You probably know the saying “The mountains are calling and I must go.” We have all seen it on quirky gift-shop shirts. Today marks the eleventh day in our excursion here in Australia. We are nearing the half-way mark of our trip, and the group of students from Wyoming did what we do best–head for the hills!
The morning started off bright and early at 6:00 am. For those of you who have not been updated regularly by the peculiarities of the sun in the southern hemisphere, sunrise is generally at 5:00 every morning, so most of us were already up and ready to go! At this early hour we hopped on the bus and wound our way into the heart of the Glass House Mountains, just south of our current home in Sippy Downs. The Glass House Mountains were originally named by explorer James Cook in 1770. He thought that the mountains appeared similar to glass furnaces found in his hometown of Yorkshire, England.
These mountains are quite different from the mountain ranges in the western United States. The highest is Mount Beerwah at just over 1800 feet. The mountains rise abruptly out of the coastal plain and do not form a continuous line or structured grouping as so many peaks do in Wyoming. Instead, they are scattered almost sporadically. However, our knowledgeable bus and unofficial tour guide, Jeff Park (not to be confused with Jeff Hamerlinck, one of our professors) shared with us the aboriginal legend about how the Glass House Mountains came into being.
This is the story: at one time in history, a great flood threatened the land as a family watched: Mt. Beerwah, the mother mountain and the largest mountain on the far right, below; Mt. Timbrogargan, the father and largest mountain on the far left; Mt. Coonowrin, the eldest son and the skinny mountain directly in the middle; and the twins, Mt. Tunbudbudla and Mt. Miketeebumulgrai, located between Mt. Beerwah and Mt. Coonowrin in the picture.
As the legend goes, the family was trying to escape the incoming floods from the sea. Timbrogargan was scared for his wife and children. He sent Beerwah and Coonowrin towards the mountains first while he gathered his other children. Timbrogargan went to check on his wife and was upset to find that Coonowrin had fled on his own and left Beerwah to fend for herself. Timbrogargan hit his shameful son over the head with his nulla nulla, causing Coonowrin to have a permanently crooked neck (which sadly is not depicted given the angle of the picture above). The family was not able to make it out of the flood and they all drowned at sea, forever turned to stone. Beerwah, ashamed of her family, still cries tears continuously. These have now become the three rivers flowing out of the mountain. Timbrogargan was also ashamed with his family, particularly his eldest son, and turned his back on them. Now he always faces the ocean.
Today our group climbed Mount Ngungun (pronounced noo noo). In the language of the Gubbi Gubbi indigenous peoples, this means faces. From the top we were able to see the family of mountains from the legend. The Glass House Mountains were once lava plugs within volcanic cones. We traveled through dense woodland vegetation on our hike to the summit of Mt. Ngungun. At the top of the mountain, we gathered for a group photo with our UW flag. The view at the summit was stunning. If we squinted, we were able to see as far south as the skyline of Brisbane, where we had been all of last week. Below the mountain in its valleys were many plantations of trees, including macadamia trees. Neat geometric fields dotted the areas of dense vegetation, pictured below.
After the hike up the mountain, we traveled west away from the coast, up to the Blackall Mountains and the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. Here we were able to walk through a remnant subtropical rainforest that has been preserved, even after decades of intense logging in early 1900s. Originally the area belonged to the aboriginals, the Jinibara People, who used the land to support their way of life for thousands of years. When Europeans began to settle in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they realized the value of the timber that could be harvested from the forest. In particular, red cedar was valuable wood because of its similar appearance to woods already found in Europe via India. After years of deforestation and destruction, the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve was formed, saving only a small portion of the once abundant rainforest. While on our tour of the rainforest, we were able to experience many of the sights and sounds that others have only seen and heard on TV (including a lace monitor lizard and carpet python). We saw the swinging vines and heard the call of cat birds and kookaburras as we enjoyed interpretative talks from our guides Iain and Pauline. We even watched small wallabies nibble on leaves and hop away from us if we disturbed their lunch.
After the rainforest, we continued on our way to Montville, a quaint little town in the mountains. The town is in prime tourist country–many of us who visited there today purchased nice lunches or stocked up on gifts for friends and family back in the States. After lunch, we piled into the bus once more for a stop at the region’s iconic Big Pineapple. When we arrived, we found just what we expected–a very large pineapple on the side of the road, marking a site where pineapple farms were historically abundant. We stopped for a quiet picture and a look around. We finally returned to the USC Campus, weary from our day in the sun, and retired to our rooms for a relaxing afternoon.
If it had been 50 degrees colder, and much less tropical, I could have almost sworn we were home in the mountains once again. After all of our city traveling, a quick trip up into slightly thinner air for a hike was all we needed to feel revitalized and restored for the remainder of our trip in the Land Down Under.