Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hilary Melton-Butcher: Meet Some Unusual Dragons!

Today's guest, Hilary Melton-Butcher barely needs an introduction.  She's the prolific and terrific lady whom we admire for her uniquely told stories of history and mystery.  A visit to Positive letters...inspirational stories  is always a treat.  Today she's doubling up with two linked posts, one here, one at Life is Good.  Don't miss either one!

Weedy Seadragon …

Art, Science, ‘Down Under’ and bloggers … Tina of Life is Good asked if I’d do a guest post for the A-Z blog and as a guest blogger on her blog … theoretically these might have been on Vikings (these will follow) – but as is the way with my eclectic brain I’ve settled on the Weedy Seadragon and the Great Australian Coast Road.

I expect many of you will have seen or heard of the BBC tv programmes ‘Coast’, where Neil Oliver, archaeologist, historian, author and broadcaster, tells us about Britain and Europe …

he has now moved to Australia (well perhaps he’s travelled there for the programmes!) – this is where these two ideas stemmed from.

 "Weedy Seadragon - taken from the sketchbook of William Buelow Gould - 1832"

Weedy Seadragon – who could ignore such a wonderful name for ‘Phyllopteryx Taeniolatus’? This amazing little seadragon and its sister, the Leafy Seadragon’ are found around the shores of southern Australia.

"Leafy Seadragon"

These endangered, endemic to the south Australian coast, little ‘prehistoric monsters’ are just a delight to see and to have found.

Perhaps, now I’ve looked, even more interestingly … they were drawn and painted by William Buelow Gould, a convict – who had been caught stealing a coat and then was sentenced in 1826 to “seven years beyond the seas”, a phrase indicating transportation to the then penal colony of Australia.

He had a wife and two children … but once shipped out, few convicts returned. He also didn’t change his ways … and got sentenced to the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station, one of the harshest, for forging a banknote.

The only way to the prison was by ship … but it got weather bound … and the convicts aboard mutinied with half of them taking the ship. Gould and the other convicts stuck with the officers … before setting off overland to get help.

For this Gould’s term was commuted; he was assigned as a house servant to the colonial surgeon Dr James Scott, who was also an amateur naturalist.

Scott put Gould’s artistic talents to use, having him paint watercolours of native flora – which today are regarded as being of a high technical standard.

Even now he couldn’t remain out of trouble and so was again sentenced to Macquarie Harbour, but based on his reputation he worked for another amateur natural historian, Dr William de Little on Sarah Island at the penal station.

This time he produced landscape sketches about life at the penal stations, as well as still life watercolours of botanical specimens, birds, fishes and other sea life.

Despite being granted his Certificate of Freedom in June 1835 he descended into a cycle of drunkenness, poverty and prison sentences for theft … he had remarried in 1836, but eventually died in 1853, aged 52 or thereabouts.

His sketchbooks and works are now highly acclaimed; his “Sketchbook of Fishes” being inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of World Register … this is the equivalent of a World Heritage listing for historic documentary material.

It is noted that Gould sketched a number of species for the first time; and his works are recognised as being of enormous value to scientists today … and he’s even had a novel written by Richard Flanagan, published in 2001, from his Sketchbook of Fishes.

I’d better return to my little prehistoric monsters … the Weedy Seadragon and Leafy Seadragon … are marine fish related to the seahorse.

The weedy appendages provide camouflage … but don’t have the prehensile tail like the seahorse … they drift or move very slowly … not far at all.

They blend in so well to their natural surroundings … that they aren’t detected as a food source … the real threat is from us humans as when there is so much pollution in the water it makes it very difficult for them to survive … but when their natural habitat is taken away then it is a real threat for them to blend in and remain hidden.

Like seahorses the males nurture the young … the female lays them into her mate’s pouch on his abdomen … about nine weeks later they are born and have immediately to care for themselves.

The southern coast of Australia was full of prehistoric, now extinct, monsters five million years ago … the seas were 2 – 3 degrees warmer and contained life that we don’t see today …

  • A huge shark – as big as a bus
  • A penguin as tall as a man
  • A killer mammoth sperm whale

We know this from the wealth of fossils that can be found around this area of coast today …

Then these pretty little prehistoric monsters have a wonderful tale to tell – let alone the fact that we have had a record of them for about 180 years
they probably evolved from those aquatic vertebrates now buried by this ever changing earth of ours.

