A Visit to Keep River National Park
Now a regular contributor, Dr. Teege takes us on
a trip 'down under' to see a rare and wonderful, silver Livistona.
Dr. Maria-Jutta Teege, Alwin-Mittaschplatz 12, 67063 Ludwigshafen,
Chamaerops No.21, Winter Edition 95/96
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Photo: Livistona sp. 'Victoria River' in habitat
A German falling in love with palms faces the same
problems as any other inhabitant of a cool country: Where to see
tropical plants in the cold climate of Europe? You can never build
a glasshouse big enough to grow all of them, you can do only this:
save all your money and all your leisure time and spend both visiting
the palms in their natural habitat. It's guaranteed to be wonderful
and exiting, making friends with these plants in their own environment,
and if you capture them on film, they will never wilt or die and
you will always remember the meeting. I have been doing this for
many years now and it continues to give me a great deal of pleasure.
For me as a biologist, palms fit rather neatly alongside my own
specialized field of work. However, for my husband as an industrial
chemist it was really something new, a hobby or a working holiday,
but he certainly learned quickly!
He shows great skill as a navigator during our foreign
motoring trips, and he's also not bad with a video camera. So we
are a good team and since retiring we are travelling more than ever.
In Australia we were often surprised to find small
populations of palms in rather isolated places. And most of them
we were led to by some mention in the literature or in tourist information
brochures. So it was that in January 1993 I heard about a trip by
some palm enthusiasts from Darwin to Keep River National Park in
the north of Australia. In this remote locality they were lucky
enough to come across individuals of a rare Livistona population
which is temporarily named Livistona sp. 'Victoria River'. Fascinated,
I immediately took the decision to look for these palms during our
upcoming visit 'down under'.
The Keep River National Park is situated in the Northern
Territory just east of the border with Western Australia. Access
to the park is from the Victoria highway on a gravel road, in a
northerly direction. The first park area was purchased in 1980 by
the Northern Territory Government, became enlarged later and now
includes 26,000 ha. of open woodland on gently undulating plains.
Interspersed are major uplands and plateaux over 300 m in height
above the plains. The entire park area forms part of the Keep River
catchment and the valleys are drained by short, poorly developed
streams which become dry soon after the wet season. The 30 km or
so of Keep River itself are also mainly filled with dry sand or
boulders. About 5 km of the riverbed leads through a gorge with
highly eroded sandstone bluffs and ridges. The climate is monsoonal
with a mean annual rainfall of 800 mm and a mean temperature of
We approached the park from the east. The last town
on our way was Katherine before we began rolling west along the
lonely Victoria Highway. This is one of the most beautiful highways
of Australia. On both sides of the road we saw a vast savannah with
high and dry yellow grass (probably wild sorghum) and scattered
trees of different kinds. Apart from the Eucalypts we knew only
the small native kapok trees (Cochlospermum gillivraei) with their
conspicuous yellow blossoms. The land was dry and stony, sometimes
with high mesas of red sandstone rising from the plain. 193 km west
of Katherine we crossed the Victoria River on a well-built bridge,
noticing an unusually high water level in the riverbed due to the
season now after the summer rain. This is already crocodile country,
where the dangerous Estuary or Saltwater crocodiles may be met.
Close behind the river crossing was a camping area, a restaurant
and petrol station, but we didn't stop. Continuing on our way we
passed more high sandstone rocks. They looked like walls or castles
and far away at their bases in shady niches and little gorges we
discovered some palms. With their straight and slender stems and
spherical shaped crowns they differed clearly from the other trees.
But there was no road or footpath leading to them. And a hot sun
shone from a cloudless blue sky, the temperature being about 40?C
in the shade, if you could find shade.
