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Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to be off again on a road trip. By choosing to explore an unfamiliar back road or byway, delightful and unexpected surprises often result.

The Queensland road between Warwick and Toowoomba is always a busy highway. While searching for an alternate route, we discovered a 50 kilometre stretch taking us from Warwick to Allora. Since this lovely little town is only a stone’s throw away from Toowoomba, our newly found road, the Sunflower Way, beckoned.  At Warwick we entered it via Victoria Street, turned right into Rosehill Road, and followed the signs to Allora. This proved to be a perfect choice!

A patchwork countryside of ploughed black soil, green lucerne, and brick-red sorghum delighted us. But it was the fields of sunflowers in full bloom that provided a magnificent sight, even in late March at the end of the sunflower cycle. Drifts of golden fields stretched as far as we could see.

Sunflowers are majestic, towering over most people’s heads, and they grow best in full sunshine. The seeds are sold as a snack food or as a component of a bird seed package. Sunflower oil, extracted directly from the seeds, creates inexpensive cooking oil and is also an additive to biodiesel fuel. After the seeds have been processed, the remaining cake becomes healthy livestock feed.

The name, Sunflower (helianthus annuus), possesses only one large flower head, sitting atop a tall unbranched stem. It may have derived its name from the blooming yellow head, which resembles the sun.  A number of fields had already been harvested with their brilliant flower heads gone and the stalks standing alone–now solitary sentinels. They will finally whither and fall, waiting to be ploughed back into the soil as green manure. Thankfully enough fields remained in all their blazing glory to make our drive along the Sunflower Way a memorable one.

When we reached the township of Allora we explored its historic streets. Buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s featured, together with lovingly tended gardens and parks. The area also offers an opportunity to visit the heritage listed, ‘Glengallan Homestead.’ Our drive was a delightful way to finally reach our destination of Toowoomba. If you find yourself here in high summer, its radiant fields of gold will take your breath away. Yet in any season this back road is a beauty, so be sure to put it on your bucket list and make time to enjoy the Sunflower Way.

 

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Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to pack a picnic lunch and be off for the day. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. Instead we head for the back roads and byways, where many surprises are found.

Our own slice of heaven lies in the small semi-rural village of Samford. Situated in Queensland’s beautiful Samford Valley, its surrounding lush green meadows, rolling hills, two state forests and the majestic North Pine River, are offset by a counterpoint of four mountains, part of the D’Aguilar Range. High in the hills of remote Upper Wight’s Mountain Road rests an early treasure, Queensland’s last remaining Aboriginal bora ring. Thankfully this has been gazetted as a reserve, and the Queensland University’s Anthropology Section has accepted nomination as its trustee. The ring is maintained by the local Rotary Club.

Prior to European settlement, the Samford Valley and Pine Rivers area was home to a number of Aboriginal clans. These all belonged to the Turrbul, Kabi and Wakka language groups. The basic unit of Aboriginal society was a self governing clan of about 70 persons.  All were responsible for their own homeland. Their ties to the land were unique as they believed that each one belonged to their land—not the land to them. A tribe included several clans, all sharing a distinctive ceremonial and a common dialect.

The Samford Bora Grounds comprise a large man made ring 26m in diameter, enclosed by a raised earthen mound. From this central ring a sunken path, 700m long and known as the Sacred Way, is linked to a second smaller ring. The rings were dug out by hand with sharp sticks and stone tomahawks and the earth was carried on sheets of bark to the outer mound. Women took part in the ceremonies at the large ring but were forbidden to walk beyond it. If this law was disobeyed, the woman’s penalty was death.

In the ceremonial bora rings, neighbouring tribes gathered regularly to celebrate and perform important tribal rituals. At the Samford Bora Ground the boys, age 12 to 15 were transformed into young men—Kippas. Their noses were pierced with a small sharp spear and then plugged. The boys received tribal body paint markings and were given new names. This ceremony lasted for several weeks and marked their official graduation into manhood.

The Samford Bora Grounds were last used by the Aboriginal clans in the 1870s when the Wight family, living on the next ridge, heard their corroborees. Occasionally we still visit the large central ring as this is the only section now being cared for. Here a deep quiet always lingers, and I experience an eerie feeling when I stop to reflect here. Thankfully this archaeological site still exists to remind and surprise us of our rich, Aboriginal cultural heritage.

