Above is the Middle Gorge. The most southerly section is called Upper Gorge and the most northerly but downstream is called Lower Gorge. This photo was taken from the top of the Island Stack. The contrast between the sparse vegetation on the top of the gorge walls and the lush growth below is dramatic. 

 Native Waterlilies at
(Lawn Hill) National Park
Queensland, Australia

by Nan Bailey
Click images to enlarge

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is on the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia. Lawn Hill Gorge is like an oasis in the dry harsh country of northwest Queensland. It is a magical place of special importance to the local indigenous people.

I had the opportunity to get a lift with a long-time friend out to Lawn Hill at the end of August 2006. I live on the eastern coast of Queensland, and Lawn Hill over a thousand kilometers away. This was a dream come true as, after my first visit there in 1997, I really wanted to go back and record the water plants found there. Here at last, was my chance.

© Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service

Lawn Hill Creek has cut deep gorges over thousands of years and, in the gorge area, it is a wonderful oasis. Emerald green waters fed from fresh springs nourish towering Livingstonia palms, Leichardt trees and Melaleucas, as well as Nymphaea violacea, sedges and reeds, Pandanus and ferns. In the dryer parts there is a whole different range of tough plants and sometimes beautiful wildflowers. The water is extremely high in calcium carbonates because it filters through the limestone hills. The scum formed from this as the water rushes along covers most of the submerged plants, and hardens into a porous rock called Tofu seen around some of the creek edges.

We had a full day's drive from Atherton to get to Gregory Downs Station where we spent the first night. In the morning, while my friend did some work, I explored the Gregory River banks at the nearby Gregory Farm. Here I found Pandanus and small stands of a native reed Schoenoplectus. When juvenile, this reed has long floating leaves, and looks very much like a form of Vallisnaria. The mature stems that hold the flower heads are about 1.5 to 2 meters tall.

Once we arrrived at Lawn Hill National Park, I headed straight for the creek to photograph what aquatics I could find. I was amazed at the vast number of N. violacea. There were mature flowering plants plus lots of seedlings growing in the shallows in several places along the main part of the creek. When I reached the part where the creek divides and goes around the Island Stack, there were many more N. violacea all crowded together. I did not see any other species of Nymphaea in the areas I was able to visit. Then it was time to cool off in the shade.

< Looking straight down from the top of the Island Stack is a colony of Nymphaea violacea.

N. violacea has colonised large areas of the quieter parts of the river. There were masses of seedlings along the banks. Look at how shallow the water is. 


< See how densely the lilies are growing. This is in the old eastern arm of the creek. It divides and flows around both sides of the Island Stack, with the stronger flow in the western arm.

Part of the lower gorge area >


What especially interests me about these N. violaceas is the number of petals and the fact that the floral axis is red.
The lilies here are growing in extremely alkaline conditions as you can see from the leaves. The marl froths up and floats along the water surface, covering most of the plants where the water is flowing slowly. The water is a beautiful turquoise colour. I have no idea of the depth, as there are crocodiles in the river and I didn't want to take a foolish chance to check it.

Besides the Nymphaea, I found the common reed Phragmites australis, Schoenoplectus sp. which may be either S. validus or litoralis, Ceratopteris thalictroides - the Water Sprite fern in its juvenile form - Ottelia alismoides, a Pandanus species and several different ferns. I am sure there would have been a lot more to photograph if I had been able to take the canoe upstream to the falls, but I had spent a whole afternoon just in the shaded main gorge area.

The next morning I was up early, as I wanted to climb the Island Stack to photograph the sunrise over the plains. It is a magnificent sight, and the wildflowers growing on the top were an added bonus. I spent two hours up there, as well as another two exploring the eastern arm of the river. I wish I had more time to explore further. This is harsh, hot country and it is very easy to become extremely dehydrated, so I had to go back to our camp during the heat of the afternoon. Unfortunately I was unable to gather plant specimens to press as it is a National Park, but it was sorely tempting.

We were off the next morning to Doomadgee, where I was to catch the MacAir flight to Normanton, the next stop of my adventure. 

Read about Nan's Trip to Normanton and Mayvale Station
in the next WGI Online Journal!

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents

Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening