Healing Gardens

Hugging trees may be out of fashion, but what if a tree was to hug you? It’s a concept garden designer Betsy-Sue Clarke employs when creating a therapeutic space. “We all need a hug,” she says. Betsy-Sue specialises in healing gardens and says an enclosed place to sit – preferably by water or with a view – is a key feature. “Having a tree canopy overhead is like having a hug.”

The idea of gardens as remedial spaces is not new: sixth-century Persian gardens aimed to help connect people with God, Japanese Zen gardens have long promoted healing meditation, while monastic infirmaries almost always include a cloistered garden.

Surgical patients with views of nature have been found to have shorter post-operative stays, take less pain medication and experience fewer minor post-operative complications than those facing man-made structures such as buildings.

Similar results have been noted since nurse and horticultural therapist Steven Wells created a therapeutic garden at Austin Health’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Kew, Victoria.

Steven originally thought patients at the Acquired Brain Injury Unit would benefit from gardening activities, but now patients from all the departments – as well as visitors – use the space. One patient even got married there.

Science backs up centuries of garden practice. Professor Roger Ulrich, director of the Centre for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, found that viewing greenery helped with stress recovery.

As well as aiding physical health, gardens aid spiritual recovery, Betsy-Sue says. She cites key elements:

  • Being able to see the seasons changing helps with moving forward.
  • The sound of water is important and watching water moving – never in a straight line – reminds us that our lives aren’t perfect and controlled either.
  • Seeing how plants battle and survive helps us to battle our own storms.
  • Some plants evoke memories from our childhood – good and bad. “I try to replicate elements of loving memories to help visitors feel safer,” Betsy-Sue says.
  • The ability to make a memory in a garden, whether it’s placing flowers in a vase or stacking rocks, allows you to say, “I’ve been here”, and gives you a moment of peace or of letting go.

words Jane Canaway
Image Dean Golja


For gardening inspiration visit

Fruit for thought

Regardless of the size of your garden, courtyard or balcony, it’s possible to produce home-grown fruit.

Fruit trees come in a range of sizes: full-size (four metres or larger), dwarf (two to three metres tall), columnar (60 centimetres wide and up to four metres tall) and miniature (one-and-a-half metres tall).

Apples and pears need a cool winter, but there are still plenty of options for people living in warmer climates – look for dwarf peach, papaya, mulberry, macadamia, persimmon, almond or mango trees. Consider dwarf quinces, apples or blueberries for balconies and small gardens. Mail-order nurseries stock a large selection of fruit trees.

If you only have room for one full-size tree, plant two varieties 15cm apart in the same hole. This is particularly effective when combining apples, pears or plums that need a cross pollinator, but it can also be done with trees of different species. Prune overlapping branches to reap more fruit over a longer period.

Alternatively, you can buy trees grafted with two or more varieties of fruit, whether it’s a mix of citrus, stone fruit, apples or pears. Just remember to mark branches so you don’t accidentally prune off a variety.





Pruning is key, says Craig Castree, a Victorian-based horticulturalist and the author of Edible Gardens. “If you can’t reach the fruit when you’re standing with your feet flat on the ground, trees become too hard to manage,” he says. “Trim vertical growth to encourage horizontal growth, which produces more fruit and will be easier to pick.”

He also says: “No net equals no fruit.” So, protect your crop from local pests such as birds and possums.

Strategic pruning can reduce the space needed without a huge loss of fruit, from trees trained in neat lines or fan shapes (espaliered), to column-shaped cordons (trained to grow as a single stem). You can even buy stepover apple plants that act as productive bed edging and grow to a height of about 50 centimetres.

If you’re not sure about your pruning skills, try Fleming’s Ballerina range of columnar apple trees, which are bred to stay in shape.

Miniatures are perfect for growing in pots and dwarf sizes suit larger tubs. Meyer lemons, cumquats and mandarins are best suited to tubs. Buy wheels for your tubs so you can move them.

Some specialist suppliers graft trees to order. Choose from heritage varieties not widely available, or have a favourite fruit tree cloned onto dwarf rootstock.

