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Western Australian Studies
Noel McFarland (1971-1978)

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The Elfin Forest Regained!
This 600-acre (241 hectares) NATURE RESERVE, located about 20 miles NNE. of GERALDTON (340 miles N. of Perth), owes its initiation to the very long memory of a "traumatized" Californian hillbilly!! [see: "Growing Up Wild in Beverly Hills" article in Backyard #1, Santa Monica]....Having spent the first two decades of my life (1938-1957) happily sequestered in a virgin paradise of evergreen sclerophyll bushland (i.e., the southern Californian oak woodland/chaparral/sage scrub habitat at its best), a very deep connection with this typically scorned and misunderstood ecosystem ("Justabunchabrush") was formed. Toward the end of my second decade of residence there, I spent the mid to late 1950's witnessing its systematic rape and destruction on every side, by the relentless forces of so-called "progress" (a.k.a. growth and "development")....Ravines/ hillsides/oak groves/wildflower meadows/the secret glades of childhood — they all went as the Bulldozers of "Progress" advanced....Then, I was off to fill an entomological position at the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM in ADELAIDE (Nov., 1964) — sad, yet also relieved to be enabled to desert the sinking ship — for not having to stand by and watch (helplessly), as the bulldozers continued to carve up and erase my former homeland, so that it could later be mindlessly referred to as "improved" or "developed"....
A fitting quote from H.D. Thoreau springs to mind at this point:
“Almost all of our so-called 'improvements' tend to convert the country into the town.”Journal, 22 Aug. 1860
Even fifteen decades ago, the hypocrisy and reflexive stupidity of this doublespeak (regarding the morphed usage of the word "improvement") was already amply apparent to Thoreau! (Are we even now beginning to wake up to it??)....Richard Louv's recent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006, ISBN: 10-1-56512-522-3), offers a smidgeon of hope. The only problem is, the parents who most need exposure to these concepts will (predictably) never so much as peek into this book. Perhaps its suggestive title will attract at least a few of them(??)........
My personal "environmental trauma" (above-described) guaranteed the future germination of a "dormant seed": It became permanently lodged in the back of my mind that, if EVER the opportunity presented itself in AUSTRALIA, I would leap at the chance to create my own private nature reserve, somewhere out in the fascinating heathlands. These dense evergreen sclerophyll plant associations (kwongan), unique to the Australian south and west, were as close as I was going to get to purchasing a chunk of my preferred habitat-type on the opposite side of the planet! And, in some Australian localities, the convergences (parallels) with certain Californian chaparral habitats, as to the general appearance of these Australian shrub formations,were uncanny!....I was irresistably drawn to all of the southern Australian heathland ecosystems, and felt instantly "at home" in them....The stage was set! [See also pp.23-25 of the Howatharra booklet (pdf 2.8M).]
Then, in Oct./Nov. of 1968, I took a long and leisurely (remember "leisurely"??) springtime entomological/anthropological field-trip, in the company of Dr. Norman B. Tindale of the South Australian Museum of Natural History, where I was then happily employed as Assistant Curator of Insects. We crossed the Nullarbor Plain in my pale blue 1965 Holden Ute (pick-up), wandering all over the southern/southwestern regions of the State of WESTERN AUSTRALIA for six weeks (Kalgoorlie-Geraldton-Perth-Manjimup-Esperance, etc., etc.), insect collecting and camping out along the way — no rules; no regulations; no permits; no "designated areas" (all delightful byproducts, incidentally, of low population density and plenty of "elbow-room")........ A related topic: see "Dirt Roads".
Late one afternoon, travelling (blessedly "destination"-free) from the east, exploring along a country back road (dirt, of course!), about halfway between Northampton and Geraldton, we decided to camp in a seductive patch of dense heath scrub ("brush"!!), amongst the rocky, flat-topped hills of the MORESBY RANGE, just off the Howatharra-Nanson road, on a rise overlooking the Indian Ocean, which was visible 6 miles distant on the western horizon. The kwongan or heath vegetation growing there had a superficial appearance that strikingly recalled some of the shrubby evergreen sclerophyll formations in certain parts of coastal San Diego County, southern California. My "dormant seed" was dropped (subconsciously), in the hills of Howatharra, late one October afternoon in 1968!
Four years later, mid-winter (July) of 1972 found me returning to W.A. — this time in the company of my new wife, Dienie. We meandered "across the Top" in our Commer Van (destination-free, of course!), and over to W.A., camping out along the way. We began the journey on the Atherton Tablelands of NE. Queensland (where we had been casually land hunting and collecting Lepidoptera for the previous six months), then headed west across the Top and down the coast to GERALDTON, with the revised idea of perhaps settling somewhere in the mild/semi-arid Mediterranean climatic zone of the Geraldton-Northampton district, where we planned to start a succulent/cactus nursery. [Incidentally, the best citrus fruits grown anywhere in Australia can be experienced in the Northhampton district!]
