Home to a living fossil, the Wollemi pine - a relic from the time of the dinosaurs

06 December 2010 | Fact sheet

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Australia

Thought to have been extinct for millions of years, the Wollemi Pine was re-discovered alive and well in a remote and almost inaccessible gorge of the Blue Mountains in September 1994 by David Nobel, a field officer of the Wollemi National Park. The discovery only occurred because of his adventurous bushwalking and rock climbing abilities. Noble had good botanical knowledge, and quickly recognised the trees as unusual and worthy of further investigation which certainly proved to be true. The Wollemi pine is an evolutionary relict and one of the world's rarest species. The New South Wales Botanic Gardens said that locating it again is certainly one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time.

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is now celebrating its 10th anniversary following its formal inscription on the 29th November 2000. Consisting of 1.03 million hectares of mostly forested landscape on a sandstone plateau just inland from Sydney it is a vast expanse of wilderness equivalent in area to one quarter of the size of Switzerland.

View image of Greater Blue Mountains

The name ‘Blue Mountains’ originates from the fact that on warm days the essential oil from certain Eucalyptus trees evaporates and disperses in the air creating the characteristic distant blue haze of the Australian landscape. There are over 700 species of Eucalyptus , mostly native to Austalia, and the Greater Blue Mountains Area includes over 90 species of this taxonmic group (representing 13% of the species globally). This has led to the area being described as a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of the Eucalyptus. This fascinating diversity of Euclayptus was one of the key reasons for the Greater Blue Mountains area being enlisted as World Heritage along with the outstanding significance of the primitive Wollemi Pine species.

The World Heritage property is made up of seven national parks; the Blue Mountains National Park, Wollemi National Park, Yengo National Park, Nattai National Park, Kanangra-Boyd National Park, Gardens of Stone National Park and Thirlmere Lakes National Park, as well as the famous Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.

The area does not contain mountains in the conventional sense but is described as a deeply incised sandstone plateau rising from less than 100 metres above sea level to 1300 metres at the highest point. This plateau is thought to have enabled the survival of a rich diversity of plant and animal life by providing a refuge from climatic changes during recent geological history.

Flora and Fauna

In addition to its outstanding eucalypts and the famous evolutionary relict species, the Wollemi pine, the Greater Blue Mountains Area is home to more 400 different kinds of animals living within the rugged gorges and tablelands These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the Tiger Quoll, the Koala, the Yellow-bellied Glider and the Long-nosed Potoroo as well as rare reptiles and amphibians including the Green and Golden Bell Frog and the Blue Mountain Water Skink. There is also a high level of plant endemism with 114 endemic taxa found in the area as well as 120 nationally rare and threatened plant taxa.

History

When the Europeans arrived in Australia, the Blue Mountains had already been inhabited for several millennia by Australian Aboriginals. There are at least six Aboriginal language groups associated with this area: the Darug, Gundungurra, Wanaruah, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung and Tharawal. The Gundungurra creation story of the Blue Mountains is that Dreamtime creatures Mirigan and Garangatch,who were half fish and half reptiles, had an epic battle and along the route of this battle the Jamison Valley was carved out. Examples of the longevity of Aboriginal habitation of the area can be found in many places with the Kings Tableland Aboriginal Site dating back 22,000 years

When the Europeans arrived the Blue Mountains were initially considered impassable due to complexity of the landscape with its maze of huge cliffs, twisting ridges and deep canyons. Although the aboriginals knew at least two routes across the mountains it wasn’t until 1813 that the Europeans first found a route through the mountains.

Tourism activities

Today the Greater Blue Mountains Area is a major tourist attraction with wide variety of activities available to visitors. For many it's enough just to find a lookout and gaze across the park's chiselled sandstone outcrops and hazy blue forests. Others walk or cycle along the cliff-tops and in the valleys, following paths that were created for Victorian-era honeymooners, or discovered by Aboriginal hunters many thousands of years ago. There are also many great places to go canyoning and rock-climbing.

Threats

Introduced species such as foxes cats and wild dogs are known to exist within the area threatening native fauna. Because the Blue Mountains are so rugged, much of its native bushland is blissfully free of exotic plants or weeds. Bushfires are a natural occurrence in Australian landscapes including the Blue Mountains however these do threaten surrounding human settlements causing great loss of private property but relatively little loss of life to date.

Birthday Celebrations

The aim of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the listing of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is to inspire the broader community with an appreciation of World Heritage values and to encourage ongoing conservation of cultural and natural sites. The Listing Day Gathering on the 29 November 2010 at Govetts Leap,Blackheath, overlooking the historically significant Blue Gum Forest will be the culmination of the 10th anniversary celebrations. '

Make a Wish for World Heritage' run in partnership with the Blue Mountains City Council is one activity taking place. Encouraged by the NSW National Parks mascot, Wanda the Wombat, everyone is being invited to make a wish on specially made recyclable wishes postcards, of what they would like for the future of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. All these wishes are being collected and recorded (to be reflected in the Parks Plans of Management currently under review) and then presented at a special ceremony at the Listing Day community celebration

Other activities will include a recounting of the World Heritage story, an Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’, a ceremonial campfire, NPWS Discovery activities, and a celebration of our future through the Patrimonito Pledge when students born in the year 2000 (the year of the WH listing) make a pledge to be World Heritage youth guardians. Launched on the day will be The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Experience (Blue Mountains Conservation Society) web and DVD presentation, the Shadows in the Bush (a pilot photographic study with Katoomba High students and their experience in a World Heritage bush-room) Exhibition and the Biodiversity, Fire and Climate Change booklet (DECCW) Tea, cake and a sausage sizzle complete all the activities befitting an important birthday!