Sunday, 28 June 2015

Broulee Interlude

At the beginning of May, after the first hard-hitting cold weather of Canberra’s autumn and before we headed off to tropical Darwin for a niece’s wedding, we headed down to Broulee on the NSW south coast for a long weekend. It had been planned for ages, having been booked for a discount price through one of those on-line discount provider set-ups. The timing was a little later than we’d have preferred, but at least it was very far from the madding crowds of summer school holidays. Always a good thing!

The weather was predominantly cool and quite windy. We did some essentially car-based touristing, including a drive down to the Bodalla cheese factory and café on one of the days, as well as a fair bit of local walking, but we had a mostly quiet relaxed long weekend.

Despite the windy conditions, this pelican thought it was a good idea to try to perch on the power lines down at the Mossy Point jetty.

When I tried explaining to it that this is not something that pelicans normally do, or are very good at, it just looked at me as if to say "what would you know!"

I’ve been to Broulee and adjacent Mossy Point plenty of times previously, but this trip was the first time we’d got around to actually walking right around Broulee Island. Not that it is strictly an island at the moment, being joined to the mainland by a currently well-vegetated tombolo (a tombolo is a sandbar that connects an island to the mainland or to another island). 

When I first visited Broulee, sometime in the early 1980s, the island was just that, and was accessible by foot only by wading across the shallow sandbar at low tide. Historically, the tombolo has been breached periodically by high seas. It was intact when the island was first surveyed by Thomas Florance in 1828 and remained so until 1873 when a severe storm resulted in the island being cut off from the mainland. Since then, the connecting isthmus has repeatedly been breached and reformed. The most recent breaches were in 1966, 1969, 1971, 1974, 1981 and 1988. The vegetation appears to be very well developed at the moment, and the sand quite high, and I suspect it would take a massive storm to break through. 

Approaching Broulee Island from the south. The tombolo now creates calm and beautiful beaches on both its southern and northern sides.

The view of the south-western corner of Broulee Island as seen from the middle of the tombolo. 

The rocks at the south-west corner of the island are frequently used as perching sites for various cormorants and other sea birds. The Little Pied Cormorants took off at my approach, but two of the four Great Cormorants hung around long enough for me to get a largely silhouetted shot of them. 

Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, back-lit by the afternoon sun.

A little further around the rocks a White-faced Heron was fossicking in the rock pools. Other birds we saw along the way included a trio of Sooty Oystercatchers, roosting flocks of Silver Gulls and Crested Terns, and a magnificent adult White-bellied Sea Eagle that soared right over our heads before sweeping up and over the Broulee headland. 

A White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae works its way around the rockpools at low tide.

Exposed rock platform on the southern side of Broulee Island.

When we reached the seaward end of the island, I was surprised to see a single Grey Mangrove. Seemingly fairly old but rather stunted in its growth, it persists on the most exposed easterly extreme of the island, well back from the breakers, at the point where the exposed wave washed rock platform merges with the shingle slope before the vegetation proper begins. It stands alone, sentinel against the elements, with only a tiny patch of Beaded Glasswort (Sarcocornia quinqueflora), another hardy salt-tolerant plant, for company.

A hardy but stunted Grey Mangrove on Broulee Island. 

Mangroves, perhaps not intuitively, are not all related members of a single family of plants, but represent more than a dozen different families. A great example of convergent evolution, where a range of quite different plants have evolved independently to make use of the marginal habitat between land and sea. The Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina) is, disputedly, a member of either the Acanthaceae or Verbenaceae families, though it is also sometimes included in its own family the Avicenniaceae (which is now generally included under Acanthaceae). Either way, these families are better known for their non-mangrove members.

The  flowers of the Grey Mangrove are small and compact, especially compared to the comparatively large and showy flowers of some tropical mangroves. Many mangroves also produce aerial roots - either as arching support roots, or often, and as is the case with the Grey Mangrove, as small peg roots or pneumatophores that project vertically out of the sand or mud and are exposed at low tide. These aerial roots act as snorkels and allow the plant to take up air at low tide.

Flowers of the Grey Mangrove are fairly small and not particularly conspicuous.

The Grey Mangrove is characterised by many peg roots or pneumatophores which help it breathe. 

The NSW NPWS Broulee Island Nature Reserve Plan of Management (see reference at end) states that "The shoreline rock platform has been colonised by a few grey mangrove plants (Avicennia marina var australasica)" - I guess that fits with the fact that the only ones I saw were this solitary individual and one much smaller plant desperately clinging to existence in the outer rock platform on the northern side of the island. A population of two!

Breakers on Broulee Island with Burrewarra Point in the background.

I’d assumed that Broulee Island had always been an isolated off-shore islet with little human history. Not so. The island is in Yuin country and the indigenous Yuin people of the area would no doubt have made use of the island for various purposes. European interest in the island began in 1828 when, as indicated above, Thomas Florance surveyed the area and called the island “Broulhee”, presumably a phonetically-derived version of the Yuin name. 

The Plan of Management is a great source of information on the island and it says that "As early as 1836, the growing number of European settlers in the region were using the bay on the northern side of “Broulhee” Island, marked on Florance’s map as Ark Harbour, as a place to load and unload goods, stock and people from anchored ships using small boats.

"In James Larmer’s 1837 survey of Broulee, the island was referred to as East Broulee
and contained a village subdivision called “Boat Harbour”. It consisted of a grid of eight
streets - Oldrey Crescent, Sibella Terrace, McDonald Street, Huntley Street, East Cliff,
Signal Cliff, Hawdon Street and Fountain Street and 54 separate allotments."

While this development never eventuated, several buildings were constructed on the island including a hotel and several outbuildings. The hotel, a low shingled weatherboard bungalow near the edge of a cliff was built in 1840-41 by Captain William Oldrey, and was leased by Bernard McCauley in 1842 who named it the Erin-Go-Bragh (Ireland Forever). 

Broulee remained a tiny settlement and the Erin-Go-Bragh Hotel closed in 1844. It was
reopened in 1846 as the Union Inn, but it soon failed as well. By 1851, Broulee had a population of one. Sometime during the 1850s the hotel was moved to Campbell Street in Moruya, It was demolished in 1978. 

"Little occurred at Broulee until 1920 when shellgrit was collected from the northern side
of the island for use in cement production in Sydney. After World War II, a motorised
barge was used to transport the shellgrit from Broulee Island to a wharf in the Tomaga
River from where it was shipped to Sydney. To enable the barge to be loaded at the
island, a 50-60 foot long jetty was built together with a light rail track that carried a small
dump truck at what had become known as Shellgrit Bay."

The only remains of this European history on Broulee Island are some decaying remnants of the rail track and jetty, a few bricks, and a single grave. 

Two posts of the former jetty and a rusting single rail hint at the past European activities at Shellgrit Bay on Broulee Island.
Rusting rail track at Shellgrit Bay.

Shellgrit Bay on Broulee Island, festooned with washed-up seaweed. 

As we headed back around the southern edge of Broulee headland after completing our circuit of the island, the wind was whipping the spray off the tops of the waves, lit up by the lowering sun. There were quite a few surfers out enjoying the conditions, as were a bunch of spectators who seemed perfectly comfortable staying out of the water and keeping dry! 

What a great way to spend an autumn afternoon. 

Wind-whipped crests of waves at the southern side of Broulee Headland, or the northern end of Bengello Beach.

Surfers made the most of the conditions...
on waves that broke both right and left...

watched by long-shadowed spectators in the late afternoon sunshine.