In August of 1972, we discovered a small beach cottage for sale at Drummonds Cove (Lot 68), about 7 miles north of Geraldton, amongst the coastal sandhills. Here we lived for the next 6 years (until Dec. of 1978), collecting insects for the C.S.I.R.O. (A.N.I.C., Canberra), while also launching a small home-based nursery business, specializing in certain bizarre South African succulent plants (a lifetime passion). Most of those were various stapeliads, featuring the genus Huernia, imported from the Darrel Plowes collection, then of Umtali, Rhodesia. Examples (cuttings) of all of these were sent to J. Wrigley, of the botanic garden in Canberra (A.C.T.), complete with full locality data. Our daughter, Audra, was born in Geraldton on 4 October 1977, while we were still living at Drummonds Cove. Some photos taken around Drummond Cove during the 1970's can be seen on this page.
As a natural byproduct of countless insect and plant collecting forays, up into the nearby scrub-covered hills (the MORESBY RANGES, NE. of Geraldton), that long-dormant "seed" — the dream of a private nature reserve in the heath-scrub habitat — began to grow rapidly in the hills of Howatharra! It turned out that the very patch of bushland, along the south side of the HOWATHARRA-NANSON ROAD, where I had camped out with Norman Tindale back in 1968, comprised the NW. corner of a large farming property ("Blue Hills"), which extended from there far to the east and south (Victoria Location 10550). Over the next couple of years (1973-74), as a result of several meetings with the owner, Reuben Starling, a plan was negotiated whereby I would purchase 106 acres of his (untouched!) "worthless scrub"(!) — the pristine remnant of native flora that was still persisting at the northwest corner of his winter wheat-growing property, where they also ran sheep.... Because this corner was on very rough and rocky terrain, which also supported a large population of toxic leguminous shrubs that are deadly to sheep (Gastrolobium spp.), it had all just been left completely alone (with the sheep fenced out!) for the past 30 years, rather than being flattened, burned, and obliterated in the usual manner — exactly what I was looking for (superbly unimproved)!! [To more precisely interpret this remark, read the "Dedications" section, on p.25 of the Howatharra booklet (pdf 2.8M).] And see also "Develop into What??", which directly follows this section.
We came to an arrangement whereby that small untouched NW. corner of Mr. Starling's property, which I was so keenly interested in (the "worthless scrub"), would be surveyed and excised from the larger (cleared and flattened) farming property. Both sides of the (east/west) Howatharra-Nanson Road (involving small sections at the westernmost ends of both Vic. Loc. 10550 and Starling's Vic. Loc.10189) supported rich and varied native ecosystems of great interest. Both of these remnants were surveyed and combined, in order to be sold to me as a single unit, although divided (into north and south sections) by Howatharra Road. All of the required legal transactions for this operation were finally completed by 6 January 1975, when our freehold title (designated as "Lot 1, Howatharra") was officially recorded (in Vol.1396, Fol.177, Diagram 47611), at the Dept. of Lands and Surveys in Perth.......... "HOWATHARRA HILL RESERVE" WAS OFFICIALLY BORN ON THAT DATE!
About 1977-78, Cliff Royce,our nearest neighbor and longtime owner of the "Windermere" farming properties (north and west of Loc. 10189, along the north side of Howatharra Rd.), decided to contribute 490 acres of his untouched virgin habitat to bolster our 106-acre fledgling reserve! The first offering (along the northwest edge of our land), was his adjacent 90-acre parcel, officially designated as "Crown Grant 3". And later, a 400-acre rectangle was also contributed by Mr. Royce (as a memorial to his wife). This second remnant (a rectangle comprising the SE. corner of his V.L.2862) lay very close to the northeastern limits of our "core" reserve, where it adjoined the northern boundary of Mr. Starling's smaller parcel (V.L.10189), reached via the Bella Vista Rd. (a secondary farm-road). These two valuable additions immensely enhanced the potential viability of our original 106-acre parcel, isolated as it was near the western margins of a vast homogenized monoculture of wheat and sheep.... Since our original purchase of the first 106 acres (43 hectares) in 1974,another 490 acres (198 ha.) was thus added to the reserve a few years later, thereby increasing its size by nearly a multiple of five — thanks entirely to the vision and foresight of the Royces. We owned only the originally selected "core-parcel", paying the rates annually for 13 years (from 1975-1987), before finally selling it to the Dept. of C.A.L.M. (W.AUST. Govt.), in 1988.... It then became officially known as their "Class A Reserve No. 40587".