Caring for container trees

  • Keep tubs in a sheltered, sunny position
  • Apply a slow-release fertiliser every six months
  • Keep soil moist at all times
  • Pick off pest insects
  • Trim the branches and roots every two years and change the potting mix to keep plants healthy
  • Instead of tubs, try bonsai bags, which can be used to temporarily hold fruit trees if you’re moving house
  • Apples and pears need different pruning to stone fruit; check before chopping.

words Jane Canaway


Know your Natives

Spring in Australia is a magical time to explore our native flora and a good time to consider adding some local colour to your garden.

Native plants are naturally suited to Australian conditions and if you choose varieties from your immediate area you’ll be providing food and habitat for native bees, butterflies, lizards, mammals and birds.

Unit-dwellers need not miss out – many stunning plants are fusspots best grown in pots: brown or pink scented boronias or vivid orange, red or turquoise lechenaultias, bright yellow and exquisitely detailed verticordias, lapis lazuli derwentias and neon orange-yellow-and- pink chorizemas. There is no end to the colours or combinations.

Slowly does it

For gradual change, replace underperforming plants with native ones.

Consider the position to be filled then ask at your local nursery for plants to suit, rather than falling in love with something impractical.

For a hedge, try correas or westringias, which can be cut to shape and will still flower. Trimming a little and often is best.

Remember plants with grey leaves often prefer drier climates and may suffer from fungal problems in higher humidity.

There are lots of options for replacing lawns, whether you want a grass and flower meadow or a neat line of low-growing plants, such as myoporum parvifolium.






High drama

Some native plants are surprise stunners, providing a green backdrop for most of the year, then exploding with colour in Spring: acacias, mint bushes (prostantheras), hibiscus (alyogyne), eriostemon, orchids and daisy bushes (olearia and ozothamnus).

Quiet performers such as grevilleas, banksias, eremophilas and small daisies (chrysocephalums, xerochrysums and brachyscomes) bring colour – and wildlife – for much of the year.

Then there are the superstar plants whose simple role is to be gorgeous. You only need a few of these in a garden and they need room to shine.

The red gymea lily that soars four metres (or more) is a perfect example. Waratahs are almost as spectacular and enjoy the same conditions as azaleas. Grass trees (Xanthorrhoeas) also fit into this category, as do kangaroo paws, which need good air flow.

Height matters

Tall plants lift a garden and provide structure: consider lomandras, dianellas, tree ferns, grass trees and trees.

While researching the nine-volume Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants and other books, authors Rodger and Gwen Elliot spent years exploring our native flora. Rodger singles out Eucalyptus petiolaris and E. leucoxylon subspecies megalocarpa as favourite small trees.

“You cannot guarantee the flower colour – sometimes young plants with reddish stems may have pink to reddish flowers – but they are some of the best,” he says.

Both are best suited to medium-size gardens but many of the Mallee-type eucalypts only grow up to four metres, offering an Outback look in miniature. There’s the Rose Mallee with enormous pinky red flowers, or Eucalyptus synandra, whose pink-white flowers look like beaded skirts.

For a more humid climate, the Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) with its smooth trunk, dark, shiny leaves and fringed, scented flowers is another of Rodger’s star trees.


TV gardener Angus Stewart, from the ABC’s Gardening Australia, recommends checking roots are not pot bound, gently teasing roots out and soaking the root ball in water before planting. He also suggests adding organic matter to improve soil condition.

To stop shrubs becoming leggy, Angus says, “tip pruning is a must”. And he says, “staking is best avoided, if at all possible,” because movement in the wind helps strengthen plants and their roots.

words Jane Canaway
Images: iStock photo; courtesy Tatters

Need a hand with your gardening? australianunity.com.au/home-services


For more advice and plant lists

See also:
Royal Botanical Gardens

The Australian Native Plants Society

‘Gator bait? Use marshmallows

By Jane Canaway

Published in News Ltd Travel section, March 2017

THE yell rings out across the weedy swamp waters, and echoes through the groves of the moss-covered trees towering out of the ooze.

