You wouldn't go to Charles Darwin Reserve to study aboriginal rock art, but the walk to see the only known example - red hands on the back wall of a small cave - is sensational, and not to be missed.
Our late afternoon walk with Fiona Stewart, wife of reserve manager Luke Bayley, and their son Banjo, took us along a narrow rocky escarpment riddled with caves, miniature gardens set in shallow hollows and across fragile bridges where the passage of centuries was clear in the attrition and the ancientness of the landscape we were traversing.
We looked out onto a sea of green tree tops, the feathery heads of thousands of melaleuca bushes, and across to Nyngan station and hills that cut the horizon, outlined dramatically in the pinkness of the setting sun. Descending, we followed narrow tracks through the densely packed black stems of the melaleucs until we reached the cave of the red hands, not in itself terribly impressive, but nevertheless a poignant reminder of its past inhabitants and their management of the land. The walk evoked many sensations, not the least being how privileged we were to have the opportunity to experience the natural sculptural beauty of this region.
Luke and Fiona have well and truly immersed themselves in the community. With their children at the local school in nearby Perenjori where Fiona also works 4 days a week, they have many links that connect them. Luke's work in developing effective relationships with indigenous and farming neighbours, and overseeing management on nearby Eurardy station takes him offsite quite often. We were lucky to catch him home and enjoyed a fascinating day as he took us around the property that he has come to know well, and which has clearly got under his skin.
On our last day at Charles Darwin Reserve Peter and I took a picnic to the salmon gum woodland not far from the homestead. Lying down and gazing upwards was another way to appreciate the glittering leaf canopy tracing endless lacy patterns against the cloudless blue sky. A red tailed black cockatoo watched us disapprovingly from a branch nearby, and further off three Regent parrots argued noisily as they jostled for prime position in another tree. Corellas and galahs and another parrot we couldn't identify made a total of five types of parrots enjoying the salmon gums in the hot noon day sun.
We spent ages deciding which was our favourite woodland on Charles Darwin. With Luke as guide we had wandered through woodlands of salmon, york, gimlet and wubinensis, each with their own charm and character, from the stately elegance of the tall salmon gums through to the rather more chaotically branched york gums that exude age, to the silver grey of the many thin limbed wubinensis. In the end it was impossible to decide. We could only rejoice in the marvellously varied sculptural shapes and textures of each tree and note their contribution in fallen limbs, gnarled hollows and roughly textured bark to the building over years of a rich habitat and refuge for the numerous insects, birds, reptiles and small mammals of the region.