I made a Google map of Whites Hill Reserve, one of Brisbane’s biggest bushland reserves.
We moved to a house located on the edge of the reserve. Before then it was a short drive to the reserve for a short walk. We walked a regular route, didn’t use a map, and didn’t look for any information about the reserve.
Now it was outside our front door. I felt obligated to learn more about the reserve. It started with finding different walking routes. The signage at each entrance around the reserve had a map, but it was striking how little detail it provided for such a big area. For example, when you walk through the reserve, you can’t help but noticed trails that veer off and don’t exist on any map. Wondering where these lead and not wishing to get lost right away, I used my phone to download Brisbane City Council’s .pdf file with the same simple map.
There was so many trails that aren’t on it.
…this annoyed me.
I’ll be damned if I’m spending my time walking around here knowing full well that my phone could probably collect position data at the same time at no extra effort.
After hunting around, I downloaded an app called Easy Trails. I paid $5 for the full version which lets me export map data to a .kml file. It exports to my Google Drive account, then Google Maps lets me open the .kml in custom maps for me to edit in a browser.
Suddenly, I was comelled to discover every inch of the reserve for the purposes of completing the map.
As I walked around, I started thinking how much this was like a game. In many games, the whole map is not revealed to you. You have to progress through the game and visit new areas of the map, for the shroud to be removed. Hilariously, this is what this felt like as I walked the reserve, whilst in my pocket the app removed the shroud.
What was I gaining? When you play games, there’s something happening in the brain that’s satisfying. But there’s not often a tangible outcome. You don’t earn money, you’re not really achieving anything. Other than the passage of time and feeling entertained. A good game however will make you think, challenge you with problem solving, and exercise your mind.
There was something to be gained from mapping the reserve. Mainly, helping others navigate the reserve better but also a means of memorising it myself. I’ll admit that I recognise in myself a desire to complete something. Sarah calls it an obsessive behaviour. It frustrates me how that understates what’s going on. It suggests that anyone that is motivated enough to achieve anything is ‘obsessive’. ‘Motivated’ is closer.
As I revealed more of the map, I started thinking about Pokémon.
Pokémon started out as a trading card game in Japan in 1996, then it became a TV show and a Gameboy game. Today it’s also played as a mobile, augmented reality game. The tagline for all of them is “gotta catch ’em all”.
The human brain is wired to collect. Think about stamp collecting. Anything where you have to ‘get them all’. Charlie Brooker has a good argument for how Twitter is just a big game, in which people collect as many followers as possible, more retweets, and likes.
In Pokémon (pocket monsters), the primary aim is to “catch them all”. To collect every one of the things. There are several ways to achieve that goal; catch them in the wild, or trade with other trainers. Suddenly an economy exists. Driving the trade economy is the attributes of your Pokémon. The higher the attributes, the stronger the Pokémon are for battle, and with each battle, increases attributes. Before you realise it you have a wealth of knowledge about a world of fictional monsters.
Surely, the natural conclusion to all of this is the realisation of a real life version of Pokémon. Instead of fictional monsters; real animals and plants. Where true value lies in having tangible and useful knowledge about the world around you. Is it possible to gamify Whites Hill Reserve so kids and adults alike can learn about the animals that live there, and their respective attributes?
- How rare they are?
- What do they eat?
- What are their weaknesses?
With a wealth of information available at our fingertips, it was surprising to find that there wasn’t that much available in relation to Whites Hill Reserve. A few passages on BCC’s page, something here, a mention there. But nothing detailed.
From various sources I started a list of the animals that could be found in Whites Hill Reserve. I imagined how much fun it will be to walk around with Quinn trying to spot them and tick them off a list; like it was a game. The best part being that Quinn would learn the names of animals, and even the birds and trees. Come to think of it, I find it a bit strange that generally we couldn’t name a tree if someone asked us to:
- Spotted gum
- Blue gum (they aren’t even blue)
- White mahogany (more red than white, I’d say)
If Pokémon has got to the point where people are motivated to leave their house to go for a walk, for the primary goal of finding and catching Pokémon, then it’s not that far of a stretch to dispense with the fiction completely, and replace it with the real world around you.