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy, piggy,” calls the captain of our flat-bottomed boat, which is drawn right up to a bayou’s muddy bank, pitted with hoof marks.

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy, piggy,” he calls again until a quiet rustle in the undergrowth swells to a crashing charge as a herd of about 20 black and white pigs hurtles into the clearing.

The men who run tours deep into the Louisiana swamps are pig whisperers, gator baiters and bird spotters extraordinaire.

They have a secret weapon to lure the wildlife some visitors have travelled halfway around the world to see: marshmallows.

A small alligator jumps for its treat in the swamps of Louisiana. Picture: Jane Canaway

A small alligator jumps for its treat in the swamps of Louisiana. Picture: Jane Canaway

Aww. Alligators seem cute in comparison to Brutus, a saltie who lives near Darwin.

Aww. Alligators seem cute in comparison to Brutus, a saltie who lives near Darwin. Source:News Corp Australia

Yes, impale a large white marshmallow on a long, pointy stick and you have the perfect tool for teaching an alligator to jump.

While Australian croc tour operators spoil local reptiles with fresh meat, in the swamps outside New Orleans the southern fare is sugar.

The wild pigs obviously love it, too, coming right up to the boat so that Captain Anthony is able to hand feed them — although he keeps his fingers safely out of reach.

Both male and female hogs have razor-sharp tusks and they eat like, well, pigs — gobbling down as many marshmallows as they can and chasing away piglets that get too close.

The feral swine are a real problem in America’s wetlands.

One sow and her offspring can produce 250 piglets in four years, and a couple of years after that the numbers are in the thousands. Anthony tells us the herds are descended from Eurasian wild boar, probably crossed with domestic pigs.

The alligators, on the other hand, are barely changed from their prehistoric ancestors, who predate the dinosaurs.

And while their record-breaking jaw strength (scientists believe they could out-snap a T-Rex) has evolved to crush turtle shells, many now scrounge soft, sweet treats from the tour boats that cruise the waterways every day.

An alligator greedily eyes marshmallows while lurking near a tourist boat. Picture: Jane Canaway

An alligator greedily eyes marshmallows while lurking near a tourist boat. Picture: Jane Canaway

Captain Anthony stops the boat and splashes the water with the marshmallow-laden stick — a clear invitation to dine for the prehistoric reptiles — and instinctively an Alligator mississippiensis swims across to check out the menu.

He’s a tease, lifting the stick high out the water to make the alligators jump for the tourists, then flicking it away at the last minute to make the snapper come back a second time. Finally the critter snaps up its treat, and the boatload of visitors breaks out in applause.

Each alpha male gator guards his own patch of river about 2.5 kilometres apart, with a harem of about 20 females, and the guides have named them: Big Al, Bruce, Sydney and Scarface. Captain Anthony repeats his trick with a couple more “floating logs with teeth” before it’s time to head back downstream.

Along the way we pass flooded forests of white oak and black willow, but it’s the termite-resistant bald cypress that adorns many of the heritage buildings in the French Quarter.

Louisiana’s swamps are incredibly beautiful, but full of dangerous beasts. Picture: Jane Canaway

Louisiana’s swamps are incredibly beautiful, but full of dangerous beasts. Picture: Jane Canaway

Today’s parade of tour boats barely rates a glance from those living in the riverside homes — some in good repair while others hold out against gravity.

“Anyone can tow in a house boat, tie it up to a tree and live for free without paying property tax,” Anthony says, while fixed homes can be built on privately owned land — but don’t expect any insurance company to cover you.

The golden rule for river living is apparently don’t mess with your neighbour’s catfish lines — and stay indoors after dark, when all the wild beasts are about.

Louisiana and Florida both have about one million wild alligators that can grow up to five metres and live up to 100 years, however they are typically less aggressive than Australian saltwater crocodiles and attacks on humans are rare.

According to Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Alligator program co-ordinator Ricky Flynt, attacks become more likely when humans feed them.