283 km west of Katherine we reached Timber Creek,
a tiny settlement, mainly inhabited by Aboriginal people. There
we stayed for the night. Next morning we started again westwards
on the Victoria Highway, and again we saw walls and castles of red
sandstone rising from the savannah plain. Instead of palms they
were here accompanied by strange thickstemmed baobab trees (Adansonia
gregorii) which are endemic in this region and the bordering parts
of Western Australia. Their nearest relatives are the baobab trees
of Madagascar and East Africa.
470 km west of Katherine we reached an unsealed road
branching off to the north: the access to Keep River National Park.
Although it was too late this day to explore the park, we wanted
to have a quick look around, so we drove a further 15 km to the
camping and picnic ground of "Gurrandalang" where a couple
from Sidney gave us some very useful information about the walking
trails in the park. Of course I asked about palms and they had seen
them on a trail from "Jarrnarm" camp ground 20 km further
to the north. Full of expectation for the next day we left Keep
River National Park and took the highway for another 40 km to Kununurra
in Western Australia. In a small private hotel with several aviaries
full of beautiful Australian birds in the little garden we booked
accommodation for the following four nights.
Next morning we decided to drive straight on to the
Jarrnarm camp and picnic ground near the northern end of the park.
The most important excursion should be made first. As we arrived
at this lovely spot and parked our car we saw our first palm. It
was a very young one, a baby, with greyish-green, fan-shaped leaves.
It looked beautiful. Was it growing here naturally or had it been
planted for the picnic area? Nobody there could tell me. In the
meantime my husband had been looking for the beginning of the walking
trail. But there he found a message to all visitors : Today the
area will be burnt! Don't walk on the trail from 13.00 o'clock.'
Now it was 12.00, so we only had one hour to walk for a little a
bit along the trail. The whole way would be about three hours for
us with the video camera. We were disappointed, of course, but there
was nothing we could do.
The first part of the trail ran through a plain with
high, dry grass and there we found some more of the greyish-green
fan palms. They were bigger than the first one, but also young.
Here it was obvious that they grew naturally. We walked in the direction
of a little sandstone range and then returned. At that moment a
small aeroplane flew low above us and then in a curve over the dry
grassy plain. A minute later it began to burn here and there, under
the path of the plane. Now it was definitely time for us to leave
the trail. In the Northern Territory they burn the grass every year
in small patches at the end of the dry season when the grass is
high and dry. Were it to burn uncontrolled there is the danger of
vast areas burning which nobody could stop.
So this day was lost for visiting palms at the Jarrnarm
trail. As all the other trails in the park were obscured by the
smoky air, we returned to Kununurra.
Next day the Jarrnarm area was still affected by the
after burning. So we drove to Gurrandalang where we walked along
a wonderful but rather strenuous trail up and down through sandstone
outcrops in the grassland. And there, quite unexpectedly, we saw
some single palms. Splendid individuals they were, with a high solitary
stem and a regular crown of stiff fan shaped leaves. Some of them
were mature and displayed yellow flowers between the leaves. They
grew at the bases of rocks or in small gaps so that they could take
advantage of the rainwater which flows down the slopes. It was a
wonderful picture with the scattered palms between red sandstone
towers and ridges, the stony surface of which formed a striking
weathered pattern, and everything around combined with grassland,
trees and bushes under a bright sun.
The same beautiful scene we were to enjoy next day
on Jarrnarm trail. The path led us between high yellow grass along
the base of a sandstone ridge, where we could approach the palms
quite closely. Here we met many young individuals, often in clumps
together. So this hot and dry inland habitat seems to have enough
water supply for the offspring of this adapted species. No other
palms live in the area. And those which live here are endemic to
the region of Victoria River and adjacent areas. They belong to
an undescribed species: Livistona sp. "Victoria River"
and may be closely allied to the Millstream Palm, Livistona alfredii
in the area of Fortescue River far away in Western Australia.
Our visit to Keep River National Park was a great
success and a great pleasure for us. We didn't only find a beautiful
and interesting palm species but could also enjoy them in an outstanding
natural habitat, which is now fortunately protected as a National
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