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Nature, culture and history
While most of Mount Moffatt is at least 700 metres above sea level, the north-eastern section of the park rises to even loftier heights. Here, the Consuelo Tableland reaches more than 1000 metres above sea level. Forming part of the Great Dividing Range, this area is known as the 'Roof of Queensland'.
Also called the 'Home of the Rivers', the Consuelo Tableland is the source of several major river systems. On the south-western side of the tableland, water flows along the twin branches of the Maranoa River and into the Murray-Darling catchment. To the east, water travels down steep-sided valleys, including Carnarvon Gorge, into the Comet and Dawson rivers. These join the Fitzroy River, which meets the coast near Rockhampton.
The rivers and creeks of Mount Moffatt flow only after heavy rain. However, they do contain a number of near-permanent waterholes, such as Dargonelly Rock Hole. Isolated permanent and ephemeral (temporary) springs also occur throughout the park.
Millions of years of geological change have led to the dramatic landscape seen at Mount Moffatt today.
Things looked very different in the early Jurassic period, about 190 million years ago. At that time, many slow rivers were depositing vast sheets of sand upon broad, flat plains. Tree ferns, cycads, ginkgoes and early conifers covered the land. This was the time of dinosaurs, but the sandy plains did not preserve their remains as fossils.
As millions of years went past, the sand was consolidated into deep beds of sandstone. Then, between 80 and 60 million years ago, the landscape was pushed upwards and water began to erode the sandstone. Things took a dramatic turn about 25 million years ago when the mighty Buckland Volcano erupted, covering wide areas of the sandstone with basalt lava. This volcano was one of several erupting along eastern Australia as the continent drifted northwards over a 'hot-spot' in the Earth's mantle—a place where molten rock broke through to the surface.
Once the basalt lava cooled and solidified, water began eroding through it, and streams cut down to form rivers draining into five major catchments—today's Dawson, Maranoa, Warrego, Nogoa and Comet rivers.
Erosion continued and the sandstones beneath the basalt were re-exposed. The Maranoa River first encountered the pink Hutton Sandstone, then the Boxvale Sandstones, eroding broad valleys from these soft rock formations. Eventually the Maranoa cut into the harder, white Precipice Sandstone beneath. However, the relatively high base level of the Maranoa River created broad valleys, rather than the steep-sided gorges seen today at neighbouring Carnarvon Gorge. As the valleys widened, isolated bluffs and pillars of sandstone were left behind on the sandy plains.
The landscape of Mount Moffatt continues to be changed by the twin forces of water and wind. Water erodes down vertical fractures in the stone, leaving isolated pillars. Look for the grey weathering crust, or patina, that covers most sandstone. This develops when groundwater percolates through the rock, leaching and softening the rock mass and later evaporating near exposed surfaces to deposit small amounts of silica and iron oxides. These form a hardened skin that becomes stained with grey lichen and algae. If this is broken, the softened rock behind is exposed and begins to disintegrate. The loose material is swirled around by the wind, carving rounded undercut caves. These may break through narrow bluffs or pillars to form holes or arches, such as at The Looking Glass or Marlong Arch.
Mount Moffatt is home to more than 750 plant species. The varied landscape and combination of sandy and basalt soils has led to a rich mosaic of diverse and contrasting plant communities.
Mount Moffat's wide, sandy valleys are cloaked with open grassy woodlands. Here, the pale salmon-pink trunks of smooth-barked apples (Angophora leiocarpa) are common, as are dense patches of white cypress (Callitris glaucophylla). Scattered among these woodlands are also areas of spinifex grass and heath, where wildflowers abound. Look for these plant communities on the road between the park entrance and the turn-off to the information hut. Take the circuit walk to The Tombs Rock Art site to enjoy a close look at this colourful woodland.
As you cross creek lines on the way to the information hut, or at Dargonelly Rock Hole camping area, you will encounter woodlands dominated by poplar box (Eucalyptus populnea) (with their rough bark and large round green leaves), fuzzy box (E. conica) and rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda). Scattered alongside the creeks you will also see large forest red gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) (with mottled, smooth grey bark and large hollows), silver-leaved ironbark (E. melanophloia) and the grey gum (E. grisea).
Spectacular natural grasslands flourish on Marlong Plain. The threatened native thistle (Stemmacantha australis) lives within this expanse of Queensland bluegrass Dichanthium sericeum. The plain is separated by strips of woodland, dominated by forest red gum and rough-barked apple.
At Brandy Gully, on the way to the Top Moffatt camping area, you can see a stand of mountain coolibah (Eucalyptus orgadophila) woodland, situated here unusually on an alluvial plain.
