Nature, culture and history
Massive granite outcrops, precariously balanced boulders, clear streams and tumbling cascades are set within 11 800 hectares of eucalypt forests, sedgelands and heathlands. These significant communities provide for a mixture of plant and animal species usually found north, south, east and west of Girraween, and some that do not occur naturally elsewhere.
Girraween is an Aboriginal word meaning 'place of flowers'. It is not of local Aboriginal origin, but is an apt name for this rugged place with spectacular spring wildflower displays.
Wildflowers begin to bloom in late July with golden wattle brightening the bush canopy, and pea flowers bursting into blossom below.
September and October are the most spectacular months, with magnificent displays of delicate white heath bells and the bold yellow, purple and red pea flowers splashing the granite-strewn countryside with colour. Grass trigger plants, billy buttons, native bluebells, native sarsaparilla and a variety of daisies contribute to the spring show.
The display ends during November, with the summer-flowering flannel flowers, wattles, bottlebrushes, paperbarks and eucalypts.
Grasses, mat rushes, lilies and low shrubs flourish in sparse soil lodged in cracks and joints on exposed granite summits. Larger depressions carry more dense patches. The 'rock gardens' of the scree slopes and massive granite outcrops are splendid. Low, dense heaths comprise a diverse array of flowering shrubs. Wattles, pea-flowers, mint and daisy bushes and rock roses are common beneath scattered eucalypt and cypress trees.
Swamp communities flourish in the headwaters of Girraween National Park's creeks and where granite outcrops impede drainage. Sedges, rushes, swamp selaginella and sphagnum moss have adapted to the waterlogged conditions.
Trees are sparsely scattered throughout these swamps, with messmate stringybark Eucalyptus obliqua making its home in the swamps at South Bald Rock. Heaths, sundews and grasses fringe the swamp edges, with much-admired terrestrial orchids.
Eucalypt forests dominate the well-drained soils on Girraween National Park's slopes, gullies and valley floors. Twenty-five species of eucalypt have been identified, with some only found naturally in Girraween National Park. The graceful, slender-leaved Wallangarra white gum Eucalyptus scoparia is endemic to Girraween National Park, where it is restricted to Mount Norman and the high ridges to the south-west.
On the high ridges to the west and south-west of Mount Norman are the park's only stands of mallee ash Eucalyptus codonocarpa. Eucalypts more commonly observed along the walking tracks are New England blackbutt Eucalyptus andrewsii, round-leaved gum Eucalyptus deanei, orange gum Eucalyptus prava, yellow box Eucalyptus melliodora, apple box Eucalyptus bridgesiana, Youman's stringybark Eucalyptus youmanii and broad-leaved stingybark Eucalyptus caliginosa.
Often eucalypts share the forest canopy with black cypress pine Callitris endlicheri, rough-barked apple Angophora floribunda, kurrajong Brachychiton populneus, banksias Banksia spp. and pechey wattles Acacia neriifolia. The forest understorey may be lightly covered with geebungs Persoonia spp., conesticks Petrophile canescens, and native cherry Exocarpos cupressiformis or it may be more prominent and diverse with urn heath Melichrus urceolatus, queen of the bush Pimelea linifolia, crinkle bush Lomatia silaifolia and a variety of impressive pea flowers. Where the ground cover is dense, kangaroo grass Themeda triandra and blady grass Imperata cylindrica are common along with grass trees Xanthorrhoea spp., drumstick heaths Epacris breviflora and bracken ferns Pteridium esculentum.
Sheltered moist gullies are havens for ferns and more vulnerable and delicate plants. New England ash Eucalyptus campanulata and round-leaved gum Eucalyptus deanei may grow in these gullies with a shrub layer of lance beard heath Leucopogon affinis, blueberry ash Elaeocarpus reticulatus, wild fuchsia Correa reflexa var. reflexa, large-leaved hop bush Dodonaea triquetra and golden everlasting daisy Bracteantha bracteate, Epiphytic orchids and elkhorns Platycerium bifurcatum cling to boulders and trees or lodge in rock crevices. Plants more frequently associated with rainforests including macrozamia Macrozamia viridis, muttonwoods Myrsine variabilis, sweet pittosporum Pittosporum undulatum and possumwood Quintinia sieberi may be found in very moist and protected areas.
