Sunday, 6 April 2008

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 9

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

Feedback on Ochre Archives - Issue No. 8
Sandra L. asked “so what happened to the cute 'enemy no. one' that was sitting on your verandah?” We ended up giving it to Jan’s brother for his birthday. On the same subject Peter H. commented “As to your furry friend - I remember being on the sidelines of a discussion part way through last where people with some knowledge of the field and without a vested interest seemed to be generally in agreement that there were major doubts in research circles as to the impact of the cat on native species or at least the resultant conclusions drawn in some circles.”

Aboriginal archaeologist, Sue Hudson responded that we needed to “take great care with the unusual-formation rock as it may be a gnamma (namma) hole, and that the hole in the middle could be ‘Cleverman’. Please take some close-up photos and keep people well away from it / not to tell people about it as these things can be very dangerous”.

Our curiosity levels sky-rocketed and our subsequent research revealed that holes in the centre of rocks were sometimes used for food/medicine preparation and it is not uncommon to find a thin stone lid or cap nearby which would have been used to keep the holes covered. Armed with this information we returned to the spot and found that in fact there were two similar formations on the same granite rock AND about 6 metres slightly down-slope from the southern formation there was a thin (17 mm) piece of granite that exactly fitted over the southern of the two formations as a lid as you can see in the accompanying photo.

The other critical observation we made that was the centre holes were both extremely rough with no evidence of any grinding (using other rocks) having taken place. On this basis Sue concluded and confirmed that the formations are natural and not of Aboriginal heritage significance. In our researching we also read about the Aborigine leader 'Pemulway’ or ‘Rainbow Warrior’ who was considered the first freedom fighter against white invasion in NSW during the late 18th century. He was named after the great Rainbow Serpent who forged the river valleys around Sydney and was known by his people as a 'cleverman' due to his secret powers and skill at avoiding and escaping from capture. Pemulway gathered together and led tribal warriors from Lane Cove to the Blue Mountains, continuing a war of fire against the growing settlement. When he was finally killed, his head was sent to England for scientific study.

John L asked ‘Where is Grenfell?” The town of Grenfell is located due west of Sydney Latitude: 33.90 °S Longitude: 148.17 °E. The map below (courtesy Bureau of Meteorology website) shows the location within the state of New South Wales. The elevation of the Grenfell weather station is 410 metres above sea level.

Greg L astutely observed we’d not recently mentioned finding any "nasty's" (such as snakes) on Ochre Arch. Ochre Archives - Issue No. 2 included a photo of a black snake. Sightings are very rare. We have avoided further references as we’ve found most people are terrified of snakes and prefer not to even think about them. Greg’s comment has been a major catalyst to the taking and inclusion of the various spider photos in this edition.

Seven readers have indicated they are interested in finding out more about the possibility of taking equity in livestock on Ochre Arch on a profit-share basis.

Self confessed “Grenfell refugee now living on the Liverpool Plains”, Craig Carter, suggests that photo we’d identified as Red grass (Bothriochloa macra) looked more like the Giant Red grass (Bothriochloa biloba). Craig has lots of both on his place with “the latter starting to succeed in a cell grazed plains grass environment”.

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs
The shrub in this photo is called Cauliflower or Dogwood bush (Cassinia aculeata). To many it is classed as a ‘woody weed’ given its penchant for colonising disturbed areas.

In a few paddocks there has been no stock for over 12 months now. Whilst there has been significant regrowth (existing plants) of some shrub species the only obvious regeneration (new plants) of trees and shrubs seems to be the Currawang (Acacia doratoxylon), shown in this photograph. Currawangs are commonly known as a type of Wattle.

In recent weeks we’ve been planning to construct some new fences. In the process we came across the this White Box (Eucalyptus albens) with a horizontal branch not bad as a short term resting spot.

Milton Lewis instantly recognised the nest in this photo as being the egg case of a Preying Mantis.

The moth (or maybe butterfly) in this picture caught our eye, immediately following a rainfall event.

We locally refer to what you see in this photograph as a ‘Bush spider’ but now know (courtesy of Milton Lewis) it is a Golden Orb Weaving Spider (Nephila Tetragnathidae). The large specimen is female and if you look very closely you can see a tiny male near her head. Pretty gutsy little character we reckon!

The web of these spiders is extremely strong to the extent that small birds can get caught. They are reluctant to bite (humans!) and do not cause long term discomfort if they do.

We think the spider in the above photo might also be a species of Orb Weaver. At the time we took the picture we’d no idea of the vibrant red and orange colours on its body, given it was taken in the middle of the night and all we could make out was where to point the camera.

Below is a picture of what we refer to as Grass Spiders. They are very small (despite the apparent size in the photo) and the numbers have increased significantly given the (current) long grass cover over most of the place.

