Aboriginal shell middens appear on most of the surrounding beaches, evidence of a once thriving Indigenous population.
While walking on Look At Me Now Headland today I couldn’t help but admire the relaxed state of the kangaroos who watched the humans with disinterest. A whole lot of kangaroos live on and around the headland and nearby beaches and are most active early in the morning and late in the evening when they come out to feed on the grass.
Sydney Harbour is the most breathtaking expanse of water surrounded by sandy coves and cliffs. Boats entering the harbour traverse a stretch of water between formidable cliffs known as North Head and South Head (not very imaginative of the early pioneers).
I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney and North Head Sanctuary with its wild, exposed cliff tops, sense of isolation, delicate flora and fauna and World War 2 tunnels and gun emplacements (great cubbies when we were young) has remained one of my favourite ‘city’ places, a must see on every trip back home.
You can’t help but come away feeling revitalised by the pure force of the wind, the crash of the waves battering the crumbling cliffs or the tenacity of the scrubby melaluca and banksia. There are seven banksia in the area, the most common is called Old Man Banksia, it is one of the first plants discovered by Joseph Banks and the creamy flowers are a favourite with birds.
It is also the banksia Australians associate with the ‘bad, bad, banksia men’ of May Gibbs children’s classic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that I mentioned in an earlier post.
The whole area owes its survival to its early use as a quarantine station as well as a defence post. For practical purposes the surrounding area was left in its natural state and the army kept civilians, non-native animals and developers out.
Over time its worth as a flora and fauna reserve was recognised and the area became officially protected.
Look At Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach NSW is part of the Moonee Beach Nature Reserve, a stretch of coast where flora and fauna are protected. Its status prevents dogs from visiting in order to encourage the native animals which are deterred by their smell. Since the dogs removal the headland has become home to grey kangaroos and wallabies who barely give humans a second glance. On a recent walk this wallaby just looked at me then went back to feeding as I walked ever so slowly around him.
The wattles foliage is so thick that trunks are hidden behind masses of elongated, yellow flowers and pale, oblong leaves. Banksia exposed to the wind are twisted and bent, they hunker down together like a football scrum creating sheltered copses and nooks for the birds and kangaroos. Those growing in the lee of the headland grow tall and strong flouting their independence. The most prolific type has pale, green/silver leaves and either yellow or orange flower heads, each made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers grouped together.
The pandanus have a tenacity that I admire. They drop their seed onto dry sand where it is picked up and flung by the tide to new destinations. The orange seeds whither and turn brown but can retain their ability to grow for years. When conditions are right they take off with vigour, as they gain height they rise like skyscrapers, supporting their top-heavy branches by sinking exposed roots into loose sand and small crevices between rocks.
These plants are common to the entire east coast of Australia, they are like old friends that have accompanied me through life. When I was a child my sister and I played in the shade of pandanus that fringed the beaches we visited on camping holidays, just as my own children did on hot summer days near the beach where we lived. Wattle trees grew in my parent’s garden and later in my own garden and were a favourite with the native birds. Banksia have been a constant fixture on all the headlands and bush walks I have enjoyed and played an important role in my seduction into the world of books.
In the literary tradition of Australian children I grew up with May Gibbs Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, a wonderful creative story about gumnut babies, talking lizards and most notably the, ‘bad, bad, banksia men’.
I love that every visit to the beach is the same but different. After a series of king tides an entire strip of what used to be soft white sand where little children made sandcastles is now a mass of sharp jagged rocks that even the dogs avoid. Who could have know that only a few feet below the surface these ancient souls waited patiently to be reunited with sun and wind.
The loss of sand has created a small sand wall at the top of the high tide mark where the grasses and other low-lying creepers grow. I clambered along the top to avoid the incoming tide and found myself up on the tree line. Sprawling across the tussocks of coarse grass and flotsam was a plant with fat, bright green leaves and lovely purple flowers. More fitted for a sheik’s tent than the barren sandy desert she accepted the attentions of a beetle and my humble adoration as her due.