Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking
Comments 14

Starpower: The Mudflat Tumbleweeds

See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go but I’ll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds ~ ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ by Bob Nolan

There was a period there where I was drifting along the Sandgate mudflats, with or without the tumbling tumbleweeds, just about every day. Sometimes when the tides cooperated I’d find myself out there in both periods of twilight bookending my drifter’s day.

I had a long break from the flats — it was hot, and how many hundreds of mudflat photos does a man need? — but now as the most delightful period of walking weather in these parts is here again, I’ve found myself drifting back.


Company on the flats, Sandgate.

Surely a few hundred more shots of frothy incoming tides, rippled sand and the cosmic fireworks of an incipient or dying sun can’t hurt…


Shorncliffe. A new arrival after a Moreton Bay voyage.

For a little while I had some unusual company on the sand, or the rocks crumpled around the base of Shorncliffe. Spinifex is a word that sounds characteristically Australian, and evokes images of spiky, transient seedheads rolling across limitless swathes of red dust in the country’s arid interior.

I’ve never been out there though my parents have driven through and camped within it several times. Nope, the spinifex I’m talking about is a relative that thrives in a different type of sand: the white stuff of the Australian coast.

Says Professor WikipediaThey are one of the most common plants that grow in sand dunes along the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, with the ranges of some species extending north and west along the coasts of Asia as far as India and Japan.


Brighton, early morning.

Not that this running grass with its characteristic tumbleweedian seadheads is common on this stretch of coast. The heads I come across, single individuals or a perhaps small, scattered flotillas, are stranded on the shoreline or out on the flats after a voyage up or down the coast — or perhaps across the bay from Moreton Island, where spinifex is the dominant herb on the dunes of the ocean side.

I believe the species seen here is Spinifex sericeus, known as hairy, rolling, beach or coastal spinifex. Interestingly, it’s a dioecious plant, meaning that there are distinct male and female plants. The female seed-dispersal part is known as a diaspore (presumably connected to the word diaspora) which detaches from the plant, tumbleweed-style, and goes a-rollin’ and a-tumblin’ to spread and colonise, and perhaps just for the sheer fun of it.


A few years ago I bush-bashed from the western to the eastern, or Pacific Ocean, coast. It was a relief to get out of the dense, un-tracked scrub without a snakebite or other unpleasant souvenir. This was the moment I reached the beach and open space — and the endless colonies of spinifex.





This is a plant that likes a ramble, and also a swim. I love few things better than trekking down the surf-battered ocean coast of Moreton Island when a spiky wind-borne tumbleweed goes bouncing down the sand. Only a collision with water can stop them — briefly.

Beach spinifex is one of those modest and unsung plants that helps bind — literally — a precarious and unstable ecosystem together. It’s always miraculous to me how the whole ocean side of Moreton isn’t munched away completely by the incessant wind and water.

The dunescape is always changing, but the unruly carpets of this tenacious herb prevent the elements from biting off more than their fair share.


Dusk, Shorncliffe.


Twins, Sandgate.


Moreton. Slushy walking at low tide.




Shorncliffe. At rest among the pulverised shells replenishing the supply of sand.

Most of the pictures here are at least a few months old; a few can be dated in years. The twilight ones were mostly taken on the same evening out on the mudflats; a few others are at Shorncliffe and several from Moreton.


Dawn, Moreton, from an early circumambulation.


Taking a breather, Sandgate.



The mudflat evening was special: I found two or three as the sun was setting and the incoming tide nudging them shoreward. I did my damnedest to photograph them rolling, a comical business — those things can really pick up some speed!

With darkness settling I found myself reduced to stalking them, pouncing whenever they made a short stop before hitting the road again.

It was a long way back to the shore in the dark, and I’ve no doubt the tumbleweeds beat me to it…


Out on the flats, Sandgate.


Sharing the flats with a Moreton bay fig leaf, Sandgate.


Shorncliffe, dawn.


Sandgate. Briefly stymied by a stingray hole.


Moreton, looking north on the ocean side.


Half-moon reflected in a stingray hole, Sandgate.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. Carl says

    Beautiful and serene photos, I think the spinifex theme really anchors it.

  2. They’re something I never really paid much attention to growing up. The paths to the beach cut through or passed over spinifex/grasses/succulents/rocks and our focus was mainly on the water, anyway. But scrolling through all the photos in your post has brought back many memories – walking between beaches on Straddie mostly, but a few from up and down the coast.
    Little things we’d never usually think of can unlock a chain of memories. These are good ones. Thank you 😊

  3. Christina M. Tanski says

    You give them such life, I can see them dancing along in my mind’s eye from your pics! My favorites from this post are “taking a breather, Sandgate” and the half-moon reflection shared in the stingray hole. Perfectly poised to begin their journey anew, I love how you have animated them by catching their rest periods. 🙂 Fresh and brilliant, as all of your pics are!!

    • Hey Christina, thank you for another very special comment. My usual apologies over the tardiness of my reply. You’ve heard it all before — why do I bother?

      Getting ready to leave the library for another 90-minute trek to the mudflats in time for sunset — who knows what treasures await?

      • Christina M. Tanski says

        No worries!! I appreciate that you are busy making more beautiful posts to share!! Keep up the magical visuals, you speak through those, and that is precious!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Fantastic post! Loved the mood you’ve created with these images – definitely serene! When I think of spinifex I think of my years spent in the outback with red sandy soil contrasted against an endless expanses of pollution-free, vivid blue sky. The sound of the wind roaring through “oceans” of spinifex reminded me of my time spent by the sea despite being over a thousand kilometres from it! Your post brought back these beautiful memories and also introduced me to a kind of spinifex that I’m not familiar with. Great info and excellent pics as usual.

    • Glad it resonated with you, Jane. I haven’t seen any “tumbleweeds” out there for a while now — the usual millions on Moreton last time of course.

  5. Gorgeous pictures. I especially like your twilight ones.

    I spent a lot of time around spinifex as a kid growing up in the arid Riverland in south australia. My siblings and I used to uproot spinifex bushes (easily done) and cover frames made of sticks with them, to make camouflaged spiky cubbies. Having destroyed some poor animal’s habitat we were then too nervous to go back in the cubby on subsequent days because of our fear that it would have been taken over by snakes, of which there were plenty!! Silly children….. I didn’t know about this beach spinifex though – thanks for the introduction!

    • My friends and I committed our share of atrocities against nature and its inhabitants in my childhood too. I like the image of the spiky cubby-hole!

  6. Brett says

    Well the goat that wrote, i know you had a little goat(y) in your late school days but i don’t recall you enjoying writing. Well written.

    • Hey Brett, thanks. The obvious question is “How the hell did you find me?” Hope all goes well with you.

      English was the only subject back in high school I consistently got top marks for. And this is where it took me, the glamorous world of the walking-blogger!

      I’m usually a bit more prompt in replying to comments, been living through crazy times of late, but glad you dropped by.

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