 

 

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???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Queensland’s Scenic Rim, a cluster of ancient volcanic mountains, has grown into a lush landscape. Like a pearl nestled in its shell, the beautiful Fassifern Valley spreads outward, offset by the counterpoint of these rugged mountains. Its alluvial soil—rich and dark chocolate brown—produces fruit and vegetables for markets up and down the Australian east coast. The valley is also home to beef, pork and poultry producers and proudly boasts of its boutique and gourmet food, wines and craft beers.

Agriculture and tourism are the Scenic Rim’s two leading industries. Home to six National Parks and crystal clear lakes, the area is a haven for bush walkers, horse riders, naturalists and lovers of spectacular views. The Scenic Rim also showcases its treasures during the annual Winter Harvest Festival—a week-long  celebration of food, wine and farming. Classes in cooking and cheese-making, opportunities to meet and greet our local farmers, and market stall displays of jams, chutneys, specialty breads, and gorgeous winter vegetables add to the visitor’s pleasure.

Winter Harvest festival 1

We filled two large carry bags and I’m looking forward to cooking up a storm. Shopping for organic food, fresh from the farm gate, beats the supermarket any day.

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Bare trees

A winter solstice has come and gone.
Pale sunlight sweeps over the land
as frosted leaves and grass
fade into dull grey-green.
The cold returns.

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 Red Vine 1

This exotic beauty was discovered by accident, on a ramble I was taking along the unused rail trail at the back of our home. There I found a medium-sized tree covered with sage green leaves and amazing red buds. A crimson velvety spathe, or pointed hood, enclosed each flower. Several short hairs protruded from the tip of every tube-like spadix, growing from the centre. I had seen nothing like it before. Fortunately my camera was at hand so I snapped a few photos of this glorious tree.

The Erythrina indica—often called the coral treeis not native to Australia.Most likely it was introduced from South Asia: India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand where it flourishes everywhere.Erythrina comes from the Greek word for red, eruthros, alluding to the showy red flowers of the Erythrina specie. The Erythrina indica is also considered to be an invasive weed as almost any part of it will grow into a new tree. Broken branches, bits of bark, even wood chips from mulched coral trees will produce another copy of itself.

Erythrine indica

During the following months a group of “Green Warriors” moved along the rail trail, energetically clearing the banks and shoulders of weeds, so as to replant them with natives. They tidied up the environment but when I returned to check on the Erythrina indica tree, I was heart-broken to discover it had been dug out and completely removed. Its unique beauty is gone from this place forever but thank goodness, I can still admire it in those treasured photographs.

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Stuart Pea portrait

From my first glimpse of the Sturt Desert Pea, I was nearly blown away. So dramatic and strangely beautiful is its appearance, one could believe this flower found its way here from another alien world. Its common name honours Charles Sturt, who first recorded seeing large quantities of the flowers while exploring central Australia in 1844. The Desert Pea, (Swainsona formosa, previously known as Clianthus formosis,) is also recognized as the state floral emblem of South Australia. Its iconic status and striking beauty has ensured its use as a popular subject in art work and photography. The Desert Pea has appeared in several releases of postage stamps depicting Australian floral emblems, and it features in Aboriginal legends.

Native Koori groups refer to the Desert Pea as the ‘Flower of Blood.’ This title comes from a story which tells of a young woman who escaped marriage to an old man by eloping with her young lover. The shunned man and his friends tracked, found, and killed the couple together with the relatives that sheltered them. Years later the old man returned to the killing field only to discover the ground was  covered with scarlet flowers we know as the Sturt Desert Pea.

Stuart Desert Pea

On his first sighting of the Desert Pea, the 19th century botanist and collector, William Baeuerlen wrote, “To discover the Desert Pea trailing its long roots over the red sands, with its soft ash-grey leaves and large clusters of magnificent flowers rising from the level of the sand, will behold a sight he is not likely to ever forget.” Famous for its blood-red, leaf-like flowers, each with a bulbous black centre called the ‘Boss,’ the Sturt Desert Pea remains one of Australia’s best loved wildflowers.

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Image

    In the dry times after the insufferable heat sets in, it takes only the careless toss of a lit cigarette, a boy with a box of matches, or a lightning strike to set the whole place alight. From a slow smoulder in a clump of dried grass, to the first flicker of a tongue of flame, destruction begins its deadly forward march.

Should the winds rise, flames will spread over the fuel offered by a tinder dry ground cover to ignite the shrubs that explode into fire balls; sending flying embers aloft to set the trees and finally the entire forest canopy alight. The air fills with thick smoke as everything is burning now with the fire racing ahead like a famished beast, gorging itself on everything in its path. All of nature sighs with a hiss and a crackle, then finally groans aloud with the pain of this all-consuming assault. And yet … as fire devours all living things, they grow anew …

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