(fwd) I've seen fire and I've seen rain ...

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: (fwd) I've seen fire and I've seen rain ...
From: John Gamblin <>
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2000 16:18:43 -0700 (PDT)
Sid and Sharon Genaux <> wrote:

Hi everyone,

Australia is a land much aware of fire and rain
-especially here in the northern part of the

In fact, the seasons here are not spring, summer,
fall, and winter; they are Wet and Dry.

We are in the Dry now. Most places here have not had
rain for months and will probably not have any until
at least October. Most of the creeks we cross along
the road are just rocks and sand only the larger
have any water flowing. You can see cars coming toward
you on dirt roads by the dust clouds approaching. The
grass and trees are yellow, brown, or, at best,
gray-green. The only real green is along the water of
billabongs, rivers, or stock tanks (water which has
been pumped from below ground into small pools for the
cattle). Birds and animals congregate around these
oases, waiting for the rains to come. Along with the
Dry comes the bushfires. As we travel, we pass
innumerable blackened areas beside the road. The
atmosphere is hazy and fragrant with woodsmoke. Fire
is both the enemy and friend to this land. The
aborigines have used small frequent fires to "clean
up" the woodlands for millenia. These slow, controlled
fires burn off the undergrowth without harming the
trees. In fact, many of the Australian plants require
fire for the germination of their seeds. The Europeans
didn't understand that at first. They suppressed the
fires and the undergrowth and grass grew thick. After
years went by, inevitably a fire would break out. It
would burn very hot from the accumulated fuel and
would devour the trees as well as the shrubs and
grass. Now, mosaic burning regimes are practiced where
small, separated areas are burned each year to keep
the land healthy.

Still, some of the fires can be very large and
impressive. We took an airplane flight from Kununurra
over Lake Argyle and south to the Bungle Bungles. On
our way down, the pilot apologized for the reduced
visibility in some area. The air was full of smoke. 
Coming back north, we passed directly over the fires.

These were natural fires caused by spontaneous
combustion or lightening. The flamefront of the blazes
were miles long. The red of the flames and the black
the smoke moved inexorably forward across the
grasslands and open forest. Great numbers of kites and
hawks soared along the line, feasting of insects,
lizards, snakes, and small animals running desperately
from the fire. Little pockets of unburned areas were
occasionally left in low areas as the fire moved
uphill past them. The fires will probably burn until
the rains come except where they run against bare

We haven't seen rain--but we have seen evidence of
it's power here. All over Australia, you see road
signs saying,"Floodway - markers indicate water
depth". It seems strange to see them amid the dust and
dryness.  But then you look at the trees along the
road and see
debris caught in tree branches above your head. It was
left there by the water flowing through last summer.  

In Katherine, there is a pair of bridges across the
Katherine River. Far below you is a stream about the
size of the Genesee in Wellsville in July. On the side
of the columns supporting the railway bridge is a
series of numbered lines. They mark the height in
meters from the riverbed. The top number is 18. Above
that is the bridge deck and rails--probably another 5
meters. (A meter is 39 inches--3 inches longer than a
yard.) Last Wet season, the water of the Katherine
River rose to the top of the rails on the bridge. That
is a difference from Dry to Wet of about 65 feet!

We flew over Lake Argyle south of Kununurra. It is the
largest manmade body of water in the Southern
Hemisphere. It was formed by damming the Ord River and
is used to store some of the surplus water from the
season rains for irrigating the area during the Dry
Season. There is an extensive irriation system around
Kununurra where they now grow over 60 kinds of crops.
Before the damming of the Ord, there was only a small
section of arable land. Lake Argyle is usually large
enough to hold 13 times the water that is in Sydney
Harbour. The last Wet was unusually large. Now Lake
Argyle is 18 times the size of Sydney Harbour.

This is a land of extremes in climate and beauty. It
is also almost unimaginably big and empty. It is
almost as big as the continental United States--with a
population only the size of Los Angelos. We are in a
major town in northern West Australia called Derby. It
has 5,000 people. Small wonder that one of the most
beautiful parts of Australia, the Bungle Bungles, was
almost unknown until the 1980's. The Bungle Bungles
are a group of rock formations, canyons, and plateaus
in northern Western Australia. They are made of
sandstone which is striped with bands of black from a
fungus.  The most distinctive feature of the Bungle
Bungles are "beehives"--rock formations with rounded
tops, shaped like a huge beehive and striped yellow
and black. The sandstone was sculpted by rain and wind
into these formations and into towering canyons.

The actual sandstone is very soft and friable, but it
is coated with a thin layer of silica which keeps it
from crumbling. Local aborigines have visited the
Bungle Bungles for thousands of years and have many
dreamtime stories about them. But only a few
stockmen and miners, knew about them until recently
because they are so remote and isolated. Unless you
have a 4WD vehicle, a plane is the only practical way
to see them. Well, the internet cafe is closing, so we
will quit for now.

Sid wanted to let the folks at Friendship Dairies know
how sorry he was to hear of Jim Washburn's death. He
will be sorely missed.

We enjoy hearing from all of you. Please send us an

Hugs to all as we go around,
Sid and Sharon

Where Western Port waders regularily meet.

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