Endeavour Fern Gully is a National Trust property located in Red Hill. Its sheer beauty alone could be reason enough to deem this parcel of land significant, on both a regional and state level, but it goes beyond that. It is one of the rare surviving remnants of indigenous vegetation found on the Mornington Peninsula, and contains two plant species that are considered rare. I visited here on a sunny day in May, and found myself ‘lost’ in a land that time forgot, learning a little more about Aboriginal way of life, and EVC’S…..
Endeavour Fern Gully contains 17.5 hectares of remnant indigenous flora. As I head along the sign-posted track from the car-park, I wonder if I am heading in the right direction. Walking downhill through a paddock of thick, long grass, it is difficult to comprehend how I am going to end up seeing anything special. Revegetation works are evident, by the large number of young trees dotted thickly along the slope that leads to the gully, so I know I am on the right track. I just keep walking, and hope for the best…….
I soon leave the soft grass behind me as I arrive at the forest verge. I walk silently through the forest with the stealth of a sniper, for no other reason other than I feel compelled to do so. Around me the undergrowth erupts into the chaos befitting a pre-historic jungle. I break through fine silken strands of cobwebs that lace the pathway like a network of forest laser-beams. I suddenly feel as though I have stepped into a long-forgotten world, half buried beneath a tangle of creepers and Tree-Ferns. I begin to wonder what hidden treasures I will uncover…….
Time stands still here. Or perhaps it has simply evaporated in the mighty presence of Messmate Stringybark and the smooth-barked subspecies of Manna Gum. Despite the sound of birdsong, an underlying silence runs like a thick vein through the heart of this forest. I pause for a moment to take it all in, and recalibrate my senses. I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland as I begin to walk deeper into the forest, tentatively exploring my new world.
The property is rich in flora and habitat diversity. Information markers on the track indicate that there are four main EVC’s (Ecological Vegetation Classes) on the property, and for those of you who are interested, they are as follows: Forest Creekline Sedge Swamp (EVC 728), Fern Swamp (EVC 721), Riparian Forest (EVC 018), and Herb-Rich Foothill Forest (EVC 023). If you want to delve into it a bit deeper, you can even pull up the plant species lists for each EVC on the internet. But for now, I’ll just highlight a few species of interest as I go along.
Crimson Rosellas belt out their morning roll-call. Screeching out-of-tune in an effort to be noticed, they sound raucous and brash. They are soon out-done by the Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, as a group of them fly overhead; the primitive cry of wheeee-laaa, wheeee-laaa splitting the air with soulful lament. Their black silhouettes are visible above the tree canopy, and a flash of yellow tail-feathers contrasts strongly among the green foliage. A pair of Wedge-Tailed Eagles float effortlessly in the thermal currents above, scouring the land below for a mid-morning snack.
Tiny birds no bigger than a wren, dance a merry jig on the lower branches of a nearby eucalypt. They don’t stand still long enough for me to get a positive id. A Grey Fantail cuts in on the action, swishing its tail from side to side like an oscillating fan. Eastern Yellow Robins flit in and out of the foliage, their yellow underparts glowing like a mini beacon. I could stay here for ages to watch the show, but instead I am lured forward by the silent call of the forest.
I walk along the boardwalk through the Fern Swamp. Huge Tree-Ferns stand guard on either side, and long, dead fronds lie banked up where they fall, creating an almost impenetrable barrier. As the boardwalk ends, I step onto the track, thickly covered in layers of decomposing leaf litter. The strong smell of damp organic matter fills the air; vaguely reminiscent of the smell of damp socks at the end of a long day spent hiking. I walk on, my footsteps making no sound at all on the heavily sound-proofed track.
The vegetation here is wild and unruly. The rare Twining Silk Pod creeper runs rampant as it clambers up the trunks of huge, old Manna Gums.
Mountain Clematis does likewise, as it spreads itself across the forest floor before scrambling up and over any available shrub or tree. I am standing in an area classified as Riparian Forest, the distribution of which is considered ‘scattered and rare’.
Manna Gums rise like sentinels up into the sky. Their long straight, smooth trunks in shades of white and cream, add vertical interest to the many horizontal layers of greenery. Long ribbons of brown bark, shed from the outer most parts of the tree, hang limply in branch forks, and lie strewn across the forest floor in an untidy mess. Before long I am walking through another EVC, this one named Herb-Rich Foothill Forest, and the plant species change slightly once again.
I pass the burnt out hollow of a Messmate Stringybark. The Endeavour Fern Gully’s official website indicates that perhaps it could have been used by indigenous people of the area for smoking eels, as it was a customary practice among local tribes.
There is a new vista at every turn. I find myself walking only a few paces at a time before swivelling around in a 360, in case I miss seeing something. Shadows and light play out across the forest, creating a sense of mystery and depth to this primitive world. Pockets of forest backlit by the morning sun ignite into breath-taking panoramas that I could lose myself in for hours.
My senses tell me that I am being watched, but not in a spooky way. I imagine the predatory feathered friends of the forest are keeping an eye on me, although they remain unseen. I scan the ancient eucalypts and towering Blackwood for my nemesis; the Powerful Owl. Surely this is where I will find one? On the frond of a nearby Austral Bracken Fern, a feather has settled; white, with rusty-brown edges. Feeling like a forest detective, I pick it up gingerly to examine. A Masked Owl, perhaps?
I re-enter the zone of Riparian Forest. Next to me, a stand of Hazel Pomaderris grows as straight and orderly as the trees in a plantation. Sedges fill the ground space below, competing with Austral Bracken Fern and forest grasses, for a place in this moist pocket of forest. Around the corner, Musk Daisy-Bush and the ever so rare Austral Mulberry, rise out of the damp soil of the creek line.
It is believed that the Austral Mulberry stems were used by the Aboriginal people. These were used to make fire sticks, otherwise known as fire-drills. The wood is apparently very hard, and when the traditional fire making method was used, and given enough friction, they ignited to make fire.
This is the mid-way point of the loop. From here, I begin to head back through the forest towards the end of the walk. I pass the massive trunks of Manna Gum on the edge of the track; the smooth bark almost aglow in the morning light. Their impressive size makes it almost incomprehensible that a saw-mill used to operate in this area, and many of the trees here (excluding the really large ones), are actually the result of a few decades of forest regeneration.
Another boardwalk snakes through a patch of Forest Creekline Sedge Swamp. Tall Sedge is a prominent feature, its lush green stems waving gracefully over the boardwalk. Wissshh, wissshh, it says as I walk by, rustling strands of it with my legs. Straggly Blackwood leer over the path as the boardwalk crosses the swamp, and lush green ferns crowd the ground-space below.
My walk comes to an end, but I am reluctant to leave. This forest has placed a stronghold on me; left an imprint on my soul in the same way all wild places manage to do. It’s the sort of place that leaves you thinking about it, long after you have gone.
A Black-Shouldered Kite watches me from a vantage point, high up on the branch of a dead tree. My suspicions about being watched have been confirmed.
Who could believe that all that beauty lies behind this gate, and at the bottom of a paddock…..
It just goes to show, that pockets of wild can turn up in the most improbable places.
Where: Endeavour Fern Gully, Arthurs Seat Rd, Red Hill (opposite the showgrounds).
Distance: About 2kms return.
Time: Allow 1 hour at least, to soak it all up.
Note: Wear your hiking boots, or even gumboots, as this place is usually very wet. And the golden rule of farm-life applies here; leave all gates as you find them. A small donation is also much appreciated for the on-going work being done here by amazing volunteers, and the local school. A donation box is found at the carpark.