Reporting Australia: Carnarvon Gorge

  • Krisopher Wilson, Ph.D.
  • Reporting on our Changing Environment: Queensland, Australia

Learn about the culture and landscape preserved in this natural oasis found in the Australian Outback.

At the eastern edge of the Outback in Queensland, Australia sits Carnarvon National Park. Spreading over 1,150.6 sq mi, the desert oasis is dominated by the dramatic features of Carnarvon Gorge, which was crafted over the past 30 million years by volcanic activity and water.

As the estimated 65,000 yearly vistiors roam the trails, they encouter a myriad of animals including, wallabies, yellow-bellied gliders and cockatoos. These creatures roam day and night among ancient plants and trees in areas with special significance to the Bidjara and Karingbal Aboriginal people.

Check out the video below and look through our site to learn more about the cultural and biological traits hidden in this natural wonder and our impact on its environment.

Dreaming Under the Stars

By Luqman Adeniyi

A log crackles as a large campfire burns. Children, grandparents and adults alike are gathered in the brisk Australian Outback.

This mob, or close-knit Aboriginal family group, is participating in an oral tradition that began long ago by the native people of Australia.

Emu Outline in Sky

Another spark shoots from the burning embers when whoosh, wind wafts over the expansive, red desert plain that causes the seated clan of black fellows to scoot closer together. As they find a position of comfort and the chatter begins to settle, an elder begins to share a Dreaming, or a special story passed on from generation to generation.

Dreamingstories help educate the individual members of nearly 300 different aboriginal language groups about their mob’s understanding of the environment and events that happened in the past. Most stories are tied to the land or animals that surround each group, while other dreaming stories and beliefs are shared among many Aboriginal groups.

Mary Graham, a Kombu-merri person and Aboriginal scholar, explained the tradition of Dreaming to University of Texas at Austin students studying abroad in Brisbane.

She said Dreaming has a progressive nature, because stories are added over time. Dreamings can discuss the creation of man or the formation of the Great Barrier Reef, and even the arrival of the Toyota Truck.

“It is a fact, [the Toyota's arrival] a thing that plays a role, so it has its own Dreaming,” she said.

Simon Ling, a guide in a natural oasis in Queensland, Australia’s Outback, Carnarvon Gorge, talks about the importance of Dreaming in the audio clip below. He outlines how an emu is seen in the dark spots created by stars in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Art Gallery

By Karla Benitez

Carnarvon Gorge was a sacred place of worship, history, and celebration for the local Aboriginal mobs or small extended family groups that lived near the area. The Bidjara and Karingbal Aboriginal people did not live within the gorge but only visited for special purposes, sometimes to meet with one another. They also left carvings and different markings on a site within the special oasis. Click through the images below to learn more about the unique engravements and colorful art.

Art Gallery

Ecotourism: Visiting Without a Trace

By Eva Frederick

Signs posted at Carnarvon Gorge campgrounds encourage sustainable practices such as limiting water use and being conscious of electricity. But despite these efforts, travelling to different places – no matter how natural they are – contributes to carbon emissions and climate change.

“Any form of tourism has environmental impact,” said Robert Nash, a professor studying the impacts of tourism and development at Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia. “There is no such thing as sustainable tourism.”

While tourism contributes around 5 percent of global carbon emissions, Nash said it is not all bad. Globetrotters and nature enthusiasts often provide a needed stimulus to local economies, and their travel increases oppurtunities to raise awareness about the conditions of the environment.

Although tourism will never be without environmental impact, it can be made more sustainable. Ecotourism is a relatively new idea that encourages responsible travel to natural areas, while conserving the environment and respecting local communities. See some of the facts about the burgeoning industry to the left.

Guide Makes His Living by Showing Off His Backyard

By Eva Frederick

Simon Ling fell in love with Carnarvon Gorge when he was 11-years-old and his love never waned. For the last 20 years, the gorge has been right outside his back door step. He lives just 1-mile outside the Carnarvon National Park and has dedicated his career to sharing his passion with people from all over the world.

Ling’s tour guide service, Australian Nature Guides, offers walking tours suited for a variety of ages and skill levels. Founded by Ling in 1999, it is the only locally owned and operated tourism business in Carnarvon Gorge.

Simon Ling - Carnarvon Gorge Guide

The other two tourism businesses in Carnarvon Gorge are owned by people in Melbourne, a system that, according to Ling, is not as beneficial to the area.

“If you’re shopping or spending your cash with operations based elsewhere, then less of that money stays within the district,” Ling said.

