The Corner Country is a popular destination for wildlife observers, birdwatchers particularly, with accommodation available on select station properties and in the national parks. Those localities with water especially enable visitors to stay close to where wildlife will come to drink early in the morning or late afternoon, and where birds congregate to nest and roost.
In a “good season” there is something very magical about being able to see and hear a “murmuration of budgerigars” with their brilliant iridescent green wings, twisting and turning as they search for grass seeds or land at a water’s edge for a millisecond.
Throughout the Central Australian Expedition specimens of birds and animals were collected and “prepared” by (mostly) Daniel Brock for scientific examination and identification upon the return to Adelaide.
Many of the mammals observed formed an important part of the diet of the First Nations people that the expedition met throughout the expedition. Sturt wrote, On such occasions the natives move about the country, and subsist almost exclusively on the Hapalotis Mitchellii, and an animal they call the Talpero, which, being common in the sand hills on the banks of the Darling, to the S.E. of the Barrier Range, as well as to the sandy ridges in the N.W. interior”.
Sadly, some smaller mammals, such as the bilby, bandicoot and eastern quoll, have become extinct in the area but are now being reintroduced into feral animal exclusion areas through the Wild Deserts Program at Fort Grey.
Larger mammals, such as the red kangaroo, have thrived in the open grasslands that are typical of the Corner Country and where water (not withstanding drought periods) is more plentiful due to the construction of permanent water sources for livestock. In contrast, Sturt, noted that, “Very few kangaroos were seen, none indeed beyond the parallel of 28°, if I except some Rock Wallabi, noticed on the Barrier Range. The last beautiful little animal always escaped us in consequence of its extreme agility and watchfulness”.
While the hoped-for inland sea was not a reality Sturt recorded detailed observations of some 131 species of birds during the expedition, many of which are still common in the Corner Country today.
“The truth is that there exists inside coastal Australia a second Australia-the larger of the two-of which most of our people know very little more than do Londoners. It is the land of those astonishing grasses that spring up, then vanish for twenty years, and then suddenly flush up again to the delight of the oldest inhabitant, who is the only man who can spin a yarn about them”. CEW Bean. On the Wool Track. 1910.
Charles Sturt encountered a sequence of dry seasons from 1884-1846 when he led the Central Australian Expedition into the Corner Country. This made the journey extremely challenging, the almost daily search for a water supply for the men but also the horses, cattle and around 200 sheep. Bean’s quotation would have been particularly relevant.
In addition, the animals needed to be fed, so a supply of native grasses, forbs and other edible plants had to be available. Quite often, there was little for them to eat. In fact, at least two of Sturt’s horses died from lack of water and starvation.
The men too suffered from the lack of vitamins and minerals that are commonly found in vegetables and fruit. They contracted a deficiency called scurvy. James Poole was so ill that he died and was buried near The Depot where the expedition was forced to camp for six months.
Sturt also almost died also, and only made a recovery of sorts after eating berries that his colleague Dr Browne picked for him after seeing local Aboriginal people eating them.
Miners on the Albert Goldfield suffered vitamin deficiencies relating to the lack of consumption of vegetables relieved only by eating the wild spinach that grows along creek banks, and the vegetables grown and sold by Chinese gardeners.
But, Aboriginal people had lived in the area successfully for millennia. They knew how to prepare plants that may be toxic to make them edible. They collected seeds to grind into flour and collected berries and fruit in season. At Milparinka efforts have been made to grow a number of these edible plants in the native gardens of the Heritage Precinct.
With European settlement came many thousands of hungry animals to consume the edible grasses and forbs. Challenging seasons and the impact of rabbits brought about devastating changes to the local environment. CEW Bean’s words of 1910 do have a truth about them, but, as anyone who has lived in the area for a few decades will attest, “just add water and this country will bloom”.
In 1981 four leading researchers (GM Cunningham, WF Mulham, PL Milthorpe and JH Leigh) published a comprehensive reference to the flora of the area, called “Plants of Western New South Wales”. It lists some 2027 plants, including grasses, shrubs and forest trees, but for the visitor to the Corner Country, when the season is right, it will be the magnificent collections of wild flowers that are the stand-out winners of this environment.
To best see the flora of the Corner Country plan to stay on station properties or National Parks. There is a list of accommodation options here: Corner Country Stays