Royal intrigue is rife in a national park near you, writes WENDY BARRETT.
There’s been a lot of royal stuff happening on the other side of the world of late — royal weddings, royal spats, royal babies — but there are royal intrigues to be had closer to home if you know where to look.
Here in the Wildflower West we are awash with some of the most fascinating flora on the planet and ranking high among them is our very own, and very intriguing, royal hakea, Hakea Victoria.
A spur of the moment opportunity to visit a friend in Bremer Bay put me in their vicinity. My friend knowing of my interest in the species kindly organised a day trip into Fitzgerald River National Park where they grow rampantly. They are so ridiculously spectacular and showy; they all but preen in front of the camera. I’d seen a picture several years ago online of these startling creatures growing in that region and decided immediately that I must see them for myself in the wild. They promptly went on to my wildflower bucket list.
The royal hakea’s showiness is due to its brightly coloured ornamental foliage rather than its concealed and understated flowers. The first European to discover it was botanist James Drummond in 1847 while exploring near West Mount Barren. He described the species in an 1847 newspaper article whereby he waxed lyrical about it being the most splendid plant specimen he’d ever seen and must have felt it deserved nothing less than to be named after his gracious Queen — Victoria.
While Drummond may not have been aware of it at the time, it was already known as tallyongut by the local Noongar people.
The royal hakea is the poster child of Fitzgerald River National Park. The park covers nearly 300,000ha and from the vantage point of the lookout on Mt Maxwell I could fancy I was looking at a landscape practically unchanged from Drummond’s day.
As far as the eye can see is native vegetation, glorious in its natural state as if Mother Nature had only just left the scene after creating it. There is a seriously special vibe to be felt in these pristine wilderness areas that consist of such breathtaking variety. More than 1800 species have been documented in the park, 75 of them found nowhere else on Earth.
According to the acting chairman of the Fitzgerald Biosphere Community Collective, Nathan McQuoid, new species are still to be discovered in the park. In fact, he and Professor Steve Hopper named one relatively recently — Eucalyptus brandiana. McQuoid had first spotted it in the wilds of the park some time earlier. One might presume that only the smallest of plants could have remained hidden until current times, but Eucalyptus brandiana is not some cowering ground-hugging species but a substantial tree that can grow to 5m high.
McQuoid explains that the park covers an extremely diverse and valuable mosaic of landforms due to the multitude of geological types and complexities that it encompasses. It is the result of a very old landscape. So special is this national park for its biological diversity, that it was listed in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program in 1978. It has been recognised as one of the most important Mediterranean ecosystem reserves on Earth.
So where exactly is this magical national park? Bremer Bay is the gateway to the south-west area of the park and it can also be accessed from Hopetoun further to the east.
My trip to Bremer and the Fitzgerald River National Park was just a hit-and-run two nights, a tacked-on and unexpected addition to a more thought-out trip to the Porongurups.
The first part of the trip home on minor bituminised roads through small towns like Gnowangerup was delightfully bucolic and scenic. With so little traffic to contend with and the roadsides in many places populated with iconic eucalyptus trees such as salmon gums, I felt a strong sense of place and peacefulness.
Katanning was the perfect halfway place to stop for lunch. It’s a lovely country town with an interesting history. Among its many historic buildings is the Premier Mill Hotel — an old flour mill which has recently had a multimillion-dollar makeover.
Once home I marvelled at what an easy drive it was despite the distance.
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