Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/998

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ant-eater (hairy in Tasmania), and the Platypus anatinus, the duckbilled water mole, otherwise named the Ornithorhynchus paradoxus. This odd animal is provided with a bill or beak, which is not, like that of a bird, affixed to the skeleton, but is merely attached to the skin and muscles.

Australia has no apes, monkeys or baboons, and no ruminant beasts. The comparatively few indigenous placental mammals, besides the dingo or wild dog—which, however, may have come from the islands north of this continent—are of the bat tribe and of the rodent or rat tribe. There are four species of large fruit-eating bats, called flying foxes, twenty of insect-eating bats, above twenty of land-rats, and five of water-rats. The sea produces three different seals, which often ascend rivers from the coast, and can live in lagoons of fresh water; many cetaceans, besides the “right whale” and sperm whale; and the dugong, found on the northern shores, which yields a valuable medicinal oil.

The birds of Australia in their number and variety of species may be deemed some compensation for its poverty of mammals; yet it will not stand comparison in this respect with regions of Africa and South America in the same latitudes. The black swan was thought remarkable when discovered, as belying an old Latin proverb. There is also a white eagle. The vulture is wanting. Sixty species of parrots, some of them very handsome, are found in Australia. The emu corresponds with the African and Arabian ostrich, the rhea of South America, and the cassowary of the Moluccas and New Guinea. In New Zealand this group is represented by the apteryx, as it formerly was by the gigantic moa, the remains of which have been found likewise in Queensland. The graceful Menura superba, or lyre-bird, with its tail feathers spread in the shape of a lyre, is a very characteristic form. The mound-raising megapodes, the bower-building satin-birds, and several others, display peculiar habits. The honey-eaters present a great diversity of plumage. There are also many kinds of game birds, pigeons, ducks, geese, plovers and quails. The ornithology of New South Wales and Queensland is more varied and interesting than that of the other provinces.

As for reptiles, Australia has a few tortoises, all of one family, and not of great size. The “leathery turtle,” which is herbivorous, and yields abundance of oil, has been caught at sea off the Illawarra coast so large as 9 ft. in length. The saurians or lizards are numerous, chiefly on dry sandy or rocky ground in the tropical region. The great crocodile of Queensland has been known to attain a length of 30 ft.; there is a smaller one about 6 ft. in length to be met with in the shallow lagoons of the interior of the Northern Territory. Lizards occur in great profusion and variety. The monitor, or fork-tongued lizard, which burrows in the earth, climbs and swims, is said to grow to a length of 8 to 9 ft. This species and many others do not extend to Tasmania. The monitor is popularly known as the goanna, a name derived from the iguana, an entirely different animal. There are about twenty kinds of night-lizards, and many which hibernate. One species can utter a cry when pained or alarmed, and the tall-standing frilled lizard can lift its forelegs, and squat or hop like a kangaroo. There is also the Moloch horridus of South and Western Australia, covered with tubercles bearing large spines, which give it a very strange aspect. This and some other lizards have power to change their colour, not only from light to dark, but over some portions of their bodies, from yellow to grey or red. Frogs of many kinds are plentiful, the brilliant green frogs being especially conspicuous and noisy. Australia is rich in snakes, and has more than a hundred different kinds. Most of these are venomous, but all are not equally dreaded. Five rather common species are certainly deadly—the death adder, the brown, the black, the superb and the tiger snakes. During the colder months these reptiles remain in a torpid state. No certain cure has been or is likely to be discovered for their poison, but in less serious cases strychnine has been used with advantage. In tropical waters a sea snake is found, which, though very poisonous, rarely bites. Among the inoffensive species are counted the graceful green “tree snake,” which pursues frogs, birds and lizards to the topmost branches of the forest; also several species of pythons, the commonest of which is known as the carpet snake. These great reptiles may attain a length of 10 ft.; they feed on small animals which they crush to death in their folds.

The Australian seas are inhabited by many fishes of the same genera as exist in the southern parts of Asia and Africa. Of those peculiar to Australian waters may be mentioned the arripis, represented by what is called among the colonists a salmon trout. A very fine freshwater fish is the Murray cod, which sometimes weighs 100 ℔; and the golden perch, found in the same river, has rare beauty of colour. Among the sea fish, the schnapper is of great value as an article of food, and its weight comes up to 50 ℔ This is the Pagrus unicolor, of the family of Sparidae, which includes also the bream. Its colours are beautiful, pink and red with a silvery gloss; but the male as it grows old takes on a singular deformity of the head, with a swelling in the shape of a monstrous human-like nose. These fish frequent rocky shoals off the eastern coast and are caught in numbers outside Port Jackson for the Sydney market. Two species of mackerel, differing somewhat from the European species, are also caught on the coasts. The so-called red garnet, a pretty fish, with hues of carmine and blue stripes on its head, is much esteemed for the table. The Trigla polyommata, or flying garnet, is a greater beauty, with its body of crimson and silver, and its large pectoral fins, spread like wings, of a rich green, bordered with purple, and relieved by a black and white spot. Whiting, mullet, gar-fish, rock cod and many others known by local names, are in the lists of edible fishes belonging to New South Wales and Victoria. Oysters abound on the eastern coast, and on the shelving banks of a vast extent of the northern coast the pearl oyster is the source of a considerable industry.

