The central Queensland sandstone belt extends roughly from Blackall in the west, Banana in the east, Injune in the south and Springsure and Dingo in the north. It is a conglomeration of at least 25 separate mountain range clusters and includes Carnarvon, Dawson, Drummond, Expedition, Shotover, Staircase and Zig Zag Ranges. These rugged areas arise some 600m above the surrounding areas exposing precipitous cliffs 60 - 350m high. They are the birthplace of some of our great rivers, including the Maranoa, Warrego, Dawson and Fitzroy.
A feature of the area is that the soils are highly infertile and ‘arid’ as a result of their sandiness and/or shallowness. This low fertility, and the difficulties of stock management in dissected country, meant that their stock carrying capacity was always low and they remain relatively ‘undisturbed’. This is in contrast to much of the surrounding country, which contains fertile clay soils that used to support various brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) communities. These have largely been ‘converted’ to prime grazing lands.
The plants cover a variety of life forms. The majority of woody plants occur as trees and shrubs, although some of the flora (mainly Loranthaceae) are parasitic sub-shrubs and some of the vines are woody lianas. The graminoides include geophytes which form root or stem tubers or bulbs. The geophytes include Crinum and ground orchids Caladenia and Pterostylis. Ferns are restricted to the mesic ‘gorge’ areas where tree ferns, forby ferns, filmy ferns and epiphytic ferns occur. The only other epiphytes are the orchids Dendrobium spp. and Cymbidium canaliculatum. Parasitic plants, besides the woody stem parasites of Loranthaceae and Viscaceae, include the root parasites belonging to Santalaceae and the twining parasitic vine Cassytha. A few of the insectivorous sundews of Drosera also occur.
Much of the area is protected in national parks such as, from west to east, Carnarvon NP (Salvator Rosa section, Ka Ka Mundi section, Mt Moffat section and Carnarvon Gorge section). Robinson Gorge NP, Isla Gorge NP, while in the north is Blackdown Tableland NP. The first park declaration (Carnarvon Gorge) was in 1932 - since then there have been numerous additions.
The sandstones show up to 200 million years of geological history in the escarpments dating back to the Triassic period. While other cliffs come from the Jurassic period. During the Tertiary times, 60-2 million years ago, uplifting caused cracks and faults that were eroded into huge gorges that are major features, such as Carnarvon Gorge.
The climate is generally characterised by a summer dominated average rainfall of 600-840mm/year. Temperatures range from summer mean maximums of 35%C, to winter mean minimums of 12%C, although the temperatures can fall as low as -5%C to -10%C. January is usually the hottest month and July the coldest with frosts likely from late June to early August.
The area has been occupied by Aborigines for at least 18,000 years prior to European settlement. This is evidenced from Kenniff Cave in the Mt Moffatt section. Although occupation dates could have occurred 30-40,000 years ago, as found in other parts of eastern Australia, these earlier sites have not been discovered.
European invasion and subsequent disease and opium addiction quickly decimated the indigenous population.
Most of the areas are rich in natural resources. The economy was based on large-scale hunting and vegetable food gathering. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, lizards, bandicoots, fish, freshwater mussels and ducks were all hunted by the men. Women collected seeds of some grasses, e.g. Panicum decompositum as well as the sporocarps of nardoo (Marsilea drummondii).
Considerable finds of Aboriginal cave art (e.g. some 1300 engravings and 650 stencils adorn the 62m long wall of the Art Gallery in Carnarvon Gorge), artefacts, mummified bodies and burial sites have been found in the numerous caves and gorges of the sandstone areas.
The well-known early European explorers to pass through the area were Leichhardt (1844) and Mitchell (1845). Surveys for grazing land commenced in 1857, with pastoralists and squatters following soon after. By the 1860s most of the better (watered) country had been occupied.
Early settlers experienced strong resistance from the tribal groups living there, and there was a period of violent settlement before the dispirited Aborigines were forced off their land.
There is a rich suite of plant species throughout the sandstone areas. For example Blackdown Tableland has 700 species, over 112 families of plants, and some 20 families of ferns and fern allies. 35 species are endemic to the area. The legumes are represented by many genera, the most notable being about 42 Acacia species, of which at least two, A. gittinsii and A. storyi, are endemic. Of the variety of beautiful heathland flowers, shrubs, grasses, rushes and forbs, many families are represented, notably Asteraceae, Dilleniaceae, Epacridaceae and Rutaceae.
The vegetation of the area is directly relatable to landform and the main geological substrates. Broadly it grades from Eucalyptus communities on basalt soils of the tablelands to Angophora, Acacia and Eucalyptus communities along the major drainage channels. This paper will only deal with the (sandy) sandstone communities.
