Nature, culture and history
Lamington National Park includes a series of densely forested valleys and ranges rising to more than 1,100m on the crest of the McPherson Range, which marks the New South Wales–Queensland border. The park lies on the southern edge of the Scenic Rim, a chain of mountains stretching from the Gold Coast hinterland to Mount Mistake and is joined by parks, such as the Border Rangers National Park, in New South Wales.
Lamington's rugged landscapes are the result of tremendous changes to the Earth's surface—changes that are still occurring. The waterfalls, cliff lines and mountain peaks we see today are remnants of an ancient landscape that reaches back into the Earth's history, some 300 million years.
The geological story of the Lamington area started during the Palaeozoic Era (more than 225 million years ago) when the single land mass called 'Pangea' separated into two super continents: Laurasia and Gondwana. The present-day continents of South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica, along with India, New Zealand, New Guinea, Madagascar, Arabia and other parts of the present Middle East made up Gondwana. (The name ‘Gondwana’ or ‘Forest of the Gonds’ came from an area in Northern India, which in ancient times was home to a people called ‘Gonds’.)
Some 120 million years ago, Gondwana began to break up. The land masses of South America and Africa separated first. Madagascar and India followed. Australia remained attached to Antarctica until about 65 to 70 million years ago, after which it began to move northwards. Small fragments also moved eastwards to form the beginnings of New Zealand and New Caledonia. It has been suggested that at this time the Lamington region would have been at about 50° south, moving northwards (with the rest of the continent) at 5 to 7cm each year.
Later, several large volcanoes were formed as the Australian land mass drifted northwards over a stationary ‘hot spot’ in the mantle deep below the Earth’s crust. Two of these were in the Lamington region, erupting about 20 to 23 million years ago. The Focal Peak shield volcano near Mount Barney was the first but its lavas were later overlapped by flows from a huge volcano centred over present-day Wollumbin (Mount Warning). This Tweed shield volcano erupted numerous times, spewing masses of molten lava onto the surrounding landscape from what is now Lismore in the south, to Tamborine in the north. Most lavas were basalt, which gives deep fertile soils. There were also some flows of rhyolite with layers of ash and boulders, particularly around Binna Burra, which give poorer soils.
When the volcanoes became dormant, water took over. Over time, spectacular waterfalls, deep gorges, distinctive peaks and rugged cliffs were gouged out of the volcanic rock.
Today, the turmoil of this area’s volcanic origins is largely hidden under the spreading greenery. Tamborine, Springbrook, Beechmont and Lamington are remnants of the Tweed shield volcano’s northern flank. The old volcano's core remains at Mount Warning. The Tweed Valley, formed by massive erosion, is a large erosion caldera carved from the eastern flank of the old volcano, and is best seen from vantage points along the Ships Stern circuit and south-facing lookouts on the Border Track.
Lamington’s southern cliffs continue into New South Wales in a great circle marking the caldera’s edge. The erosion caldera is the largest and best example of its age in the world and an example of an ongoing geological process significant to the Earth’s history.
When you take a walk through Lamington's cool, damp rainforests, travel back in time through what remains of ancient Gondwanan forests that once covered the Australian continent. Some of Lamington's plants and animals are survivors of prehistoric times when ferns, then pines, then flowering plants first appeared. These age-old Australians have endured events in geological time that saw dinosaurs and three-quarters of all living species disappear.
To grasp the nature of Gondwana, we must first understand that the Earth's climate was very different during these ancient times. It has been suggested that sea surface temperatures during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods (210 to 265 million years ago) at latitudes greater than 60° south (where Australia was at that time) were 18 to 20°C, meaning that the climate was perhaps ‘warm temperate’, with reliable rainfall. Some scientists argue that at these high latitudes, the region would have experienced significant winter darkness of perhaps four months' duration. This in turn has caused debate about the structure of the vegetation communities at that time, with suggestions that ‘rainforest’ as such did not exist, but that the ancestral rainforest species occurred as scattered individuals in a woodland formation.