We’d been told that as the amount of grass cover increased it was likely that the number of flies, mosquitoes and rabbits would decrease. It may be a figment of our imagination, and there might be a whole bunch of other factors at play, but at this point we have noticed reductions in the number of all 3 species.

We’ve no idea what species of spider this one is It was only a few days after this photograph was taken that we found the entire web closed-in like a cocoon.

We’ve come across 1 new species since the last newsletter taking the total to 69.

Curiously one outcome of allowing the grass levels on the farm to reach full height has been the exit of the Banded and Masked Lapwings from their usual haunts, given their habitat preference for ploughed and short-grassed sites. On the other hand there has been a continuing rise in the numbers of Quails on the place.

Mikla Lewis made us aware that a couple of species of plants commonly found on Ochre Arch (and many other parts of Australia) and considered to be weeds are in fact edible – in small doses and in a well balanced diet.

The species below is known as Pigweed (Portulaca oleracea). The Queensland DPI website explains it “is a succulent annual plant which can be excellent stock feed. It grows throughout Australia in coastal and inland areas. It responds rapidly to rain and can dominate previously bare patches and stock yards, especially after a dry period. However, oxalate and nitrate compounds in pigweed are potentially lethal.”

Mikla explained that the plant can be used as a substitute for lettuce in salads. We’ve tried it and agree. It was bazaar that a couple of days after learning about this plant Phillip got talking to a bloke from Turkey at a roadside stop who explained that the plant also goes well diced very finely and mixed in plain yoghurt with the addition of a little water. In this bloke’s words “A beautiful treat”!

The picture below shows the fruit and plant body of a Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) plant. It is a native annual plant (not to be confused with the exotic perennial ‘Silver Nightshade’). Phillip’s Mum recalls her father telling her as a child not to eat the fruit also, but that she and her brother used to eat them regularly - and survived!

The Australian Bushfood and Native Medicine Forum website states: “The berries from the common garden and crop weeds Blackberry Nightshade, Solanum nigrum and the Glossy Nightshade, Solanum americanum have a variety of tastes sensations ranging from a sweet mulberry-like taste through to a somewhat bitter taste. The early settlers frequently made jam from the shiny black berries (10 ounces of sugar to the pound of fruit). The tender green leaves were also cooked and eaten.” Mikla also makes jam from the fruit.

Despite our best endeavours we have been unable to identify the two species of vines shown below.

Grasses and Forbs
Here you can see a native Kidney Plant (Dichondra repens) described in the Darebin City Council website as “An excellent lawn substitute in moist shady areas where traffic is light.”

The Purple Wiregrass (Aristida ramosa) seen below is thriving on a few places. It’s a native species, not terribly palatable for stock. Plants commonly live for anywhere from 5 to 25 years.

We think the plant pictured here is a type of sedge or reed. There are only a few dotted around the place, all on light soils in locations that become waterlogged in wet years.

The species below is yet to be identified. It is in some ways similar to Black Roly-poly (Sclerolaena muricata) in that it’s spiky, tough and not particularly ‘human friendly’.

In the same vein, the following picture shows what’s known locally as Cotton Bush in flower. It tends to colonise on bare ground and provides habitat at times to small lizards.

This summer has been particularly good for Common Blown or Fairy Grass (Lachnagrostis filiformis). It is this species shown below that provides much of the cover for the quails mentioned previously.

There is an area of a few hectares located to the south of the main dam on Ochre Arch that is open sloped country interspersed with dead standing and fallen timber. To us this is a classic example of the value fallen timber can have in retaining nutrients and fostering herbage biomass production. The photo below shows a log surrounded by a large volume of grass (mainly Red Grass) in comparison to the immediately adjacent open country.

We have been considering introducing Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) but in the past few weeks we have found it is already on the farm (see below), although only in 3 locations, and even then only a few plants. The Australian Native Seeds website explains that “because of its deep roots, Kangaroo grass can help maintain a low water table thereby assisting to control dryland salinity.”

All we know about what’s on the trunk of the tree in the photo below is that it’s ‘some type of fungi’.


We found the frog above residing in the outside toilet. Milton Lewis has told us it’s a species of tree frog.

One of our neighbours recently completed a cool burn of pasture grass in the paddock next to the house as a lead-in to sowing a winter cereal crop. The photo below shows remnants of the stems of the previous season’s crop covered in a thin layer of soil – put there by termites. These small creatures play a very significant role in keeping the mineral cycle ticking over in brittle environments.

Here’s a close-up shot of an Eastern Striped Skink (Ctenotus robustus) we found on one of the rocks in the Plateau Paddock. They are insectivorous and occupy a wide variety of habitats from tropical and temperate woodlands to heaths and rock outcrops throughout eastern and northern Australia.

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

Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to Ochre Archives - Issue No. 8

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I admire your patience in observing all these interesting things. Here in Canada, people even go for a walk in a hurry and probably don't see or hear a thing.