Gibb River Road Virtual Tours

Mt Hart Gardens

Written and Posted On-line 20th March 2011

G’day folks! Welcome to Mt Hart! I hope those of you who stayed overnight slept well and those who have just arrived, enjoyed the trip in. To those joining our garden tour, my name is Taffy and I am going to take you on a virtual tour around our 10 acres of tropical gardens at Mt Hart.

When I first came to live at Mt Hart in 1990 the only gardens here were located immediately around the original homestead which was one of the three remaining derelict buildings. There was also an overgrown neglected orchard. Over the years I have planted, and created (with natures help), more gardens and established a vibrant tropical rainforest ecosystem...

The gardens provide shelter and food to a variety of species of wild life & bird life, who like me, will always call Mt Hart home. The diverse variety of species of tropical plants & trees in the gardens make these 10 acres a unique ecosystem with a very high canopy, and layers of vegetation similar to a tropical forest.

Hardly any studies at all have been conducted by The Department of Environment and Conservation of Western Australia (DEC) over the past 20 years, since they first bought the property. So they have never learned or become aware, nor tried to determine, exactly what species of animal and plant matter out here need to be preserved and protected within this area of the King Leopold Range Conservation Estate. So if you follow me over this way I will take you down to the river...

Here we are at the edges of the Barker river. Luckily for Mt Hart homesteads and gardens the Barker River flows at the bottom of the garden right past the stone sitting room of the original homestead...

If you look up in that mango tree over there which overhangs the river, you will see a colony of black and brown Flying foxes… These little fellas live in large camps by day in the mango & paperbark trees. In the late afternoon they can be seen flying across the garden in search of the many trees in the garden which now bear fruit and blossoms. Often they can be seen streaming across the skies at dusk in search of food further a field.

And over there in the shade of those mango trees near the river, if you look quickly before he scampers off, you can see a northern Quoll…. The population numbers of quolls have declined rapidly throughout mainland Australia. Fortunately we have a healthy population living in the garden, and folks never cease to be excited by their presence.

With such a diverse variety of tropical plants in the garden, comes also a diverse array of edible fruits, seeds and flowers which are in turn a very important food source for the many different creatures who now call our gardens home. The fruiting trees bear grapefruits, lemons, malay apples, limes, banannas and mangos (to name just a few). The trees that bear flowers, nuts and seeds include; frangipanis, bouganvillias, poincianas, golden shower, and African mahoganys.

These trees are interspersed throughout the garden with native trees such as Northern Grey box trees, varigated barked bloodwoods, native plum trees, cocky apple trees, and river gums. I have also planted a variety of different species of plants such as; ferns, canna lilies, caliandras, xoras, hibiscus, pomigranites, and durantas over the years to establish a ground floor and under story layer within the tropical gardens…

The planting and establishment of these trees and plants of different sizes over the years here at Mt Hart, has created 4 main layers of vegetation in the tropical gardens, that has seen an ecosystem evolve similar to the ecosystem of a rainforest. The Mt Hart gardens have an emergent layer, canopy, under story and forest/ground floor. This tropical forest ecosystem provides shelter and homes to a whole bunch of different reptiles, insects, birds and mammals.

Goannas often nonchalantly waddle through the garden, sticking their forked tongues in and out in search of insects and other lizards, making you feel as though you have travelled back in time to the age of the dinosaurs.

There are a variety of different lizards that call our gardens at Mt Hart their home, including frilled necked lizards, shaggy paw lizards, rainbow skinks, knob tailed gekkos, blue tongue lizards, "Ta-Ta" lizards, and fire tailed skinks. The blue tongue lizards come out of hibernation when it gets warm. They can often be found noisily rustling around in the leaf litter of the garden searching for insects to eat.

There is also a diverse variety of rare, non-venomous, harmless and beautifully patterned snakes that live in the garden. Including green tree snakes, golden tree snakes, olive pythons, children’s pythons and night tigers.

The main 2 species of venomous snakes we encounter out here are king brown snakes and black whip snakes. The King brown snakes come out of hibernation when it really starts to warm up in August time. As the temperatures rise these snakes become active and start on their migratory routes to mate, which takes them through the garden, past the laundry and down to the river. So we have to keep a sharp eye out for these guys during the months of August and September, especially when we are doing the laundry!

I have discovered a few endangered species living in the gardens at Mt Hart over the years….One species of importance is the golden backed tree rat. If you look over there in the branches of the trees in that garden near the kitchen at night time with a torch...if you’re really lucky, you might just see one...

