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Nature, culture and history
Forest islands in a volcanic landscape
The protected areas of the Atherton and Evelyn tablelands contain landform and vegetation patterns that reflect events stretching back millions of years, through times of changing landscape and climate.
For millions of years extensive volcanic activity occurred across the tablelands. Numerous volcanoes erupted and lava flows spread out across the landscape. Today conical hills, flooded craters and red basalt soils bear witness to these geological events.
While the landscape was taking shape, dramatic changes in climate were occurring. Thousands of years of cool, moist conditions were superseded by drier periods. Changing climate became a major force affecting rainforest distribution.
During drier periods, eucalypts and other dry-land vegetation dominated the landscape. Ancient rainforest species contracted into cool, moist areas such as mountain summits or wet valleys. About 10,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age receded and warmer, moist conditions returned to this region, surviving rainforest communities began to re-expand until they again covered much of the tablelands.
When Europeans came in the 1890s they began to transform the continuous forest cover into the rural landscape seen today. The result, laid out from the Hallorans Hill summit, is a pattern of forest and cleared land—forest islands in a volcanic landscape.
The basalt soils found on Hallorans Hill are different to that on the surrounding flats. Hallorans Hill's basalt is more similar to that of Mount Quincan and the Seven Sisters to the east, and it is likely they shared a common volcanic source. The soils have a high percentage of scoria (small, porous volcanic rocks) which gives them poor water-holding ability. The resulting forest is drier than that found on the surrounding flats.
From the summit, the walking track meanders through endangered mabi forest (type 5b or complex notophyll vine forest). The name mabi is derived from a local Aboriginal word for the near threatened (rare) Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo, the largest mammal found in this rainforest.
Mabi forest is a threatened ecosystem with less than four per cent of the original forest remaining. It is only found on the Atherton Tableland, and once covered the area south and east of Atherton.
Several qualities distinguish mabi forest from other plant communities.
- a canopy with numerous deciduous and semi-deciduous trees
- fertile, red, basalt soil, high in phosphorous and calcium
- some trees with plank buttress roots
- a well-developed shrub layer
- a canopy ranging from 25–40 m in height.
The agricultural potential of mabi forest land has meant that nearly all of it has been cleared for farming and, although the remnants are now officially protected, they are still threatened by feral and domestic animals, weeds and the effects of isolation.
The widespread clearing of mabi forest has resulted in four plant species being listed as near threatened (rare). Three of these, Alectryon semicinereus, brown quandong Elaeocarpus coorangooloo and pink leaf haplostichanthus Haplostichanthus sp., occur in Hallorans Hill Conservation Park. The pink silky oak Alloxylon flammeum, Phyllanthera grayi, red-fruited sauropus Sauropus macranthus and Marsdenia straminea also occur at Hallorans Hill and are listed as vulnerable. The arrowhead vine Parsonsia wongabelensis, a large-leafed vine, is an endangered species. Look also for bollywood Lindera queenslandica, a canopy tree with avocado-like leaves. It is the only member of the Lindera genus in Australia.
Be aware that stinging trees are found along sections of the walking track. Stinging trees are native to this area and are an important contributor to the natural environment. They are also dangerous to people. The leaves, stems and fruit of the stinging tree are covered with tiny silica hairs that inject neurotoxins. The sting is extremely painful and symptoms can persist for several months. Dead stinging trees are also dangerous—when disturbed, they release a cloud of stinging hairs which can cause problems if inhaled. Dead leaves will also sting if handled. While walking the Hallorans Hill track, look for large, heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges, and white to red fruit that resemble raspberries. If stung, and symptoms are severe, seek medical advice.
As the track nears Dalziel Avenue, the forest starts to change to eucalypt forest. This gradual 'drying out' is most likely the result of previous disturbances, fire history and change of aspect, with the forest on the lee side of the crater not being as exposed to the prevailing, rain-bearing winds. As the rainforest species drop out, they are replaced by drier forest species like pink bloodwood Corymbia intermedia and red gum Eucalpytus tereticornis. Standing on the edge of Dalziel Avenue, representatives of rainforest and woodland/open forest can be seen on both sides of the road. This area of gradual blending between two distinct forest types is called an ecotone, coined from a combination of ecology and -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension—in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension.
As the track follows, and then moves away from, Dalziel Avenue, native and exotic grasses fill the understorey. Open forest species like the red gum Eucalyptus tereticornis, Moreton Bay ash Corymbia tessellaris and swamp box Lophostemon suaveolens dominate the canopy. As the track heads towards Twelfth Avenue, the number of granite ironbarks Eucalyptus grantica increases and, towards the bottom end of the walk, the white-flowers of the scrub cherries Syzygiym australe are seen along the creek.
