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Book Review

Common Native Plants of the Coorong Region - Neville Bonney

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

Book cover

I guess that for many of us, when we think of the Coorong, we think of Colin Thiele's book, Storm Boy.

This captures much of the mystique and fascination which people have had with this 150 km stretch of swamps and narrow waterways running behind the sand dunes in South Australia's south-east. Yet until recently, I had thought the Coorong a boring place as I drove along the main highway from Mt. Gambier to Adelaide. It was only when I stopped my car and got out and walked around or drove along some of the tracks within the Coorong and walked to the beach through the sand dunes that I began to appreciate what a truly fascinating place it was and why it appeals so much to plant lovers, bird observers and artists and photographers.

Neville Bonney's book encourages you to do just that - go out and explore the Coorong. Bonney, a former nurseryman, educationalist and native plant enthusiast, has set out to present in this small book a picture of the Coorong and to capture some of its many moods. He freely admits that many of the plants could not be described as beautiful and while they may not have striking flowers, they are tough and survive in an extremely harsh environment of strong salt winds and sand blasting. Some would make ideal garden plants for such situations and it is for this reason that he has provided propagation information for all species described, something not common in small, local plant listings such as this. The plants are loosely divided into the categories of Herbs, Grasses and Reeds, Creepers and Climbers, Small Shrubs, Medium and Tall Shrubs and Trees and most described species are illustrated with a close-up and a habitat colour photo. Some of these are not as clear as I would have liked but I do appreciate that many species have tiny, difficult-to-photograph flowers.

Other information given for each species include its scientific, common and aboriginal names and the plant family to which it belongs, the meaning of the scientific name, areas of its occurrence, a brief description of the plant and its flowers and fruits, methods of propagation, historical uses (if any) by both the local aboriginal tribes and pioneer settlers and a comparison with similar plants. Flower colour and flowering times are shown in a bar across the top of each page. The book has a short bibliography and indexes of the scientific, common and aboriginal names for species. Dispersed through the text are additional photos of special features such as Textures of the Coorong, Fruits of Native Plants, Reflections of the Coorong (including some spectacular sunrises and sunsets), Orchids of the Coorong and some delightful examples of traditional aboriginal basket weaving using local sedges.

This is a great little book for anyone planning to visit the Coorong. It is small enough to fit in a back pack or car glove box, with a coverage of 70 of the plants of the region a visitor is most likely to encounter. There are a few faults, eg. on page 2 it is claimed that 80 species are to be described while on page 3, the number is given as 70. Also, I would hope that in any future edition, more information will be given about the four orchids shown on page 11 which are not named nor described. I also think that it would add interest if some of the "mood" pictures, eg. on pages 74-5, and 87-9, were captioned. Apart from these minor points, I recommend this book and would like to congratulate APS (South Australia) for its continued involvement in publishing these Identikit books for various regions of South Australia.

Common Native Plants of the Coorong Region
- identification, propagation, historical uses -

Neville Bonney
Australian Plants Society (South Australia), 2004.
RRP $20.00
Soft cover, 96 pages, colour photographs, map

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Victorian Region of the Australian Plants Society, June 2005.

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