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Far North Queensland, the Superlative Wet Tropics & Heritage Listing – Series 1.4 Stepping back in time

a wooden bench in front of a building

Welcome to the final of our series of articles about the World Heritage Listing of the Wet Tropics… Walking into the Wet Tropics is like taking a step back in time. We have talked about the ancient flora, prehistoric reptiles and the endangered cassowary, but this only scratches the tip of the iceberg. Each time we take passengers into the Wooroonooran rainforests or to the rainforest scattered beaches people, always exclaim it’s like being in Jurassic park. Well they are right as these rainforests have been around since Gondwanan times. It also has the best living history of marsupials.

Series 4 of 4 – Stepping back in time – UNESCO World Heritage Listed

This fits one of the criteria of the outstanding values towards heritage listing with UNESCO, criteria (VIII); “to be outstanding examples representing major stages of the earth’s history, including the record of Life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features”.


We have explained how the Wet tropics is a walk through the biological evolution of the planet and this shows we have the best records of the earth’s history in respect to the record of plant life. It is also the unclosest modern day version of Gondwanan rainforest. The rainforest here is believed to be older than at least 120 million years (the Amazon is thought to be about 70 million). One of the factors that allowed it’s survival was the stability of the constant temperatures on the island continent. When Australia and Antarctica separated, the country was nearly covered in rainforest. It was an absolute miracle the Wet Tropics was able to survive. Over the past few million years Australia has become one of the driest continents on earth west of the Great Diving Range. But these last remaining rainforests only make up less than a quarter of a percent (0.25%) of Australia’s land mass.


It was also lucky for the region as the Wet Tropics never glaciated during the ice age, and there were no major earth quakes on the continent. Other continents like Antartica froze over whilst North America and Europe had numerous ice ages. Thus many of these older endangered and endemic species were able to survive. The rainforests were the origins of our country’s marsupials which then went on to adapt to drier environs across Australia. The marsupials are thought to be descendants of giant possums and kangaroos from the times of the megafauna. The tree kangaroos in the region adapted and specialised in the trees. The platypus is also believed to have evolved in the Gondwanan rainforests. It is possible to spot these animals today in the Tablelands near the quaint little town of Yungaburra.


The Tablelands region is also quite astounding from a geological perspective. After erosion of the Great Dividing Range the Atherton Tablelands with its strong granite rock was exposed. Then from about seven million years ago there were lots of volcanoes around the region. This has left some very mineral rich basalt rock throughout the region. Also some of the sediments from the volcanic lakes give some the best climatic records through history. This shows major stages of the earth’s history frozen through time. Around these regions it is also possible to find species from 12 of the 19 known primitive families of flowering plants including the Perfume tree (ylang ylang) and Queensland Nutmeg.

Travelling into the Wet Tropics is like travelling into the past. The plants, the animals and even the birds are from a bygone era. Come, explore the past, it’s like viewing a series of living postcards throughout the history of time.


 

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