I’m on my way home from a research trip to the Bunya Mountains in southern Queensland, that state’s second oldest national park. My new novel, Firewater, is set in and around this marvellous place. The park boasts the largest stand of Bunya pines in the world, primeval trees whose fossils date back to the Mesozoic era. Bunya cones are large as footballs and can weigh ten kilograms. Few animals today are capable of spreading their gigantic seeds, making it hard for the trees to extend their range. Given the cones’ mammoth size, it is likely that extinct large animals were dispersers for the Bunya – perhaps dinosaurs and later, megafauna.
The park seems captured in a time warp. For thousands of years, indigenous people gathered here in summer to feast on Bunya nuts. For the traditional custodians of the park, these ancient pines are an age-old symbol of nourishment, of healing, and of coming together in harmony. I got goosebumps when wandering the rainforest trails. The pines’ domed heads reach forty metres to the sky, and massive, elephant-like buttresses hold fast to the earth. Each tree is a reminder of the mysterious past, and of how few truly wild places still exist.
The park abounds with wildlife, waterfalls and mountain-top grasslands known as ‘balds’. I had the great privilege of watching a Satin bowerbird decorate his twig entwined bower. Brush turkeys went about their jobs as rainforest gardeners. Red-necked pademelons (Thylogale thetis) were numerous and absurdly tame. I even spotted a mum with rare twin joeys. The park is a veritable garden of Eden … and Bunya nuts are great to cook with.
It has been a sensational trip. Coincidentally, I caught fellow rural author Nicole Alexander at the Dalby RSL on my way through. She was talking about her latest novel, Absolution Creek. I made great progress with my own writing. My new novel Firewater, is almost finished. Two chapters to go! I look forward to typing The End on the manuscript very soon. If I ever lack inspiration, I’ll just think back to my time in the Bunyas and the moment will surely pass.