I've mentioned before that Australia feels like a mash-up between the US and the UK. One of the aspects that feels more like the US is the ability to just hop in the car and drive longer distances (albeit on the left side of the road.) In the UK, where we lived at least, towns seemed to be fairly self-contained and it was more of a big deal to go to the next town over to do something. Where we are in Perth, the suburbs kind of all run together and it's not uncommon to drive 15-40 minutes to get somewhere, even on a daily basis.
Last week we headed down to Mandurah again to attend an event on the boardwalk...that had ended by the time we arrived. Whomp, whomp. No matter, we took it as an opportunity to hop in the car, drive, and just explore! With a little help from Google, of course. Joel found a desitnation on the map and we headed off towards a national park without knowing much else about it. The weather wasn't fantastic for exploring outside - a bit chilly and no sun - remember we are still in temperamental spring weather, here, but the lake we found was fascinating.
Before colonists came to Australia, it was inhabited by the Aboriginal people. I am impressed with Australia's acknowledgement of this fact and how they are seeking to make reparations (though it is far from perfect.) Here at this national park they had a sign giving the full history of the land. Noorook Yalgorap is the Nyoongar name for Lake Clifton and the Nyoongar people are the "traditional owners of this land." The Lake Clifton name came around in 1840 and was named after Mr. Marshall Waller Clifton, the then Chief Commissioner of the settlement of Australind.
The scientific history of this lake stems back to its creation as a lagoon 225,000 years ago during an ice age. Today, the water is in the lake is groundwater-fed and levels vary throughout the year. Sounds kind of boring, right? Wrong! This lake is renowned as one of the few places in the world some of the earliest known life forms still exist today - thrombolites. That's right - some of the earliest known life forms in the world still exist here!
Before we get to that exciting part though, let's look at the Aboriginal story of the waterway and Lake Clifton. To the Nyungars of this region the lake is a very special place. It is significant in culture and history, with stories passed from generation to generation. Here is their story:
"In the Nyitting (beginning) the Aboriginal people who lived in this region had no fresh water and all the land was dry and hard. They needed the fresh water to set up their mia mias (camps) so they could live in harmony with the boodja (land).
The Elders went down to the sea and they prayed to their creator for the water to come fresh. Their creator came out of the wardam (ocean) in the form of a snake and she was the Waugal. She pushed through the sand and dunes, along her path creating the inlet at Mandja.
Waugal slithered back and forth and carved out a hollow which formed the Djilda and here she laid her eggs. She curled her body around her eggs and protected them. In time, some of the eggs hatched and young began to appear. Then they scattered carving out the major bilya (rivers); Yoordinggaap (Harvey); Bilya Maadjit (Murray); and Waangamapp (Serpentine.)
The little ones, they were fat and they kept going east, up the hills, forming rivers and swamps. They came to be tired and starved as they didn't stop to eat. The grooves they cut became thinner as they were further from their birth place. When their end came they died and went underground, forming subterranean springs on their way back to their heaven, the wardam (ocean). Left behind them were water supplies, fresh and plentiful and water was restored to the land once more.
But the Waugal, she went in search of her young, she went underground and came up at Noorook Yalgorap (Lake Clifton) and Lake Preston. She kept going, looking for them, all the way to Leschenault Estuary at Austriland. She never found her babies, instead she burrowed down in the Djilda and where her mouth was, a spring of fresh water comes and it is a place where fish gather and Nyungars can catch them and Waugal, she is still there waiting for her young to return."
The Aboriginal people always live by the rules of the Waugul and hold her in the highest reverence for she created the waterways that are their lifeblood.
With this story on our minds, we made the short walk out onto the pier that hovers over the water. We were excited to see the ancient life forms that inhabit so few places on earth.
It turns out, they look like rocks! Still exciting, just not quite as exciting as I was expecting. According to the helpful sign, Thrombolites "look like rocks but are ancient forms of microbial communities that photosynthesize (produce energy from sunlight.) They obtain calcium carbonate from the water to form these structures that are about 2000 years old. 600 million years ago the ancestors of thrombolites and stromatolites produced the oxygen needed for life on land to exist. Today you can only find them in a few places in Western Australia and the world."
I have to admit, it was an incredible privilege to stand in the presence of something so important to life that exists in so few places in the world. And to think, we found it basically on accident!
This area is carefully monitored and maintained by the scientific community to keep the balance that will keep the thromoblites alive. There were several places along the pier where visitors were encouraged to take pictures and email them in so they have a record of how things change from day to day. How cool is that!? Another sign informed us that "Thrombolites need fresh water to survive. Maintaining the current level of ground water here is crucial for their survival. Increasing nutrients in the ground water can result in an increase in algae that can smother the thrombolites. Think carefully before fertilising and watering your garden. The run-off can affect the survival of the plants and animals living in wetlands." It's a good reminder that even things we do in our own backyard can have an affect on the larger world around us!
If the day had been nicer or if we had actually planned the trip and had more time, we might have taken the 5k trek on the trail that goes around the lake. But even with the wind and the clouds we enjoyed this scientific lesson and glimpse at an ancient world. It just goes to show that sometimes messing up your plans can lead to something even better!