Misty mornings Witchetty Grubs and Masses of Sheep
Misty Mornings – Witchetty Grubs and
Masses of Sheep
The mystery is solved, thanks to Christine’s effective internet search they are Witchetty Grubs. All around the ancient towering Euc next to the gate towards the stream from the tennis court are the small, up to half inch diameter holes with the chrysalis shells lying nearby. We collected some for the photo to give an idea of scale.
I can describe the cycle from any point simply because it is circular. The shells have probably been lying around since around February. The moist Giant Wood Moth, as the adult form is called, emerges from the hard case and as it dries its wings extend and fill out ready for flight. The adult moth does not feed, its sole purpose being to find a mate and the females to then lay their eggs in the bark of the nearest Eucalyptus tree. Their camouflage colouring is so effective against the tree bark.
It would be quite scary to be out at night while they are flying because they are BIG, about the size of a hand-span with fingers outstretched. The eggs hatch into wriggly white caterpillars that then abseil from the tree to the ground and quickly, because this is their most vulnerable time they burrow into a tunnel closing the entrance with a trap door of munched up wood shavings.
There they metamorphose into their chrysalis form, the shell containing the new moth. Aborigines used to make a green stick into a ‘wityu’ by cutting a nick at the end to form a hook with which they would hook out the grub (varti), but these days they sometimes use a hooked metal rod instead.
I was saying how the fortunes of Kojonup as a growing town were up and down. Along with the poisonous lobelia that grew everywhere and was particularly lethal in the spring time, there were also the long periods of drought and the task of finding enough water to feed the rapidly growing sheep population. These two factors combined to cause many sheep farmers to give up and walk away from their stations, many to the gold fields in a short lived goldrush before the big mining companies moved in and took over. In 1892 Arthur Bayley and John Ford discovered gold 110 miles east of Southern Cross on what is now the Great eastern highway towards Kalgoorlie, but by 1899 many had returned, disillusioned, to a changed town.
But not all would be farmers gave up on the grazing fields ringed by the poisonous plant. Squatter Jones took advantage of the fallow acres by buying, at first 1000 acres and setting to the tedious task of grubbing out the offending plant. Five years later he took on an additional 3000 acres and it is thanks to the hard work and determined attitude of the likes of Squatter that there is a real choice for today’s farmers of sheep or arable or both.
Rob took me to see the recently built massive sheep shed at Katanning; with its vast roof to shade the sheep and catch rain for their water supply. Around 20,000 sheep are sold there each Wednesday. In the book ‘First the Spring’ the author talks of how sheep were slaughtered in the Halal method to supply the Muslim market of Asia, but Malcolm mentioned that two ships export the animals live which is a backward step as far as animal welfare is concerned.
The photo of the railway line at Katanning illustrates another blow for Kojonup at the time of its opening in June 1889. The line was 20 miles away to the east of the town, passing through Katanning and Broomehill both of which boomed due to its daily train and the demand for new buildings to support the regular transport. The trains now took the mail between Albany and Perth in considerably less time than the old mail coach which had ceased operating a year before.
Back to Kojonup for a moment. Remember the little Barracks on the hill? Well a notable marriage took place there in the mid 1870’s between two telegraphists, one a local lass and her amour from Williams further up the road towards Perth. It is said that Mary Jane Elizabeth Chipper and her new husband Frederick Henry Piesse conducted their courtship using morse code along the line between them. Frederick was a hard-working and clever businessman who years later left his poorly paid job and went into the grain milling and marketing business with his brother C. A. Piesse selling flour to, amongst others, the railway gangs.
Frederick and Mary, wealthy by this time, moved into Kobeelya, the house you see in the photo and Frederick built the two cottages in the next pictures for his sons. The natural contrast in their personalities is reflected in the fact that one lived happily in the house as it was while the other extended and improved on the original plan.
The Katanning we saw was quiet because of the Lockdown due to CV and the only clients in the Dome restaurant within Frederick and his brother’s old mill were the well filled soft toys you see around the table in the window. But all that is likely to change TODAY, May 18th 2020, as bars and restaurants are opening again here in WA, with restrictions of course. We will have to return and compare.
On our way back to Te Opu we travelled down the same road along which a bush fire recently got uncomfortably close to the town. And the ruined brick building you see was once the home of one of the Norrish families, another pioneering settler family whose descendants are still farming today.
When Malcolm and Christine were looking for a place to buy they had been renting nearby for a couple of years and so knew the locals. An agent in Perth introduced them to Te Opu at Perth land prices, which were highly inflated of course. Mr Norrish heard about this and bought the 1300 acres of land at local prices and sold 160 acres to our hosts at the same local price.
The first lots of land were marked out in 640 acres lots so many are now multiples and subdivisions and additions of that figure, as with Te Opu.
By the late 1880’s the land itself was beginning to put Kojonup on the map as a good place to invest since it was cropping heavily compared with other areas. Poison leases were being awarded for land that could be rented cheaply, but the plant had to be thoroughly eradicated or it produced suckers that would spread as soon as the axeman had made his way home for the day.
As we drove along, Rob told me how the parrots known as 28’s, which are one of the four sub-species of the native Ringnecked Parrot, were instrumental in destroying the apple orchards that used to grow in the fields alongside the road. They love to eat the blossoms of not only apples but also roses and many other flowering fruits. Originally from the nearby Jarra and Marri forests of the south west no doubt de-forestation led to them moving onto the new neighbouring farmland for their foraging. They are considered a pest to farmers who use various means to control their numbers and they compete with the non-native lorikeet for nesting sites. The western rosella are the other parrots you see in the photos taken just outside our door.
At the same time as the arrival of the railway line east of Kojonup Frederick Watts arrived from Albany full with horticultural enthusiasm. Soon he had an extensive orchard, vegetable plots and a beautiful flower garden around his property on his 1490 acres, watered from a newly built dam. His arable and sheep farming was equally abundant and profitable and the family flourished and entertained in grand style with many happy garden parties. They also took part in the growing rural leisure activities including equestrian and shooting competitions. The nouveau landed gentry of SW Australia. I hope he didn’t live to see his orchards ruined by the parrots!