Monday, 22 October 2007

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 7

Welcome to the seventh edition of ‘Ochre Archives’, our farm newsletter.

Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 6
Aboriginal archaeologist, Sue Hudson, let us know that False Sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia violacea) was used by both pre-European Aboriginals and Europeans. It tastes something like Sarsaparilla (hence its name) if you soak the leaves in water and cool in the fridge. The early settlers boiled water and added torn leaves to make a tea substitute. Sue’s tried it this way but “was not too rapt”, stating “tea is much nicer but if you are stuck for tea leaves, anything will do I suppose. It is incredibly hard to grow in some gardens as it only likes gravel, dry conditions and no competition but does make a pretty rockery plant!” We’ve found 3 more plants on the farm. Here’s a photo of another one recently in flower.
On Wedge-tailed Eagles and other topics - An organic farmer (who wants to remain anonymous) recently went to Taronga Zoo in Sydney. They have an amazing bird show where an eagle flies less than a metre over the assembled crowd [in an outdoor amphitheatre]. Females are the bigger of the species.

On the subject of erosion control, he says they recently put in a control bank and were going to cover it in hay to give some short term ground cover and to get some native grass growing. They’ve now learned that many 'pioneer' (first to colonise bare ground) native species don't like heavy mulch in any form. “It is better to cut native grass with seed heads and lay this on the ground allowing seeds to fall out and the grass to transfer necessary soil micro-organisms to the soil.” We’ll give this a go as well. The photo below shows the results on some bare ground were we’d placed a thin section of square section baled straw. We’re not sure what species are in the photo (probably all exotics) but the vegetation cover is not bad given the entire area was totally bare beforehand.

On the subject of fungi - our anonymous organic farmer friend recently attended a two week course on soil micro-biology at Lismore presented by Elaine Ingham who is head-honcho of the Soil Foodweb Institute. Elaine explained that four organic acids are the result of creating in-soil anaerobic (no air) conditions, each with a distinctive bad smell: Acetic acid is like vinegar, Butyric acid is like sour milk, Valeric acid is like vomit and Putrescine smells like decaying flesh! These anaerobic conditions cause minerals that would normally be converted to plant friendly compounds to be lost to the soil, and in some cases add to global warming gases. Our friend suggested that where the Dogs Vomit fungi (a.k.a. Slime Mould) was growing – was probably a sign of bad things / anaerobic processes happening. He’s spot-on, we reckon.

We’ve been accused of name-dropping in our Newsletters. ‘All feedback is good’ as the saying goes. We were remiss in not explaining that we only include names of people who we believe are highly competent in their chosen vocations or have given us express permission to share the feedback. This serves two purposes: giving credit where credit’s due’ and enabling readers to directly contact them if they so choose. Of course we are not responsible for any negative outcomes resulting from such contacts!

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs
There is a very large vine immediately to the west of Lookout Rock which we now know is a Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana). This photograph was actually taken at Jan’s brother’s place at Trundle. We’ve used this one as the plant was in flower at the time.
A Dawn Magazine article on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website states that “In the Central and Western Deserts the Wonga-wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) was regarded as the best wood for woomera-cast spears because of its high flexibility. In fact, the mechanical properties of this woody vine were so suitable that short pieces were spliced together if long ones were not available (Cleland and Tindale 1959:139). It was such an important species that a group of mythological women, who had slender and flexible bodies, was named after it (Strehlow 1971:469).”

We have discovered a Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) plant growing on the place.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens website explains that the botanical name means:
• “Solanum - from the Latin, ‘solamen’, meaning to solace or comfort, referring to the narcotic properties of some species; and
• ‘laciniatum’ - from the Latin, lacinia, meaning a lappet or flap of a garment, referring to the lobed leaves.”
From what we understand the Aborigines used the fruits of these plants to trigger abortions!

The shrub you can see to the right in the following photograph is a Showy Parrot-pea (Dillwynia sericea).
These are only evident in a small area of the property, are leguminous and a strong high-protein ‘diet of choice’ for livestock.

If anyone knows what the insect species are in the following three photographs please let us know!