Growing on the 400-acre block to the northeast (the former SE. corner of Mr. Royce's Vic. Loc. 2862), there were found to be many additional native plant species, not present at all within the limits of my original purchase from the Starlings. Mrs. Royce had often referred to this enchanting (unimproved!!) virgin remnant as her "Private Flower Garden".... [See also pages 9 & 26 of the Howatharra booklet (pdf 2.8M).] This gem of a habitat remnant occupied a low-lying sandy area, very different from the higher rocky outcrops and heavy clays that dominate the hills of our original purchase to the southwest. From memory, I can recall that there was (I hope, still is?) a colony of Banksia, and a dense stand of a tall and slender Melaleuca sp., growing on that parcel; the latter formed thickets along a creek drainage. A tiny annual Hypericum(?) sp., with small yellow-orange flowers, was present in fine/sandy soil along the edges of Bella Vista Rd., just to the west of the Banksia thicket. Feral pigs were doing some seasonal damage in and around the low-lying drainage channels at this location. But they were not attracted to the higher and drier rocky ground of the original reserve acreage, further to the south and west (Loc's. 10189 and 10550). This illustrates a distinct advantage to seeking out higher/drier land for the purpose of preserving fragile virgin habitat, if there are known to be feral hogs in the district. Luckily, we did not have to contend with feral goats at this particular location....
Noteworthy toward the south side of our original reserve (the 66 acres we purchased in 1974, at the NW. corner of Loc.10550), there were several thriving colonies (totalling about 700 individual plants), of a rare and most peculiar myrtaceous dwarf "cushion-shrub", Verticordia penicillaris F. Muell. Pressed specimens, code-numbered NM1083, were deposited in the W.A. Herbarium, South Perth.) These plants were mostly growing in the shallow, slow-draining soil of "pans", formed by the presence of rock layers very close to the surface. These sites regularly become saturated (water-logged) during the brief winter rainy season (+4 mo.), but are baked hard and dry for at least 7 or 8 months of the long dry season, which extends from about mid/late September to sometime in April or May at this locality. I strongly suspect that these strange rare plants may be pollinated by an unidentified small and secretive native mammal, which is probably active only at night, but I have no actual proof of this!....There are several reasons, however, why I strongly suspect it — as follows:
(1) The growth-habit, of these very slow-growing and long-lived woody shrubs, is low, rounded and very dense, forming compact "cushions" close down against the ground (ideal for a small mammal to climb up onto and scamper over). (2) The pistils are conspicuously exerted, and project rigidly straight upward from the densely crowded mats of cream-white flowers (Sep.-Oct.); any small mammal walking over them would be dragging its belly fur across and through them. *(3)* The odor given off by these flowers is most peculiarly and distinctly fetid — very much the "fragrance" of a mouse cage that is badly in need of cleaning! (Anyone who has kept pet mice in captivity knows this odor....). (4) There is ample cover, in the surrounding dense thickets of scrub, for a small and secretive nocturnal mammal to hide by day. (5) I don't recall seeing any birds OR insects visiting these flowers.... So what is pollinating V. penicillaris at Howatharra Hill??? And, how (and when) is it being done???....[Potentially, an intriguing research project??!] See also Gardner (16th ed., 1985:4-9, 101-103) and Erickson et. al. (1973:7, 8, 12, 110).
Another peculiar botanical rarity, well represented on the south side of the original reserve (Zones 1-3), was a woody euphorbiaceous shrub, Ricinocarpos psilocladus (NM.1036). Its relatively large, snow-white flowers render it conspicuous, but only for a brief period during June and July (peak of the rains). For the rest of the year it is hardly noticeable, scattered about here and there in the scrub, often emerging slightly above the dominant Melaleuca megacephala thickets, in and around which it grows. The uncommon Acacia oldfieldii (NM.1000) was a large and dense/bushy member of that genus at two locations (in Zones 1 & 8); there were also about 12 or 13 other Acacia spp. growing on the reserve, two of which were very abundant small shrubs (A. ericifolia and A. ulicina). A total of at least 28 other species of legumes (s.l.) were also present on the reserve. Only two or three of these were introduced (*) non-natives, including one annual *lupine (invasive crop/weed on disturbed soils) and a clover, present in the cleared paddocks along the eastern margins of the original reserve (Loc. 10550), and sometimes invading around the borders.
A rare member of the Fam. PROTEACEAE (occurring mostly just outside the boundaries on both halves of the reserve — north of Zone 6 and south of Zones 3-4), was the showy Grevillea bracteosa ssp. howatharra (NM.1131). It was particularly abundant on disturbed gravelly soil, toward the west end of Loc.10189, primarily along both sides of Bella Vista Rd. Photos depict a colorful lycaenid larva that was found feeding on these flowers. Various other shrubs in the Fam. Proteaceae are major contributors to the dense evergreen sclerophyll thickets here (24 spp./10 genera, all of them natives). They are second only to the Fam. MYRTACEAE (36 spp./11 genera, all natives). Most of the latter are shrubs (not trees) in this particular habitat. The genus Melaleuca alone is represented by 10 or 11 distinct species within the reserve! M. megacephala (NM.1074) dominates over large