What appears certain from the fossil record is that this community consisted of Nothofagus, southern conifers (Podocarpus and Araucaria), Ginkoites (primitive seed-bearing trees), cycads and giant horsetails, with ferns, seed ferns (e.g., Dicroidium) and club moss in the understorey. The king fern Todea barbara is a relict of one of the oldest fern families, Osmundaceae, evolving even before Gondwana formed and is found in the narrow, moist Toolona Gorge.
Conditions at the beginning of the Tertiary period (around 65 million years ago)—when Australia was just breaking away from Antarctica—were warm and moist with high rainfall throughout, high temperatures in northern and inland areas and warm conditions in the south. It is suggested that vegetation throughout the continent was more or less continuous subtropical rainforest, with little difference in species composition between the warmer and more temperate zones.
Nothofagus was widespread, as were species of Araucaria, Podocarpus, Dacrydium and species of Myrtaceae and Proteaceae.
The northward movement of the Australian continent resulted in a warming and drying of the climate, and the development of the dry-adapted Australian flora, dominated by acacias and eucalypts. You only have to walk the Daves Creek circuit to see the changes in vegetation. The track passes through several distinctive vegetation types: warm and cool subtropical rainforest along the Border Track; warm temperate rainforest containing many examples of ancient angiosperms, such as coachwood Ceratopetalum apetalum in Nixon Creek's headwaters; and wet sclerophyll forest with giant New England ash Eucalyptus campanulata around the track intersection to the Ships Stern circuit.
The different soils derived from basalt and rhyolite lavas have determined how plant communities are distributed. Rainforest commonly occurs on soils derived from basalt, while rhyolitic soils, which are lower in available plant nutrients, support the open forest and heath at Daves Creek. Many rare and endangered plant species are found in these ecosystems.
The impressive stands of smooth, pink-barked brush box Lophostemon confertus found on the Box Forest circuit also echo Australia's climatic changes. Of interest, similar brush box in other parts of the World Heritage area have been radiocarbon dated at 1,500 years, making these giant trees the oldest ever carbon-dated on Australia's mainland.
Today, Lamington is one of the few places where Nothofagus and Araucaria stand together as a reminder of the ‘golden age’ when the climate was warm and wet, just before conifers were overtaken by the new flowering plants. The Antarctic beech Nothofagus moorei is little different from the flowering plants that flourished 100 million years ago. Almost all of Australia's Antarctic beech forests are in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, with Lamington their most northerly location. Nothofagus forests were once widespread across the continent and provided a habitat for many animals that have long since disappeared from our landscape. Small pockets of Nothofagus forest and associated communities can be seen in several areas in the park. Walk to Tullawallal from Binna Burra and discover one of the most accessible pockets of Nothofagus forests in the park.
Lamington also protects one of Australia's largest remaining forests of hoop pine, Araucaria cunninghamii, one of the world's oldest conifers. One of the largest intact stands of hoop pine can be seen along the Darlington Range from the Caves track or Kamarun lookout.
While animal fossils in the area are scarce, palaeobotanists have continued to study living rainforest plants in the Lamington region to help identify fossil species collected in such apparently unlikely locations as South Australia.
As part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, Lamington is an extremely important refuge for many animals. These include several species of earthworm found nowhere else in the world, the beautiful Richmond birdwing butterfly, endangered birds (such as the eastern bristlebird), the colourful Lamington spiny crayfish and mammals, like the spotted-tailed quoll. Lamington plays a vital role in protecting this rich diversity of globally significant wildlife.
The park is home to some impressive examples of songbirds—an ancient group of birds, many of which have melodious calls. Songbirds were originally thought to have evolved in the northern hemisphere, later spreading south. However, recent DNA sampling and finds of fossilised songbird bones (dating back 55 million years at Riversleigh in Queensland) suggest songbird groups evolved in the southern hemisphere and spread north.
You can still see and hear some of these ancient songbirds in Lamington National Park—home to various species recognised for their World Heritage significance. Examples include the satin bowerbird, eastern bristlebird, rufous scrub-bird, red-browed treecreeper and Albert’s lyrebird. While walking along in the rainforest you may be rewarded with glimpses of bowerbirds or hear the mournful cry of the green catbird.