Two existing fishes may be mentioned as ranking in interest with the Myrmecobius (ant-eater) in the eyes of the naturalist. These are the Ceratodus Forsteri and the Port Jackson shark. The “mud-fish” of Queensland (Ceratodus Forsteri) belongs to an ancient order of fishes—the Dipnoi, only a few species of which have survived from past geological periods. The Dipnoi show a distinct transition between fishes and amphibia. So far the mud-fish has been found only in the Mary and the Burnett rivers. Hardly of less scientific interest is the Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus). It is a harmless helmeted ground-shark, living on molluscs, and almost the sole survivor of a genus abundant in the Secondary rocks of Europe.

The eastern parts of Australia are very much richer both in their botany and in their zoology than any of the other parts. This is due in part to the different physical conditions there prevailing and in part to the invasion of the north-eastern Flora. portion of the continent by a number of plants characteristically Melanesian. This element was introduced via Torres Strait, and spread down the Queensland coast to portions of the New South Wales littoral, and also round the Gulf of Carpentaria, but has never been able to obtain a hold in the more arid interior. It has so completely obliterated the original flora, that a Queensland coast jungle is almost an exact replication of what may be seen on the opposite shores of the straits, in New Guinea. This wealth of plant life is confined to the littoral and the coastal valleys, but the central valleys and the plateaux have, if not a varied flora, a considerable wealth of timber trees in every way superior to the flora inland in the same latitudes. In the interior there is little change in the general aspect of the vegetation, from the Australian Bight to the region of Carpentaria, where the exotic element begins. Behind the luxuriant jungles of the sub-tropical coast, once over the main range, we find the purely Australian flora with its apparent sameness and sombre dulness. Physical surroundings rather than latitude determine the character of the flora. The contour lines showing the heights above sea-level are the directions along which species spread to form zones. Putting aside the exotic vegetation of the north and east coast-line, the Australian bush gains its peculiar character from the prevalence of the so-called gum-trees (Eucalyptus) and the acacias, of which last there are 300 species, but the eucalypts above all are everywhere. Dwarfed eucalypts fringe the tree-limit on Mount Kosciusco, and the soakages in the parched interior are indicated by a line of the same trees, stunted and straggling. Over the vast continent from Wilson’s Promontory to Cape York, north, south, east and west—where anything can grow—there will be found a gum-tree. The eucalypts are remarkable for the oil secreted in their leaves, and the large quantity of astringent resin of their bark. This resinous exudation (Kino) somewhat resembles gum, hence the name “gum” tree. It will not dissolve in water as gums do, but it is soluble in alcohol, as resin usually is. Many of the gum-trees throw off their bark, so that it hangs in long dry strips from the trunk and branches, a feature familiar in “bush” pictures. The bark, resin and “oils” of the eucalyptus are well known as commercial products. As early as 1866, tannic acid, gallic acid, wood spirit, acetic acid, essential oil and eucalyptol were produced from various species of eucalyptus, and researches made by Australian chemists, notably by Messrs. Baker and Smith of the Sydney Technical College, have brought to light many other valuable products likely to prove of commercial value. The genus Eucalyptus numbers more than 150 species, and provides some of the most durable timbers known. The iron-bark of the eastern coast uplands is well known (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), and is so called from the hardness of the wood, the bark not being remarkable except for its rugged and blackened aspect. Samples of this timber have been studied after forty-three years’ immersion in sea-water. Portions most liable to destruction, those parts between the tide marks, were found perfectly sound, and showed no signs of the ravages of marine organisms. Other valuable timber trees of the eastern portion of the continent are the blackbutt, tallow-wood, spotted gum, red gum, mahogany, and blue gum, eucalyptus; and the turpentine (Syncarpia laurifolia), which has proved to be more resistant to the attacks of teredo than any other timber and is largely used in wharf construction in infested waters. There are also several extremely valuable soft timbers, the principal being red cedar (Cedrela Toona), silky oak (Grevillea robusta), beech and a variety of teak, with several important species of pine. The red gum forests of the Murray valley and the pine forests bordering the Great Plains are important and valuable. In Western Australia there are extensive forests of hardwood, principally jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), a very durable timber; 14,000 sq. m. of country are covered with this species. Jarrah timber is nearly impervious to the attacks of the teredo, and there is good evidence to show that, exposed to wear and weather, or placed under the soil, or used as submarine piles, the wood remained