Nature, culture and history
Mammals and reptiles
Danbulla is home to a range of endangered, near threatened (rare) and vulnerable mammals and reptile species. Endangered fauna includes the spotted-tailed quoll (northern subspecies) (Dasyurus maculatus gracilis) and northern bettong (Bettongia tropica). Three possum species—the Herbert River ringtail (Pseudocheirus herbertensis), green ringtail (Pseudochirops archeri) and lemuroid ringtail (Hemibelideus lemuroids) are listed as near threatened, as are the Atherton antechinus ( Antechinus godmani), Mareeba rock wallaby (Petrogale mareeba), rusty monitor (Varanus semiremex), Thornton Peak skink (Calyptotis thorntonensis) and Bartle Frere skink (Bartleia jigurru). Vulnerable animals include the yellow-bellied glider (Petaurus australis reginae) and spectacled flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus).
You may encounter some of these mammals and reptiles while visiting the Danbulla area.
Northern bettong (Bettongia tropica)
Once widespread, the northern bettong is listed as an endangered animal, and is only found in four small populations in north Queensland. One of these populations is in the eucalypt forests of Danbulla. About the size of a possum, these small members of the kangaroo family relish the taste of truffles (underground fungi), feeding almost exclusively on them. This unique feeding behaviour helps maintain forest health by spreading truffle spores, which are essential for the health of many trees. Habitat fragmentation, changed land use, feral animals and the invasion of rainforest into eucalypt forest due to changed fire patterns have all contributed to the northern bettong's decline. Look for these tiny, delicate kangaroos along the roadsides in the eucalypt forest. Read the Recovery plan for the northern bettong (2001–2004) for more information.
Sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps)
Flaps of skin extending on each side of the body from the fifth finger to the first toe allow the sugar glider to soar for up to 50 m between trees. This social animal lives in open forest, sharing a common nest with up to seven adults and their young. Their ability to glide is an efficient way of reaching patchy food resources and avoiding predators. Sugar gliders eat insects, nectar, pollen and the sap of various tree species.
Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Able to live in a range of habitats, echidnas are found all over Australia. Using its forepaws and nose, it breaks into ant or termite nests and extends its long, sticky tongue inside. The insects adhere to the tongue and are drawn back into the mouth and eaten. If disturbed on solid ground, echidnas immediately curl into a ball of radiating spines. When not wandering in search of ant and termite nests, echidnas can be found sheltering under thick bushes, in hollow logs or under piles of debris.
Red-legged pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica)
At dusk, watch the forest edges as red-legged pademelons appear as if from nowhere. These small macropods are most active between dusk and dawn, eating leaves from a wide range of plants and grasses, and the occasional fruit. Pademelons can be quite noisy, thumping their hind feet in warning and settling disputes with harsh, rasping sounds. When resting, pademelons lean against a rock or a tree with their tail folded between their extended hind legs. As they fall asleep their head rests on their tail or the ground beside it.
Boyd's forest dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)
This prehistoric-looking reptile boasts a colourful collection of folds, spines and scales. A master of camouflage, Boyd’s forest dragons are usually only seen when leaving the trees to forage along roadsides, tracks or streams. Occasionally you may be lucky enough to spy one, as still as a statue, clinging to the trunk of a rainforest tree. Boyd's forest dragons eat a range of invertebrates including crickets and snails.
Amethystine python (Morelia kinghorni)
This beautiful reptile is Australia's largest snake, with a North Queensland specimen reputedly measured at more than 7 m long! Most are usually around 3.5 m long. They are found in a wide range of habitats from rainforest to open forest and even scrubby vegetation on coral cays. Amethystine pythons use heat sensors to locate their warm-blooded prey. They favour rats, possums, wallabies and birds including domestic chickens. Prey is seized and held before being crushed in coils and swallowed whole.
Declines of Australian rainforest frogs were first noticed in the late 1970s and continue to the present day. In the Wet Tropics, seven species endemic to the area declined or disappeared in the 1990s and three remain missing. Only one of these species remains in the Tinaroo area—the tapping green-eyed frog (Litoria serrata). The exact reasons for these catastrophic declines are not known, although a fungal infection is thought to be the main contributor to the decline of stream-dwelling frog populations.
Frogs and tadpoles are an important element of the fauna in upper catchments of our tropical rivers but this is where most frog extinctions have occurred. In the upland rainforests, where relatively few fish are found, frogs and tadpoles play an important role in the food chain. Frogs feed on insects and in turn are eaten by snakes, birds and many mammals, while tadpoles, by feeding on leaves and detritus in the waterways, supply fine detritus and protein (themselves) for other animals. It is possible that the river nutrients, instead of being 'fixed' by the tadpoles, will simply be flushed out of the system.
