Glen Phillips and John Kinsella: Mythology and Landscape

29 November 2010


JK: This isn’t my territory, you know. I’ve driven through it many times. When we lived in Geraldton for years we used to go back and forth through here. You still get York gum bushland and there’s a quite a lot of the flora that’s familiar, but it has a slightly different feel. It’s got breakaways and other such features, but I will feel a lot more ‘comfortable’ when we start turning inland from Moora back into the central wheatbelt proper, if you know what I mean.

GP: Look at the trees’ canopies. One of the things, is here that you don’t get that umbrella-type effect that’s so characteristic of the [eastern] wheatbelt, particularly the salmon gums and so on. You’ve got here a lot of powderbark wandoo, wandoo and you’ve got a lot of York gum as you say, and the other things, but to me it’s more like the [feel of] Albany to Kojonup …

JK: Yeah, what it has, is a tinge of the coastal. Different vegetation, but a tinge of that coastal feel. But it’s a long way from the coast here. Still, you know, most people would look at and say, well that looks no different to the land around York, and I suppose on the surface, it doesn’t look dramatically different, but there are subtle differences, and they are to do with vegetation type, soil type, canopy and so on. It does feel different. But there’s some jam tree here and the creek structures are similar but maybe there feels as if there’s more rainfall here.

GP: Yes. It’s more like as I say, the area from Williams towards Kojonup …

JK: That’s exactly right. Different vegetation, different trees, but the same feel. And that’s inland down there, not coastal. I lived down around Williams and Narrogin for years on and off.

GP: Once you get to Narrogin, the wheatbelt changes.

JK: Yeah, you’ll get the jarrah in Dryandra Forest, and wandoo — it’s the western edge of the wheatbelt and climate and vegetation changes; but breaking north-east you get red morrell which is really a goldfields kind of tree, and when you get out towards Highbury and the Lakes it’s red morell … salmon gum too.


JK: We’re over for our lunch-break in a bit of scrub. There’s a building there, that doesn’t look too old, but it’s probably been abandoned since the 50s or 60s, and, the funny thing is, we’re in classic wheatbelt bush, we’ve got york gum everywhere, a bit of jam tree, it looks as if you wouldn’t be surprised if you see a bit of mallee round, that kind of scrub, and it somehow looks the same, gravelly sort of soil, sandy gravel mix, and yet there is a feel it’s slightly different, and that’s what fascinates me. What is that that’s different? But on the surface it looks so similar.

GP: Colour?

JK: Colour? Yeah colour, but it’s not dramatically different.

GP: This could have been the site of an old coaching stop, and then someone tried to tizzy it up at one stage and … but it didn’t survive, it’s … with modern transport, there’s no point to stop here.

JK: It’s worth noting that even though there have been saline patches, that’s the difference, there is not as much salinity here as where I’m familiar with and you’re familiar with further into the wheatbelt. Along the road up to New Norcia, up to Moora, and as you get to Moora you do hit major salinity, but this area generally is not as saline. And that probably is the fundamental difference.

GP: Yes. I think so, I think that it has something to do with the density of the vegetation and so on, which suggests a lack of salt problems.

JK: Okay, we’ve had our lunch, there were some old kind of post-World War II buildings we noted, made with the old brick moulds that people did for themselves, they were obviously municipal kind of buildings. Now we’re heading towards Moora and the paddocks are entirely bare.

GP: Bare and brown.

JK: Bare and brown as if it was mid-summer. You see the odd green fields in the distance, but it’s really a dusting of green. But some of these paddocks would have obviously had sheep, I guess, and there’s nothing, not a single thing in them.

GP: Yes the trees seem to be okay, but of course this time of the year they do look their best, and they’re getting, drawing on underground water.

JK: They are. These are powderbark wandoos.

GP: Yeah. And York gums.

JK: And some acacias, jam trees.

GP: Jam trees …

JK: Okay, well we kind of missed the Moora turnoff …

GP: There’s another one.

JK: Yep, but we’re going up the Great Northern Highway towards Milling and we’ve reached salt country. It’s quite saline here. Scrubby saline, salt-bush samphirey stuff, and we’ve, and it’s incredibly dry… the occasional green field but very low. That’s a crop that would have been put in early, that managed to stay alive. And yeah, we’re in the heart of the wheatbelt again. As far as I identify the wheatbelt, anyway, Glen. In fact when we crossed into the salt territory, Glen yelled out ‘wheatbelt’.

JK: We’re just on the road from Wyening to Wongan Hills. We’re going to turn off shortly, but passing Marn Farm, and salinity is awesome here. There’s contour-banking and drainage and so on, and the scrubby areas are just dying. Huge farm rubbish tip there. A hundred, well, since the Second World War probably, fifty — sixty years of spray drums there. Scrubby country. Mallee.

GP: Dry as a bone, as they say.

JK: Totally dry. Totally dry. This looks like November, no, it doesn’t even look like November, it looks like March. That’s what it looks like. Yep. Lot of salinity. There’s another rubbish tip up there. These people on these farms dump a lot of things. There were about fifty wrecked car bodies. Now. And salt. Salt along the railway line, along the road.

One thing I’ve noticed is that, where there are crops — which is rare (this looks like clay, more clay-like soil, but back there it was on sand-plain, yes, it’s sand-plain and I’ve noticed all the way coming up, I also noticed it going down to Bunbury and Busselton last week) — where there are crops of more than two inches, that means about three inches, it’s on sand-plain. And that’s interesting because sand retains the moisture less effectively than the clay soils, and yet it seems to be the only soil where there are crops. Yes, we’re coming up to a salt lake.

GP: Very dry.

JK: Very dry. There’s a little bit of water in them but not a lot. The irony of course is, the low rain season will actually be good on one weird sense of keeping the water table down and not leaching the salt out as is happening every year so dramatically. So the irony in terms of the land being preserved, a few years like this, helps reduce salinity. It’s just that the whole system is so stuffed up now, it also will cause a lot of other damage as well. So there’s a strange contradiction there.

GP: Yes, it’s all about water table really. The salt is there because it’s been blown here from the Indian Ocean over millions of years, but it’s the clearing that brought the water tables up and brought the salts up to the surface and caused all the damage to the vegetation. Let alone the other kind of damage to … particularly the buildings and so on in the towns that are affected by the salt.

JK: Have you noticed how little mallee scrub you generally see now in the wheatbelt, Glen? Mallee scrub seems to have been the scrub that is most pulled out, along with salmon gum. Salmon gum because that indicates good, relatively good soil, but you see so little just straightforward mallee scrub now.

GP: Yes, you wonder, again, that’s and indicator of the kind of soil, and of course mallee, mallee root …

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