Friday, 21 September 2007

In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

THIS week the CVA group (our leader Caitie, Jeannette and I, a Northern Irish lass called Kirsty, Cantabrigian Hollie and the Korean contingent: Jimmy, Sophie and Byong-Jun) stayed in the quaint village of Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands. To get there, you have to drive up 'the Gillies', a mountain range covered by eucalypt forest at a lower level and complex mesophyll rainforest up higher. The one and only road through it contains (according to some reports) over 300 corners. It is stomach-churning stuff.

Malanda itself was a delightful little place, with American Midwest-style saloon fronts to the shops and a proper country feel - that is, everything closes at 5pm and all the shops seem only to play Dire Straits on the stereo.

Our work site was the Cloudland Refuge, a site of rainforest and pasture land owned by David Upton and Robyn Land. Rachel has already explained to you why the project on the land is important and some of the things we have been up to, but because I can I am going to say it all again. The site lies on two steep slopes ranging between 800 and 960m above sea level, with overgrown abandoned grazing pasture on one side of the valley and (bear with me as I type this correctly) Simple to complex notophyll vine forest of cloudy wet highlands on basalt on the other. It has a biodiversity status of endangered and is poorly represented by National Parks. Indeed, Dave explained to me that the government cannot afford to purchase all of the endangered lands in Queensland (at least with its current agenda), so it is actively encouraging Nature Refuges like Cloudland.

Only twenty years ago Cloudland was clearfelled for cattle grazing and logging. In doing so, the then owner split the natural rainforest precisely in half, blocking animal movement between two clusters of vegetation. The CVA project at the site aims to regrow the corridor between the two halves and restore the forest, home of the cassowary, the Lumholtz tree kangaroo and lots of nasties.

Unfortunately at this time of the year trees cannot be planted, so all we can do is weed. However yesterday Kirsty, Hollie, Dave and I stripped over two kilometres of barbed wire fence which provided a needless hazard to local wildlife. With the cows and bulls gone, there is no need to keep anything in or out. Unlucky for us half of these fences went steeply uphill (we estimate with no exaggeration a gradient of 45º), the ground covered in overgrown grass concealing holes and ridges that we frequently stumbled over. Coupled with the lack of shade and 36ºc heat while wearing protective gloves, long sleeves and trousers (to keep out the creepy crawlies) it was tricky work indeed, but at the end of the day we were genuinely ecstatic about our achievements, even if a leech did go for my neck. Today also we wrestled enormous logs blocking an essential track, and though hard we were proud of the work we had done.

Back in Malanda it has been enjoyable too, not least because we spent the week teaching the Koreans really pointless English words. So if you ever come across a Korean tourist who can say the words 'codswallop', 'nincompoop' or 'onomatopoeia', it is entirely our fault.

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