A recovery plan for the stream-dwelling rainforest frogs of the Wet Tropics has been developed and focuses on eight endangered species. The aim of this plan is to significantly improve the conservation status and long-term survival of each species through protection of existing populations, location of additional populations or expansion of existing populations into previously inhabited areas.
The variety of habitats at Danbulla has created many opportunities for birdwatching, with more than 200 species recorded for the area. Birds are attracted to the large lake, its tributaries and marshes. These areas are natural breeding sites for both resident birds and summer or winter migrants. Palaearctic wader species migrate to Australia from breeding swamps in northern Europe and northern Asia, and are commonly seen on the lake from August to December. Some of the other migrant species include the whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybridus), little curlew (Numenius minutus), marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) and the little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius). Nocturnal birds of prey include a variety of owls including the southern boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae), barking (Ninox connivens), rufous (Ninox rufa), barn (Tyto alba) and lesser sooty (Tyto multipunctata).
Following are some of the birds that may be encountered while visiting Danbulla.
Lesser sooty owl (Tyto tenebricosa multipunctata)
Soon after dusk this silent hunter glides through the rainforest, picking possums and gliders from branches, and rats, bandicoots and other mammals from the ground. Look for this owl as it sits on an exposed branch, carefully searching the forest and floor for its next meal. The characteristic 'dropping bomb' call is probably the first sign that a lesser sooty owl is sharing your night.
Comb-crested jacana (Irediparra gallinacea)
The exceptionally long toes of this amazing bird are the secret behind its ability to walk and run on floating water-plants. When disturbed, adults usually fly with their legs hanging behind like strange streamers. Younger birds will dive and can remain motionless underwater with only their nostrils and beak above the surface. On land, jacanas are delicate and graceful, gently rocking their head back and forth as they walk. Look on the water's edge for these remarkable birds as they feed on aquatic insects, plants and seeds.
Black-faced cuckoo-shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae)
If you hear metallic grinds, 'churrs' and hisses, chances are they belong to this pretty grey and black bird. The black-faced cuckoo-shrike makes its home in open forests and woodlands where it searches the foliage for large insects, fruit and the nestlings of other birds. Black-faced cuckoo-shrikes are partly nomadic and partly migratory, roaming widely in loose flocks formed late in summer and autumn. In early spring the flocks disperse and adult birds return to the breeding territory of the previous season.
Lewin's honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)
The loud rolling staccato chatter, sometimes likened to machine-gun fire, often heralds the arrival of a Lewin's honeyeater. These birds are the most widespread of all the honeyeaters of Australia's eastern coastal rainforest. While this friendly honeyeater has a particular liking for picnics and barbecues, its proper place is in the rainforest canopy, foraging for blossoms, fruits and insects.
Grey fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
The feeding flight of the grey fantail is a twisting, turning dance that starts and finishes from set perches. Small prey is swallowed in flight but larger items are shaken, wiped and swallowed while the fantail perches. Although found over much of Australia, grey fantails found on the Atherton Tableland are characteristically darker, occasionally mistaken for the willy wagtail.
Purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
The huge feet of the purple swamphen grip onto reed stems to support its weight while it walks through waterside vegetation. Although it can swim, it prefers to walk, jerking its stubby tail up and down as it searches for young reeds. The reeds are bitten off at the base and gripped with a foot while being eaten. Herbs, seeds, fruit, eggs, insects, spiders and molluscs also form part of the swamphen's diet.
White-bellied sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
Often seen soaring over the waters of Lake Tinaroo, it isn't hard to identify the long, graceful flight and contrasting colours of this huge eagle. Stopping at favourite perches in their permanent range, pairs often sing a duet in the morning and evening. Hunting is either from perches or the air, from which the sea-eagle will dive on fish, turtles, snakes, water birds, nestlings and rabbits. It will also eat carrion from the ground and occasionally rob other birds of their prey. Purple swamphens are a particular favourite on the menu of Lake Tinaroo's white-bellied sea-eagles.
Spotted catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris)
The wailing, baby-like or cat-like territorial cry is often the first sign that a catbird is nearby. Pairs of this distinctly green bird feed together within their territory, flitting and hopping through the rainforest in search of fruit. Occasionally they also dine on insects, leaves, shoots, flowers, frogs and nestlings of other birds. At night the pairs roost in vines or clumps of dense foliage. Spotted catbirds are the only member of the bowerbird group that do not have an elaborate courtship.
Danbulla National Park and State Forest cover more than 12,000 ha of eucalypt and acacia forests, pine plantations and Wet Tropics World Heritage rainforest. The pine plantations in the Danbulla State Forest were first established in 1947. Today these hoop and Caribbean pines cover 1,100 ha and undergo a 30–45 yr planting, maintenance and harvesting cycle.