I say here’s to the Weedy Seadragon and to the Leafy Seadragon … you have made me smile while I think about you both … and increased my desire to go down under!

Hilary Melton-Butcher

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: Weedy Seadragon
Photo credit: Leafy Seadragon

Thanks, Hilary.  It's always so fun to learn about the people behind the books, and that back story, which wow, I would not have predicted!  Readers, time to go see about the Australian Coast!  See you at my place.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Post: Sue Travers on Desert Springs, Australia

Please join me in welcoming our special guest for today, Sue Travers, who blogs at her new place, jumping aground, and at Traverselife. In her profile she describes herself as, Playing around with words and photos has been missing from my life for too long. Here, I'm exploring what fun it can be!” She's sharing some amazing info about Australia for us today.  

A cloud of zebra finches rises from their improbable home, flocking to a stunted, spindly bush amongst the dusty shrubs and trickle of water that passes for an oasis in this desolate, unforgiving landscape.

Crystals of salts and minerals encrust the impossibly flat land for acres around, save for the insignificant mound which I earlier referred to as a hill. When you're desperate for geographical features, the rise of a metre or so justifies the term hill, and you can certainly see for a huge distance from the easy stroll to the highest point.

The crisp crunch underfoot, remarkably reminiscent to the sound of snow under snugly warm boots, is a fine layer of dry, bright white minerals, which hides the sinking softness of fine dust.

Our footsteps leave clear tracks across the plane. Other tracks tell stories of rabbits scuttling quickly from bush to scraggly bush ... and well fed dingoes.

This fragile landscape with natural springs, possibly millions of years old, has been securely fenced to protect the precious ecosystem from sheep and cattle which would trample the plants tenaciously clinging to life.

Few others venture here. From a distance, these springs appear lifeless and boring, yet in reality they're breathtaking. There's a stark beauty, solitude, and the sense of time stood still.

A piece of grass pulled from out of the mineral encrustation clearly shows the density and size of the crystal growth, it's surprisingly hard and feels a bit like a seashell.

The Great Artesian Basin is the only reliable source of water throughout enormous areas of inland Australia, bores have been drilled since white settlers occupied the region. It lies under 23% of the continent, (some 1.7 million square kilometres) including large parts of Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory as well as South Australia. The springs enabled Aboriginals to survive throughout the region for around 50,000 years give or take a few thousand years. The water is ancient - between a mere several thousand years up to nearly 2 million years old! Its existence now allows towns to flourish and vast cattle stations to operate.

The naturally occurring mound springs provide the only permanent water source in this arid region of South Australia. They're home to a number of unusual and rare plants, fish and other creatures and provide refuge for a range of animals in times of drought.

Despite their importance for biodiversity and their fragile nature, a massive uranium mine, Olympic Dam, is allowed to remove 42 million litres of water per day for free from the Great Artesian Basin which feeds the natural springs, resulting in a drop of pressure and complete drying up of the springs in some cases. This is in addition to coal mines and coal seam gas (CSG) which also use large volumes of the water. According to government estimates, the CSG industry alone could extract 300 billion litres over the next 25 years.

Australia, the driest habitable continent on earth, regularly experiences extreme, devastating droughts, encourages mining operations which extract more water than can be replenished. Coal seam gas, fracking, open cut coal mines and uranium mines are dotted above the Great Artesian Basin, all using the water, and disposing of waste - not always in the most desirable ways.

To read that companies "will be held accountable" and that they must specify how they'll respond  to, and repair, a leak or spill doesn't inspire confidence.

As Murphy's Law says "anything that can possibly go wrong, does" except perhaps in the minds of politicians or the mining industry.

Is it worth the risk?
Image from:
I took the photos above in SA near Lake Eyre.
Here are some links if you'd like to explore this subject further.

Thanks again Sue for being with us, and sharing something so obviously important to you.  Looking forward to seeing what you'll do in the 2013 Challenge!