A tour guide coaxes a herd of wild pigs from the dense undergrowth. Picture: Jane Canaway

A tour guide coaxes a herd of wild pigs from the dense undergrowth. Picture: Jane Canaway

The alligator (the name comes from early Spanish explorers who called them “el legarto” or “big lizard”) is able to hibernate through cold winters that would kill most crocodiles, but is less tolerant of salt water.

It has a more rounded snout and its bottom teeth are fully covered by its top jaw when its mouth is closed, so it doesn’t have the same toothy ‘grin’ of Aussie crocs.

Luckily for them, however, they share the ability to regrow any teeth that fall out.

No matter how bad their dental hygiene may become on their sugary diet, they can always rely on a new set to come through.

Jane Canaway is a freelance writer. She tweets @janusflytrap.







Set Course for the Southern Hemisphere

By Jane Canaway

Published in the Foxley Docket, UK, April 2014

TSS Earnshaw offers trips across Lake Wakatipu

From sheep farmers to gold diggers, snowboarders to bungy jumpers, Queenstown has always attracted entrepreneurs, and the current generation seems to feed off each other’s inventiveness to find ever more crazy activities.

Grass sledding? – ride up on horseback and throw in a zip-line ride while you’re there. Wine tasting? – mountain bike between vineyards, and return via jet boat or helicopter via the glaciers.

Now this creativity is also being expressed in food, wine, accommodation and service, as well as entertainment.

Declared “fit for a Queen” in Victorian times, Queenstown is still so pristine that the belches of black smoke from the grand old steamboat TSS Earnshaw as it chugs across Lake Wakatipu seem out of place. Feeding off this clean, green environment, the organic and wholefood industries are going great guns, but don’t think you have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it.

Restaurants light up Steamer Wharf at dusk

Fine wining & dining

On the hills around the town, the lush meadows are home to large, healthy herds of Merino sheep, as well as Angus and Murray Grey cattle, while the clear waters of Lake Wakatipu and its feeder rivers are teeming with introduced trout and salmon. As well as offering great fly fishing, all this tasty produce is appearing on the tables at a small coterie of restaurants that are setting an individual style in Kiwi dining.

Queenstown cuisine combines the best of the local, fresh produce – Canterbury mackerel, Fiordland crayfish, Athol lamb, and east coast oysters, gurnard and hake – prepared in a distinctive fusion style.

Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett runs the kitchen at Rata, and his menu reflects his love of slow cooking and local flavours; the NZ$60 set lunch is a great way to get a taste of his current favourites. Further out, Gantleys, set on two acres of gardens, has a stunning six-course degustation menu available with matching wines; it’s a short hop out of town, but free transport from central Queenstown is available. How’s that for service.

Another gem, buried down one of Queenstown’s labyrinthine alleyways, is Bunker, which serves a 10-course degustation Taste of the South menu with matching wines: think roasted Fiordland crayfish with house-made lemon gnocchi and crayfish bisque beurre blanc with a 2010 Amisfield Fumé Blanc. Its rooftop bar offers more casual tapas-style bites and is a great spot to enjoy a sundowner.

Shop for a drop

It is well worth making the short trip up the road to visit Central Otago’s adolescent wine industry, which is winning recognition for its clean-tasting, mineral-tangy wines. Pinot gris and pinor noir are especially fine here, as well as the sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the bulk of the export market. There are a number of ways to explore the vineyards, but if you’re short of time you can do all your research in one location downtown.

Wine Tastes has a smart self-service system stocking more than 80 local and international wines in one shop – with comfy chairs, low tables and cheese platters for extra cosiness. Tasting notes offer some direction, then you can choose a ‘shot’ or larger measure of any wine, from the latest-vintage riesling to a Penfolds Grange, at $600+ a bottle. If you find something you like, you can order and get it shipped home (or – ahem – pop to the bottle shop next door and buy it at shelf price).

Fashionistas will be pleasantly surprised at the individuality of Queenstown boutiques. Rodd & Gunn’s has its own Southern take on green wellies and country clothing, but it’s worth hunting down the locally made knitwear.

