Gang-gang: Namadgi's eight-legged movie star shuns limelight

Gang-gang: Namadgi's eight-legged movie star shuns limelight

In recent days this column has been gibbering excitedly about how someone (David Noble of Wollemia nobilis, Wollemi pine, fame) has deservedly had his name enshrined in the scientific name of a species.

Now we have good excuse to remind you that Canberra citizen-scientist Stuart Harris' name is enshrined in the scientific name of an impossibly tiny Peacock Spider he found in Namadgi National Park.

Eight-legged movie star Maratus harrisi is an elusive star.

Eight-legged movie star Maratus harrisi is an elusive star.Credit:Stuart Harris

Hitherto unknown to science, that spider is now called Maratus harrisi​. Now a new doco film Maratus: A Documystery, made by Canberran Simon Cunich​ is about to be be given its Australian premiere here as part of the Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Festival. The suspenseful film's tantalising trailer was shown on Thursday at the Shine Dome as part of the Australian Citizen Science Conference.

In a moment we reveal Simon Cunich's description of his pulse-quickening film, but first we will appear to digress for a moment as we pose another question.

Pro-Evolutionists point out that scientists failed to reference the Bible when dating the Wollemi pine.

Pro-Evolutionists point out that scientists failed to reference the Bible when dating the Wollemi pine.Credit:Bant T-shirts

Quaint old readers, if you still find yourself using the quaint old metaphor of a difficult search being "like looking for a needle in a haystack", don't you think it's time for an updated metaphor? Alas, for those of us old enough to have known and loved them (what perfect venues we country bumpkins found them for for adolescent courtship!), there are no such things as haystacks any longer.

So it is time for a new metaphor for all-but-impossible searches. Lots come to mind. There's "like trying to find some human warmth in a Minister for Immigration's heart" and "like trying to find something that sounds sincere in a Bill Shorten speech". Then, suggested by the story of Maratus: A Documystery, there's "like looking for a specific spider in a national park".

Simon Cunich says that one day in 2008, Stuart Harris (then a garbage collector during the week and a spider-seeking bushwalker at the weekends) was in Namadgi National Park and saw an exquisite spider. It was so tiny that Cunich asks us to imagine something the size of "just a fleck on a fingernail".

Harris photographed the spider and then bade it a respectful goodbye. He posted the photograph online and it excited arachnoboffins because it appeared to be a new species, never recorded before.


This made it vital that the species be found and studied. But of course looking for a fleck-sized spider in a national park is like looking for an especially tiny needle in a haystack the size of Mount Ainslie. Stuart Harris, obsessed, searched and searched Namadgi without success for three harrowing years.

To find out whether he ever was reunited with elusive, speck-sized Maratus harrisi you will have to go and see the film at the Palace Cinemas, New Acton, at noon on Sunday, August 2. Everything about the Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival is at

Meanwhile, while we wait for Hollywood's feature film about David Noble's more-exciting-than-fiction discovery of the Wollemi pine (as reported, we hear it is to star Johnny Depp as the canyon-exploring, death-defying Noble and Jennifer Lopez as his love interest) we continue our occasional series of readers' reports of Wollemi pines they have stumbled across overseas. The very famous, very Australian tree, a "living dinosaur", is representing the nation everywhere.

Beverley Paine says "I'm enjoying reading about the sightings of Wollemi pines around the world. In August 2012, my husband and I chanced on a Wollemi pine in the the Hortus Botanicus, in Amsterdam, which its website says is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. The Wollemi pine is listed as one of their crown jewels. At the time it appeared to be struggling to adapt to its new environment but in the photo on the Garden website it looks quite cheerful."

Yes, it does. But of course not every Wollemi pine planted (thousands have been propagated since its discovery) has managed to stay cheerful. As David Noble was at pains to point out at the Arboretum this week (where there have been quite a few givings up of the ghost in the Wollemi forest) the tree is still a little mysterious and we are still finding out things about it.

Discovered shyly surviving in a deep, temperate, rainforest niche in a NSW sandstone canyon, precious few gardeners can recreate the pine's preferred conditions. As it happens, Noble has. He tells us 19 of them all doing well in his roomy bush block in the Blue Mountains. But this is not a million miles from where he made his discovery and so offers some conditions the pines are used to.

But out there in the wider world, in our Arboretum and overseas, it may be a bit of a horticultural candle in the wind. Wherever it is in the world we, patriots all, must cross our fingers for our far-flung fellow Australian.

We may even, when we are believers (like the pious folk of The Institute for Creation Research, which insists that the species is not, as scientists say, 200 million years old but can only be 4,500 years old since it must be a survivor of the Flood so reliably reported in Genesis) pray for it. And the Creationists may be right, which would explain the otherwise inexplicable fact that there is no mention of dinosaurs, including botanical ones like the Wollemi, in the Bible.