Dingoes, Bees & Trees
After a busy few months for us everything’s settled down enough so we can get out hiking more. We kicked this off by heading out to Namadgi National Park on an early Saturday morning to beat the forecast 34 degree heat (which was better than the 40’s we’d been having).
Namadgi National Park is approximately 30 minutes south of the Canberra CBD. Established in 1984 the park encompasses over 106 thousand hectares of native bush and regenerated farm land. Earliest settlement has been traced back to the Ngunnawal people, living in the region 21,000 years ago. Evidence found in rock shelters located at Birrigai (a story for another time) places continued habitation in the area during an ice age! While most Canberrans will tell you the ice age was just last winter, the entire continent was between 5-10oC cooler. Last year (2018) Canberra’s average maximum daytime temperature didn’t rise much above 15oC for 5 months. This suggests the Ngunnawal people were historically thriving in a very cold environment, an impressive feat.
Since then the park area has experienced grazing, logging and recreational skiing. Yes, you read right, the Canberra Alpine Club was skiing in the Brindabella ranges following their formation in 1934. Namadgi was also home to the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley space tracking stations. These assisted in monitoring our first steps into space from the 1960s – 1980s. These tracking centres have since been deconstructed and replaced by the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking Station.
We’d come to do the 4km return walk to Frank and Jack’s hut. The dirt trail is part of a fire management road wide enough for a car. We were both keen for a nice, easy stroll on a relatively flat road. It winds up and down a few slopes through the bush which made it really shaded most of the way. The usual kangaroos and wallabies were everywhere, the younger ones bouncing off as we got closer but the bigger males finding it too hot to bother moving. There were also a few clearer sections with views to the gum tree covered Yankee Hat mountain that looked menacingly steep, even from a distance.
While checking out the views along the way we spotted quite a few other animals. First was a group of European honey bees flying to meet on the hollow left by a broken gum tree branch. Watching them while taking photos we soon spotted some with bright orange pollen on their legs. A local fashion trend compared to the normal yellow perhaps. European honey bees were introduced to Australia 180 years ago, to provide pollinators for early settlers. Feral populations result from swarming hives. A new queen and a portion of the existing hive leave for pastures and flower fields new, leaving behind the old queen and workers, generally during spring as hive populations expand. Feral populations compete with Australia’s native animals for habitat, in particular mammals and birds that use nesting hollows in trees. Turns out bees like a nice hollow branch as much as the next cockatoo.
Using my teleconverter but standing the minimum focusing distance away (1.8 metres for my 70-200 mm lens) allowed me to zoom in and get quite good close up shots of the bees. After a few photos I became determined to get a shot with some bees flying in, heavily laden with pollen. Watching the bees for a few minutes we found they were mostly coming from the same direction. Unfortunately, when I focused on the stationary bees I couldn’t see when the bees flying in were approaching. So, Mitch would tell me every time bees flew in so I could pre-focus on about the right spot and rapidly fire the shutter just as the bees were about to enter the frame. This upped my chances of getting a flying bee in good focus within the frame. This technique involved some planning and a lot of luck and patience, but let me capture bees in action. Don’t forget, always make sure your voice activated light stand is well trained to provide assistance in all situations.B
While I was busy photographing the bees, Mitch saw a flash of white in the bush up the hillside on our left. A dingo!!! He got very excited and we left the bees to try and get a closer look at the wild dog. It was wary of us trying to get close and disappeared further into the bush, only to come out again if we stood still long enough. We never got closer than 30/40 metres to it but because it didn’t take off as soon as it saw us. We assume there was something worth staying in the area for, possibly it had pups, a den or there was something good to eat nearby. We managed to get a few shots, my new 1.7 teleconverter really helped but it was so far away I’d have to zoom in and crop so any photos were just for showing that we saw it more than anything.
Dingoes have been acting as high-level predators in Australia for about 4000 years, filling the niches left by declining marsupial predators. It’s thought their introduction to mainland Australia occurred during visits from early seafaring peoples. According to the ACT Parks and Conservation Service the Namadgi population is mostly wild dingo, with some introduced domestic dog genes.
The domestic mixes originated from interbreeding with released and escaped dogs over the last 200 years. The best advice for seeing them is to watch, but otherwise leave them be. We took the opportunity to enjoy seeing one of the few large native carnivores active on Australia’s mainland before heading on our way.
We seemed to hit a stretch of hills after seeing the wild dog. The wallabies and roos on the side of the track were all lazing about in the shade by now, some of them not even bothering to look at us as we walked past. Even the energetic youngsters had lost their usual nervous bounce as the temperature continued creeping up. Just as the hills were getting monotonous, we rounded a downhill curve in the track and the hut came into sight across a clearing. Weeds or native flowers lined the track (we’re definitely not botanists) giving a colourful entrance to the hut. The hut sat at the end of a grassy space, surrounded from behind by a bush covered hillside. The trail split off before it reached the hut, heading off towards Yankee Hat mountain.
The hut itself was larger than we expected. To enter you climbed some stairs next to the water tank, through a door to the enclosed verandah. Looking through the windows gave a great view back along the track from where we’d just walked in. Sunlight reflected from water pooled on top of the tank and danced across the wooden ceiling in wobbly patterns. Opening another door we walked into the kitchen/dining area with a woodfire stove taking up most of the wall on our left. Looking straight ahead was a sturdy table and chairs and a window with a magnificent view of the outdoor dunny. Turning right you entered the bedroom which was sparsely furnished to say the least. The frames of two metal beds sagged on opposite sides of the room. One was particularly dilapidated with metal springs spiralling in all directions and bare wire, giving that cozy, welcoming feel of an abandoned asylum.
Frank and Jack’s hut was built in 1954 for Frank and Jack Oldfield by Cecil Hopkins. Originally bought from the Bootes family in 1948 it was never used as a permanent residence, but instead served as a stockman’s hut for sheep grazing. ACT Forests used the hut through the late 1950s to support and develop their pine plantations. According to the Heritage Register, for the huts in the Namadgi area, Frank and Jack’s is a particularly lavish example of a stockman’s hut (who would have thought it!).
After a few photos we decided dining alfresco might be cooler and found a fallen log in the shade. Insects buzzed around us and crawled over the scribbly gums bordering our outdoor restaurant. Behind us was a meadow of yellow flowers and overhead white cockatoos flew past, screeching to each other. The peaceful atmosphere made it easy to understand how someone could make their home here.