Tag Archives: Coochiemudlo Island

Branching out into new trees

LESS IS MORETON View from Coochiemudlo Island to Stradbroke, between bloodwoods (oil on hardwood by Michael Burge).

I DON’T know about other artists, but I find foliage extremely challenging to paint.

In art classes at school, our teacher explained the effect of aerial perspective, which requires the fine detail of a canopy of leaves to be rendered as a solid wash, not a mass of lines capturing individual leaves.

Although in reality, capturing foliage is a combination of both techniques, and the fine line between them holds the key to successful treescapes.

In the sclerophyll forests of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, I grew up observing the dry, reddish-green hues of the eucalypt trees that eventually saw the region World Heritage listed.

When people in the northern hemisphere asked me what the place was like, I’d often say: “Think the Grand Canyon, with foliage”. It’s quite true: remove the dense green blanket that covers the Blue Mountains and we’d be left with a stony, gold and pink landscape akin to Arizona, traversed by the creeks and rivers that shaped the canyons.

Here in my new subtropical home, the riparian landscape relates more to the ebb and flow of water.

NOT TOUCHING Here on Coochie, tree trunks often stand apart in rows.

It’s taken me a few years to tackle this new landscape’s foliage, with its wetlands, woodlands and mangroves that give onto Moreton Bay views, stretching to peaks and mountains from which the rivers carve their way to the sea.

Fooled by the lack of four definite seasons in my first year here, I thought a nut tree at the end of our street was dying when it lost its leaves in winter.

The trees seem to stand differently than they do on the ridges of the Blue Mountains. It’s common to see them growing in stands where the trunks do not superimpose, like well-behaved children holding themselves to attention. Perhaps they are old planted rows,  or maybe the effect is entirely natural?

Coochiemudlo Island’s Melaleuca Wetlands receive much of the focus of the island’s conservation measures, but there are significant pockets of vegetation beyond their 19 hectares.

Cypress Pines,
TALL TIMBERS Cypress Pines, Coochiemudlo Island (mixed media, by Michael Burge).

Throughout the foreshore, native Cypress Pines (Callitris) claim their place with far more right than the dominant exotic Monterey Pines that dot the upper Blue Mountains, the result of attempts to recreate English gardens over a century ago.

But both have the same cooling impact, with their deep emerald shade. Under various local names – including Bribie Island Pine and Gold Coast Pine – they rise to extraordinary heights before seeming to rest against one another. Take even the shortest walk around the island and you’ll see them, just inside the island’s perimeter.

Paperbarks (Melaleuca) abound in the island’s wetlands, where their soft forms are composed so differently to gum trees, with stocky, short trunks and heavy arms, shrouded in layers like puff pastry.

Old growth gum trees (Eucalypts) and bloodwoods (Corymbia) stand at incredible heights in some places, providing important habitat for birds, particularly the island’s parrots. Standing at many island street junctions, these soaring columns are unmissable during a walk through the island’s interior.

And the most alien of them all, the mangroves, like trees with two canopies – one skyward, the other pushing its way into the earth in a skeletal framework of roots, sometimes underwater, sometimes high and dry.

The best way to see the mangroves is to take a kayak around the western edge of the island on a rising tide. Here, you’ll be able to safely ‘fly’ between mangrove branches and over their underwater ramparts. In winter, when the water is clearest, it makes for an unmissable experience.

LIGHT TOUCH The striations of light hitting paperbarks, Stradbroke Island showing across Moreton Bay (oil on canvas by Michael Burge).

Walking through the island woodlands at the end of the day, with the sun split by hundreds of trees, light falls in a myriad of colours on trunks and branches, tinting them with a glow that shines so brightly it almost seems unreal.

Tree trunks appear as though they’re striped with an impossible apricot and pink glow, while the deep blue-green of the bay and distant islands are unaffected by the play of sunlight.

And foliage is transformed into clouds of iridescent green. I daren’t render a single line to capture it.

Check out my online gallery.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Walking my country

“I learned more about this place than I imagined was possible.”

FOR more than three decades I lived in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, until the call of the subtropics saw me relocate to Moreton Bay in South East Queensland in 2012.

From the very beginning, this place has been beautiful and story-filled, but it was also undiscovered country for me.

My sense of place is one of the strongest sides of me, but I knew it would take time to come across the stories and culture of this new place. I also undertook a petition in this community about marriage equality, which meant coming out publicly in a place where I was unsure what the general reaction would be.

So it was the perfect antidote, and an inspiring challenge, when VoiceMap approached me in 2015 to produce an audio tour for Coochiemudlo Island, right at the geographic centre of this archipelago.

IMG_1761I approached a friend, neighbour and author David Paxton, a member of the Coochiemudlo Island Heritage Society.

David has engaged in an ongoing conversation with the traditional owners of this part of Moreton Bay – the Quandamooka people – about the cultural heritage of Coochiemudlo Island. He’s also researched its European history.

Walking around our island home, in under an hour I learned more about this place than I imagined was possible, and through a process of editing and researching, we came up with a tour: Escape to Coochiemudlo Island, which is now available to download on your mobile phone via the VoiceMap app.