New Zealand has devised a new wool blend – the amazing Merinosilk, made up of 70 per cent merino, 10 per cent silk and 20 per cent possum fur. Introduced from Australia, possums are now at pest levels, and Kiwis have put a lot of creative thought into ridding their islands of the cute but destructive critters, known locally known as squashums.

The end result is a totally opulent, lightweight fabric that is being dyed and used to extraordinary effect. The cost can be fairly staggering too, but you won’t find anything like it for warmth and luxury anywhere else in the world.

The hills are alive

Film-makers and skiers are drawn like magnets to the hills beyond Queenstown, and you may find you’re more familiar with them than you realise. Nearby ranges have doubled as the Swiss Alps on Milka chocolate bars; they feature as the Canadian Rockies on the front of Coors light beer and, most famously, appear as the mystical mountains of Isengard, Lothlorien and Dimrill Dale in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies.

The hills are also rich in greenstone, which drew the first maori settlers to the area more than 800 years ago. While it is no longer used for weaponry (Captain Cook described it as holding a keener edge than metal), it now inspires local jewellers to create some very fine pieces. Many artisans sell their wares at the Saturday craft market on Steamer Wharf.

One local jeweller, who owns a chain of stores in Australia, is Sir Michael Hill. His son Mark has inherited his parents’ creative talents and has applied it to his chosen field of sculpture. Many of his dramatic, large-scale pieces are dotted across The Hills, which is part golf course and partly his family’s estate at nearby Arrowtown – a beautifully preserved 1860s mining town worthy of a visit in its own right.

The Hills is an example of what happens when passion, creativity and large wads of cash collide: starting with one practice hole outside the family home, the project grew to become a golf course many regard as the best in the area, and which now hosts the NZ PGA tournament. Membership is limited to 100, but visitors can apply to play – at a price (NZ$500). While most of the work is from Australasian artists, the course is also home to a huge, 111-piece from Chinese sculptor Liu Ruowang, featuring a single man surrounded by a pack of wolves.

Matakauri Lodge – the lap of luxury

The lodge of luxury

Wherever you are in Queensland, the views – across magnificent Lake Wakapitu lake to the aptly names Remarkable Ranges – are first class, but somehow they seem enhanced when enjoyed from the stand-alone tub in the ensuite of an elegant suite or from the Matakauri Lodge’s rimless pool.

The lodge is an intimate cluster of just 11 private suites and villas dotted amid landscaped gardens in a private section of the Lake’s shoreline. It also has a private arrangement with The Hills and Jack’s Point golf courses (across the lake – water taxi available) and day visits can be arranged by the ever-courteous concierge. Ski trips are as easily arranged.

The Hills golf club recently opened its own lodge – with equally impressive views, minus the lake – catering for up for 12 guests in exclusive luxury that includes having a Michelin-trained chef on hand to prepare all your meals, yet in an open kitchen that feels more like a friend’s rather grand holiday home.

Until recently, gentlemen were required to wear a jacket for dinner at the magnificent Matakauri Lodge but with complimentary pre-dinner cocktails and canapés, degustation-style meals that change daily, and relaxed but precision-driven service, it seems churlish not to continue this fine habit.

Guests have a choice of splendid spots from which to enjoy the food and views, and those seeking privacy can opt to dine in their suites or in the residents’ library upstairs. All drinks are included with meals, and it goes without saying that guests can choose from the very best of local wines, advised if need be by knowledgable sommeliers, who are in regular contact with local winemakers and often have exclusive access to limited vintages, such as some of the low-yield stickies.

Back in the action

So you’ve relaxed in the lap of luxury, and now you want to explore. Of course there’s AJ Hackett’s classic bungy jump options, but it doesn’t end there. For those who hate crowds, here’s a few suggestions for more exclusive adventures.