These tree rats are long tailed. They are very shy animals that mostly feed on the fruits, flowers and seeds of the trees in the garden as they become seasonally available. This tree rat has a honey coloured back and is one of Australia’s most beautiful rodents. They often try to break into the store room after pestacio nuts, and dried fruit. This little fellow is one of a critically endangered species. Luckily, we have a healthy and stable population of golden backed tree rats living in our Mt Hart gardens.

The Northern Bandicoot is another endangered species that is often sited in the gardens. If you are lucky sometimes you can catch glimpses of them down by the river digging in the softer soil near the bamboo and mangos in quest for spiders, insects and bulbs. Northern Bandicoots were once widespread across arid Australia but their home has shrunk dramatically to a couple of Western Australian islands and small parts of the remote Kimberley region including Mt Hart!

We also get some less welcome visitors to the garden such as wild pigs. We never had pigs up here until about 3 years ago. They have been breeding up on The Isdell River (about 40km away as a crow flies) and have started following the Barker river downstream over recent years to our garden. A couple of years back we even found one in the bar!!!

The bushfires that have devastated the country out here, over the past few years, have practically obliterated the population of agile and nail tailed wallabies that we used to see grazing at dusk on the airstrip and in the gardens. These days wallabies such as these two are a very rare site to see indeed…

When the wet season rains start, the garden comes alive with a variety of different frog species who dig their way back out of the burrows where they have been living in underground coolness during the dry season. At night, when it is raining, they will all congregate around a pool of water and croak away to their heart’s content, producing a delightful orchestra of sound.

You know the wet season has really kicked in when migratory birds from Papua New Guinea and The Pacific Islands start to arrive in the garden. The garden comes alive with the calls of migratory birds such as the Pallet Cuckoo, and the Torres Straight Pigeon. If you look above us here, in that tree there, you can see a Torres Straight Pigeon… These birds are my favourite of all. They only stay in the garden for a couple of weeks during the wet season. Their call is a deep resonating "coo…"

Another migratory bird that visits us each year during the wet season is the Channel Billed Cuckoo. These birds migrate to Mt Hart from Papua New Guinea each year. They lay their eggs in crow’s nests. The males distract the crows while the females locate the crow’s nest and kick all the crow’s eggs out of the nest. She then replaces these eggs with her own. The male and female crows raise the young Channel Billed Cuckoo and feed it. It is the only creature I have ever seen get one over a crow! If you look over there you can see a young Channel Billed Cuckoo perched in one of the mahogany trees in the garden. He has only just left his nest and learned to fly…

He has been crying out very loudly all day pestering his adopted crow 'parents' to feed him – the poor crows are run ragged trying to feed this extremely loud and hungry gutted juvenile. Once this Channel Bill reaches maturity he will leave his crow 'parents', and fly off on migratory routes all the way back to Papua New Guinea.

There are also some native bird species that are permanent residents in the garden at Mt Hart, who rely on the seeding, flowering and fruiting trees as a food supply. These bird species include bower birds, corellas, sulphur crested cockatoos, northern rosellas, kites, magpies, falcons and hawks. If you look up…You can see a corella above our heads right now perched up there checking us out...These guys love the shady mango and paperbark trees overhanging the river at the bottom of the garden and they spend most of the day down by the river in large congregations. They also love the nuts and seeds of the mahogany trees – When the seeds ripen in April and May they flock to the garden in mass to feast upon them.

Anyway folks, we’re back at the bar now…

I really hope you have enjoyed the tour of Mt Hart’s 10 acres of tropical gardens. I have spent a lot of time, love, effort and dedication maintaining, developing and extending these gardens over the years. It has been far from easy creating this Eden out here in the middle of rugged wilderness country, 240 km from the nearest town.

Plagues of insects such as locusts, termites, borers and aphids always seem to be intent on devouring & destroying every plant and tree in site.

I have developed a sound philosophy over the years about gardening and planting out here;

“If it lives… it Lives, if it Dies…it Dies”.

Because out here in this wilderness country, at the end of the day, it all comes down to what a man can do and what a man can’t do. But you also learn very quickly that some things are completely out of your control – In this Kimberley wilderness you soon learn to recognise, value and appreciate that NATURE is the superior power – You learn very quickly that nature IS, the highest order of control over a complex networking system of life forms, including yourself.

If I will miss any one thing when Kim and I have to leave Mt Hart, it will be how nature rewarded us for the effort, time and passion we expended to build these gardens into an oasis. An 'Oasis in The Kimberley' that is home to so many species who fear neither us, nor the visitors who wander through the lush tropical splendour in awe of what they see.