National Geographic : 1969 Oct
SSwallow-tailed gulls hunt on lava cliffs of Plaza Island in The natural history of these the Galapagos archipelago, 600 miles off Ecuador. "Nothing islands is eminently curious...." could be less inviting," Darwin remarked. But he was to find the volcanic outposts of unsurpassed scientific interest. platypuses are gone and so are its full-blooded aborigines. When Europeans settled New South Wales in 1788, the aboriginal popula tion of Australia was around 300,000. Today there are fewer than 200 full-bloods in New South Wales and only six in Victoria.* In January 1836 the Beagle sailed on to beautiful Tasmania, where the indefatigable young scientist climbed rugged Mount Wel lington. Darwin found the mountain tangled with trees and undergrowth. We followed a smooth motor road up its slopes. Tall TV masts top the summit, 4,165 feet up. A few months before our visit a disastrous bush fire had blackened trees and burned out houses on the lower slopes, often leaving noth 488 ing but front steps or gaunt brick chimneys. Now ferns and rough grass were already car peting the lower mountainside, and flowers were blooming again. But no birds sang, nor did we see as much as a kangaroo rat or a hungry wallaby. "All gone," said old Ted Braithwaite, our guide. "They took an awful beating-us too." He pointed to a valley. "Fifty-three people died there. The flames were 200 feet high. Only a miraculous change of wind saved us." Tasmania was beautiful, the anchorage at *The author surveyed his native Australia in the Sep tember 1963 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. The aborigines were also described in Captain Villiers's "'The Alice' in Australia's Wonderland," February 1966.