The abrupt, moist change in Seattle weather combined with a stuffy office got me daydreaming of places distant. Possibly it’s a little morbid, but I think the signs above are pretty amusing. Just in case you are confused – the sign on top is a doctored speed-bump sign. They actually have a bit of notoriety being on the main road along the east coast in Northern Queensland, Australia and in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest, people from all over see it. It is rather iconic of the individuality of the land.
Thinking of Captain Cook shipwrecked just North at Cape Tribulation in 1770, it’s hard to imagine his feelings. Having mixed feelings about Cook himself, I relish the thought that he might have been scared by this dense, fragrant, and foreign landscape. He didn’t discover Australia, it was there already with people and ecology.
When you hear talk of plants that have been around since the dinosaurs they are likely talking about the Daintree. Two basal flowering plants that hearken back to those times are endemics: Austrobaileya scandens and Idiospermum australiens. The rain forest itself is about 130 million years old. Long isolated on a lonely hunk of land, diversity has flourished. Just look at the layers of vegetation, the amalgam of green, you can’t imagine the species that are tucked away inside.
Unfortunately, much of this gem is dwindling due to climate change and habitat destruction. Species possibly unknown to science are disappearing. But thankfully the Daintree is there, the largest section still standing with 1200 square Km of undisturbed land. I can’t let you get away without thinking about human impact and conservation.
When I first visited (I say first because I intend to go back), I had just graduated High School. My parents and I were traveling around Australia as my graduation gift and to visit family. Cassowaries are not an uncommon sight in this region (hence the sign) and I had them on my mind. I managed only a glimpse of a bird’s brightly adorned head thrust from the brush but it was enough to satisfy me. My wish is that I would have slowed to enjoy the whole landscape a little more instead of maniacally drifting from bird to bird.
If you want to read an ecological history of Australia, pick up a copy of The Future Eaters by Tim Flannery. Flannery wields a truly unique mastery of melding human history and multidisciplinary science into a illustrative, readable text.