Burning Mountain 11 Jan

Wed 25 Jan 2012 11:13
Burning Mountain
We passed the Burning Mountain on the way from Tamworth to Sydney and stopped for a walk.  Burning Mountain is a huge underground coal seam that’s been burning spontaneously for thousands of years.  It was first seen by a European in 1829, and identified as an active volcano.  Then some geologists came along and said it was a coal seam.
It was a fascinating walk to the top.  You start off in ordinary mixed eucalypt woodland, then the ground starts to have gashes and dips where there’s brick-coloured and white ashy areas and very few trees except stringybark, and no undergrowth.  This is where the coal seam has recently burned below ground, and the stringybark is the first to recolonise the area.
At the top,it smells like a school chemistry lab and looks like a lava field, hot ash, vents, and no plants.  Here the fire is active, hot gases vent to the surface and as it cools, tiny particles of sinter solidify, leaving the surface encrusted with red ochre (iron oxide) and white alum.  Eagles circle in the thermals above.
The active area creeps southwards at a metre a year, to be gradually recolonised by the forest behind it.  You can clearly see different stages in the succession.  The aborigines had a dreamtime story to explain the burning mountain, and for centuries they used the red ochre as a paint, and the alum as a white paint and a medicine.

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