“I think one of the principles of sustainability is to have the proceeds of tourism stay in the community” -Simon Ling

Ling began working at Carnarvon National Park as a chef, but soon realized that there was a place at the Gorge for a local guiding company.

He quickly began designing tours to share a variety of information about the gorge. The trips can be as difficult as a 9-hour uphill hike or as easy as a short walk through the bush to find nocturnal animals. Topics on the tours range from geology and aboriginal culture, to plants and wildlife.

“I feel like he knows the natural environment there more because he lives there,” said Eileen Villasenor, a student at the University of Texas who took several of Ling’s tours. “He’s more passionate because of that, and it shows in the way he communicates.”

Although he plans to start a Ph.D. in geology at the University of Georgia this fall, Ling said he will keep running Australian Nature Guides through local staff.

He is currently training a new guide to take his place so that people still have access to the beauty and knowledge left in Carnarvon Gorge.

Australia’s Grey Nomad Movement

By Eva Frederick

In a recent turn of events, silver-haired primates dominate the landscape at Carnarvon Gorge. They usually come in the winter and can travel in pairs, large groups or alone, in order to escape the harsh Australian winters in the south.

These primates are call grey nomads, they are retirees aged 55-75 who roll through the hinterlands with caravans and nothing but time to explore.

Thousands of these senior citizens give up a settled lifestyle in favor of traveling Australia’s variable environment. The seasoned travelers are Australia's latest cultural phenomenon. They have their own website, several guide booksand a slew of clever bumper stickers with slogans such as “adventure before dementia.”

The movement started near the turn of the century, and the number of trips taken by active seniors has increased over 90 percent since 2000, according to Tourism Research Australia.

Grey nomads generally follow the sun throughout the year. They start out travelling around Victoria or South Australia and work their way up to warmer weather as winter advances. Most grey nomads choose to live simple lives at caravan parks instead of staying at fancy resorts.

While the lifestyle of the grey nomads is simple and compact, their impact on Australia’s tourism economy is anything but small. According to Tourism Research Australia, around a quarter of Australian domestic travelers are people ages 55-75, and their use of campervans and caravan parks fuels an industry of over $2.5 billion.

Graham Russell and his wife are grey nomads on a tour of northern Queensland. They live in a camper van as they travel from park to park. The Russell's came to Carnarvon Gorge as one stop on their nationwide tour, which will take several weeks.

“This was actually my wife’s idea,” Russell said. “She’s the one who said we’ve got to go to Carnarvon Gorge.”

Russell said he enjoys the challenging hikes and diverse ecosystem of the park, but once he leaves, he will probably not return.

“There are plenty of other places to see in Australia,” Russell said. “I don’t like going back to the same place all the time. I like to see new places.”

Some grey nomads keep a house to return to during the holidays or the summer season. Others live fully on the road, changing caravan parks throughout the year. Some also take temporary jobs on their travels to support their nomadic lifestyle, which they generally find through grey nomad job search sites.

See our video below to hear why some grey nomads love to travel to national parks.

A Need for Space: Sugar Gliders and the Pet Industry

By Erin Yeager

Amanda Porter, manager at Takarakka Bush Resort in Carnarvon Gorge, Australia, is no stranger to caring for wild animals. She and her husband Phil Porter have rehabilitated a wide range of native Australian animals including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas and owls.

Most recently, Porter is caring for a baby sugar glider named Carlos. Sugar gliders are small marsupials native to the northern and eastern coasts of Australia. They spend their lives using the membranes that stretch from their wrists to ankles to soar between the trees at night in search of their favorite sweet foods.

Porter said she took Carlos in after he fell out of a tree onto a school group visiting Takarakka.


Map of sugar glider distribution

“It looks like he may have had little sore fingers,” said Porter. “Either he may have just been rejected from the nest because of his wounds, or he may have been attacked.”

Even though Porter said Carlos is friendly and adorable, she and her husband will not be keeping him as a pet.

“We will release this little guy. We always raise to release. That’s always the aim” said Porter.

In fact, owning sugar gliders as pets is illegal in Australia, but Porter said there is a trade for them on the black market.

However, keeping sugar gliders as pets is legal in America, where they are a common pet.

Simply Google “sugar glider pet” and over 700,000 results appear. Many articles discuss how to care for the gliders, and the joys of keeping them as pets. Unfortunately for fans of the little gliders, not all of the results are positive. Many sites list reasons not to own sugar gliders.

Chief among the arguments is that sugar gliders are not properly cared for in captivity. Oftentimes people do not realize the intensive effort that goes into caring for an animal that is, for all intents and purposes, still wild.

