Kath Mathwin: Kojonup roadsides and bush

By Kath Mathwin

Not many of us can remember the Kojonup landscapes and the roadsides of seventy years ago. So, not many of us realise how much has changed over that time, how much we are missing.

Then, the cleared paddocks were mostly stocked with merinos, many had a lot of desolate, ring barked, dead trees standing, and there was still a lot of natural bush.

Gradually most of the bush has been cleared, except trees selected for shade, shelter or scenic value.

Every year the four seasons (or six in Noongar understanding) came and went, every year each season was different – the people, the flora and the fauna had to be able to adapt — sometimes there was a summer downpour, sometimes winter rains came early, sometimes late, there were droughts and floods, frosts and heat waves. Nature can adapt to seasonal conditions but struggles to cope with progress.

There was always something flowering in the bush, but it was in the spring time that our road verges and bush turned into floral wonderlands, with gardens of nature on both sides of the roads.

Commonly known names of the flowers were familiar to many children and their parents, small bunches could be picked, enjoyed on the mantlepiece until they withered, looked up in the wild flower book or coloured pencils brought out to try and draw them.

Some of the well-known spring flowers which can be remembered are;

Pink Fairy Orchids, glossy Pink Enamel Orchids, Cone Flowers, Rose Tipped Mulla Mulla, Black Eyed Susan, Pink Boronia, Snake Bush Pimelia, Pink Everlastings, and Trigger Plants with their amazing pollination mechanisms which were such fun to activate.

Yellow Wattles in many shades, Donkey Orchids, Vanilla Orchids, Banjines, Buttercups, Banksia, Stinkwood and Common Pop Flowers.

White Pincushions, graceful Spider Orchids, Milkmaids, Smokebush, Myrtles, Sundews, Grevilleas.

Blue Squills, Leschenaultia in every hue of  sky blue blue, China Orchids, Bluebells and Blind Grass which was reputed to be able to blind horses if they ate it.

Purple Fans, Royal Robe, Dampiera, Fringed Lily, Purple Tassels (or Pixie Mops), Purple Enamel Orchids, Hovea.

Red Leschenaultia, One Sided Bottlebrush, Jarrah Runner, Kangaroo Paws, Coral Vine, Grevilleas.

Orange Bacon and Eggs, Heartleaf Poison, York Road Poison, Prickly Poison, blazing orange Christmas Trees burst into flower later in the year, adding to the excitement of Christmas expectations!

Orchids, Spider, Enamel, Fairy, Fan, Greenhood, Mosquito, Shell, Jug, Rabbit, Bird and Donkey.

There were Grasses, Reeds, Sedges, Rushes, Mosses and Fungi, they would have all been there even if their display wasn’t so eye catching and names less familiar.

In those days we didn’t know anything about Veldt grass, Love Grass, Tagasaste, Freesias, Ixias, African Orchids, Soursob, Kikuyu, Wild Oats, Bridal Creeper, Eastern States Wattles, Onion Weed, Wild Gladioli, all had yet to come to Kojonup.

All the wildflower loveliness grew in the undergrowth below the trees, it was habitat for small animal wildlife which was rarely, if ever seen, Numbats, Chuditchs (Quolls) Frogs and Lizards (and Rabbits, we saw plenty of them!)

Up in the trees were Magpies, Mudlarks, Willy Wagtails, Crows, Cockatoos, Robins, Parrots, Honey Eaters and many little birds, hard to identify.

Above the trees Wedge Tailed and Little Eagles soared, there were Hawks, Kites, Kestrels and Falcons, they all hunted the smaller life, the little birds hunted for the multitudes of beetles, ants, termites, spiders and seeds.

Roadsides and Reserves were habitat and hunting grounds for them all.

In and on the soft ground below were fungi, mosses, moulds, worms and micro-organisms. All keeping the soil healthy, and helping to feed the roots of the trees. Everything depended on being part of the local web of life.

In late summer tracts of bulldozing were burnt, the air was smoky, the setting sun was red.

An early autumn break would bring mushrooms, none if the cold winter set in before the rains came.

In winter the stump holes left when the trees were burnt out would be filled with water and turn into pools, frothy with frog’s eggs and teeming with tadpoles.

But roads have to be wider now, so the verges are narrower, they used to be corridors for plants and animals so that remaining bush blocks were connected. Now birds can still use them, invading grasses use them, but the reserves are have been turned into islands for nature.

About fifteen years ago our Landcare Officer, newly arrived from Queensland, he was so delighted to be taken to a remnant on the verge of little narrow road, where there was a spectacular wild flower display. He took masses of photos … there are no wildflowers there now … perennial grasses have completely overgrown them, although it is still just a little narrow road.

Looking beyond the road verges today there are still some patches of healthy bush preserved on farms, and there are some clumps and rows of trees perhaps planted thirty or more years ago when LCDC’s were better funded and more active. In the Kojonup district there were twenty two Catchment Groups each with a membership of ten or more farmers. Many creek lines, saline areas and shelter belts were planted. Some of their hard work of fencing and revegetation has been destroyed by fire, not all replaced, some fences have rusted and been trampled, but much is still maintained, providing valuable shade and shelter.

There are Bluegum plantations, many re-cleared and restocked because they didn’t live up to expectations and Pine plantations which fared better and both the Red and White Tailed Cockatoos love them for their seeds!

Big mobs of cattle and prime lambs and canola have mostly replaced the milking cow and merinos.

There are still some of the ancient original trees. Picturesque Red Gums (Corymbia callophylla), Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) and White Gums (Eucalyptus wandoo) perhaps two or three hundred years old, some are dying, is it because of climate change or is it because the fungi and other vital soil life they depend on to feed their roots are no longer able to exist, destroyed by wheels, cloven hooves, hungry mouths, fertilisers and poisons?

Everyone loves wildflowers to look at, to photograph or study. Wildlife loves them too, their lives depend on them!!

There is still a lot remaining to preserve and regenerate.

Can the knowledge, appreciation, money, dedication and action be found to make it happen?