On a grassy hill in a Canberra Nature Reserve lives a large kangaroo.
Given the thousands of kangaroos that live in the national capital, this might not seem a remarkable statement to make, however this macropod which resides in the Molonglo River Reserve, just 10 kilometres from the city centre, is no ordinary Skippy.
In fact, this macropod is massive, it would even dwarf the 2.7-metre-tall Procoptodon (prehistoric kangaroo), which hopped around during the Pleistocene epoch.
What’s more, the Molonglo roo is two-dimensional and measuring in at more than 140 metres long and 50 metres high, it can only really be appreciated when viewed from the heavens.
However, unlike other Australian geoglyphs like the Marree Man (a 2.7-kilometre-long carving of an Aboriginal warrior which appeared overnight in the South Australian outback in 1998) or even the ancient Nazca Lines in Peru, the origins of this over-sized kangaroo aren’t steeped in mystery.
No, this giant roo was created a year ago by the innovative team at ACT Parks and Conservation in an attempt to raise awareness of the restoration work they are undertaking in the newly created nature reserve.
Dr Richard Milner is an ecologist with the Parks Service, whose team has been working hard for several years to restore the reserve’s critically endangered box-gum woodland. “During the 1900s, much of the area now in the reserve was subject to grazing, agriculture and forestry, leaving it degraded and full of weeds,” he says.
As part of this work, Richard’s dedicated team has scalped (removed weeds) from the heavily weed-infested site and direct seeded (using native grasses and wildflowers) 2600 square metres in the shape of a giant kangaroo.
“The restoration site will serve as both a high diversity node that will provide a seed source for surrounding areas and also hopefully a destination for nature enthusiasts and passengers in aeroplanes flying overhead,” he says.
Richard's team has trialled the novel restoration method at 11 other sites in the Molonglo and Kama nature reserves with encouraging results.
“In the space of two years these other areas have been transformed from heavily weed-infested sites (dominated by Phalaris and blackberry) into high-quality box-gum woodland that supports over 30 native species and two nationally endangered species,” Richard says.
To celebrate the success of the technique and raise awareness of the importance of native grasslands, in April last year Richard and his khaki-clad colleagues designed the roo using GPS technology and then in collaboration with Greening Australia last year scraped the design into the hillside.
If all goes to plan, later this year the kangaroo, currently still partially bare from the scrape, should bloom into flower as the native grasses and wildflowers planted just over a year ago germinate and bloom.
“If successful, this approach of combining art and ecological restoration is likely to significantly increase public visitation to the reserve, particularly during spring when the forbs are in flower, and thereby improve the local community’s perception of the reserve’s values,” Richard says.
Until now, partly due to its hidden location away from prying eyes, only a handful of Canberrans have appreciated the kangaroo in all its glory.
One Molonglo resident who has closely followed the kangaroo’s plight is Craig Collins of Coombs, who was tipped off about the roo’s presence by a ranger while stepping out along Woodland walking track that passes near the kangaroo.
After visiting the site on foot, Craig’s son Andrew flew his drone over the massive macropod to snap some stunning photos. The red-coloured barrier fencing which prevents soil being washed away in heavy rain really accentuates the shape of the roo in Andrew’s photo.
Not to be outdone, during a recent commercial flight to Melbourne, Craig took a photo of the roo, still clearly visible at 15000 feet, from his window seat.
“Lucky for me I was sitting on the left side of the plane so after taking off to the north and then turning to the south, I could easily make out the roo, especially as I knew where to look,” Craig, who believes the giant roo deserves a name, says.
“How about calling it ‘Barreroo’ after the Canberra-based ecologist and environmentalist the late Dr Peter Barrer (1942-1997) after whom the nearest landmark, Barrer Hill, is named?
“Dr Barrer conducted the ecological mapping along the Molonglo River corridor and was a strong advocate for establishing and maintaining conservation corridors,” Craig says.
He suggests an alternative name of "Molonglo Molly".
Where is it: Located near the top of an un-named hill near the end of the Woodland walking track (if standing at the metal lookout looking south over the river, turn around and walk bout 80 metres straight up the hill behind you) which starts from near Holdens Pond in Coombs. Allow a 40-minute stroll each way.
Best time:With last week’s big rains promoting weed growth in the scraped area,the best time to view the kangaroo from the air may have passed, that is until the site hopefully flourishes with colourful native wildflowers this spring. I can’t wait.
Did You Know? Accordingly to Richard Milner, Molly (oops, I think you now know where my vote lies) is actually a wallaroo. “Along with the endangered pin-tailed worm lizard, the wallaroo is one of the reserve’s iconic species,” Richard says.
The Molonglo Valley geoglyph isn’t Canberra’s only man-made feature best viewed from the sky. Here are two more. Are there others?
Location: The National Rose Garden, Parkes (bordered by King George Terrace, Parkes Place and King Edward Terrace).
Look out for: When planted in 1933, the beds in the two gardens of roses were laid out in a pattern to symbolise the petals of a fully opened bloom, centring around the calyx of a rose.
Size: Each of the two gardens are over 1.5 hectares in size and were originally planted with 4000 roses each, but a gardener tending to the roses this week told me that due to many dying and not being replaced, “there are probably only about 3000 in each garden now”.
Best Viewed: A very tall ladder or by leaning out the basket of a passing hot air balloon, but you’ll need favourable winds. Much to my frustration, in three flights in the last 15 years, the wind has unfortunately blown my balloon in the wrong direction. Or see it via Google Maps.
Don’t miss:As part of the2019 Canberra & Region Heritage Festival, the National Capital Authority are holding a number of free tours of the rose gardens in which participants will not only discover the history of the roses but also learn valuable pruning techniques. See www.act.gov.au/heritagefestival
Location: The enlarged Cotter Dam.
Look out for: A giant smiley face sneakily built into a seven-kilometre-long network of artificial rock reef built to allow the endangered Macquarie Perch to shelter from their main predator – cormorants. In 2012, a spokesperson for ACTEW Water confessed that the smiley face “wasn’t part of the original design”, suggesting that an unnamed contractor created the face “for a bit of a laugh”.
Size:‘Macca’ is more than five metres in diameter and surrounded by boulders at least two metres high.
While recently fishing the Murrumbidgee River downstream of the Cotter, David Vincent of Weetangera stumbled upon a couple of grinding stones. “I took a photo and then returned them where I found them,” reports David.
They are not the only Indigenous artefacts he has found while wetting a line in our region’s rivers. A few months back while fishing the Moonbah River (near Jindabyne) David also noticed “a stone axe head”.
Indigenous river guide Richard Swain, who regular readers may recall expertly paddled your Akubra-clad columnist down the Snowy River (Taming the Snowy, February 27, 2018) confirms both finds are likely to be indigenous stone tools and that David “did the right thing in leaving them where he found them.”
Clue: Now at the junction of two of Canberra’s busiest roads.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Congratulations to Andrew Dowling of Queanbeyan for being the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo, sent in by John Rogers of Cook, as a memorial to experienced bricklayer David ‘Murph’ Murray on the walls of the western side of Building 54 (now Florey Building) on Mills Road at ANU, the old John Curtin School of Medical Research, now the ANU Medical School. Apparently ‘Murph’ died on site during the refurbishment of the building in 2014 and it was agreed by his company and the ANU to memorialise him in the brickworks.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday April 6, 2019 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.