Links with an earlier period in the development of Australia's animals also exist in the invertebrate world. For example, trapdoor spiders of the Gondwanan family Mygalomorphae make their homes in banks along the Border Track, and prehistoric velvet worms or Peripatus can be found scuttling in the leaf litter during wet weather.
Lamington protects about 58 plants and more than 22 animals classed as vulnerable, rare or threatened with extinction. Countless invertebrates and plants, particularly smaller ones, are yet to be discovered. This natural wealth is supported by many different habitats, all crucial in sustaining many of the last remnants of our natural heritage. Without this national park, many more species would have disappeared or be poised on the brink of extinction.
Following their footsteps
First Nations people lived in this area, carefully managing and using its rich natural resources for thousands of years. Known as ‘Woonoongoora’ in the Yugambeh language, the mountains of Lamington National Park are sacred and spiritual, places to be nurtured and respected.
The Yugambeh family groups are identified as the Wangerriburra, Birinburra, Gugingin, Migunberri, Mununjali, Bollongin, Minjungbal and Kombumerri. They shared language, ceremonies, celebrations and economic exchange.
This kinship group used both the open forest and rainforest. Evidence of their occupation has been found in various parts of the park, including the ‘Kweebani’ (cooking) cave near Binna Burra. It is believed a traditional pathway passed through the southern section of Lamington National Park.
The first European record of the McPherson Ranges was by Logan, Fraser and Cunningham, who saw the rugged mountainous area from Mount Barney's peak in 1828. The first Europeans to traverse the area were surveyors Francis Edward Roberts and Isaiah Rowland. Between 1863 and1866 they surveyed the Queensland–New South Wales state border along the highest peaks from Point Danger to Wilsons Peak. Bilin Bilin and members of his family and community carried equipment and identified trees and animals. Many landmarks were named using First Nations peoples' words. The Border Track in Lamington National Park follows part of the survey party’s original route.
The arrival of Europeans changed the First Nations peoples' lifestyle forever. The newcomers did not understand the foraging needs of these groups even though the natural resources must have seemed vast.
By the 1870s, a battle had developed between those seeking to clear more land and those wanting to preserve valuable areas of southern Queensland's subtropical rainforest. Timber-getters spearheaded the onslaught in the search for cedar—‘red gold’. Agriculturalists followed, eager to farm the rich soil where rainforests had thrived.
In 1878, the dream of Lamington National Park began, after local identity Robert Collins learned that the world's first national park, Yellowstone in the United States of America, had been declared in 1872. Collins became an expert on the McPherson Ranges and fought for the mountains and their grand forests to be conserved.
By the century’s end, most of the red cedar, crows ash and white beech trees had been harvested from the area surrounding what is now Lamington National Park and the coastal lowland rainforest had been destroyed. Fortunately, other forces were gathering and other interests slowly gaining voice. A 20-year battle to conserve the precious rainforest remnants of the McPherson Ranges was underway.
In 1906, the Queensland Parliament passed a State Forest and National Parks Bill, and in 1908, the first Queensland National Park was declared at Witches Falls, Tamborine.
In 1911, Romeo Lahey, a Canungra man, joined the struggle and energetically lobbied, lectured and petitioned for a national park.
A quote from Romeo Lahey's diary as told by Alec Chisholm in an article “The Green Mountains: Queensland’s National Park” in The Sydney Mail, 5 March 1919, states:
“I do not remember my reasoning but the idea of those glorious falls being destroyed by selection higher up filled me with an intense determination to have them kept for people who would love them, but who did not even dream of their existence.”
Lahey’s joining the campaign was timely as Robert Collins was to die in 1913, aged 70, before his dream for Lamington became reality. It was not until the Labor Government was elected in 1915 that Lamington National Park was finally declared.
Although Lahey favoured ‘Woonoongoora’, the Yugambeh name for a local mountain, the park was named in honour of Queensland Governor Lord Lamington.
A more detailed history of the park can be found on the Lamington National Park's history page.
- Partial track closure - Illinbah circuit. 16 March to 29 December 2023