Sunday, 2 December 2012

38°C - a day at the Royal with the girls

38°C.  The first day of summer has come to a steaming close as big fat drops of rain slap the car and the wipers take this typically Australian weather event in their stride. 38°C - that's over 100°F on the 1st of December! We live in suburban Sydney about 35 kilometres inland and by 9:00am it was clear that today would be a hot day. The boss was working so I decided to take the girls to the beach.  

I'm not a huge beach fan, so decided to head south to the Royal National Park and one of my favourite spots on the coast, Garie Beach, both for whiling away a summer's day and scouting for deer with a camera. 

The history of the Rusa Deer herd in the Royal National Park varies depending on what you read and who you speak with. The Australian Deer Association claims that Rusa Deer were released into the Royal National Park in1879 by The Acclimatisation Society ( Other records suggest that rusa were released into the Park in 1907, obtained from a shipment en route to New Zealand from New Caledonia. There are also claims that The Acclimatisation Society turned out several species into the Royal National Park in 1885 - red, fallow and rusa (Long, John L. Introduced Mammals of the World. Their history, distribution and influence 2003).

I've been a lover of the Royal since my first visit in the mid-nineties. I was driving through the park with a couple of mates and we found a couple of empty red hulls - Winchester Buckshot 00/SG. It didn't take much research to learn of the deer populations and the rampant poaching at the time. I picked up a Pentax P30 SLR and a Sigma 70-300mm lens - this was old school, back when you tried to make every shot count and you didn't know you muffed it up 'til you picked up your prints from the lab! Thank Christ for digital photography! So I spent the next few years clambering about the steep gullies and escarpments on my days off, struggling through the thick coastal scrub and heathland that takes a constant battering from heavy winds, chasing rusa with the big ol' Pentax.  It was great fun!

The girls and I had a swim, they were worn out when I decided to make a move which was great as it meant a quiet drive home and an early night to bed. We went for a casual walk, they're quite sensitive to steep inclines and "scratchy scrub" so I wasn't planning on pushing any boundaries today. The grassy flats along the beachfront were an easy walk and sign of the deer was everywhere. Every patch of grass was covered in droppings, any soft ground we could find held tracks and the ground under the lower growing Cabbage Tree Palms was heavily trampled by the deer; the woody scrub in these areas was chewed back heavily.

The beautiful Cabbage Tree Talms (Livistona australis) is common along the eastern edge of RNP
We drove up the winding road to the clifftops. The higher country is dominated by Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) and a thick heath and scrub understorey where the Gymea Lily is king (or queen?) and low coastal shrubs like waratahs, banksias, tea-trees and hakeas have created a perfect haven for the resident rusa. 

The forest on the high eastern slopes of RNP are dominated by Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) and the wonderful Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa); the Gymea Lily blooms in early spring and produces a flower over a foot wide!
At Governor Game Lookout we got out of the car and went for a walk, following the sandstone steps to the cliff edge. The three of us sat for a while and had a good look across the scrub and cleared country leading up to the beach below; good spot for a camp I thought - will have to look into that for the summer months ahead.

My oldest asked why we couldn't hunt the deer here - I did my best to explain the rules and laws and judicial consequences associated with guns and parks and the like. Pretty complicated for a 4-year-old; lucky I didn't tell her that they brought in pro-shooters to cull the deer at night with spotlights, rangers and RSPCA reps, that would have totally confused her!

As we turned back, the girls raced each other to the car, there seems to be some prize with being the first in your seat - certainly not a prize I'm awarding but it suits me. I stalked down the slope towards the scrub and peered over the edge into the gums and gymea lilies that were thick in the bush below. Moments later a round rump bobbed into the bush and vanished.  

I smiled, actually I grinned and walked back to the girls. Off to Auburn for a middle-eastern feed.  Hope everyone else was able to let off some steam - 6:00pm and still 38°C.  


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