Small patches of softwood scrub (dry rainforest) flourish in isolated gullies and slopes in areas protected from fire. Two small patches of this dark green forest can be seen on the ridge opposite Lot's Wife.
The rolling foothills of the basalt-capped ranges are covered in open woodlands dominated by silver-leaved ironbark and narrow-leaved ironbark (E. crebra). These woodlands can be seen near the Top Moffatt camping area or alongside the road into Lethbridge's Pocket (the murder site and the incineration site) after turning off the road to the Consuelo Tableland. Look for the black, deep-fissured bark and broad silver-grey leaves of the silver-leaved ironbark.
The deep basalt soils of the Consuelo Tableland support a variety of open forests and tall woodlands. Here, the Mahogany Forest is dominated by the tall and majestic silvertop stringybark (Eucalyptus laevopinea). The nearest location for these trees outside Mount Moffatt is on the Queensland/New South Wales border. Beneath these towering trees are found dense swathes of kangaroo grass, blady grass and bracken fern (Pteridium esculentum). Large cycads, known as macrozamia, Macrozamia moorei, are common in the grassy understorey. Here, they are very tall, sometimes reaching as much as six metres in height. The Sydney blue gum (Eucalyptus saligna) is a common tree once you travel past the Mahogany Forest.
The diverse vegetation communities of Mount Moffatt provide homes for a huge range of animal species. As Mount Moffatt's hidden corners are explored, new species are continually being added to the park's list of recorded fauna.
Fifty-seven types of mammals have been recorded for the park, but most are elusive. They include koalas, northern quolls and echidnas. Seven species of kangaroos and wallabies inhabit the park, with grey kangaroos and red-necked wallabies seen in the open woodlands alongside the creeks. Herbert's rock wallabies move with great agility across the rock faces of the park's escarpments. By night, tiny feathertail gliders as well as sugar, yellow-bellied and greater gliders emerge to feed on blossoms and the sap of eucalypt trees. Bats make up one-third of the park's mammals—eighteen species have been recorded so far. Mount Moffatt is also home to rare or little-known native mammals such as the northern quoll, the common rock rat and the eastern pebble-mound mouse.
Mount Moffatt is a wonderful place for birdwatching, with at least 172 species recorded. Keep an eye out alongside the roads for squatter pigeons as they search the ground for seeds. Emus wander the woodlands surrounding the creeks on Marlong Plain. Twelve species of parrots and lorikeets and fourteen types of honeyeaters can be seen. You may have spotted the wedge-tailed eagle—Australia's largest raptor (bird of prey)—eating carrion along the side of the road on the way to the park. Twelve other species of raptor have also been recorded here.
Of the sixty-nine reptiles found in the park, four (including the tiger snake) are regionally significant and are confined locally to the Consuelo Tableland. Seventeen species of frog call the park home. An enormous diversity of invertebrate creatures is also found at Mount Moffatt. Searches continue to turn up new and fascinating species.
Home of the Bidjara
This landscape has a long human history. Evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal life remains at sites associated with ceremonies and the stories of ancestral spirits. Aboriginal rock art sites within the park are some of the most significant in the Central Highlands—and indeed the world.
Aboriginal people of the Bidjara and Nuri groups lived in this area. In touch with their surroundings, they thrived by inventive use of the resources around them. This land continues to hold great significance for Aboriginal people today.
Flowing across the park, the Maranoa River has been central to the lives of Aboriginal people. Mundagudtha, the Rainbow Serpent, created this river during a severe drought, when water from a big spring carved the winding river bed from the land. Bidjara people believe that the people of the Maranoa area originated from this spring.
Steeped in history
Work carried out by archaeologists at Mount Moffatt changed forever our understanding of Aboriginal history.
In the 1960s, Professor John Mulvaney excavated the floors of Kenniff Cave and The Tombs. At Kenniff Cave, he found the remains of campfires extending almost three metres below the ground. Remains from these campfires were carbon-dated, revealing that Aboriginal people had occupied this site as far back as 19,500 years ago.
This was the first location where it was revealed that Aboriginal people had inhabited Australia as long ago as the last Ice Age.
Conflict and change
Aboriginal society in the Mount Moffatt area was completely disrupted soon after the arrival of European settlers in the mid 1800s.
As their land was taken over, Aboriginal people of the Central Highlands organised a determined resistance, with leaders such as Beilbah forming cohesive groups of warriors from different groups. Guerrilla tactics slowed the advancement of the frontier settlement, with many people killed during two decades and brutal massacres carried out by both sides.