Girraween National Park's fascinating eucalypt forests, sedgelands and heathlands provide habitats for a variety of intriguing wildlife. Wildlife enthusiasts are captivated by the diversity of animal species found here.
Wildlife with wings
Flowering shrubs attract beetles, butterflies and other insects—food for many birds, reptiles and mammals. Throughout summer the double drummer cicada's high-pitched mating calls chorus through the eucalypt forests. Being short-lived, the dying cicadas become a hearty feast for a lucky furred, feathered or scaly resident.
The forests and heaths of Girraween National Park support permanent populations of over 150 bird species. Laughing kookaburras Dacelo novaeguineae, magpies Gymnorhina tibicen and currawongs Strepera graculina frequent the camping and day-use areas, as do superb fairy-wrens Malurus cyaneus, eastern yellow robins Eopsaltria australis, eastern spinebills Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, yellow-rumped thornbills Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, satin bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, red wattlebirds Anthochaera carunculata, crimson rosellas Platycercus elegans, wonga pigeons Leucosarcia melanoleuca and common bronzewing pigeons Phaps chalcoptera.
Warblers, parrots, treecreepers, flycatchers and honeyeaters live among the eucalypts and flowering heaths and shrubs. Robins, thornbills, wrens and firetails seek shelter and hunt insects in the dense understorey, while birds of prey such as the little eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides, wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax and the brown goshawk Accipiter fasciatus search for a meal in open grassy areas.
Superb lyrebirds Menura novaehollandiae prowl moist gullies, scratching through leaf litter for grubs and insects. Listen for these masters of mimicry on cool winter days as they incorporate different sounds from the bush as well as other birdcalls into their song.
The superb lyrebird and chestnut-rumped heathwren Hylacola pyrrhopygia are at the northern extent of their usual range. These, and the southern emu-wren Stipiturus malachurus—at the western most extent of its range—are particularly interesting to the ornithologist. The beautiful colours of the rare turquoise parrot Neophema pulchella and attractive diamond firetail Stagonopleura guttata may be glimpsed along the walking tracks or roadsides.
Wildlife with fur
Mammals are best seen at dawn or dusk. Quietly shine a strong torch, preferably with a red filter, into the bush fringing the camping and day-use areas and you may glimpse a foraging possum, a grazing kangaroo, a probing echidna or a rummaging bandicoot. Remember never to shine torches directly into animals' eyes.
The common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula is the most frequently seen possum. This possum is not usually shy and may even venture to steal food from unwary campers. Please do not feed them. Sugar Petaurus breviceps and feathertail gliders Acrobates pygmaeus may occasionally be seen frolicking in bushland fringing the camping and day-use areas.
Greater gliders Petauroides armillatus—the largest of all gliding possums—are similar to koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in that they live almost exclusively on eucalypt leaves and therefore live high in eucalypt trees. Koalas, greater and yellow-bellied gliders Petaurus australis are found in remote areas of Girraween National Park and are not often seen.
Larger mammals such as eastern grey kangaroos Macropus giganteus, red-necked wallabies Notamacropus rufogriseus and swamp wallabies Wallabia bicolor frequent the camping and day-use areas, but during the hotter parts of the day they like to venture into the shade of the woodlands for an afternoon siesta.
At sunset, a mix of wallabies and kangaroos can be seen in the grassy paddocks feeding and fighting in among their mobs. Shy male wallaroos Osphranter robustus with their dark grey, woolly fur may be seen along the roadsides.
The spotted-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus maculatus is an agile climber but spends most of its time on the forest floor hunting small birds and mammals. Living in safe dens among the rocks, it will emerge mainly at night to hunt.
The elusive common wombat Vombatus ursinus also lives underground in burrows under rocky outcrops or heavily ferned gullies. Girraween National Park's common wombats—the most northern population in Australia—are not very common and not often seen.
Follow trails of diggings and you may catch a glimpse of small ground-dwelling mammals such as bush rats Rattus fuscipes, several types of antechinus Antechinus spp., common dunnarts Sminthopsis murina and northern brown bandicoots Isoodon macrourus. Short-beaked echidnas Tachyglossus aculeatus also leave a trail of diggings.
Wildlife with scales
Girraween National Park's sunlit granite outcrops are the preferred habitat of many reptile species, including Cunningham’s skink Egernia cunninghami, White’s skink Liopholis whitii, eastern water dragon Intellagama lesueurii, jacky lizard Amphibolurus muricatus and nobbi dragon Diporiphora nobbi—species that are typical of this type of habitat.
