The secret life of bats: vital workers of the night.

It is feeding time at the Tolga bat hospital on the Atherton Tablelands, in the hills west of Cairns. Garlands of sliced apples, pears and rockmelon festoon the feeding shelter. High above us, flying foxes are watching, their eyes bright with interest, their ears swivelling like radar dishes. They clamber down and bury their faces in this all-you-can-eat fruit salad. Never have bats been more relatable.

I am on a guided tour of the Queensland hospital led by its founder, Jenny Maclean. The hospital is set on two hectares of land tucked into forested hills. As we stroll among the impossible green of tropical foliage, riflebirds – inky males with iridescent bibs, and females in cinnamon and nutmeg – rustle through the trees. Somewhere in the distance, sulphur-crested cockatoos shriek their arrival, but the most prominent sounds are the chatter and trills of flying foxes.

Read more of ‘The secret life of bats‘ at the Guardian.

Eating banana, Spectacled Flying Fox, Tolga Bat Hospital

Most beautiful mammal? Tailing tree-kangaroos in Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands.

The Ulysses butterfly brings us to a halt. We are on the Atherton Tablelands, south-west of Cairns, to look for the rare and elusive Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, but the incandescent blue, sparking with each wing beat, is impossible to ignore.

The butterfly dances along the rainforest edge, azure iridescence alternating with the dead-leaf dullness of the underwing. Then it flies up high, as if pulled on a string. One more flash and it is gone. We get back to our search.

Read more of ‘Most beautiful mammal?’ at the Guardian.

Rainforest near Malanda, Far North Queensland.

Fossil fever: Driving and Digging in a Long Lost Sea on Australia’s Dinosaur Trail

It did not sound like fun, breaking rocks under the tropical sun in the hope of finding fossils. But before the first swing of a geological hammer, there it was – the smooth grey arc of an ancient sea shell embedded in rough stone.

We had started early to avoid the heat. At morning tea we laid out our hoard of treasures: bones, belemnites and the bulbous blocks of prehistoric poo known as coprolites. Then we grabbed our hammers and brushes and went back for more. Fossil fever had captured us.

Read more of ‘Fossil Fever’ at the Guardian.

Bronze dinosaurs at Winton. (c) Bronwen Scott.

The Long Way Around

The causeway across Eureka Creek always takes me by surprise.

I am driving on the Burke Developmental Road on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. It runs west from Mareeba in the hills behind Cairns to Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria. At its start, the road winds through eucalypt woodland, cattle paddocks, and tropical fruit orchards. They used to grow tobacco out here on soil weathered from ancient granite and fed by water pumped from the Walsh River. But now the tobacco plants have been replaced by mangoes and lychees, and the water comes from Lake Tinaroo and is doled out through networks of irrigation channels.

Just past Dimbulah, the road swings south and dips toward Eureka Creek. And the causeway appears, a pale ribbon only a metre and a half above the water. It is wide enough to accommodate a road train and I am behind the wheel of something considerably smaller. Still, I hold my breath and focus on the other bank as I drive across.

Beyond the creek, the landscape rumples into low hills of granite and rhyolite. There are no orchards here, no irrigated fields. Flag-eared cattle saunter through townships. They wander across the road, unconcerned by the approaching car. I pull over to let them pass. They’re in no hurry and neither am I. A wedge-tailed eagle flies low to see what’s going on.

Nothing much, I tell it.  

Read more of ‘The Long Way Around’ in the Unyoked Writers’ Anthology.

The long reach of the Thomson River, Queensland. (c) Bronwen Scott.

On the Long Reach of the River

In the golden hour, when sunlight takes the longest path, the river holds its breath. Eucalypts mark the line between water and sky. From roots to leaves they connect the elements. To the west, day ticks out his last moments. To the east, night spreads her skirts.

In the golden hour, the world stops. Egrets are motionless in the reeds. Cormorants fold their wings. Fish lie still among dead trees dragged down to the river bed by long-remembered floods.

Read more of ‘On the Long Reach of the River’ at A Snail’s Eye View.