Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Suburb Guide: Lawnton

Fan-tailed cuckoos are most often seen on a low branch, keeping an eye-out for caterpillars below.

Straddling the lush banks of the North Pine River, Lawnton is a suburb of Moreton Bay Regional Council steeped in history. Originally inhabited by the Turrbal people, the land would have been cloaked for many hundreds of thousands of years by a lowland rainforest ecosystem, featuring the hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) for which the river is named after. Unfortunately, the rich soils allowing the vegetation to thrive also made the place attractive to European settlers that wished to farm the land, leading to great conflict with the Indigenous inhabitants. This was eased temporarily by local pioneering figure Tom Petrie, who had lived with and forged a respectful relationship with the Turrbal people, including Dalaipi, leader of the North Pine tribe. By 1858, however, the Aboriginal people of the area were removed and sent to live in isolated reserves around South-east Queensland, such as at Cherbourg and North Stradbroke Island.

A short time after, the land was broken up into farming allotments that were sold off, and with the opening of the Lawnton Railway Station in 1888, the population of the area quickly began to grow. This has continued steadily to the present day, where the farms have mostly been replaced by suburbia west of Gympie Road, and retail and industrial premises to the east. Unsurprisingly, this is having a deleterious effect on the local wildlife, which is what I will be taking a closer look at below.

Featured areas: (1) Francis Road Koala Reserve, (2) North Pine River, (3) Suburban Lawnton, and
(4) One Mile Creek; Image courtesy of Google Maps.

In the interests of disclosure, I lived in Lawnton for about a year in 2004/2005, a short distance from the train station on Todds Road. One of my all-time favourite memories happened there, when one morning as I sat at the end of my bed tying my shoelaces, I looked up and made eye contact with a koala in a tree outside my window, in Jock Mitchell Park. Learning more about koala behaviour since has somewhat tarnished this encounter however: it’s likely that the poor creature was a lost, urban koala, trying to survive an unfolding ecological disaster I wasn’t fully aware of at the time.

Sick koalas like this one can be recognised by a dirty, wet-looking bottom, and red or weeping eyes.

1. Francis Road Koala Reserve
Just west of the retirement village on Francis Road lies a small plot of bushland protected as a koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) reserve. It is most easily accessed from Todds Road, however, entering through either of the gates along the fenceline behind the bus stop. Facilities in the reserve are essentially non-existent, as conservation rather than broader community use seems to be the intention behind its preservation.

Open eucalypt woodland.
Despite its small size, the reserve is indeed home to a koala population, although the one I spotted during my visit was battling a strong chlamydia infection, and was reported to the local koala rescue group. Impressive remnant forest red gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) are scattered throughout the site, and the lantana (Lantana camara) has been valiantly fought against to allow the koalas freedom of movement between their food trees. The shrub layer is reasonably well developed also, with less common trees like the chain fruit (Alyxia ruscifolia) mixed in with the ubiquitous black wattle (Acacia concurrens). Such pockets of shelter in an otherwise open woodland habitat means that shy animals like the fan-tailed cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) and northern brown bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) can survive here.

A small pond tucked away inside the reserve is also home to a colony of beeping froglets (Crinia parinsignifera) that call throughout the year; no doubt more local frog species join their chorus during the summer months.

Almost opposite the koala reserve along Todds Road, a large plot of land has been clear-felled to make way for a housing development. Disappointingly, mature koala food trees such as the pictured forest red gum have been cut down, even though they are situated outside the fence line, on council (and therefore community) land. Koalas in the Pine Rivers area are estimated to have suffered a 54 percent decline between 1996-2014; with this trend continuing on unabated, we are almost certainly witnessing the local extinction of this unique creature. Disease, dog attacks and car strikes all play a role, but each of these are by-products of the main threat to koalas—the urbanisation of their home.

2. North Pine River
The North Pine is an incredibly beautiful river, but there is limited access to it from Lawnton’s shores. East of Gympie Road, the land is leased by Boral for use as a gravel quarry and is off limits to the public. Perhaps the best way to experience the North Pine River then, is by kayak or canoe. It is possible to launch from Young’s Crossing if you are willing to port your watercraft over a few small footbridges and gravel banks, though keep in mind the river’s strong tidal influence. Kayaking might be the only way you can see one of Lawnton’s best kept secrets, a tiny patch of remnant lowland rainforest east of Gympie Road, named Bells Scrub.