If you have a good handle of how best to take full advantage of Google’s search function that’s a great start. Facebook is handy for connecting with people that have knowledge about the thing you’re trying to learn more about. That’s how I found the local bushland walking group. A group that arranges to meet at the reserve for a walk twice a month. We joined. Sure enough, local experts were present, including a nice lady that has been involved in the walk for about 20 years! Startlingly, as often as Sarah and I had walked through the reserve, we really had no idea that koalas were in there. Not just a few – a lot. I’ve seen koalas in wildlife sanctuaries, held one, but never had I seen one in the wild. I wanted that authentic experience. The group said they frequently see koalas. I was introduced to Gen and Phil, who the group declared as their pro’ koala spotters.
Sure enough they spotted them. At first I had no idea how they were doing it. Koalas sleep 20 hours of the day, barely move, are high up most of the time, and are well camouflaged in the light coloured gum branches and behind eucalypti leaves.
The easiest way to get Quinn off for his morning or afternoon nap is to chuck him in the baby carrier and walk into the reserve. Now that I wasn’t concentrating on walking trails I hadn’t captured on the map yet, I was walking slowly through the first 100m into the reserve. Eyes skyward, looking not just at the gums directly adjacent me, but focusing my gaze depth into the rows of gums behind. Scanning where trunks fork into branches, and for the subtle gray coloured blob that might be found resting in them.
Success. Unbelievably they had been there all along. We used to walk through the reserve oblivious, whilst wildlife quietly got on with it above our heads. Koalas were right there for us to enjoy looking at. Cool looking, cute, unique marsupials. I think that’s what gets me whenever I’m looking at one, you know there’s nothing quite like a koala, they are not common. You either have to go to a zoo to see one, or come to this mad island continent on the southern hemisphere to maybe spot one in the wild. That’s gotta be better than catching that rare Pokémon, right? Tick it off the list.
When completing the map, it became clear why many of the trails do not feature on any of BCC’s signage or information docs: they are illegally constructed mountain bike trails.
These trails are more prevalent in Whites Hill than you realise when you just stick to the maintained tracks. They careen downhill from the two summits, Whites Hill and Sankeys. Shoveled dirt and timber pallets have been used to create ramps and velodrome-eske turns in the scrub. Some of the structures I found I considered to be pretty dangerous.
On top of the safety issue, there’s the general environmental impact the unsanctioned trails have on the reserve. Native plants which are encouraged to grow, die. Wildlife, including the koala population and a few wallabies are driven into other areas by the disturbance.
I found it frustrating that I had to put some effort into discovering what was going on with these trails, that there is no mention of them on any of BCC’s maps and the general impact they cause. When I completed the map, I contacted a land planner at Brisbane City Council with it with a view of helping them update their public map. He explained that they know all about the trails, and have their own data on them. The reason they are not publicised is to mitigate encouraging their continued misuse, and furthermore, to distance BCC’s liability should anyone using them hurt themselves. BCC simply mitigate risk to them by signposting that bikes are not allowed inside the reserve.
From what I can tell the three main offences found inside the reserve are:
- use of mountian bikes, even on the maintained paths. The paths and tracks are shared with walkers and some areas can be quite steep which can be potentially dangerous if a bike has gained momentum and comes into contact with a walker;
- Dogs being off lead. Having grown up with dogs I understand that they can be unpredictable. I’ve seen a koala and baby walking along the ground just meters away from me. There’s no telling how any dog might react. For this reason dogs should be kept on their lead inside the reserve (and we see them off their leads all the time). There’s a great off leash area on the corner of the reserve located at Boundary Road and Cavendish road;
- And litter. Heather from the walking group begins the walk with an empty plastic bag, and ends it with a bag full of litter.
Visit Whites Hill Reserve using this map (if you open the link in the browser on your phone, can can save the URL as a shortcut to your phone’s screen).
Take this list of animals and plants with you. How many can you photograph?
|Grey headed flying fox||Avifauna|
|Large eared pied bat||Avifauna|
|Short beaked Echidna||Fauna|
|Short necked turtle||Fauna|
|Coastal Carpet Python||Fauna|
|Mile a minute||Flora|
|prickly snake vine||Flora|
|Bird’s nest fern||Flora|
|Weeping lilly pilly||Flora|
|Red lilly pilly||Flora|
|Wonga Wonga Vine||Flora|
Gotta catch ’em all!