Sunday, 7 October 2012

Kissing Granite



Green Pools near Denmark, Western Australia 


Wild spring winds are a regular part of living on Australia’s south island. Tasmania lies fair in the path of the roaring forties, that belt of constant winds which sailing vessels depended on for rapid movement around the globe from the 16th to early 20th centuries. In spring these winds grow in intensity, pinched between the still-cold southern waters and the warming continent.

But we are visiting Western Australia. It is much drier, older and lower in latitude than our island. Its southernmost point barely reaches 35 degrees south. We are not expecting wild winds.

Tell that to the wind! The day we walk in the Porongurup Range it is gusting to gale force. The range, a smoothed over jumble of granite, is only twelve kilometres long, two kilometres wide, and less than 700m high. As we crest the rise that leads towards Castle Rock, a prominent knuckle of bare granite, the wind tears through the trees, buffetting us constantly.

There’s one moment when it rips straight off the bald rock ahead of us, bringing an unmistakably familiar smell. I am slightly surprised to realise it’s the whiff of granite. I’d never considered that rocks might have their own scent, but this reminds me of wind off Mt Amos, or off any of the granitic rocks or mountains of Tasmania’s east coast.



Balancing Rock (I hope!), Porongurups, W.A. (photo Lynne Grant) 
The similarity between the granites of the west and those of Tasmania is geochemical rather than chronological. In this part of Western Australia the granites are derived from the ancient Yalgarn craton, a plateau formed from a vast molten bubble nearly three billion years old. It comfortably pre-dates the Australian continent. Tasmania’s Devonian granites, in contrast, are a measly 400 million years old.

But granite is granite, with quartz, feldspar and mica its main ingredients. And I suppose it’s that blend of earth materials, being micro-shorn by the gale, that I am smelling. Given that this part of the world has probably not been glaciated for millions of years – as opposed to Tasmania’s most recent glaciation just 10-12 000 years ago – it is wind, rain and wave action that have been the main agents of rock weathering.

They have done a spectacular job. The low range has no peaks to speak of, just rounded domes with the odd egg-shaped tor. And throughout much of the south-west of Western Australia the beaches, the soil, the predominence of sand, are in large part down to the erosion of granite. Even the “sand groper” moniker given to Western Australians is an outflow.

The next day we go to where the granite meets the sea, in Torndirrup National Park near Albany. If anything, the wind has intensified. It’s a “good” day to visit the Blow Holes, if good means being blown off your feet and covered in sea spray.


Wild weather at The Gap, Torndirrup NP, W.A. 

We arrive first at the Gap and the Natural Bridge, two granite formations resulting from the wild interactions of rock and Southern Ocean. As we reach the carpark, the wind rocks the car fiercely. Sea spray rises in great spumes, lashing the carpark in a salty deluge. We park as far from the spray as we can, eschew the short but inundated track to the Gap itself, and try to climb some boulders for a side-on view out of the spray. I want to film and photograph, but am literally knocked off my feet.

I’m forced to crawl to the top of a loaf-like knoll. I lie there waiting for a let-up, periodically poking my head into the firing line. As I hug close to the rough-skinned granite, the wind and spray are deafening. I could see it as a fine chance to converse with the rock. I might, for instance, ask why its pink and clear crystals are so large. It might tell me that they result from slow sub-surface cooling while it was forming. And why, I might continue, are you so flecked with black mica, and coated with rust and dust-coloured lichen? But then our conversation would probably be cut short by a lull, and I’d have to “go over the top” to start filming.


The Blowholes in action, Torndirrup National Park, W.A. 
At the Blow Holes the fierce winds and waves produce another wildly spectacular  show. At unpredictable intervals water is punched through holes in the shoreline granite sending fat fountains of spray skyward before the wind whooshes them inland, soaking unwary wave watchers.

Earlier in the week we’d visited altogether calmer waterways, with lichen-daubed granite slabs dipping gently down into shallow, sandy pools. And we’d spent peaceful days in a house built around, against and seemingly at total peace with granite. 



Karri kissing granite xx 

One ancient rock even allowed a karri tree to kiss it. Such are the many humours of granite.

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