Nature, culture and history
Wooroonooran National Park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450km between Cooktown and Townsville. Consisting of nearly 900,000ha, vegetation is primarily tropical rainforest, but also includes 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.
The Josephine Falls walking track winds through rainforest known as complex mesophyll vine forest, the most complex rainforest type in Australia.
An interesting feature of this area is the presence of a number of plants that generally occur only at higher, cooler altitudes. Josephine Creek starts high in the mountains and it carries surprisingly cold water down to the lowlands. This water cools the creek's immediate surroundings and, combined with the cold mountain air channelled down the valley, creates a cooler microclimate along the margins of the creek. This has encouraged certain plants, which are normally more at home at higher, cooler altitudes, to flourish. These include the Atherton palm, an elegant understorey species that normally grows above 500m altitude, and the moisture-loving potato fern, with arching 3m long fronds.
Hope’s cycad Lepidozamia hopei—an endemic cycad of the Wet Tropics and possibly the world's tallest cycad— is also found here. Plants can grow to 20m tall and the cones can be up to 70cm long. They produce bright red, toxic seeds which may take up to 12 months to germinate.
Among the more spectacularly coloured inhabitants of this rainforest are brilliant green-spotted triangle butterflies, iridescent blue Ulysses butterflies, rainbow and scaly-breasted lorikeets, and king parrots. Colour is an important cue used by many animals. It helps them to identify others of their species, warn off predators and attract mates in the dense, green and dark interior of the rainforest.
The more subtle colours of emerald doves and superb fruit-doves still catch the eye as the birds search the canopy for ripening fruit. Australian brush-turkeys sporting their bright red and yellow neck wattles, are a common sight as they scratch at the forest floor or patrol the picnic area.
Less bright, but equally interesting, are the little musky rat-kangaroos. These active marsupials fossick for fallen fruit on the forest floor in the late afternoon and early morning. Lace monitors are sometimes seen strutting along the creek bank and red-throated skinks scuttle among the rocks, sunning themselves and searching for insects and other small prey.
Life in the fast lane
Life for aquatic animals can be difficult in fast-flowing rivers such as Josephine Creek. The larvae of dragonflies and damselflies have flattened bodies, which allow them to lie low in calmer water. Other animals have grasping legs, hooks and suction pads. The tadpole of the Australian lacelid frog has a large mouth disc, which covers more than 50 per cent of its lower body surface. This allows it to hang on in turbulent water while it feeds on algae on the rocks.
'The Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people lived as hunter-gatherers around the upper Russell River and foothills of Chooreechillum (Bartle Frere).
'Life revolved around the forests, the animals and the seasons. Traditional life was very practical. Family groups camped beside the river close to seasonal food. Shelters were made of palm fronds, ginger leaves and branches.
'Our people ate nuts, fruit, tubers, fish, scrub turkeys, eggs, possums and carpet snakes. They buried nuts underground at the camps when there were plenty around, and dug them up when they were out of season.
'Our people knew what time to eat the wildlife, when they were fat enough to eat and not breeding. Everything was centred around the seasons. In the time of the jigaru (thunderstorms), moongarra (Australian brush-turkeys / scrub turkeys) began nesting and everybody looked forward to a change in diet to bumboo (turkey eggs). When certain trees flowered it was time to catch fish. Our people knew about food by reading the seasons.
'When the men went hunting, they always asked permission of the animal spirits first before killing animals for food. They took only what they needed. All families had animal totems they wouldn't hunt. Our old people never killed animals in their breeding season and never killed female animals.'
Noongyanbudda Ngadjon Elders
A time of change
The arrival of Europeans brought change to the area. Chooreechillum was named Bartle Frere by George Elphinstone Dalrymple, leader of the 1873 North-East Coast Exploring Expedition. It was named after Sir Edward Bartle Frere, the then president of the Royal Geographical Society in London.
From 1886 Christie Palmerston, explorer and prospector, travelled over much of the upper Russell River area, making contact with the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people and enlisting their reluctant help to climb Bartle Frere. Palmerston became familiar with aspects of the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon culture, which he recorded in his diaries.
Palmerston and two associates, George Clarke and William Joss, discovered gold on the upper Russell River and its tributaries. A gold rush followed but conditions were very harsh and the gold was not easily obtained. Many miners left the field soon after with small takings. Only a small number stayed on, some making wages and others barely scraping by.
Eventually the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people moved into the western part of their country. Many of the men then worked with European miners, farmers and timber-getters while the women often worked as domestic helps.
From the turn of the 20th century onwards, mining, farming and timber-getting dominated traditional Noongyanbudda Ngadjon lands. The early European settlers saw the 'scrub' lands as hostile jungle that had to be conquered and 'put to good use'.
Slowly attitudes changed. In 1921 parts of the Bellenden Ker Range, including Bartle Frere, were made a national park.
The Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people maintain close spiritual connections with the Bartle Frere area.