Trail’s tale of flora and fauna well worth the walk

Penny ThomasThe West Australian
Leigh and Freddy at at Woolbales Campsite.
Camera IconLeigh and Freddy at at Woolbales Campsite. Credit: Supplied

Passionate about sharing his knowledge of Western Australia’s environment and more, Leigh Simmons is a professor of Evolutionary Biology at The University of Western Australia and the proud author of a new book titled Naturalist on the Bibbulmun.

Part field guide, part travelogue and part ode to our State’s South West, Naturalist on the Bibbulmun is about one man’s journey with his son through an ancient and extraordinary part of the world.

Each chapter of the book is about a specific section of the Bibbulmun Track, which stretches more than 1000km between Kalamunda in the north to Albany in the south.

Throughout the book, Leigh uses his knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology to document the animals and plants found during the Noongar seasons of kambarang and birak, from November to January, with colour photographs throughout.

Drummond’s Donkey Orchid (cara), Diuris drummondii.
Camera IconDrummond’s Donkey Orchid (cara), Diuris drummondii. Credit: Leigh Simmons

Leigh says it was too difficult to include every animal and plant species found along the track such is the extent of the biodiversity in the region.

“As we were doing the walk between November to January, it was impossible to produce a comprehensive field guide,” he says.

“However, I do hope people read the book and realise the importance of natural habitats and biodiversity that can be found here in Western Australia.”

Having moved to Perth from London more than 30 years ago, Leigh says he instantly fell in love with the place after visiting Kings Park.

“While London is a wonderful place to visit, it’s a horrible place to live for a zoologist,” he says.

“After spending some time here, I started to appreciate the amazing resources and natural environments outside of Kings Park and eventually walked a section of the Bibbulmun Track.

“While I’ve always been infatuated by nature, getting to experience the Bibbulmun Track really reinforced that.”

Splendid fairy-wren (djer-djer), Malurus splendens.
Camera IconSplendid fairy-wren (djer-djer), Malurus splendens. Credit: Leigh Simmons/Leigh Simmons

Before going on the two-month journey with his son Freddy and writing Naturalist on the Bibbulmun, Leigh admitted he had never walked the track in its entirety, although he had always wanted to do it.

“When my son finished university a couple of years back, he told me he wanted to walk the track as a kind of rite of passage,” Leigh says.

“I was obviously very supportive, having wanted to do it myself for so many years.”

Presuming his son would walk the track with his friends, Leigh says he was taken by surprise when Freddy asked him to join.

“I was a bit hesitant but said yes anyway,” he says.

“As an academic, I do research and read academic papers all day, every day. I didn’t really know how I would cope for two whole months without reading anything, because you can’t really carry lots of books with you.

Leigh and Freddy in the karri forest, east of Lake Maringup in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park.
Camera IconLeigh and Freddy in the karri forest, east of Lake Maringup in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

“However, being quite passionate about the conservation of the South West forests, it occurred to me that I could use the track as a biologist transect. This meant I could get my daily hit of science whilst doing the walk by identifying as many plants and animals as I could on the journey.”

Once he decided to document the journey by writing the book, Leigh says he thought it could serve two purposes.

“Firstly, it would be a wonderful memoir and travelogue for Freddy as a souvenir from the trip. And secondly, I thought it could be a good message to the people in Western Australia and globally, of the importance of natural habitats and biodiversity that can be found,” he says.

All royalties from the book will be donated to the Bibbulmun Track Foundation.

fact file

Naturalist on the Bibbulmun

Leigh W. Simmons

UWA Publishing ($39.99)

Professor Leigh Simmons
Camera IconProfessor Leigh Simmons Credit: Supplied

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