The Big Scrub
The enormous subtropical rainforests of the north coast of New South Wales grew almost exclusively on the red brown krasnozem soils that were derived from the basaltic lavas that flowed from Wollumbin (Mt Warning) volcanic centre and surrounding vents during eruptions. These soils have deep profiles and the chemistry of the basaltic rocks is reflected in their high nutrient contents and moisture-retaining clay minerals that are an essential ingredient to sustain rainforest trees through dry periods.
Captain Cook and the botanist Sir Joseph Banks noted the rainforest as they sailed off Cape Byron in 1770. These forests contained an amazing range of flora and fauna that sustained the local Aborigines who were aware of the seasonal availability of different fruits and animals such as macadamia nuts, figs and wild grapes, brush turkeys and crayfish. Beech, cedar, red and black bean, fig, teak, silky oak, coachwood and pine trees grew to enormous heights and were covered by vines and epiphytes that sheltered ferns, orchids and mosses.
During the 1840’s pastoralists gradually moved in from the drought-stricken west, followed by cedar getters and later dairy farmers from the south. The renowned red cedar trees are deciduous and the unique new growth of copper red foliage was easy to spot when the timber getters moved up the coast in pursuit of the ‘red gold’. The Big Scrub was almost impenetrable and brush hooks were needed to access the valuable timbers, but there were also a number of open grassed patches that provided convenient grazing for the bullock teams that dragged out the logs. It was arduous and dangerous work in difficult conditions to cut down the huge trees that provided timber for building ships, dwellings and furniture as well as being an important export commodity for the colony.
By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the rainforest had been cleared for farming and settlements. Weed infestation occurred quickly followed by declining soil fertility, increased water run-off and soil erosion exacerbated by poor agricultural practices in some areas. Fortunately several rainforest remnants were preserved and in recent years rainforest trees are being re-established as people appreciate their heritage and environment. Bangalow was the last area to be cleared and was cleared almost completely. A century of pasture and livestock has destroyed the seedbank making this a very hard place to re-vegetate.
Bangalow Landcare and Rivercare evolved slowly in the late 1990’s – a few local residents planting rainforest trees in park areas, then in 1998 the group was formalised and members concentrated on improving water quality in local creeks with appropriate planting programs. The looming threat of climate change makes this work more important than ever.