There isn’t much of Cabbage Tree Creek – just the General Store and a Men’s Shed. Yesterday, we settled our bill at ‘Bird Songs’ and headed west on our way to Bairnsdale – the largest town in far eastern Victoria.
Along the way, we saw a sign pointing to the Stony Creek Trestle Bridge. We turned off the highway and travelled for about 5 kms along a dirt road to find a long timber rail bridge that spanned a gully over Stony Creek.The bridge was built in 1916 when the rail line from Melbourne to Bairnsdale was extended to Orbost. This 97km Bairnsdale to Orbost extension through rugged terrain was reputed to have been the most difficult rail project undertaken in Victoria. It was in service for over 60 years before the bridge was damaged by a bushfire in 1980, with the last train crossing in 1987. The bridge is 247m long and 20m high, it is the largest standing bridge of its kind in the state, and is listed on the Register of Historic Sites. Built of red ironbark and grey box timber, it is a fine example of the early engineering skills that utilised the resources and materials found on site.
By late morning, we had reached the town of Lakes Entrance which is situated at a man-made channel that links Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea with the 400 square kilometre network of inland waterways known as the Gippsland Lakes. The channel is constantly dredged.
We remembered that we had spent the first night of our honeymoon, forty nine years ago, in this town. While it is now a thriving resort town with more motels / hotels than you can count, in those days it was a quiet little back water coastal town. We arrived on a Sunday night and in those days, nothing much was open on a Sunday. The only place that we could find for dinner was the fish and chip shop and it closed at 6.00 pm. Those were the days!
Now that we are by the coast, we have now swapped forest birds for shore birds like this pelican.
Our lunch stop was at a nice quiet little cove at Nungurner Beach, near Metung. It was a very pleasant place with little traffic and no bustle of the larger towns. The picnic table that we used was located under a banksia tree and we couldn’t work out why clumps of foliage, flowers and nuts were falling on us until we saw a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo perched in the top of the tree doing a good job of demolishing anything that was edible.
We arrived in Bairnsdale by late afternoon and pottered around the town looking at some of its old and ornate buildings like the courthouse, gallery and railway station. There were a couple of old pubs that were typical of the traditional Aussie country hotel.
The Grand Terminus Hotel is very close to the railway station. I remember staying there for a couple of nights with my dad when I was a young boy. Dad was a keen breeder of budgerigars and I cane with hime to Bairnsdale when I was about 12 years old when he was asked to judge the birds in a local budgerigar club show.
We have a nice room at a boutique hotel called the Riversleigh on the banks of the Mitchell River. Today Riversleigh comprises of two former family homes, Heatherlea and Riversleigh. These two gracious residences were built around 1884 for a Dr. James Duncan and Mr. Ben Johnson, a grocer. They are the only terrace style houses in this town.
Today, we had a relaxed day and easily filled in the time looking around some of the local area. Our first destination was at the mouth of the Mitchell River where it empties into Lake King. The Mitchell River silt jetties are an unusually long, thin landforms in the Gippsland Lakes region. A type of digitate delta, they have been formed over thousands of years by sediment deposition from the Mitchell River during periods of low water flow and subsequent wash-through during periods of high water flow. The long narrow banks of silt thus formed extend more than eight kilometres east into Lake King. The south bank is navigable by car from Eagle Point through to the very easternmost tip at Point Dawson.
We spent a lot of time this afternoon on Raymond Island near Paynesville. Although it has a reasonably sized urban area, there is quite a lot of bush and open space with plenty of wild life. Over the space of a few hours, we saw a good number of animals and birds.
Raymond Island is famous for its koala population and is accessed by a ferry from Paynesville. The ferry travels over a short distance of just a couple of hundred yards to the other side and takes around five minutes. The fare to the island is $13 but the return trip is free. It is famous for its koala colony. The Koalas were first introduced to this Gippsland island in the 1950’s. Overpopulation and lack of food now plague this koala colony. With the population now around 300 animals, that’s 250 more koalas than the island can actually handle
Koalas typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands, and the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet. Because this eucalypt diet has limited nutritional and calorific content, koalas are largely sedentary and sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are a social animal, and bonding exists only between mothers and dependent offspring. Adult males communicate with loud bellows that intimidate rivals and attract mates. Males mark their presence with secretions from scent glands located on their chests. Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mothers’ pouches, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. These young koalas, known as joeys, are fully weaned around a year old.
Along with the koalas, we were fortunate to catch a close up view of an echidna. Echidnas are sometimes known as spiny anteaters. They are monotremes and closely related to the Platypus. These two animals are the only living mammals that lay eggs. Adult echidnas eat ants and termites, and sometimes feast on earthworms, beetles and moth larvae. Without teeth to chew their prey, they grind food between their tongue and the bottom of their mouth. Their tongue is so sticky and effective that they accidentally consume a lot of dirt while feeding, which is why their droppings are laced with soil.
The female lays a single, leathery egg. Only about 2mm long, this tiny egg is incubated in her pouch. When the egg is the size of a jellybean, the young echidna – the puggle – hatches from the egg. It’s then carried in the mother’s pouch for about three months, where it suckles on her mammary glands. The puggle leaves the pouch when it grows spines, at about three months old. Young stay and suckle from the mother until they’re weaned at about six months.
Along a section of bush track, we came across mob of eastern Grey Kangaroos.
Bird life was abundant. We saw an Eastern Rosella foraging for seed in the open.
In a nearby tree, two Tawny Frogmouths were roosting.These birds are well camouflaged and are hard to spot as they look just like a tree branch. They sleep during the day and at dusk they shake off their disguise and begin their nocturnal hunt. They catch prey in flight, or by sitting motionless in a tree and then swooping down. Tawny Frogmouths eat insects and centipedes, worms, spiders, snails and slugs. Sometimes they eat larger prey like frogs, reptiles and small birds and mammals. It’s thought that most of their water requirements are obtained from their prey, rainfall and dew. Tawny Frogmouths mate for life and in the wild they can live up to 14 years. Females typically lay two to three eggs each breeding season (around August to December). The nest is made of sticks and rests on a horizontal tree branch.
By late afternoon, we were back in Bairnsdale to pick up a few more picnic supplies and to visit St Mary’s Catholic Church. Murals cover the walls and ceiling of the church and depict saints, the holy trinity and scenes of hell, purgatory, heaven and the crucifixion. Eighty thousand people visit this church eery year.
In 1931 Italian artist Francesco Floreani was looking for work in the Bairnsdale area when a local priest offered him the job of decorating the interior of the church. It looks like a junior version of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I understand that Floreani’s nickname was ‘Angelo’. He has a distant relationship with his great, great uncle Michael – Michael Angelo!