Spring wildflowers. Photo: Jolene McLellan, Queensland Government
Grey kangaroos. Photo Bill Goebel.
Brushtail possum. Photo Ted Colles.
Peforming male superb lyrebird, Girraween. Photo: Jolene McLellan, Queensland Government
Cunninghams skink. Photo: Jolene McLellan, Queensland Government
Massive granite outcrops, precariously balanced boulders, clear streams and tumbling cascades are set within 11 800 hectares of eucalypt forests, sedgelands and heathlands. These significant communities provide for a mixture of plant and animal species usually found north, south, east and west of Girraween, and some that do not occur naturally elsewhere.
Girraween is an Aboriginal word meaning 'place of flowers'. It is not of local Aboriginal origin, but is an apt name for this rugged place with spectacular spring wildflower displays.
Wildflowers begin to bloom in late July with golden wattle brightening the bush canopy, and pea flowers bursting into blossom below.
September and October are the most spectacular months, with magnificent displays of delicate white heath bells and the bold yellow, purple and red pea flowers splashing the granite-strewn countryside with colour. Grass trigger plants, billy buttons, native bluebells, native sarsaparilla and a variety of daisies contribute to the spring show.
The display ends with the summer-flowering flannel flowers, wattles, bottlebrushes, paperbarks and eucalypts.
On exposed granite summits, grasses, mat rushes, lilies and low shrubs flourish in sparse soil lodged in cracks and joints. Larger depressions carry more dense patches. The 'rock gardens' of the scree slopes and massive granite outcrops are splendid. Low, dense heaths comprise a diverse array of flowering shrubs. Wattles, pea-flowers, mint and daisy bushes and rock roses are common beneath scattered eucalypt and cypress trees.
Swamp communities flourish in the headwaters of Girraween National Park's creeks and where granite outcrops impede drainage. Sedges, rushes, swamp selaginella and sphagnum moss have adapted to the waterlogged conditions.
Trees are sparsely scattered throughout these swamps, with messmate stringybark Eucalyptus obliqua making its home in the swamps at South Bald Rock. Heaths, sundews and grasses fringe the swamp edges, with much-admired terrestrial orchids.
Eucalypt forests dominate the well-drained soils on Girraween National Park's slopes, gullies and valley floors. Twenty-five species of eucalypt have been identified, with some only found naturally in Girraween National Park. The graceful, slender-leaved Wallangarra white gum Eucalyptus scoparia is endemic to Girraween National Park, where it is restricted to Mount Norman and the high ridges to the south-west.
On the high ridges to the west and south-west of Mount Norman are the park's only stands of mallee ash Eucalyptus codonocarpa. Eucalypts more commonly observed along the walking tracks are New England blackbutt Eucalyptus andrewsii, round-leaved gum, orange gum, yellow box, apple box, Youman's stringybark and broad-leaved stingybark.
Often eucalypts share the forest canopy with black cypress pine, rough-barked apple, kurrajong, banksias and oleander wattles. The forest understorey may be lightly covered with geebungs, conesticks and wild cherry, or it may be more prominent and diverse with urn heath, queen of the bush, parsley bush and a variety of impressive pea flowers. Where the ground cover is dense, kangaroo grass and blady grass are common along with grass trees, drumstick heaths and bracken ferns.
Sheltered moist gullies are havens for ferns and more vulnerable and delicate plants. New England ash Eucalyptus campanulata and round-leaved gum Eucalyptus deanei may grow in these gullies with a shrub layer of lance beard heath, blueberry ash, wild fuchsia, large-leaved hop bush and tableland daisy bush. Epiphytic orchids and elkhorns cling to boulders and trees or lodge in rock crevices. Plants more frequently associated with rainforests including macrozamia, muttonwoods, sweet pittosporum and possumwood may be found in very moist and protected areas.
Girraween National Park's fascinating eucalypt forests, sedgelands and heathlands provide habitats for a variety of intriguing wildlife. Wildlife enthusiasts are captivated by the diversity of animal species found here.
Wildlife with wings
Flowering shrubs attract beetles, butterflies and other insects—food for many birds, reptiles and mammals. Throughout summer the double drummer cicada's high-pitched mating calls chorus through the eucalypt forests. Being short-lived, the dying cicadas become a hearty feast for a lucky furred, feathered or scaly resident.
The forests and heaths of Girraween National Park support permanent populations of over 150 bird species. Kookaburras, magpies and currawongs frequent the camping and day-use areas, as do superb fairy-wrens, eastern yellow robins, eastern spinebills, yellow-rumped thornbills, satin bowerbirds, red wattlebirds, crimson rosellas, wonga pigeons and common bronzewing pigeons.
Warblers, parrots, treecreepers, flycatchers and honeyeaters live among the eucalypts and flowering heaths and shrubs. Robins, thornbills, wrens and firetails seek shelter and hunt insects in the dense understorey, while birds of prey such as the little eagle, wedge-tailed eagle and the brown goshawk search for a meal in open grassy areas.
Superb lyrebirds prowl moist gullies, scratching through leaf litter for grubs and insects. Listen for these masters of mimicry on cool winter days as they incorporate different sounds from the bush as well as other birdcalls into their song.
The superb lyrebird and chestnut-rumped heathwren are at the northern extent of their usual range. These, and the southern emu-wren—at the westernmost extent of its range—are particularly interesting to the ornithologist. The beautiful colours of the rare turquoise parrot and attractive diamond firetail may be glimpsed along the walking tracks or roadsides.
Wildlife with fur
Mammals are best seen at dawn or dusk. Quietly shine a strong torch, preferably with a red filter, into the bush fringing the camping and day-use areas and you may glimpse a foraging possum, a grazing kangaroo, a probing echidna or a rummaging bandicoot. Remember never to shine torches directly into animals' eyes.