The bird in this photograph is a Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) and the picture was taken in what we call the Native Pasture Paddock.
They feed mainly on the seeds of native grasses and acacias collected from the ground and were themselves popular for hunting and eating during the early days of European settlement (but are now protected).

We’ve identified 2 new bird species:
Brown Songlark (Cincloramphus cruralis) – Exceptional in that the male is much larger than the female. They are nomadic, don’t hang around in drought affected areas and males have a very distinctive call during the mating season.
Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides) – A slender falcon with a very distinctive black band at the end / underside of the tale. One of the most commonly seen bird species in Australia due to its “tolerance for a wide variety of habitats and its ability to feed on a variety of foods and nest in a range of sites”.

Grasses and Forbs
In a previous edition we mentioned finding Rock Isotome (Isotoma petraea) on various outcrops. From what we now know it seems these are actually Showy Isotome (Isotoma axillaries).
The accompanying photograph is of one of these plants (with the blue flowers - whichever species it is!) together with some Native Plume Grass (Dichelachne) – a most promising species for pasture grass.

The Plateau Paddock is now almost totally covered in Native or Blue Crowfoot (Erodium crinitum). Several locals have told us that this winter and early spring have produced close to ideal conditions for the growth of this species.
The lack of recent rain means that the Plateau Paddock (and most others) have hayed-off and now look very different to what’s below. The roots of these plants are supposed to be edible.

We watched this Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) blissfully wandering around the Middle Hill Paddock for about 20 minutes or so.
A new-born is called a puggle and is smaller than a jellybean. Echidna mothers don't have nipples so the puggle prods a small patch of skin inside the pouch which causes thick milk to ooze out which it licks up. When it is too big for the pouch and starts to get spines its mother leaves it in a burrow (sometimes ex-rabbit burrows) while she looks for food. From about 7 months old it fends for itself.

The dead tree you can see below is home to some type of furred animal, most likely a possum but we’re not certain. We could see the animal through a very small hole in the trunk but could not identify it properly.
One way to accurately identify animals in these situations is to place double-sided sticky tape at the entrance to the hollow. A few strands of fur are all that is needed for DNA testing, which is carried out by environmental scientists.

Rock Formations
We came across the rock formation (below) in Ghost Valley, which has a shelter in it used frequently by a Red-necked Wallaby which we often see in the vicinity.
Also suitable for a small wife!!!

Commercial Activity
For 2 months we had over 600 sheep on Ochre Arch on agistment. For the trivia-minded, the dry matter consumption of the animals would have been just less than 60 tonnes. The factors used to determine animal dry matter demand include species, age, weight, growth rate, sex, state (pregnant, lactating, or ‘dry’) and number of offspring.
The sheep had a very positive impact on the land, including weed control, mineral cycling and trampling. Some of their diet of choice included the core of growing Patterson’s Curse and the stems, flowers and seed pods of the Wild Radish.

Community On-farm Event
On 11th October we hosted a ½ day visit to Ochre Arch by about 20 members of the Lachlan Grassy Box Woodlands Conservation Management Network who came to see some of the Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) remnants of White Box and Blakely’s Red Gum Woodlands on the farm. The main speakers on the day were local nature guru Mikla Lewis (who organised the whole event) and Sue Hudson (Aboriginal archaeologist).

The highlight for us was Sue’s discovery of 2 scar trees, where bark had been removed by Aborigines to manufacture coolamons. The picture shows Sue with one of the trees.

In Memoriam
Jan’s mum, Shirley, passed away on 5th September from uterine cancer. It was all quite sudden really, and we will miss her greatly.

In Closing
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to

Kind regards .... Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 6


Anonymous said...

Hi Phillip,

I think you might find that the plant used for tea by early settlers was Sweet Sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) rather than the species you mentioned.

Sweet Sarsaparilla is truly sarsaparilla-flavoured and tastes very sweet and strong when nibbled.

The 'Faslse Sarsaparilla' (Hardenbergia violacea) does look very similar as it has similarly coloured and shaped leaves and they are both weak twiners occurring in the same ecosystem type. However, the difference is that the Sweet Sarsaparilla has three main veins.


Michael Kiely said...

Hi Phillip,

I do so admire your blog. Simply brilliant.

Michael Kiely