Nature, culture and history
Cania Gorge National Park is the closest park to the coast where you can see the sandstone landscapes of Central Queensland. To the west, Isla Gorge, Expedition and Carnarvon National Parks all offer rugged and diverse sandstone landscapes waiting to be explored.
Walk in the morning or afternoon—it is the best time to see more of Cania Gorge's interesting wildlife. Take time to stop, look and listen. The hidden sights and sounds of the park will reveal themselves to you. Look up at the cliffs above where a peregrine falcon or wedge-tailed eagle may be soaring. At Dripping Rock or The Overhang, listen for the sound of water slowly eroding sandstone. In the wet, choruses of frogs can be heard near creeks. Rustling noises in the dry rainforest are often caused by birds or reptiles, which you may see if you are quiet. In the side-gorges, the echoing calls of sulphur-crested cockatoos or currawongs are often heard.
Cania Gorge is an ancient place. The gorge was carved out of sandstone by the slow action of water. About 200 million years ago, this area was part of a low plain, where major streams deposited sand eroded from distant mountains. The sand settled to form a thick blanket over older rocks, a process that occurred over large areas of Central Queensland. Other sediments were deposited on top of the sand in subsequent lakes and swamps.
Over time, the sand and other sediments were compressed into layers of rock, including one known as Precipice Sandstone. Then, about 50 million years ago, forces under the Earth's crust tilted the layers slightly and caused them to crack, creating a fault line.
Run-off from rainwater began to seep southward along the fault-line, eroding the Precipice Sandstone. As time passed, the wide gorge with its 60m cliffs and the winding bed of Three Moon Creek were formed. The granite rock at the bottom of Three Moon Creek has been exposed by erosion. About 240 million years old, it was formed as molten rock that cooled slowly beneath the surface of the Earth.
The sandstone of Cania Gorge is still being changed. Wind and water continue to sculpt the landscape, creating places where plants and animals can live. Caves have been created by wind and water. Wind blows fine particles of sand against the cliff face, eroding the stone. Water dislodges the fine clay particles that hold the sand together. Eventually, caves are formed.
Water finds its way into cracks and crevices in the sandstone, where it erodes the rock and eventually causes large straight-sided blocks to break away from the cliff line.
Flora and fauna
Cania Gorge National Park falls within a large natural region known as the Brigalow Belt. More than 150 different types of plant communities are found in this region, including brigalow forest, eucalypt woodland, cypress pine woodland, dry rainforest and grassland. Many of these Brigalow Belt plant communities are classed as threatened, due to extensive clearing, altered fire regimes and the effects of introduced species. National parks protect some of these communities, however the future of many is still uncertain.
You can easily see two main types of vegetation in the gorge, though at least eight types have been identified. 'Dry' rainforest, which fringes the cliff bases and extends down gullies, is a rich green. In sharp contrast, grey-green eucalypt woodland is seen above the gorge and on the lower slopes. Above the cliffs is a hot and dry landscape of eucalypt woodland, often with an understorey of grass trees and native grasses. Dry rainforest has a dense canopy that blocks out most of the sunlight. There are many vines and thorny shrubs in the understorey.
Sandstone cliffs rise above Three Moon Creek. They are hot and steep, making them difficult places for animals and plants to live. Eucalypt woodlands cover the slopes leading down to Three Moon Creek. Spotted gums, with an understorey of native grasses and wattles, are common in these woodlands. Forest red gum and Moreton Bay ash are found on the flats alongside Three Moon Creek, while river she-oaks and weeping bottlebrush cloak the edges of the creek.
Eucalypts dominate the woodland adjacent to Three Moon Creek and above the sandstone cliffs. With an understorey of native grasses, grasstrees and acacias, these woodlands are home to a great range of plant and animal species. Brilliantly coloured Australian king-parrots Alisterus scapularis can be seen flying strongly between the eucalypts. Male birds have a red head, while females are predominantly green. Whiptail wallabies graze in mobs of up to fifty during the day or night.
Dollarbirds are one of many bird species that are seasonal visitors to the park. In summer, they raise young in tree hollows and can be seen chasing cicadas among the eucalypts. As April brings cooler weather they head north to spend winter in Papua New Guinea.
Lace monitors are excellent climbers, spiralling up a tree to avoid being seen. Sometimes growing to a length of more than 2m, they eat bird nestlings and also forage on the ground for insects, reptiles, small mammals and carrion.
Watch for the movement of rainbow skinks as they dart about hunting insects among rocks and leaf litter at the edges of the tracks. Eastern pebble-mound mice construct mounds of small pebbles containing several vertical burrows.
The red flowers of kurrajong shrubs are seen around the walking tracks during spring and early summer. Wood geckos shelter under rock or fallen bark during the day, emerging at night to hunt insects on the ground.
Common tree snakes may be seen near the tracks in summer. As good climbers, they quickly disappear into the vines if disturbed. Tree snakes are harmless to humans, eating frogs and skinks.
The side gorges and base of the sandstone cliffs are where you find the dry rainforests of Cania Gorge. Plants of these forests have special features to help them conserve water during the dry months. These include small, hard and waxy leaves and an ability to shed these leaves when times get tough. Porous sandstone allows wet areas to form where mosses and ferns can thrive. Lichens are made of two plants (a fungus and an algae) living together as one organism. They grow very slowly on sandstone and are able to withstand heat, cold and dryness.
