High country / by Mario Mirabile

I’m currently holidaying in Victoria’s high country. Australia’s mountains are small by world standards - our highest peak, Mt. Kosciuszko, tops out at a little over 2,200 metres. I doubt anyone has perished scaling its dizzy heights as the peak is a relatively short walk from the nearest car park, so it’s not quite like climbing Everest from Base Camp. While we can’t compete with the world’s great mountain ranges, we have something that the Himalayas, Alps, Rockies and Andes don’t. Our high country flora is unique and distinctive.

The lower slopes boast one of the world’s tallest trees. The mountain ash – Eucalyptus regnans – has been known to grow to over 130 metres, although the tallest living specimen is just on 100 metres. Mighty forests of mountain ash once covered the lower slopes of the Victorian and Tasmanian high country, but logging has had a severe effect on their extent. Still, standing at the base of a stand these majestic giants one can’t help but be overwhelmed by their grandeur.

On the higher slopes, where snow and wind make life more difficult, the hardy snow gum – Eucalyptus pauciflora – is the dominant species. Much smaller than the mountain ash, their trunks are warped and twisted by the harsh conditions. Their peeling bark reveals yellow and red patches, giving them a distinctive mottled appearance which, together with their warped limbs, makes them great photographic subjects. Cold work, but worth the effort.