was “discovered” by the European settlers, the caves within it had been used by the Indigenous people for centuries and Jay was kind enough to share the history with us.  According to Jay, the headman of the local tribe lived in a cave on one side of the Arch and watched over the land.  As other tribes traveled through the area they would visit him to be granted permission to travel through the land and to trade.

On the other side of the Arch the Europeans discovered a cave containing about 200 bones.  The local tribesman discovered that the settlers knew about the bones, and as the settlers left to go back to their settlement to retrieve tools to properly excavate the site they removed the bones and scattered them around the land.  According to Jay they did this to avoid the bones of their ancestors ending up in museums and instead were able to rest peacefully on the land they lived on.

Following our tour of the London Bridge Arch we took a bus to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.  Tidbinbilla was part of the land burned down in the massive brush fires that swept through Australia in 2003.  Upon arriving we were startled to discover how quickly the land was able to regenerate.  The reserve was alive with plants and animals and the only way to tell the area had been burned was by the youth of the trees.

While at Tidbinbilla we were excited to see our first wild kangaroos and emus and spent a good hour taking pictures of them.  Following our photo taking spree we had a healthy picnic prepared by our tour guide, Helen, within a stone’s-throw of the kangaroos.  We also were able to see the two newest koalas added to the reserve.  Despite the fact that koalas can sleep up to 20 hours a day, we were fortunate enough to see one awake.  We also took a walking tour of the regenerated wetland, seeing many native birds along the way.

 A common rule between the London Bridge Reservoir and the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve was that you could not feed the animals.  The Reservoir went as far as to remove all trash cans from the area and create the rule “what you bring in, you take out”.  The reasoning for these rules relates back to the sustainability that we’ve been studying.  For some time Australians were under the impression that the animals could not survive without being fed.  This led to the animals becoming dependant on the food, and got to the point where picnic areas needed to be fenced off to ward off begging animals.  Since the instatement of these rules the animals have gone back to natural ways and surviving off the resources available.

The most impressive example of sustainability to me is how kangaroos alter their breeding habits depending on the resources at hand.  They have developed the ability to slow their fertility when food is not available and boost it to expand their numbers when resources were more available.  As humans have begun clearing land for farms they have in turn created a more stable habitat and larger food supply for kangaroos, which is the main reason for the increases in numbers in recent years in some areas of the country.

We wrapped up our day with a quick self-tour of the Deep Space Tracking Station.  The station is one of three in the world, each of which is equally spaced apart to allow constant tracking of an object in space as the Earth rotates.  Several of us were fortunate enough to speak with Ross, a NASA retiree who now provides his endless knowledge to Tracking Station visitors.  He educated us on the current status of the Mars rovers and other current NASA projects.

Overall, everyone had a fun time exploring the nature reserves and spending the day outdoors.  We got a chance to see our first wild kangaroos while learning about sustainability and how the environment regenerates after a fire.

-Alex

Responses

  1. Having Jay and his father as guides through the London Bridge Resevoir was very interesting and educational. It was intriguing to hear firsthand how Indigenous people used the land to survive in comparison to the ways of the European settlers. Jay pointed out several native plants on the trail that the Indigenous people used for various purposes, such as tea tree. For a person of indigenous descent, Jay was extremely friendly, talkative, and willing to share information about his culture and lifestyle to our eager group.

  2. Kangaroos can be very sustainable in the sense that they help certain processes that we humans do, such as damming water, fertilizing pastures, growing crops, grazing cows, and controlling predators. However, after seeing a lot of kangaroos at Tidbinbilla, the article “What Kangaroos Do” really caught my attention in regards to the harm that kangaroos cause. According to this article, kangaroos love eating and trampling orchids. They also ruin habitats for various birds such as babblers, wrens, and robins. When kangaroos are enclosed in small reserves, they become even more destructive because of their large population. Although the kangaroos are harmful to many aspects of the environment, Australia would not be the country it is without them!!!

  3. In response to Anna’s comment, there has been a lot of controversy regarding the proper treatment of kangaroos in Australia. While talking to Peter Cale who is an ecologist at Calprum Station, we discussed the social issues that come with shooting kangaroos to control their growing population and effects on their surrounding ecosystem. Because kangaroos are known internationally as a symbol of Australia, I think that there is much more resistance to killing kangaroos than deer in America. Given that kangaroo meat is low in fat and cholesterol, and the population of kangaroos is becoming overwhelming, people should consider the positive aspects of consuming kangaroo meat as a staple food.
    -Brendan Prost

  4. To add to hike at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, I saw a sign that said No Rocks=No Icecream because if there is no rocks then there is no minerals, no minerals no fertile soil, no fertile soil no grass, no grass no cows, no cows no milk, and no milk no ice cream. I thought this was interesting because I think a lot of people wouldn’t make that connection and it shows you that it is important to conserve every resource even though you can’t think of a direct use for it off the top of your head.


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