The common brushtail possum is the most frequently seen possum. This possum is not usually shy and may even venture to steal food from unwary campers. Please do not feed them. Sugar and feathertail gliders may occasionally be seen frolicking in bushland fringing the camping and day-use areas.
Greater gliders—the largest of all gliding possums—are similar to koalas in that they live almost exclusively on eucalypt leaves and therefore live high in eucalypt trees. Koalas and greater gliders are found in remote areas of Girraween National Park and are not often seen.
Larger mammals such as eastern grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies and swamp wallabies frequent the camping and day-use areas, but during the hotter parts of the day they like to venture into the shade of the woodlands for an afternoon siesta.
At sunset, a mix of wallabies and kangaroos can be seen in the grassy paddocks feeding and fighting in among their mobs. Shy male wallaroos with their dark grey, woolly fur may be seen along the roadsides.
The spotted-tailed quoll is an agile climber but spends most of its time on the forest floor hunting small birds and mammals. Living in safe dens among the rocks, it will emerge mainly at night to hunt.
The elusive common wombat also lives underground in burrows under rocky outcrops or heavily ferned gullies. Girraween National Park's common wombats—the most northern population in Australia—are not very common and not often seen.
Follow trails of diggings and you may catch a glimpse of small ground-dwelling mammals such as bush rats, several types of antechinus, common dunnarts and brown bandicoots. Short-beaked echidnas also leave a trail of diggings.
Wildlife with scales
Girraween National Park's sunlit granite outcrops are the preferred habitat of many reptile species, including Cunningham’s skink, White’s skink, eastern water dragon, jacky lizard and nobbi dragon—species that are typical of this type of habitat.
You may catch a glimpse of either the fast-moving copper-tailed skink or the eastern water skink darting between the rocks. Geckos are more secretive and often remain hidden under sheets of exfoliated granite or leaf litter. Some, like the tree dtella or spotted velvet gecko, seek refuge up trees amongst leaves or under bark. At night the granite leaf-tailed gecko Saltuarius wyberba hunts for insects in dense leaf litter and debris.
The most commonly encountered snake is the shy red-bellied black snake, which may be seen basking in the sun on rocks and walking tracks. Eastern brown, bandy-bandy and yellow-faced whip snakes are less commonly seen. Snakes present little danger to people if left alone. Never approach snakes and never assume that the snake you see is non-venomous.
Wildlife in water
Known only from Bald Rock Creek, Bell's turtle Wollumbinia belli is Girraween's own unique reptile. More commonly found in the northern rivers of New South Wales, this short-necked turtle can be seen basking beside the creek or swimming in the deeper waterholes.
Other interesting aquatic life found in Bald Rock Creek waterholes includes Sutton’s spiny crayfish, river blackfish, eastern long-necked turtles and the Murray turtle.
Frogs are common in sedges and grasses growing on creek banks. The emerald-spotted treefrog—also known as Peron's tree frog—clings to branches overhanging trickling streams.
Burrowing frogs, such as the ornate burrowing frog, sit on the walking tracks or in gutters after rain. Eastern stony creek frogs are commonly seen and scarlet-sided pobblebonks can often be heard underneath rocks calling ‘bonk, bonk, bonk …'.
The vulnerable New England treefrog reaches its northern limit at Girraween.
At an average elevation of 900 m above sea level, Girraween National Park is on the northern extremity of the New England Tablelands. Girraween National Park's granite habitat is unique in Queensland.
Roughly 225 million years of powerful acts of nature have created the foundations for Girraween National Park's dramatic landscape.
Major earth movements rocked eastern Australia between 200 and 400 million years ago. The continent collided with an oceanic plate and ocean sediments were thrust from off-shore into the New England area. This ancient sediment is known as traprock or bedrock.
From the depths of the earth, hot molten rock called magma was forced upwards and invaded the traprock layer. Cooling slowly, the liquid magma solidified to form granite.
Over millions of years, nature's forces combined to erode the traprock, revealing the bare granite below. Today, water, wind, ice and plants continue to mould Girraween National Park's ever-changing landscape.
Turtle Rock and the Sphinx, Girraween National Park. Photo: Darren Jew, Queensland Government
Long before European settlement, Traditional Aboriginal custodians lived, hunted, gathered and prospered for countless generations in the Girraween National Park area. Although their legends and place names have been lost, camping places, rock markings, tools and marked trees remain in Girraween National Park as evidence of their life on the land.
Allan Cunningham first entered the Girraween area on the 26th June 1827, but the relatively inhospitable landscape made way for an early exit. In the 1840s Robert Ramsay Mackenzie was the first squatter to legally occupy land in the Girraween area. For decades he and others attempted logging, dairying and farming sheep, cattle, fruit and vegetables.
Dr Spencer Roberts (a medical practitioner in Stanthorpe) was a self-professed guardian of local populations of the superb lyrebird and the common wombat. Convinced that protecting the habitat of these two animals was vital for their long-term survival in Queensland, he put submission after submission to government for declaration of a national park.
Bald Rock Creek National Park was declared in 1930 with Castle Rock National Park declared in 1932. Totalling 1600 ha, they were known collectively as Wyberba National Park.
In 1966, Napier Gunn offered the government his block of 52.4 ha and the two national parks were amalgamated to create today's Girraween National Park. Tom Ryan and Bill and Hock Goebel were employed as field staff and development of infrastructure began.
From 1977 to 1979 further acquisitions enlarged the park to 11,300 ha. The last block acquired in 1980 enlarged Girraween National Park to its present 11,800 ha.
More information on the cultural and natural history of Girraween can be found at www.rymich.com/girraween/.