Everyone’s heard about Pokémon Go and many are into Geocaching. VoiceMap is similar in that it makes use of GPS (Global Positioning System) to navigate.

There are no signs on the tour, just David’s voice guiding you around Coochiemudlo Island, narrating its stories while you stroll the island foreshore and through its interior.

IMG_1756Some of the highlights include one of Coochiemudlo’s iconic accommodation destinations, Quirky Cottages, a holiday farm-stay like no other.

Sites of ancient Aboriginal culture and tales of explorers, settlers and farmers are woven into this unique way to interpret and understand the island.

The tour also passes through the island’s Ramsar Wetlands, a place replete with bird life; and it touches on stories of Matthew Flinders’ visit to the island in 1799.

Getting to know my community’s social fabric, its past and its natural beauty, has been a pleasure and a privilege. Our VoiceMap is just the third such tour in Australia, and Queensland’s first.

Coochiemudlo Island is not far from civilisation – we’re just 35 kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD – yet here beyond the edge of the city’s seaboard, life moves at a very different pace.

Our VoiceMap doesn’t give away all our secrets, or cover everything about Coochiemudlo, but I encourage you to come and experience a bit of what the island has to offer.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

A Tempest brings a sea-change

SEA CHANGE Miranda and the Tempest, by John William Waterhouse.
SEA CHANGE ‘Miranda and the Tempest’, by John William Waterhouse.

A Writer encounters a new state.

IN 2012, my husband Richard and I decided to move from our home in the Blue Mountains of NSW, to a subtropical island off the coast of Brisbane in Queensland, a day’s drive to the north.

This rather major decision came about organically. We had an argument – one of those all-day, episodic ones where you get thinking time between confrontations. It wasn’t about what he said or what I said, in the end. It was about what we were doing in the Mountains, how we were managing our finances, who was happy in their job (or not), and where we were going.

We kissed and made-up, and decided to move. Just like that.

We told our family and closest friends, which made it real. Almost frighteningly real. They all kindly put up objections and perceived barriers, which only showed the love they have for us, and brought pangs of doubt.

But we still went through with it.

William Shakespeare invented the term ‘Sea-change’, not the Real Estate Institute of Australia. In what is believed to have been his last epic play, The Tempest, ironically set on an island, he wrote a song of comfort for the sprite Ariel to sing to Ferdinand, whose father has drowned …

“Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

The song speaks of something good, something new and unusual emerging from something that has been lost.

Our Blue Mountains house, where we’d renovated a stunning old garden, took less than 24 hours to sell once the ‘for sale’ sign went up, which was a sign indeed.

Synonymous with somewhere

Not long before we moved I noticed someone found their way to my blog via googling ‘Michael Burge Blue Mountains’.

Turns out my online profile has me digitally-linked to the place in which I lived, on and off (mainly on), since 1979.

For some reason that made me reluctant to move – I had become part of the fabric of the place, in a sense. Will I ever be as synonymous with another place in this lifetime?

Many Mountains people say: “You never leave the Mountains, you always end up returning”, and in my case, that happened five times in 33 years. It’s almost scary how often I slunk back up the hill, tail between my legs, and found solace in that unique part of the world, stuck on a gigantic rock surrounded by endless bushland.

I learnt, loved, lived, and lost here. I would still like my ashes scattered in the Jamison Valley when I am dead. Perhaps that may never change.

MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.
MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.

What country, friends, is this?

Richard grew up in south-east Queensland, including time in Kenmore, Brisbane, so he knows this country.

From he and his family I’ve picked up a bit of a Brisbane north-south divide (in Sydney it’s east-west), with the Brisbane River being the borderline.

We’re technically living the south side, but, being on an island, I claim to have moved offshore altogether.

Before moving, I felt Queensland had to prove its mettle a bit more before I professed to be a resident. We needed to get to know one another first. Based on early signs (like Campbell Newman’s move to rescind part of the civil unions legislation, and his decision to cut the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards) I felt Queensland and I were going to have a few issues.

In the lead-up to the 2013 federal election, we were faced with having to vote for someone in our new electorate, the division of Bowman, which is also known as Redland City. I decided to interview all the local candidates for a political website – No Fibs – so I could understand more about this region though its politics. What I found was eye-opening.

I didn’t understand why those on north of the Brisbane River look down on those in the south, until we went to an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane about our new home, Moreton Bay.

There within the records and artefacts were the stories of the men and women, Aboriginal and European, who carved out an existence on the archipelago off the seaboard of Greater Brisbane – the convicts, lepers, outcasts and misfits of a penal colony, and the Quandamooka people who came before all of us.

I got goosebumps learning about the courageous ones who reached out to people in need across these islands, and this misfit felt a sense of place, after being here only just over a year.

There’s a whole lot more to Australia than the little patch of land clustered around Port Jackson, which some people have convinced themselves is worth an average of a million dollars for a tiny patch. Islands are places of mythology, and there’s plenty of local myths about Coochiemudlo and its neighbours. Many of us like to keep it that way, because it means our reality ranks amongst Australia’s best kept secrets.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.