Danbulla is an upland refugial area, supporting rare, high-altitude rainforest and wet schlerophyll forest. Some of these forests occur at altitudes exceeding 1,200 m and contain several flora species that are related to the first flowering plants. The high altitude rainforests are of particular significance for rare plant families such as annonaceae, apocynaceae, euphorbaceae, myrtaceae and proteaceae.
The distinctive Mareeba granite, south-east of Mareeba, and the Tinaroo granites, which form the mountains north of Tinaroo Dam, have been dated at between 260 and 270 million years old.
Lake Euramoo is of special geological significance, occupying a volcanic landform called a maar. Unlike other volcanic lakes, Lake Euramoo is unique because of its dumbbell rather than regular circular shape. This unusual formation is the result of two overlapping craters, which were formed by double explosions, possibly at the same time. Lake Euramoo's steep sided rim forms a closed catchment.
World heritage area
Danbulla National Park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450 km between Cooktown and Townsville. Consisting of nearly 900,000 ha, vegetation includes tropical rainforest, open eucalypt forest, wetlands and mangrove forests. The WTWHA meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. These criteria recognise the area's exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species. The WTWHA also has cultural significance for Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
Find out more about the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
As you travel along Danbulla Road, through the forest and pine plantations, it is hard to believe that this area was once a thriving rural community. At its peak during the World War II, Danbulla was home to a community of around 40 families with a population of between 150 and 200 people (excluding troops).
The timber of Tinaroo
In 1880 the earliest European inhabitants in this area, the timber-getters, used bullock teams to extract cedar until the land was divided into allotments in 1905. The Forestry Department then worked these allotments, removing all the good quality kauri, red cedar and maple from the area. At that time, the mills only accepted logs with a centre girth (half way up the trunk) of 8ft (2.43m) or more.
In 1917 the Forestry Department released parcels of land to be used for farming. Among the earliest settlers were the Morris, Sullivan, Tierney, Hanley, Ingram, Clark, Galvin and Paterson families. As in other parts of the Atherton Tableland, the new settlers were faced with the task of clearing their land and building houses before they could start farming. The families removed any remaining valuable timber and sent it for milling at various sawmills on the tablelands and in Cairns. The families were paid a royalty for the timber. Once all of the timber had been removed, the remaining scrub was burnt then houses were built and the land developed for farming. Early indications were that Danbulla would develop into a prosperous farming community supported by a profitable timber industry.
In 1922 district school inspector KA Somers, in his report on the need for a school at Danbulla, noted that 'There are at present about 20 settlers. The land is very healthy and, when cleared of scrub and grassed, is splendid dairying country'. Mr Somers recommended that a school for 25 pupils be built and that a male teacher be appointed. The Lake Euramoo State School was built and received its first pupils in May 1924.
By 1935 the community had outgrown the school to such an extent that the school committee was pushing for the appointment of a second teacher and an extension of the school to cater for the 59 pupils. Towards the end of the 1930s the government embarked on Public Estate Improvement (PEI) program that extended the network of timber roads leading further up into the Lamb Range. The PEI was a government agency that built public capital assets, while providing jobs for the unemployed. Road workers and their families moved into the district which temporarily boosted the population and put more pressure on the school. In 1939 another teacher was finally appointed and the school building was extended.
The Tinaroo Range road network
While the roads were being surveyed and built, Herb Fryer packed supplies, over Mount Edith, to the road surveyors’ camp at the headwaters of Emerald Creek. He made this journey every Tuesday and Saturday, accompanied by his son, Gordon, on Saturdays. When the surveyors had finished the Mount Edith Road, Herb helped move their camp and continued to cart supplies to their next job—the Kauri Creek Road.
A growing community
As the Danbulla community continued to grow a community hall was built and telephone exchange installed on the veranda of the house near the school. Elisabeth Beasley ran the exchange from 1930 until it was replaced by an automatic exchange more than 20 years later.
Tom Clark and Bill Hanley operated a small steam-powered sawmill on the banks of Robson Creek. The mill employed seven or eight people who lived in a village close to the mill. The mill became known as Clark and Mays when Stan Mays bought out the Hanleys in the 1940s. Clark and Mays then bought an electric-powered mill in Kairi, moving offices, houses and other parts of the old steam-powered mill to the Kairi site in 1958. The mill was then purchased by the Rankine Brothers in the 1960s.
A steam-powered sentinel truck, possibly owned by Lawson’s Mill, was used to haul some of the timber from the Danbulla area. On 21 September 1933, when climbing a hill, the drive on the truck broke and it rolled out of control back down the hill, capsizing off a small bridge (near School Point, now inundated by Lake Tinaroo). Less than 10 years later, the same thing happened with a steam sentinel owned by the Clark and Hanley sawmill, only this time it was off the bridge at Downfall Creek.