  • Spend a day in a Heliworks chopper exploring Fiordland in all its glory, with opportunities to get out and fish, dive and kayak in Lord of the Rings scenery – then dine on freshly caught produce. Overnight stays are an option. POA. www.heliworks.co.nz
  • Stand in awe at the base of the millennium-old trees in the Mt Aspiring National Park – some of these trees were alive when the first humans stepped foot on this island. Dart River Jet Safari guides are experts in the area: www.dartriver.co.nz
  • Design your own air charter trip, taking in quieter places or dropping you off for one-way bushwalks. www.glenorchy.net.nz
  • Sign up for a creative photography workshop led by award-winning photographers in some of the world’s most inspiring landscapes. Maximum group size is eight. www.qccp.co.nz
  • Visit the three-day air show Warbirds over Wanaka, held this Easter, April 18-20, which culminates with a mock air battle.  www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com
  • Vertigo Bikes; the name says it all. Whether you’re an overseas pro that wants to find the best runs ASAP or a beginner eager to keep the skin on your knees, these guys have the bike, tour and guide for you. vertigobikes.co.nz
  • Nick Clark has been leading fly-fishing tours of the area for 30 years and overnight trips are an option for true addicts. www.southerntrout.co.nz
  • Luxury cruiser Pacific Jemm is available for charter, for business or pleasure trips on Lake Wakatipu, and can provide catering. It can accommodate up to eight passengers in four five-star, en-suite cabins. www.pacificjemm.co.nz
  • If you’re going to try skydiving anywhere, Queenstown offers some great scenery for the ride down. NZone offers tandem jumps from 9,00ft, 12,000ft and 15,000ft. www.nzone.biz
  • If you thought heliskiing and powder were beyond you, think again. “If you can ski, you can heliski,” says Harris Mountains Heliski, which has 30 years’ experience in the business and offers and three-run day trip for blue-run skiers.
  • Dart Stables offers exclusive rides for experienced and novice riders (www.dartstables.com) while High Country Horses can arrange longer rides up to five days, travelling from hut to hut across the valleys (www.high-country-horses.co.nz

A boat trip with Dart River Jet Ltd offers thrills without spills

Fever pitch

By Jane Canaway

Published in OUTthere Magazine, the official inflight publication for REX (inc.Air-Link), SkywestAirNorth, and Pel-Air

A Broome biplane, by Sarah Narkiewicz

As the wet season progresses and the thunderheads disappear, the sky over Broome is instead filled with growing clouds of gossamer wings, some gold, some black, or glittering in metallic shades of red, blue and bronze.

With the approaching dry season, dragonfly numbers explode across the Kimberley as the water-borne larvae climb out of their swamps and burst from their skins as adults. Suddenly the town seems invaded by battalions of miniature biplanes fighting their own private battles in the humid tropical air as they defend their territory, search for a mate, and hunt down airborne prey.

The dragonflies are harmless to humans but, unless you share their flying skills and appetite, watch out for the mosquitoes that make up the bulk of the dragonfly’s meals, in case you become mossie fodder yourself.

While the cool south-easterly winds are always associated with increased mosquitoes – and the ripening of the Grey Mangrove fruit was a signal for Aboriginal tribes to shift camp to the beaches to escape their bites – this year the mossie invasion brings with it an extra sting: The WA Department of Health’s surveillance program has detected widespread activity of Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus and Kunjin virus, as well as less-severe Ross River Virus and Barmah Forest Virus disease.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist Sue Harrington said recent rainfall and flooding in the northern half of the state had resulted in large numbers of mosquitoes that could be carrying these viruses.

While the risk of infection is low, the symptoms are severe.

“Initial symptoms of MVE include fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness, and people experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly. In severe cases, people may experience fits, lapse into a coma, and may be left with permanent brain damage or die,” she said.

Kunjin virus fever is usually less severe but with similar symptoms.

“In young children, fever might be the only early sign, so parents should see their doctor if concerned, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress.”

Many cases of Ross River Virus disease have been notified in people from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, and cases of Barmah Forest Virus disease are also being notified from the Midwest region. The illnesses caused by these viruses are similar, with symptoms including painful joints, aching muscles, lethargy, fever, headache and skin rashes, and symptoms may last from days to months.