A major problem with care is correctly feeding sugar gliders. In the wild they are used to eating a variety of food: nectar, tree sap, flowers, and insects. This wide-ranging diet can be hard for humans to replicate in a domestic setting.

  Daily feed amount per animal Proportion of diet (as fed basis)
Fruit & vegetables
(Supplemented with HPS(tm) powder)
20g diced fruit and veg with 2g of Wombaroo HPS (1 level teaspoon) dispersed over it. 75%
Plain biscuit
(Supplemented with HPS(tm) powder)
5g plain Biscuit/Cookie (e.g.half a tea biscuit) with 2ml of Wombaroo HPS Solution poured over it. 15%
Small Carnivore Food(tm) 2g (1 level teaspoon) of prepared Wombaroo Small Carnivore Food(tm) made up as a moist crumble. 7%
Live Food 1g mealworms, crickets, or other invertebrates. 3%

“There’s really great formulas these days, we use a Wombaroo formula. Wombaroo is an Australian company that puts out a formula for just about every native animal”, said Porter.

However, even with Wombaroo’s help, the sugar glider diet takes a lot of preparation. In addition to their formula, animal care experts recommenda fruit and vegetable mix, as well as live invertebrates. Instead of taking the time to properly feed these animals, owners may end up feeding the gliders the wrong pet food, or even human food. This causes malnutrition in the gliders, which is a big issue in America, according to the Association of Sugar Glider Vetinarians. This is because vets in the US have relatively little experience with exotic gliders, and people follow detrimental pet care advice found on the internet.

Depending on where the glider is purchased and its age, they can cost anywhere from $200 to $800 dollarsfor one glider. Yet, gliders are social animals, living in groups of up to 30 in nature, so they generally fare better with a cage mate. This automatically doubles the cost to create a healty lifestyle for a glider, without the added amount for accessories, food or medical care.

Finally, sugar gliders need as much as 17 acres of land to live comfortably. This is not typical in a home. Glidersare used to living in large family communities, foraging for food at night, and calling to each other between the trees. These characteritics and specific needs makes it hard for a sugar gliders to be domesticated as pets and are the opposite to what many pet owners expect as part of their care.

"It’s very very sad," Porter said. "The animal is just a fabulous creature…it’s a shame to have native animals as pets."

Porter said she believes that wild animals should stay wild, and not have extened human contact. This is an issue she constantly deals with at Takarakka lodge. Simple actions such as feeding the animals by hand can change their behavior and make them less wild.

In all, sugar gliders can provide a sweet pet for those willing to truly put in the effort and care. However, being kept inside away from other gliders is against the very nature of these wild animals that love to soar up in the trees. Choosing a pet that likes to keep its feet on the ground and play inside a house can help sugar gliders thrive in the wild for years to come.

Carnarvon Characters

By Erin Yeager and Eva Frederick

Carnarvon National Park is a great place to get up close and personal with Australian wildlife. Here are a few characters found in the gorge.

Cacophonic Cockatoos


You will hear these white and yellow birds before you see them. The sulfur crested cockatoo has a screeching cry that sounds like it belongs in Jurassic Park. Cockatoos are considered to be intelligent birds, and can live 20-40 years in the wild.

Fun fact: A 2009 study found that these birds can synchronize their movements to music. The study used the song “Everybody” by male pop music group the Backstreet Boys played at different tempos. The birds chandged with the rythm and bobbed their heads in time!

Easygoing Echidnas


When people hear rustling outside their tent, they often jump to the worst conclusions. But at Carnarvon Gorge, the rustling is probably an echidna. These spiny mammals come out at night to root around for insects in the dirt.

Fun fact: Echidnas are some of the only mammals that lay eggs. When the baby echidna hatches, it is called a puggle.

Kingly Kangaroos


As the universal icon of Australia, kangaroos are easy to observe up close and personal at Carnarvon National Park. You can see them hoppingnear the campsites, or eating grass among the trees in the forest.

Fun fact: While female kangaroos nurse their joeys, they usually have another baby kangaroo in diapause, or suspended animation, until the older joey leaves the pouch. In other words, female kangaroos are pretty much always pregnant.

Kooky Kookaburras


Kookaburras are a famous Australian bird with its own song! However, these adorable birds are fiercer than they look. They are known for swooping down and stealing food from tables, hands, and even mouths! If you see one of these birds, admire from a distance, and guard your food closely.

Fun Fact: Kookaburras do not drink water. They get all the water they need from the food they consume.

