The Exquisite Waterlilies of
Read this in Spanish
Nan Bailey had a rare opportunity to go in search
of Australian native waterlilies in far western Queensland. Read
about her visit to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park in WGI
ONLINE Journal 1.4. Here she relates her exploration of . . .
Normanton, Mayvale Station & Gum Hole Lagoon
by Nan Bailey, Queensland, Australia
Click images to enlarge
MacAir flights go from Mt. Isa to Doomadgee, Mornington Island,
Burketown, Normanton, then Cairns. It is a mail run and a small
plane. The flight was uneventful. Unfortunately, when I checked
my bags, they were tagged for Mornington Island, not Normanton.
On arrival, I found myself without luggage, in a strange town,
and without my pickup. I had arranged to spend the time at Normanton
with acquaintances who have a cattle station in the district.
They were busy with the cattle right then.
What was I to do but go explore the town? Maybe it was fortuitous
that my luggage was off-loaded early so I didn't have to drag
it around town with me. I eventually caught up with my wonderful
hosts and settled in. My luggage arrived on the flight the next
day, so I was free to go look for the famous newly named Normanton
waterlilies, Nymphaea carpentariae. This is an area that
large salt water crocodiles frequent so, as I was alone, I had
to be very aware and very cautious. There is usually no second
chance with these creatures.
I borrowed the car and headed out to the river and there the
lilies were . . . masses of them. Mostly white, with the occasional
pink or blue lily, and those gorgeous maroon leaves. What a sight
to behold, with the sun setting over the river, the lilies silhouetted
against the orange sky, and the water birds out for their last
feed of the day. It was hard to head back to the house, but this
was no time to be out alone beside the lagoons and the river,
where two large "saltys" were known to live.
Next morning I headed back to photograph the lilies and hopefully
collect a specimen to put in my press. These lilies were growing
in a lagoon that had been overrun by grasses. It was difficult
to determine the true depth of the water but the lilies thrived
whatever it was. In the clearer areas, there was what I believe
to be Otellia ovalifolia, but without having seen the
flowers, I am not 100% sure. There were also masses of Vallisnaria
with very red leaves, growing around the edges, which I later
learned is Vallisnaria caulescens. This is a species often
found in ephemeral billabongs, so not seen often. The reeds in
the nearby creeks were Schoenoplectus, plus a very short
species I have yet to identify.
Probably Otellia ovalifolia
My next move was to drive northwest along the road to Karumba
on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Along this road, I crossed
several creeks with Nymphoides crenata and the Nymphaea
carpentariae. On the way to Karumba I crossed a large very
flat grassy plain with few trees and here I saw a pair of saurus
cranes (Grus antigone), with grey bodies and red heads
and necks. It was a rare treat for me to see these birds, as
it was my first sighting.
I had a look around Karumba, then headed back to Normanton.
After lunch I went southwest, back along the road to Burke &
Wills Roadhouse on the way to Lawn Hill. My host had told me
of some dams along this road where I might find water plants.
I found more Vallisnaria caulescens, some native Papyrus,
Nymphoides crenata and a saltmarsh Crassula. There
was little else that was interesting.
I photographed the Nymphoides crenata at
the right in a creek south of Normanton. This creek would be
dry within a few months. It is amazing how the seeds survive
the long baking dry season, to come back in full the next wet.
Up here, the seasons are basically "hot wet" December
to May and "dry" June to Nov, with it being cooler
in June, July and August. Of course the rains may come at different
times. Nature never sticks to schedules.
The following day, we went out to my hosts' property, Mayvale
Station, about 100km (62 miles) southeast of Normanton. This
was different country again and I was excited to see the wetland
trees, billabongs, and the masses of white waterlilies. These
billabongs are the water supply for the cattle that run on the
property. The whole of the Gulf country is low floodplains, with
creeks and rivers all heading north into the Gulf. In the dry
season it is harsh and dry, but after the wet season rains, it
is a bird lover's paradise and a waterlily lover's heaven. There
are stands of small Melaleucas, various Eucalyptus
My host put me in the ute (utility vehicle), gave me a mud
map and said, "Follow the tracks to Gum Hole, then head
back to the other billabongs. I will see you back at the homestead
at lunch time. Don't hesitate to use the satellite phone for
I am glad he had such confidence in me. The first billabong,
Gum Hole Lagoon, was almost full of white waterlily flowers.
What a sight! I went mad with the camera with photos from every
Profile - Nan Bailey
The flowers are small
and the leaves are also small with
brown variegations. I do not know
if it will later grow bigger and lose
The next step was to head back to the rest of the billabongs
and hope I didn't get lost. I found Collar Camp billabong with
its family of pelicans and some interesting little bog plants.
Otellia ovalifolia was plentiful here too, as well as
Marsilea mutica. The next billabong had Marsilea drummondii,
the tiny white Nymphoides, a small Cyperus, and
an Eliocharis. There were a lot of pelicans as well as
whistling ducks at this one. Finally hunger made me head back
to the homestead. I still wanted to talk with a local Aboriginal
elder about how their people use these wetland plants in their
culture, and did this on my final morning before flying home
So, my camera cards were full, I had a collection of plants in
my press, and my head was full of notes to be put down before
I forgot them. Normanton was quite different from Lawn Hill,
and altogether I had had the most wonderful week. I was made
so welcome by my wonderful host and hostess and I felt as if
I had a month's holiday instead of a week walking miles in the
heat. It was time to head home and back to the real world of
work and commitments. Thanks to some special friends, I had the
most memorable time, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity
given, firstly to my husband David for making it possible for
me to leave work, to Barbara Wilson for giving me the opportunity
to go in the first place, to the staff at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill)
for their hospitality, to Alice Bynoe for sharing of her Aboriginal
culture with me, and finally to Tanya and Doug Quirk, for making
me so welcome and opening their world to me.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park by Nan
Bailey in WGI ONLINE
Stunning Species Nymphaea of Australia
Gallery by C. Barre Hellquist
Australians in Cultivation
by Kit Knotts