You may catch a glimpse of either the fast-moving copper-tailed skink Ctenotus taeniolatus or the eastern water skink Eulamprus quoyii darting between the rocks. Geckos are more secretive and often remain hidden under sheets of exfoliated granite or leaf litter. Some, like the tree dtella Gehyra versicolor or spotted velvet gecko Oedura tryoni, seek refuge up trees amongst leaves or under bark. At night the granite leaf-tailed gecko Saltuarius wyberba hunts for insects in dense leaf litter and debris.
The most commonly encountered snake is the shy red-bellied black snake Pseudechis porphyriacus, which may be seen basking in the sun on rocks and walking tracks. Eastern brown snake Pseudonaja textilis, bandy-bandy Vermicella annulata and yellow-faced whip snakes Demansia psammophis are less commonly seen. Snakes present little danger to people if left alone. Never approach snakes and never assume that the snake you see is non-venomous.
Wildlife in water
Known only from Bald Rock Creek, Bell's turtle Wollumbinia belli is Girraween's own unique reptile. More commonly found in the northern rivers of New South Wales, this short-necked turtle can be seen basking beside the creek or swimming in the deeper waterholes.
Other interesting aquatic life found in Bald Rock Creek waterholes includes Sutton’s spiny crayfish Euastacus suttoni, river blackfish Gadopsis marmoratus, eastern snake-necked turtles Chelodina longicollis and the Murray turtle Emydura macquarii macquarii.
Frogs are common in sedges and grasses growing on creek banks. The emerald-spotted treefrog Litoria peronii—also known as Peron's tree frog—clings to branches overhanging trickling streams.
Burrowing frogs, such as the ornate burrowing frog Platyplectrum ornatum, sit on the walking tracks or in gutters after rain. Eastern stony creek frogs Litoria wilcoxii are commonly seen and scarlet-sided pobblebonks Limnodynastes dumerilii can often be heard underneath rocks calling ‘bonk, bonk, bonk …'.
The vulnerable New England treefrog Litoria subglandulosa reaches its northern limit at Girraween.
At an average elevation of 900m above sea level, Girraween National Park is on the northern extremity of the New England Tablelands. Girraween National Park's granite habitat is unique in Queensland.
Roughly 225 million years of powerful acts of nature have created the foundations for Girraween National Park's dramatic landscape.
Major earth movements rocked eastern Australia between 200 and 400 million years ago. The continent collided with an oceanic plate and ocean sediments were thrust from offshore into the New England area. This ancient sediment is known as traprock or bedrock.
From the depths of the earth, hot molten rock called magma was forced upwards and invaded the traprock layer. Cooling slowly, the liquid magma solidified to form granite.
Over millions of years, nature's forces combined to erode the traprock, revealing the bare granite below. Today, water, wind, ice and plants continue to mould Girraween National Park's ever-changing landscape.
Culture and history
First Nations people have lived, hunted, gathered and prospered for countless generations in the Girraween National Park area. The park and the surrounding areas still have significant cultural values. From times past examples of camping places, rock markings, tools and marked trees are small glimpses into history.
Allan Cunningham first entered the Girraween area on the 26th June 1827, but the relatively inhospitable landscape made way for an early exit. In the 1840s Robert Ramsay Mackenzie was the first squatter to occupy land in the Girraween area. For decades he and others attempted logging, dairying and farming sheep, cattle, fruit and vegetables.
Dr Spencer Roberts (a medical practitioner in Stanthorpe) was a self-professed guardian of local populations of the superb lyrebird and the common wombat. Convinced that protecting the habitat of these two animals was vital for their long-term survival in Queensland, he put submission after submission to government for declaration of a national park.
Bald Rock Creek National Park was declared in 1930 with Castle Rock National Park declared in 1932. Totalling 1600 ha, they were known collectively as Wyberba National Park.
In 1966, Napier Gunn offered the government his block of 52.4 ha and the two national parks were amalgamated to create today's Girraween National Park. Tom Ryan and Bill and Hock Goebel were employed as field staff and development of infrastructure began.
From 1977 to 1979 further acquisitions enlarged the park to 11,300 ha. The last block acquired in 1980 enlarged Girraween National Park to its present 11,800 ha.
More information on the cultural and natural history of Girraween can be found at www.rymich.com/girraween/.