I’m on a trip to research my new novel, and am taking inspiration for its setting from Tapin Tops National Park north-east of Wingham in New South Wales. The park lies on a spectacular section of the Great Eastern Escarpment.
Ten hectare Wingham Brush Nature Reserve, just a short stroll from the centre of town, is a rare rainforest remnant. Along with five hectare Coocumbac Island at Taree, it represents 90% of the remaining subtropical lowland rainforest in the Manning Valley. This tiny oasis boasts 195 species of native plants and 100 species of native birds. The most impressive trees in the reserve are the massive Moreton Bay figs, many centuries old. They are a type of strangler fig, and begin as a tiny seed, deposited in the fork of a host tree by birds or bats. The seedling lives as an epiphyte until its roots reach the ground. It then enlarges and strangles its host, eventually becoming freestanding. Like all figs, it has a unique relationship with wasps; figs are only pollinated by fig wasps, and fig wasps can only reproduce in fig flowers. Massive buttress roots support the weight of the trees in the shallow rainforest soils. Other interesting trees include paperberries, black apples, white cedars and rosewoods. Giant stinging trees grow close to the path, so visitors must be wary.
The Brush almost didn’t survive. By 1860 it had been selectively logged, especially for red cedar, and the remains of two saw pits can be seen today. It was saved from clear-felling in 1909, by being declared a reserve associated with the now historic wharf on the Manning River.
However by 1980 the Brush was so infested with weeds, that its very survival was threatened. Concerned locals commenced an innovative program to return the reserve to its natural state. The Wingham Brush Method has become an international model for rainforest restoration.
The Brush is an important maternity camp for vulnerable grey-headed flying foxes, and they can be seen roosting overhead. Wingham spent 70 years trying to kill off these fruit bats, before realising their importance. Flying foxes transport the seeds of a wide range of rainforest plants up to 40 km between camps, connecting isolated remnants to other rainforest gene pools.
Walking through Wingham Brush is like going back in time. Bittersweet, imagining the sheer majesty of these forests two hundred years ago, when they ranged from the coast all the way to the edge of the Great Eastern Escarpment. What a magnificent sight that would have been!