areas, forming almost "pure" stands (esp. in Zones 1 & 2), reminiscent of the way that stands of Adenostoma fasciculatum (Fam. Rosaceae) frequently dominate many of the Californian chaparral ecosystems that still remain intact. M. trichophylla (NM.1078) is a spectacular low shrub when in full bloom here (but only from about mid July to mid August of most years), with intense deep pink flowers predominating at this location. It was abundant in certain areas of the reserve, with extensive patches blanketing some of the south-facing slopes along the north side of Howatharra Road, and also in certain sectors of Zones 1-2, on the south side (around the concreted picnic slab). Two spp. of shrubby (but emergent) mallee eucalypts are only a minor element of the vegetation here, forming a few small thickets or stands on Crown Grant 3, along the north side of Howatharra Road (Eucalyptus blaxellii and/or E. arachnaea).
Among the monocots, there were at least 17 spp. of native terrestrial orchids present on the reserve (representing 11 genera)! These are strictly wet season growers, only visible above ground from about May or June into October. Many of them are showy and abundant. But others are very small and hide under the bushes (esp. in Zones 1-2). An interesting northernmost range-extension was documented here for Philydrella pygmaea (Fam. Philydraceae — NM.1132), growing in some of the consistently winter-wet locations of Zone 4; these small yellow-flowered plants with reddish stems are restricted to just a few compact "colonies" on the SE. side of the reserve, in certain secluded openings amongst the bushes. Widespread and abundant, in many of the boggy locations throughout the reserve (winter/spring only), were 8 kinds of sundews (Drosera spp.). Some of these grow in colonies around the winter-saturated "mini-bogs", along with 11 or 12 spp. of the bizarre trigger plants (Fam. Stylidiaceae). One of the more common sundews here (D. macrantha, NM.1063), is a tangled and twining climber amongst the smaller woody shrubs, scrambling up through them and bursting into bloom on top of the supporting shrubs. The flowers are pure white and very conspicuous, but they only last for a brief period (early July to early August) during the short winter season; these were abundant in Zones 1-2, and also elsewhere. The spectacular climbing/twining fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii), often drapes its supporting shrubs with extravagant cascades of mauve or lavendar flowers (esp. in Zones 2-5).
A unique new sub-genus of a flightless tiger-beetle (Fam. Cicindelidae) was discovered at Howatharra Hill Reserve: Cicindela (Macfarlandia) arachnoides Sumlin (1981). My first encounters with this rather small cicindelid were between early July and early August of 1978, toward the latter half of the winter rainy season, which extends only from about May into August during "typical" years (rainfall peak is usually reached sometime in June or July). For more details on this beetle, see the original description and line drawings by Dan Sumlin [click here]....Also in 1978, during a brief visit to our reserve in November, M.S. Moulds (now of Kuranda, N. QLD.) identified a new subspecies of the skipper, Motasingha trimaculata occidentalis (Fam. Hesperiidae), which was later described and published in General & Applied Entomology 18:25-32 (1986). For full details, see the original description, co-authored with A.F. Atkins. The larval foodplant of this skipper is Patersonia, a locally common and showy member of the Iris Family, conspicuously in bloom at Howatharra Hill from + mid July to late August (deep violet flowers). The reserve has been designated as the type locality for both of these "new" insects.
This new beetle and skipper may represent only "the tip of the iceberg", with reference to other possibly new (undescribed) species of insects that could still be awaiting discovery in the Howatharra district.... The insect fauna on the reserve is particularly rich and diverse in the Orders Coleoptera, Diptera, Heteroptera and Hymenoptera. By far the majority of these insects are active as adults for only a few weeks, during the latter half of the brief winter/spring rainy season (July-Aug.), with some of them extending into the beginnings of the dry season (Sep.-Oct.), but rapidly tapering off by mid November. The beefly fauna (Fam. Bombyliidae) is particularly rich and fascinating around Howatharra (July-Nov.). And so are the spiders!....[See also the "Entomological Dedication" on p.25 of the 1977 Howatharra booklet (pdf 2.8M)!]
In January of 1988 (then living in Arizona), we finally decided to sell our private nature reserve to the Western Australian Dept. of Conservation & Land Management (C.A.L.M.), to insure its longterm survival and protection.... It is now officially known as their "Class A" Reserve No. 40587. See also their conservation and wildlife magazine, Landscope Vol.4(2):43-46 (Summer 1988/89) - (pdf 2M), under "Moresby Range" (pp.45-46), wherein there will be found a brief (anonymous) "mention" of this transaction. The article is entitled "Buying Back the Farm". Incidentally, I still have "a lively interest in natural history"!! (It may, in fact, go even deeper than that??!!)........
For permission to enter Howatharra Hill Reserve, contact the nearest branch of C.A.L.M., which is in Cathedral Ave., GERALDTON, W.A. 6530 — (Local phone: 099-215-955).

