Queensland’s coastal kidneys: mangroves
Much of Australia’s flora has been isolated since the break-up of Gondwana, but hugging our northern coastlines are another class of plants. They seem to look outwards towards the Pacific and Asia, rather than inwards to a continent isolated since the time of the dinosaurs. Coastal First Nations people used them in multiple ways; for food and decoration and as a source of wood. The leaves of the Barringtonia species were used to poison fish.
mangroves - there is some excuse for the disgust they inspire in most people. They are indecent-looking vegetables, the hobgobblins [sic] and abortions of the arboreal world.
Ratcliffe’s entertaining turn of phrase warrants an extra quote:
The imaginative layman, however, might be pardoned for thinking that the tidal ooze - scorned by all decent trees as a dwelling-place - had become a refuge for the products of some of the Creator's more fanciful experiments. Here, huddled together in their shame, they can live in peace, harbouring in their shade swarms of mosquitoes and sandflies to mount guard over their privacy.
As I say, the mangroves are monsters among shrubs.
He was certainly not alone in his thinking. Under the guise of “improvements”, mangroves were cleared from coasts at a rapid pace by the developing towns around Queensland. The communities of Green Island, Wellington Point, Cairns and the Gold Coast proclaim their improvement work in the first half of the twentieth century, betraying a dislike of mangroves.
Eventually the Queensland Government realised the tremendous importance of mangroves. 44% of Australia’s mangroves occur in Queensland, and the fishing industry relies on mangrove forests as breeding and nursery grounds for fish species. They provide protection against storm surges and erosion, filter catchment runoff and store carbon. The 1994 Fisheries Act protects mangroves and all marine plants.
The January 2011 floods had a significant impact on Brisbane’s mangrove population. The grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) is Australia’s most common mangrove, and is one of the main species that lines the Brisbane River, along with the river mangrove (Aegiceras corniculatum—seen below) and milky mangrove (Excoecaria agallocha).
Mangroves are featured in both the Entwined: plants and people exhibition and Kindred Spirits: plants and people publication. Kindred Spirits: plants and people is available to purchase from the Library Book Shop. With text by Shannon Brett, featuring images from State Library’s collection and more, it explores the ancient and ongoing connection between First Nations people and plants in Queensland. This publication was developed in response to the Entwined: plants and people exhibition which is open now and runs until November 14, 2021.
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