Bill Hanley built a house near Lake Euramoo and the Hanleys were the first family in the area to get a radio. Guests were invited to listen to the radio but all that could be heard was static. All that remains of this house now are the two brick fireplaces which today are known as The Chimneys.
Home of the huge kauris
Previously called the Danbulla Range, the Tinaroo Range is known as the home of the huge kauri pines. One of the biggest of these kauris held 11,808 super feet (about 39m3) and was felled from forest reserve in 1947. Guido Poggioli, who had the contract to fell this rainforest giant, had a custom saw imported from America for this ‘special assignment’. The log was then too large to be hauled by bullock teams so he used his new D8 dozer to get it to the loading ramp on the Morris family property on Mount Edith Road. An even larger kauri, of 14,000 superfeet (about 46m3), was felled by Rankine Mill contractors in 1954.
Even though some horse teams did work in this area, most timber-getters preferred using bullock teams in the rugged terrain of the Tinaroo Range. The bullock teams, mostly made up of Illawarra shorthorn steers, were more easily manoeuvred in the rainforest. They also were impervious to stinging tree strikes, which could eventually kill a horse. Team drivers and their bullocks had a language all of their own. The teams were lead by the two best bullocks and controlled entirely by verbal commands.
The war years
The entry of Japan into World War II in 1941 and the rapid advance of Japanese forces through south-east Asia and into New Guinea in 1942 meant that suitable training areas for training in jungle warfare had to be found. The Australian troops needed an area to prepare for the conditions they were going to encounter in New Guinea. Danbulla was one of a number of training areas selected on the tableland and, for the next 2.5 years, life changed dramatically for the local communities. Danbulla was a busy place with the army presence creating a market for farm produce and a hectic social scene.
The only access road from Danbulla to Kairi passed through the main army camp which, at the time, was a town under canvas. Ablution blocks and kitchens were sprinkled throughout the camp and army traffic dominated the roads. At the height of the army presence there were between 100,000 and 150,000 troops scattered about the tableland.
One of the large recreation igloo buildings from the Danbulla camp was relocated to Malanda after the war and is now the Malanda Show Pavilion. The present day Kauri Creek walking track passes through the old target areas of a firing range that, in those times, were grassed paddocks.
Beginning of the end for Danbulla
When the war ended and the troops left, things changed for the worse for Danbulla. The shift in emphasis from butter to whole milk production was a problem for Danbulla farmers who were disadvantaged by their distance from the factory at Malanda. They had little choice but to continue supplying cream and raising pigs as a sideline.
The next blow was the severe drought of 1946–7, which devastated Danbulla farmers. It also became clear that, apart from two small patches of rich volcanic soil near Lake Euramoo and Kauri Creek, Danbulla soils were generally very poor. Once the nutrients from the burned and rotted rainforest were used, productivity of the soils declined. Timber supplies were also dwindling and by the early 1950s most of the accessible rainforest area had been logged.
As early as 1942 army engineers had suggested damming the Barron River at Tinaroo Falls to provide water for a major irrigation scheme in the Mareeba–Dimbulah area. Harold Collins, the local member of State Parliament and Minister for Agriculture in the late 1940s, championed the dam proposal and it was eventually supported by the government of the day. Word soon spread that the dam was to be constructed and that Danbulla was earmarked for land resumptions. From this point the Danbulla community declined as people left the district. Those who remained adopted a 'caretaker' approach to their farms as they waited for the land to be valued and compensation offers to be made. The school closed in 1958 and the last residents departed soon after.
Lake Tinaroo was also completed in 1958. It is the first large dam built primarily for irrigation in Queensland. Its construction opened up new areas to farming and allowed different crops to be trialled. It is now a multi-purpose storage dam providing a water supply for tableland towns, power generation, crop irrigation, stock watering and recreation.
A retrospective view
Today there are a few reminders of the Danbulla community that once existed. The Chimneys at Lake Euramoo, the forestry plot on the site of the old school at School Point and the burnt foundations of the school building at its new location are all that remains of 50 years of settlement.
The Traditional Owners of Danbulla are the Tableland Yidinji. An important living and meeting place for the Tableland Yidinji was Wyamburra, once the site of the Danbulla settlement. Danbulla Road is part of a network of traditional tracks used by the Yidinji to access seasonal food and attend neighbouring ceremonies. Traditionally these people climbed to the top of Platypus Rock to view their land and look out for the campfires of visitors. Smoke from the campfire of the Goobi (Law) Man was an unwelcome sight; he is the Ancestral Spirit who oversees the laws and deals out necessary punishments. As Europeans arrived to cut timber and start agriculture, the Tableland Yidinji people moved to other areas—now known as Tobacco Hill and the township of Kairi.
- Temporary closure, planned burn: Curri Curri bush camping area, Danbulla State Forest 25–27 October 2021
- Temporary closure: Fong-On Bay camping area, Danbulla State Forest 18–28 November 2021