The sandstone ridges and scarps have lancewood (Acacia shirleyi) and gum-topped ironbark (Eucalyptus decorticans) communities in the south-west. When the sandy soils start to become deeper they support more budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolius) and smooth-barked apple (Angophora leiocarpa) communities. Terraces of these sandstone ridges support heath communities.
On the tops of tablelands on the sandstone ranges with shallow soils and gravels, species frequent in the tree layer can include Acacia shirleyi, A. sparsiflora, Allocasuarina inophloia, Angophora leiocalyx, Callitris glaucophylla, Corymbia hendersonii, C. trachyphloia, Eucalyptus crebra, E. decorticans, E. exserta, E. fibrosa spp. nubila, E. propinqua, E. sphaerocarpa, E. tenuipes, Lysicarpus angustifolius and Xylomelum pyriforme; species in the shrub layer include Acacia bancroftii, A. caroleae, A. complanata, A. decora, A. leiocalyx, A. longispicata, A. macradenia, A. podalyriifolia, A. pubicosta, A. ulicifolia, Alphitonia excelsa, Astrotricha intermedia, Boronia bipinnata, B. glabra, B. obovata, Bossiaea carinalis, Bursaria spinosa, Daviesia ulicifolia, Dodonaea boroniifolia, D. filifolia, D. triangularis, D. vestita, Exocarpos cupressiformis, Grevillea floribunda, Hakea plurinervia, Hibbertia linearis, Hovea lanceolata, Jacksonia scoparia Leptospermum polygalifolium, Melaleuca nodosa, Melichrus urceolatus, Persoonia falcata, P. fastigiata, Petalostigma pubescens and Pultenaea petiolaris; while some of the graminoides includes Aristida caput-medusae, Arundinella nepalensis, Cleistochloa subjuncea, Cymbopogon obtectus, Lomandra leucocephala, Scleria sphacelata and Themeda triandra.
Acacia decora Acacia macradenia
Acacia podalyriifolia Dodonaea filifolia
Dodonaea vestita Hakea plurinervia
Hibbertia linearis Jacksonia scoparia
Melaleuca nodosa Petalostigma pubescens
Depauperate softwood scrubs occurs in the heads of narrow sandstone gullies on some slopes of sandstone ridges with basalt caps and contain a range of small trees and shrubs such as Acalypha capillipes, Alectryon connatus, Alphitonia excelsa, Bridelia leichhardtii, Cassine australe var. angustifolium, Citriobatus spinescens, Croton insularis, Diospyros humilis, Erythroxylum australe and Maytenus disperma.
Sandstone ridges along the western edge of the Great Dividing Range support blue-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus fibrosa ssp. nubila) and cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla) communities.
The broad sandy valleys may support a vegetation dominated by smooth-barked apple open woodlands, on crests and on slightly shallower soils thicker communities of smooth-barked apple, budgeroo, cypress pine and woody pear (Xylomelum pyriforme) occur. In some of these areas there may be quite extensive understorey of heath species and Acacia species.
Valleys with sandy soils of varying depth (to clay) may also have woodlands of Eucalyptus chlorochlada, E. populnea or E. conica with varying associated tree species such as Allocasuarina luehmannii, Angophora floribunda, Callitris glaucophylla, Corymbia clarksoniana, Eucalyptus melanophloia, E. tereticornis, E. tessellaris.
In the gorges (Carnarvon) themselves the main gorge floor is dominated by spotted gum (Corymbia citriodora), but many other Eucalyptus species occur as well. Along the edges of the creek a fringing forest of cabbage palms (Livistona nitidum), river oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana), and bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis) occur. Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) forests are common in narrower side gorges, and in the more sheltered areas forests dominated by figs and other rainforest species occur. In the spring fed wet narrow side gorges there are a number of relict species of a higher rainfall climate such as a large diversity of ferns. Large bodies of mosses and liverworts are often common around seepage areas.
The gorge communities of ferns and remnant rainforest vegetation are isolated communities of species that generally occur in wetter areas on the east coast. The Angiopteris evecta ferns in the gorge area are known only from other populations on Fraser Island and in northern Queensland. Angiopteris evecta (king fern) is one of the most endangered relic species from past wetter environments, and now survives in Carnarvon Gorge with less than 20 plants.
There are three endemic zamia species in the area. Widespread is Macrozamia moorei which is a type of woody stemmed plant with a thick columnar trunk and the less obvious 'ground zamias' with their trunk area below ground level as a subterranean tuber. These are Macrozamia platyrachis, common to Blackdown Tableland and Macrozamia pauli-guilielmi, found in scattered colonies east from the Carnarvon Ranges southern slopes.
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