Sun Orchids

 Along the edges of the track, standing tall and graceful, the blue, lavender blue and violet blue  Thelymitra sun orchids raised their faces to the sun.

 Nine miles from the turnoff, Billy Gray told me, and nine miles and 35 years down the track they still stood there, gems in the peaceful bush.

And as exquisite, were the gems that Bill cut, by hand and eye, from the rough stones of Agate Creek, amethyst from the Don River, topaz from Camel Creek, sapphires from Tomahook, and a myriad of others from Australian gemfields. His was a love of the hidden gems of the bush, the native orchids and later the crystalline gems cut from rough stones.

Further along the track, where the country was more open, more sandy, there grew Bill's "double tails", the little yellow Diuris aurea, its petals erect, like ears, the Donkey Orchid. A single grass like leaf with an erect spike of half a dozen yellow flowers spotted brown, dotted through the short grass along the sides of the track.

An old time Cape York prospector, living off the land , collecting Cooktown orchids on horseback, "a shilling a dozen", when prospecting was poor. A bush carpenter, a sawmill hand, Bill grew orchids and nurtured a fledgling Townsville Orchid Society, a studious Technical Adviser with the progenitors of the T.O.S.

Along the track of Bill's "nine miles", growing in the shelter of large rocks, were the little "pink fingers", the delicate Caladenia carnea, with its single flower of bright pink purple, the sepals and petals fanned out like fingers. Another single grass like leaf, an orchid invisible except in flower.

 Cryptostylis subulatus grew in a small creek, wide leaves in the grass, its green and yellow orange and red brown flowers bewitching amorous male wasps into pollinating the flowers, imitators of female ichneumen wasps. They flowered in October, while the sun orchids, double tails and pink fingers flowered in August, after winter rains.

In the rough barked, bull oak casuarina trees grew plants of Dendrobium ruppianum, (photo D. fusiforme as it was then), Cymbidium madidum, and rarely seen plants of Dendrobium bairdianum, and up on the rocky ridge, out of reach of fire, the rock lily, king orchid, Dendrobium speciosum clung to the rock crevices.

Along the track, nine miles from the turnoff, the sun orchids, the double tails and the pink fingers grow and flower, always to bring to mind the memory of a longtime friend, orchid grower, rock hound, and past T.O.S. member, VALE Bill Gray, June 1996.

Ian Walters, Burleigh Park, 54 Hammond Way, Thuringowa. 4815. May be reproduced provided source acknowledged

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