Small patches of rainforest, mostly comprised of pioneering species like the northern guioa Guioa acutifolia and red kamala Mallotus philippensis have established within the open forest. These plants are dispersed by birds and are evidence of the dynamic interactions between rainforest and open forest margins as climate shifts occur. The lack of leaf litter and grasses in these areas affects their capacity to carry fire.
The end of the walk passes through plantings of exotic and native plant species, many of which are escapees from nearby gardens.
Over 130 species of birds are listed as mabi forest inhabitants. Many of these are endemic to the Wet Tropics including the grey-headed robin Heteromyias albispecularis, bridled honeyeater Lichenostomus frenatus, Macleay's honeyeater Xanthotis macleayana, tooth-billed bowerbird Scenopoeetes dentirostris and Victoria's riflebird Ptiloris victoriae.
The Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus lumholtzi is one of the most well-known mammals of mabi forest. It is a near threatened (rare) species, along with five other mabi mammals—the greater large-eared horseshoe bat Rhinolophus philippinensis , diadem leaf-nosed bat Hipposideros diadema reginae, Herbert River ringtail possum Pseudochirulus herbertensis, green ringtail possum Pseudochirops archeri and lemuroid ringtail possum Hemibelideus lemuroides.
A range of frogs and reptiles has been recorded in mabi forest including a near threatenend (rare) skink Eulamprus tigrinus.
Also found are several Wet Tropics endemics—the Boyd's forest dragon Hypsilurus boydii and skinks Carlia rubrigularis and Saproscincus basiliscus. The northern crowned snake Cacophis churchilli is also a mabi forest resident and the only snake species found exclusively in North Queensland's Wet Tropics.
Locally extinct fauna
The musky rat-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), a primitive marsupial common in the rainforests around Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine, and the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) are now locally extinct from mabi forest. Research suggests that remnants of mabi forest, like Hallorans Hill, are too small to support viable populations.
Hallorans Hill mabi fauna
Nocturnal animals like the Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus lumholtzi and green ringtail possum Pseudochirops archeri are found on Hallorans Hill. Spotlight for them at night or search the canopy for their sleeping forms during the day. Red-legged pademelons Thylogale stigmatica are often seen and heard while walking along the track.
Look for the grey-headed robin Heteromyias albispecularis hopping along the forest floor in search of insects, spiders, grubs and snails. Listen for the wailing, baby-like or cat-like cry of the spotted catbird Ailuroedus crassirostris. Pairs of this distinctly green bird feed together within their territory, flitting and hopping through the rainforest in search of fruit. Watch the twisting, turning feeding flight of the grey fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa. Although found over much of Australia, grey fantails found on the Atherton Tableland are characteristically darker, occasionally mistaken for the willy wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys.
The scurry and rustle in the leaf litter as you walk along the track is probably a retreating rainbow skink Carlia rubrigularis. Walk quietly and look for them sunning on rocks and logs. Along creeks and near drains, look for eastern water dragons Intellagama lesueurii.
Hallorans Hill eucalypt woodland fauna
Carpet pythons Morelia spilotes travel the length of Hallorans Hill Conservation Park and often find their way into neighbouring yards and houses. These snakes use heat sensors to locate their warm-blooded prey, which is seized and held before being squeezed in the snake's coils and swallowed whole.
Red-browed finches Neochmia temporalis feed and nest in the long grass on road verges and track edges on Hallorans Hill. Listen for their high-pitched calling as flock members maintain contact. Shiny, black spangled drongos Dicrurus bracteatus feed singly or in pairs, flying in tight aerial manoeuvres to pluck insects from foliage and the air.
The Atherton township grew from a collection of timber camps in the late 1800s. In the very early days it was also a staging post for Cobb and Co. Coaches, which stopped at the Barron Valley Hotel in the main street on their way between Herberton and Port Douglas.
Originally called Priors Pocket, the town eventually took the name of John Atherton, a pioneering pastoralist, who settled near the town. First official town lots were sold on 23 February 1886 and were bought by the Kelly, McGeehan, Tucker, Loder, Windhaus and Mazlin families.
Hallorans Hill takes its name from Catherine and Michael Halloran who, with their family, spent 16 years farming parts of the hill from the late 1800s.
Hallorans Hill is the traditional country of the Tableland Yidinji people and is an important link with their country.
Traditionally Hallorans Hill was a meeting place. The current showground was a bora ground and the Tableland Yidinji people moved from here to the area now known as Picnic Crossing for celebrations and initiations.
As families followed the seasons around their country, the elders would climb Hallorans Hill to view the smoke from the families' fires. The larger the smoke, the larger the family. The smoke told the elders who was in the area and where they were moving to.
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