The North Pine River is a place of great natural beauty.

West of Gympie Road, access to the river comes in the form of a few small, scattered parks. The largest, Leis Park, has been inaccessible for the past couple of years due to construction work intended to upgrade the train bridge over the river. Along Brays Road, Stephen Lawn Park—named after the blacksmith and property owner for whom the suburb name also commemorates—features an array of impressive rainforest trees growing along the river, including the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) and red kamala (Mallotus philippensis). From 1915 until 1942, this was also the site of a botanical garden belonging to the Queensland Acclimatisation Society. Here, a variety of different exotic plants were trialled in preparation for wider agricultural release, and to this day, some hundred-year-old pecan trees (Carya species) remain. Elsewhere, Ron Thomason Park is also home to some Australian rainforest natives, including rough-leaved elms (Aphananthe phillipinensis) and a magnificent giant water gum (Syzygium francisii).

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) grow in Stephen Lawn Park.
Wildlife abounds both in and along the river. Birdlife is prolific, with Pacific koels (Eudynamys orientalis), spangled drongos (Dicrurus bracteatus) and uncommon white-eared monarchs (Carterornis leucotis) being recorded from the riverside scrub, and great egrets (Ardea alba) and brahminy kites (Haliastur indus) living by the water. Both the latter birds would be feeding upon the abundant fish population; a survey I undertook in February revealed seven species of fish in one small area, including yellowfin bream (Acanthopagrus australis), common toadfish (Tetractenos hamiltoni) and striped scat (Selenotoca multifasciata). Top position in the North Pine River food chain is taken by the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)however, the juveniles of which occur even further upstream than the Lawnton reach.

Butcherbird songs are so lovely and complex that they have inspired some composers
to study and appropriate the melody.

3. Suburban Lawnton
As far as vegetation is concerned, the streets of Lawnton seem a little bare. As I was admiring two silky oaks (Grevillea robusta) on Galvin Street, a local informed me that the street had once been lined with them, but they had been removed over time and not replaced. The front gardens of many houses have a similar appearance, though one along Galvin Street has been transformed into a luxurious, shady, private rainforest.

Silky Oak.
A lack of tree cover favours the bolder and more aggressive birds, so it was no surprise to see grey butcherbirds (Cracticus torquatus) and blue-faced honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) doing well throughout the suburb. Special visitors to more densely-treed areas of Lawnton, including the eucalypts around the public swimming pool on Gympie Road, are flocks of yellow-tailed black-cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus).

Because housing development is being given priority over koala conservation in the local area, Lawnton residents should maintain a vigilant awareness for furry refugees in their yards and on the roads, as koalas can wander far and wide when desperate. All sightings can be logged on Koala Tracker, and injured, sick or vulnerable individuals given 24/7 assistance by calling the good people at Pine Rivers Koala Care.

4. One Mile Creek
Collecting run-off through nearby Cashmere and Joyner, One Mile Creek flows into the North Pine River along the north-western edge of Lawnton’s boundary. Young’s Crossing Road Park protects the southern bank of the creek and can be accessed from Newmarket Street, where a pathway leads down to the waterway. Unfortunately, camphor laurels (Cinnamomum camphora) dominate the streambanks, though these exotic pest trees nevertheless provide food and shelter for creatures like the blue triangle (Graphium sarpedon) and reticulated shield bug (Austromalaya reticulata) anyway.

The shaded banks of One Mile Creek offer peace and serenity.


  1. A very interesting post with lots of history and lovely shots of the birds especiallythe very vocal Butcherbird.

    1. Thanks Margaret, yes the butcherbird was a little star! :-D

  2. I can only shake my head at the destruction of that beautiful tree.
    The Google Earth view off Lawton Pocket Road looks a bit disturbing.
    On a happier note, a good spot to see the North Pine River is at Tinchi Tamba Wetland Reserve.

    1. There's an interesting follow-up on those trees, as I complained to the council. Will fill you in sometime!

      I love Tinchi Tamba! I grew up in Bracken Ridge and would walk there after school. A big part of my love for nature was born among the casuarinas and saltmarsh there! :-D

  3. Any contact indigenous people have had anywhere in the world with whites has been an unmitigated disaster for them. We should all hang our heads in collective shame.

    1. Yes and I think recognising that is important, which is why I like to mention the pre-European history of local areas in this feature. It's too easy to pretend it's "always been this way" otherwise.