Herbert's rock-wallabies live on and around the rock faces of Cania Gorge. They are very shy animals, quickly bounding across steep walls to hide. Cracks, crevices and caves in the sandstone are important habitat for wildlife. Insect-eating bats, such as the sheathtail bat, shelter in caves during the day. Some plants, such as silver elkhorns, are able to grow on cliff faces. Elkhorn fronds are covered in fine, silky hairs that help prevent moisture loss. The centres of the plants have spongy leaf nests that form a type of moisture-retaining peat.
Cania Gorge rainforest is one of the few places where the endangered plant Cossinia australiana can be found. Black-striped wallabies can sometimes be glimpsed near walking tracks in the dry rainforest. These shy wallabies move at dusk from the rainforest to graze on grasses and herbs. The long, piping call of the Lewin's honeyeaters can be heard clearly through the thick forest.
Australian brush-turkeys make rustling noises in the undergrowth and are often heard before they are seen. Males build large nesting mounds on the forest floor and maintain them at a constant temperature for egg incubation by continually adding plant debris.
As the sun sets and the last glow of colour fades from the cliffs of Cania Gorge, many of the park's animals are settling for the night. Others, however, are stirring from their day-time sleep and getting ready to move. At night the gorge is full of life. Great brown broodfrogs Pseudophryne major shelter under leaf litter near creeks. Females lay large eggs on land, and males guard the eggs until rising water covers them.
Southern spotted velvet geckos Oedura tryoni are soft-skinned colourful lizards that emerge to search for insect prey. Spotted pythons are active at night, leaving crevices in cliffs and caves to hunt for lizards, birds and small mammals. Interestingly, both utilise their tongue to keep their lidless eyes clean.
The call of yellow-bellied gliders Petaurus australis has been described as 'oo-cree-cha-cree-cha-chiggawoo-ja'. These large marsupials emerge from hollow trees to glide up to 100 metres. Yellow-bellied gliders make distinctive cuts in the bark of eucalypts and return each night to feed on the gum that is exuded.
Fire has been a part of the landscape at Cania Gorge for millions of years. While uncontrolled high intensity fire can cause great damage, some fire is needed to maintain a healthy diversity of plants and animals in the ecosystem. Grasstrees have a skirt of green leaves that protects the centre of the plant from fire and helps them quickly resprout. Fire sometimes promotes mass flowering of these plants.
Today, fire is managed in Cania Gorge National Park for the benefit of people, plants and animals. Park rangers carry out planned burns to maintain a fire regime suitable for native plants and animals. Different areas are burnt over a period of years to produce a patchwork of burnt and unburnt areas. Dry rainforest is very fire sensitive. Burning is undertaken in the surrounding vegetation to minimize the risk of dry rainforests being burnt. Many of our plants and animals have evolved adaptations allowing them to cope with fire, such as the rough sacrificial bark at the base of the Moreton Bay ash tree.
You can help protect people, animals and plants in Cania Gorge from uncontrolled wildfires by not lighting fires anywhere in the park.
Many animals, such as the red-bellied black snake, survive fires by sheltering under rocks or in hollow logs. Unburnt areas provide safe refuge for animals fleeing fire. Eucalypts are well adapted to fire. Dense bark protects the inside of the tree from damage. Beneath the bark are special epicormic buds, which throw out new shoots after fire.
There are nine recorded First Nations people's art sites in Cania Gorge, but these are not accessible to the public. Paintings include handprints and images of animals and their tracks. The art of Cania Gorge is freehand painting—a very different style of art to that recorded to the west and south-west. Cania Gorge has no stencilled art like the hands, feet and boomerangs found at Carnarvon National Park. Most paintings in Cania Gorge are weathered, faded, and very fragile.
Grinding Groove Cave is located on neighbouring freehold land to the east of Cania Gorge National Park and is one of the sites being investigated by archaeologists. Grooves were created as First Nations people used sandstone to grind the edges of hatchet stones, made of hard rock such as rhyolite. Water is needed to help the abrasive process, so the groove sites are usually found near creek beds or under the drip-line of caves.
First Nations people have lived in Cania Gorge for at least 19,000 years, back to the height of the last Ice Age. Australia was a much colder and drier place at that time. It is thought that First Nations people may have used gorges, such as this one, more frequently during this period as they offered access to predictable water and food resources. Continuing research by local First Nations people and archaeologists in the Cania Gorge region will increase understanding of how First Nations people's occupation of the gorge changed over long periods of time.
The walls of the pit in Grinding Groove Cave cut through hearths—layers of material resulting from fires lit within the cave. The white areas of ash often contain teeth, burnt bone and sometimes pieces of stone tools. A pit excavated in the floor of Grinding Groove Cave descends 4.5m until it reaches bedrock. This pit reveals evidence of 10,500 years of First Nations peoples occupation.
The area around Cania Gorge has had a varied history over the past 150 years. Thomas Archer was the first European to explore the headwaters of the Burnett River.
Cania Station was established during the 1850s and ran sheep until 1883, when beef and dairy cattle were introduced. The nearby town of Monto opened in 1924, and today, dairy and beef cattle, forestry, crops and tourism are of primary importance to the area's economy.
Gold was discovered just to the north of Cania Gorge in 1870 and the township known as 'Cania Goldfields' soon sprang up along Three Moon Creek. The township's population fluctuated over time until mining finally ended in the early 1920s. The waters of Lake Cania eventually covered the remains of the goldfields after Cania Dam was built on Three Moon Creek in the early 1980s.
The natural beauty of Cania Gorge's spectacular cliffs and fern-covered pools has attracted visitors for many decades. The area to the east of the picnic ground became a scenic reserve in 1924, but it was not until 1977 that it was gazetted as a national park. A further addition to the national park was made in 1979, and in 1989 the Francis family, owners of Cania Station, donated the land that comprises the central section of the park.