Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Outings Report - Spring Bluff/Murphy's Creek - Sunday 07 August, 2016

The August outing, a follow-up to Jan Veacock’s monthly meeting club talk, took field naturalists to areas which very early TFNC member and eminent ornithologist E.A.R. Lord knew so well, from living in the area, and from exploring it extensively on horseback in the earlier part of the last century.
We gathered at historic (and postcard-perfect) Spring Bluff Railway Station, where Jan (after a rushed drive from Brisbane) gave us a brief outline of the mammoth work of building the Main Range Line in the 1860s, and its importance in providing easier access to Toowoomba and the Darling Downs than the existing arduous road routes of Spicer’s Gap and Gorman’s Gap. Jan, being responsible for running the Murphys Creek Railway Museum, is well versed in local railway history - and she also had a keen eye, and ear, for any birds close by when addressing the assembled field naturalists.
Jan then led us to Murphys Creek cemetery, which is close to the site of one of the main navvy camps set up to construct the railway line. Many of the railway workers had wives and children, so a school and other facilities were established at this camp, though lawlessness and ill health were some of the hazards encountered. At the cemetery, Jan explained symbolism in finely-crafted headstones built by a local stonemason, John Mont-gomery, for the graves of early settler families. 
Morning tea was at Lockyer Siding Railway building, next to historic Jessie’s Cottage in Murphys Creek. At the cottage, we learned more local history, including the effects of the 2011 flood.
Our next stop was at the Fifteen Mile Creek crossing on Fifteen Mile Road. Several club members ventured down the embankment to look at the spectacular exposed sandstone beside the dry creek bed, and to explore the vegetation “downstream.” Jan pointed out that this was the type of rugged country that E.A.R. Lord knew so well from exploring it on horseback, for example on his way through to Mount Cross. 
While Club members were at the crossing, the local property owner, who had seen the convoy of cars, came to “check us out”. He exchanged details of the local area with Jan, and in the future, this area could readily be further explored with his permission and encouragement.
Our final site of interest for the outing was a close-up look at the historic (and gracefully-arched) Lockyer Creek Rail Bridge, thanks to access being allowed onto Mrs Shirley Nobes’ property. This bridge, the second reinforced concrete railway bridge designed in Australia, was completed in 1910. It was pioneering in its design and construction, having been made from cast-in-situ concrete, and it shows the skill with which the technology of the times was used to solve problems of climate and terrain.

Lockyer Creek Railway Bridge (and train).
Photo taken from the property of Mrs Shirley Nobes, 
Murphy’s Creek. (Photo: Glenda Walter)
Special thanks to Jan, not only for her research
and printed handouts, but for having fitted in
both her Friday evening talk, and the Sunday outing,
with her commitments at the Brisbane Exhibition –
in particular, having driven to and from Brisbane to
lead the outing. And a beneficial side-effect of Jan’s
double presentation has been a revived focus on the
early life of the Club, generated by Barb Weller’s
patient work in making early copies of TFNC
publications so computer-accessible.

Bird List (Compiled from members' sightings by Francis Mangubhai)

At Spring Bluff: Eastern Yellow Robin, White-browed Scrub Wren, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Lewin's Honeyeater, Striated Pardalote, Superb Fairy Wren, Brown Cuckoo Dove, Peaceful Dove, Eastern Whipbird, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Red-browed Finch.
On route to Cemetery Road: Kookaburra           At Cemetery Road: Masked Lapwings, Scrub Turkey
At Jessie's Cottage: Yellow-rumped Thornbill   At Shirley Nobes' Property: Willie Wagtail, Jackie Winter
Butterflies: Monarch (at Fifteen Mile Creek)

(Above report by Michael Rooke)

Sunday’s outing to Murphy’s Creek covered several different areas. The group stopped at the Fifteen Mile Creek crossing, for a look at an area known well by E.A.R. Lord. We noticed crossbedding in the large sand-stone boulders, and a small fig tree, the roots of which clung to the rock face.
Growing in a crevice of the rock, I noticed a Skeleton Fork Fern, Psilotum nudum, meaning “bare naked”. This is a very interesting plant, considered to be a “primitive” fern, closely related to the first group of vascular plants which were widespread in the Devonian and Silurian periods (425 to 360 million years ago).  In Australia it is found from Victoria up the East coast and across coastal Northern Territory and possibly southern Western Australia. I have seen it several times growing in sandstone rock crevices around Toowoomba, and also sprouting from a huge staghorn at Cooktown, but this may have been the similar P. complanatum which is said to grow on epiphytes.
Like other plants in the Psilotaceae family, it does not have roots, but has branched rhizomes. It also lacks many of the organs of modern plants. Absorption of water is poor, so the plant has a relationship with a mycorrhizal fungus which is better at nutrient and water uptake, benefitting both plants. The leaves have been reduced to small scales on the stems, which are circular to triangular in cross-section. Spores are carried in yellow spore-bearing organs called “sporangia” which at first glance look like flowers projecting from the stems. P. nudum spores were used in Hawaii as talcum powder and as medicine, and research continues into their use as a source of antimicrobial chemicals. The plants themselves were used as small whisk brooms.
Thanks to Diane Pagel for first alerting me to this ancient fern.
(Article and photos below by Glenda Walter)


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