Sweet Sugar Gliders


These adorable marsupials live in the treetops of Carnarvon. They get their name from their love of anything sweet, such as flowers, fruits, tree sap, and nectar. Not many people get to see them because of their nocturnal habits. If you really want to see one, take a flashlight at night, and remember to be quiet so you can hear its distinctive call!

Fun Fact: Sugar gliders have no smell, so they never need a bath!

Winsome Wallabies


These charming creatures are related to one of Australia’s most well known animals, the kangaroo. In fact, they seem to just be miniature versions of kangaroos! Their young live in pouches until they are old enough to live on their own. The wallabies at Carnarvon are inquisitive, but also shy. Make sure not to feed them though, as this can alter their behavior and risk them loosing friends in the wild.

Fun Fact: Despite being known for their powerful hind legs that allow them to hop great distances on land, wallabies are great swimmers too!

Carnarvon’s Gorge-eous plants

By Eva Frederick and Erin Yeager

From plants that provide natural birth control to prehistoric-looking king ferns that grow nowhere else in inland Australia, the flourishing flora at Carnarvon gorge are sure to grow on you.

Eucalypt trees

tree with sap glob

You’ve probably heard the song “the kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,” but did you know it was referring to the towering eucalypts that thrive in Carnarvon Gorge and across Australia? The eucalypt trees are called gum trees due to their sticky sap, also known as kino, that oozes from the bark and rolls down the trunk.

Fun fact: Eucalypt trees provide a food source for many forest animals, including sugar gliders, who eat the nectar and sap, koalas, who eat the leaves, and insects such as beetles and stick insects, who eat the wood and leaves.

Quinine tree

tree leaves

Quinine trees look inconspicuous enough, but they played an important role in aboriginal culture. Indigenous women used the seeds as a kind of birth control. Eating a few quinine seeds act as an abortive and eating many seeds can cause permanent sterilization. With their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the aboriginals had an interest in keeping their population relatively small so they could live on less space and have enough food to go around.

Fun fact: When you drink a gin and tonic, you are drinking the chemical found in the quinine tree. Tonic water contains quinine and was first developed as a treatment for malaria.



These tall, elegant trees grow near the water at the bottom of Carnarvon Gorge. They are also called river she-oaks because the wind passing through the branches sounds like “sheee.”

Fun fact: The name “casuarina” comes from “cassowary,” because people thought the fine stringy leaves of the tree looked like the feathers of cassowary birds.



Commonly known as Moore’s Cycad, this plant is the tallest of its genus. Its seeds look like small almonds. But, beware; their seeds are not edible! They have enough cyanide in them to kill a person! Stick to macadamia nuts, Australia’s most mass produced nut, instead.

Fun Fact: When these plants were originally discovered, they were mistaken for a plant that already existed!

Carnarvon Fan Palm


Native to areas specifically in and around Carnarvon Gorge, these trees can grow up to 30 meters tall and are very resistant to droughts and frosts. However, the trees face threats from fires because they occur too frequently, and they would kill off its seedlings and juvenile plants.

Fun Fact: In 1993, an area of land was bought from developers and turned into a fan palm reserve!

King fern


The King Fern has a sporadic distribution across Australia, but in Carnarvon, their presence is widely known. These massive ferns, which can have 8-meter long fronds, sometimes have difficulty procreating. Their spores do not last longer than 24 hours so they need to quickly spread and germinate to start growing. Lucky for the ferns, they seem to have found the perfect home in Carnarvon.

Fun Fact: Fossils of King Ferns have been found in Australia, some dating back 300 million years!

Plan to Visit? Here's How to Take Care of Carnarvon Gorge

By Karla Benitez

Carnarvon National Park is a beautiful place protected by the Australian Government. Aboriginals have cared for this oasis and now it is our turn. When visiting Carnarvon Gorge, please take these precautions:

  • Do not take anything from the park, leave with nothing but the dirt on your shoes.
  • Do not bring pets that can harm wildlife.
  • Do not feed the wildlife. When wild animals are fed their behavior changes and they can be rejected by their family or their peers.
  • Do not leave trash behind or drop food crumbs on trails.
  • Stay on tracks to avoid damaging:
    • Aboriginal rock art
    • Growing vegetation
    • Burrowing platypus
  • Don't leave anything behind, not even your initials or artistic mark. Graffiti is vandalism and you will be fined for destroying the ancient grounds and epxrience for others.
  • Do not clean dishes or clothes in the creek. Soaps are harmful to the animals and plants. Dirt could hold invasive seeds or bugs from a different part of the planet and food particles could contaminate the water.
  • Do not light open fires or use barbeques in the park. There are designated areas for fires and cooking.