Any botanist or entomologist intending to visit the Howatharra district should plan to arrive there NO LATER than early August!! "Prime time" for plants in bloom (most years) is ONLY a very narrow 5-week "window", extending from about late July to late August or early September, and it can vary somewhat from year-to-year, entirely depending upon local rainfall patterns. By mid to late Sep., many of the ephemerals are already dead or dying, as the soils and water-holding "rock-pans" rapidly dry out.... Hot and drying east winds speed up (and finish) this process during October and November! If you fail to arrive well before September, you will have already missed much of the Howatharra floral show....
From late Nov. until the earliest rains of April or May, nearly every species of plant in this habitat becomes dormant (if woody), or dried up and dead (if annual or ephemeral).... A notable and peculiar single exception to this cycle is the monotypic/endemic perennial vine, Clematicissus angustissima (Fam. Vitaceae). It bursts into full bloom on sprawling bare stems,during mid to late summer (Dec.-Feb.), around the peak of the dry season (based, I presume, on stored water in a tap-root??). The small, grape-like fruit clusters form during March-April.... When the autumn rains finally do get under way (May or June), the fruits drop and the stems then leaf out, long after the flowering has finished. The dark green (deeply divided) leaves will be retained through the winter and into early spring, until the vines again shed their foliage (around September/October), in preparation for the summer drought.
The famous shrubby endemic "Geraldton Wax Flower" (Chamelaucium uncinatum, Fam. Myrtaceae) was not present at Howatharra Hill, although it grew in various other locations to the north and south of Geraldton, especially in limestone or sandstone habitats, closer to the ocean. This plant is widely grown in southern California (coastal areas), where it has long been a popular garden ornamental. It does well there, under a similar "Mediterranean" climatic regimen (strictly winter rains/summer drought), but is not frost-hardy.
The plant index at this website lists 400 spp. of plants (about 38 of these not natives), that were found to be growing in or near Howatharra Hill Reserve during the 1970's. Of these, 207 spp. have been photographed alive in the habitat, and can be viewed in the photo gallery. The remaining 193 spp., still need to be documented by photography at the reserve. (Can anyone help to fill in the blanks??)...... Refer to Col. 2 of the spreadsheets, where a "P" appears for each species that has been photographed; the blanks in Col. 2 imply that no photos were obtained.
BOOKLET: For a more extensive (but still only skeletal) commentary on the Howatharra Hill Reserve flora and fauna, see the small introductory Howatharra booklet (pdf 2.8M) that we published privately (1977) at Geraldton, here reproduced in full. A few remaining copies of this booklet are still available directly from the author upon request. The link to the Howatharra Botanical Photo Gallery that appears on every page contains color photos (from numerous slides made during the mid to late 1970's) of 207 species of plants then representative of the native flora at Howatharra Hill Reserve. See also P. Zahl (1976), in National Geographic Magazine 150(6):858-868 ("Southwest Australia's Wild Gardens: Bizarre & Beautiful").