“There are no specific cures or vaccines for any of these mosquito-borne diseases so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes,” said Ms Harrington.

For humans, the best defence is to avoid being bitten, by staying the safe side of a fly screen at dusk and dawn, wearing long, loose-fitting clothes and using protective lotions and gels.

Diplacodes haematodes by Jan Taylor

Luckily for us, the delicate-looking dragonfly, which appears so fragile and decorative, is actually a fierce killing machine doing its best to reduce the mosquito population.

Dragonflies lay their eggs on or around water, and these hatch into larva or nymphs that live in the water.

“They’re quite active with six legs,” describes Kimberly-based AQIS entomologist Luke Halling. “They actually have really impressive mouth parts – they’ll eat mosquito larvae and larger things; they’ll eat tadpoles and even small fish if they can.”

Some larvae moult up to 15 times before emerging as an adult and, unlike most other insects, there is no pupal stage; they simply climb out of the water, attach themselves to a plant, and burst out of their skins as fully formed adults. This transition from larva to adult is known as incomplete metamorphosis.

At least two months is needed for eggs to reach adulthood, but some larva may spend more than a year underwater before emerging. The adult stage is usually the shortest in the life-cycle and rarely lasts for more than a few weeks.

However in that short time they are awesome hunting machines, catching insect prey in the ‘net’ of their forward-facing front legs and displaying incredible flying skills, made possible by their four unconnected wings that move independently, allowing them to change direction in a split second.

The bad news is that even a sky-full of Kimberley dragonflies cannot wipe out the huge numbers of mosquitoes – especially after this year’s long wet season – but imagine how much worse the mossies would be without them.

Hemianax papuensis by Russell Best

Dragonfly facts

  • Dragonflies have existed on earth for about 250 million years – that means they were around long before dinosaurs left footprints at Gantheaume Point.
  • Prehistoric dragonflies were huge, the largest flying insects ever, with wingspans of 70-75cm.
  • One reason dragonflies have survived for so long is their excellent hunting skills; they can hover, move in zigzags and even fly backwards.
  • Some dragonflies can reach speeds of 70km per hour.
  • Of the 6,000 species of dragonflies, 324 are found in Australia.
  • The biggest living dragonfly is found in Central American (about 19cm) but Australia boasts the bulkiest dragonfly, the Giant Petaltail from Queensland (Petalura ingentissima), with a wingspan (in females) of about 16 cm.
  • Perhaps the smallest Dragonfly is the Scarlet Dwarf (Nannophya pygmaea) from Malaysia and Japan. It is 15mm long with a wingspan of about 20mm.
  • Dragonflies may challenge the Wanderer butterfly for the longest migratory pattern of any insect, with one species thought to travel 18,000km between India and Africa on monsoonal winds.

How to avoid mosquito bites

  • Avoid outdoor exposure from dusk and at night.
  • Wear protective (long, loose-fitting) clothing outdoors.
  • Use a personal repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin. Lotions or gels are best. Most natural or organic repellents are not as effective.
  • Ensure insect screens are installed and completely mosquito-proof.
  • Use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents.
  • Ensure infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Both belong to the order of insects known as Odonata. As a rule, dragonflies are larger than damselflies, but there are five main points of difference:

  • Dragonflies are in the sub-order Anisoptera (meaning “unequal-winged”) and the hind wings are usually shorter and broader than the forewings. Damselflies are insects in the sub-order Zygoptera (meaning “paired-wings”) and all four wings are roughly equal in size and shape.
  • Dragonflies are usually large, strongly flying insects often found well away from water; damselflies are usually small, weakly flying insects that stay close to the water.
  • When at rest, dragonflies hold their wings out from the body, often at right angles to it. Most damselflies hold their wings along their bodies.
  • Dragonflies eyes are large and usually touch. Damselfly eyes never touch.
  • Damselfly larvae have external plates at the end of the abdomen that act as accessory gills; dragonflies do not.

Source: www.british-dragonflies.org.uk