European diseases such as smallpox and influenza, as well as opium brought to the area by Chinese workers, further devastated Aboriginal communities. By 1920, those Aboriginal people remaining in the Mount Moffatt area had been forcibly removed to distant reserves at Taroom, Woorabinda and Cherbourg.
Despite the immense impacts on their traditional society, Aboriginal people have survived. Bidjara people today continue to be involved with Mount Moffatt.
The rock art, or imagery, at Mount Moffatt is a reminder of the rich social and ritual life of the region's Aboriginal people. More than just decorative art, the images stencilled, painted and engraved on sandstone were a form of communication among Aboriginal people.
Rock imagery has symbolic meaning and purpose, and is often found at sites where important and sacred rituals were performed. A spiritual connection to the land is expressed through this art. Unfortunately, many visitors to Mount Moffatt from settlement to the 1920s did not understand the significance and fragility of these images. As a result, much rock art has been irreparably damaged or even completely destroyed.
Visitors to the Mount Moffatt area also removed most of the material stored within Aboriginal burial sites. Scientists also took what they could for museum collections, believing that the material would otherwise disappear into private collections.
Today, the importance of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites is recognised. Bidjara people are working in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to protect these precious places.
When visiting rock art at The Tombs or Kookaburra Cave, please remember that the art is very fragile and can be permanently damaged by touching—even accidentally. Dust kicked up by visitors can also damage the art, as fine dust particles stick to the rock surface, covering the stencils. Please enjoy a close look at the rock art while remaining on the boardwalks at these sites. These boardwalks have been provided to prevent damage to the rock art.
A highlands cattle run
The first known European visitor to the Mount Moffatt area was explorer Thomas Mitchell. In June 1846 he travelled along the Chesterton Range, now the park's western border. Mitchell was on a twelve-month journey seeking a northern route for advancing settlement.
The following year, the park's south-western section received closer investigation when Edmund Kennedy's expedition passed through on its way to search for the 'inland sea'.
Mitchell spoke highly of the area, writing of 'excellent open forest land' and scenery that 'was park-like and most inviting'. Settlers soon arrived, guided by one of Mitchell's sketch-maps.
The earliest recorded cattle run was an area called Valentina about 1859. This formed part of what is now Warrong Station, on Mount Moffatt's southern boundary.
Much of the land of the upper Maranoa River became cattle stations in the early 1860s, with the Mount Moffatt run taken up by George Fullerstein in 1867. The Lands Department noted that the Mount Moffatt run was 'rough and mountainous' but was 'generally well-grassed, fairly good pastoral country and very suitable for breeding cattle'. The rough terrain did make it difficult country to work on and ownership of the run changed hands a number of times after 1900.
The Waldron family took up Mount Moffatt station in 1939, operating the area as a cattle station for many years. The Waldrons built the family homestead that is now the current ranger's residence. The Mount Moffatt area became one of Queensland's finest national parks when the cattle property was purchased from the Vincent family in 1979.
Patrick and James Kenniff were legendary outlaws — the last of Australia's 'wild colonial boys'. Expert horsemen, they worked on cattle runs after arriving in the area in the late 1890s. At this time cattle-stealing, also known as 'cattle-duffing' or 'moon-lighting', was rife in the country to the north of Roma and Charleville.
The Kenniff brothers clashed constantly with police over their horse and cattle theft, and in 1901 the lease to their cattle run was revoked, forcing them to live like nomads with a mob of horses.
By Easter 1902 things reached a dramatic climax when a police party sent out to arrest the Kenniff brothers confronted them at Lethbridge's Pocket, in the northern part of today's park. Although mystery still surrounds the exact events of the day, we do know that after a dramatic horseback chase James Kenniff was captured by Constable George Doyle and Christian Dahlke, the manager of Carnarvon Station. As Aboriginal tracker Sam Johnson fetched handcuffs he heard five shots, and suddenly found himself being pursued by the Kenniffs. Johnson escaped, alerting police at Mitchell, who travelled to the area and made a grim discovery—the charred remains of Doyle and Dahlke in police-horse packsaddles. Their bodies had apparently been cremated on a large, flat rock in a creek bed.
One of Queensland's largest manhunts ended three months later when the brothers were arrested without a fight near Mitchell. Put on trial in 1903, James was sentenced to life imprisonment and Patrick, proclaiming his innocence to the end, was hanged. James was released from jail in 1918 and died at Charters Towers in 1940.
- Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park closed due to wildfire. 20–31 October 2021