LATITUDE= 28 deg. 27 min. 57.000 sec. S. (-28.54799911)
LONGITUDE= 114 deg. 36 min. 59.000 sec. E. (114.66327667)
Had it not been for the willingness, flexibility and foresight of the following 4 individuals (nearly 4 decades ago), HOWATHARRA HILL RESERVE never could have evolved beyond mere daydream-status:

— Mr. Reuben Starling, then the owner of the "Blue Hills" property, from which our original purchase was carved. He was willing to consider the idea....

— The owners of "Windermere", Mr. & Mrs. Cliff Royce, our friends and nearest neighbors, living to the northwest of the reserve, for their two later contributions, comprising an additional 490 acres of superb virgin habitat. These parcels had long been fenced to keep the sheep OUT, due to rough/rocky terrain and the abundance of certain toxic native legumes (see booklet, p.25, under "Dedications"). [Here referring to C.G.3 and V.L.2862, in part.]

— Mr. L. Shervington, then the Shire Clerk of Chapman Valley Shire, wherein the reserve is located. Mr. Shervington told me that, in England, they "had waited too long", to do anything about the setting aside of certain irreplaceable remnants of their original habitats before it was too late, and that the opportunities were eventually lost, in far too many instances.... So, my initial arguments fell upon sympathetic ears! It was then necessary to get permission from the Shire Council, even to initiate the creation of such a "small subdivision" out amidst the vast wheat/sheep properties of that district — something that had never been locally permitted before. I was later told that, had they so chosen, they could easily have turned down my request, and that would have nipped the entire proposition in the bud. Mr. Shervington, however, argued strongly in favor of our proposed reserve, explaining to the Shire Council exactly what I had in mind for its intended long term "uses" (see also the top of p.31 and pp.23-29 of the 1977 Howatharra booklet) (pdf 2.8M) ....
Therefore, no "red tape" was ever dredged up by some myopic or petty-minded bureau-rat, eager to demonstrate "power", authority, and control ABOVE ALL ELSE. And, directly as a result of THAT atypical and happy circumstance, we were able to secure this rich and diverse remnant, of the Geraldton region's mostly extinct botanical heritage, hassle-free and fully intact....(and now permanently set aside for posterity)....It should still be there, long after most of the remaining Geraldton/Northampton district's unique native plant life has been erased or bulldozed into oblivion, by the blind (and purely greed-driven) forces of so-called "development"....But hopefully, "Progress" will never be enabled to invade the spectacular wildflower gardens at Howatharra Hill Reserve. (I like to imagine that its "Class A" status will help!). Fire may, indeed, burn through this habitat from time-to-time. But that would simply have a rejuvenating effect upon most of the native plants growing there, which are thoroughly fire-adapted and would probably benefit from such an event! (See also p.5 of the booklet, regarding certain past fires that have been recorded in the Howatharra district.)
6A — Nemopterid & Moth Studies


Moth Study (CARTHAEA)

6B — Sidetracked by Stapeliads!

Sidetracked by Stapeliads!

6C — Howatharra Hill Reserve



The Concept of So-Called "DEVELOPMENT"







FINAL COMMENT: The Fruits of "Progress"