A thousand metres and more above Canberra, life is tough all year round. In winter the struggle is simply to survive; in summer there is the rush to grow, reproduce and establish offspring before the icy wetness closes in again, all too soon. Over the course of a year, the temperature may fluctuate by up to 50°C.
The snow country – that area over 1,200 metres above sea level where snow lies on the ground for at least part of most years – comprises barely 0.5% of mainland Australia, including the ridges of the high Brindabellas and Tidbinbillas. The snow country is dominated by just one tree, the mighty Snow Gum, which may survive on the exposed wind-lashed peaks for centuries. In high flat valleys the treeless bogs act as vast sponges, with sphagnum moss absorbing up to 20 times its own mass of water and releasing it slowly all year round; Canberra’s water supply is largely reliant on these mossy bogs.
In winter it is very quiet; animals have either moved downhill ahead of the snows, are surviving beneath the insulating white blanket, or have died, leaving frozen eggs or young to emerge in spring. In summer it is frantically busy, the short warm season crowded with wildflowers competing for the myriad of insect pollinators while there is yet time. Corroboree Frogs bleat their love songs from sphagnum nooks. Reptiles which have survived winter frozen, now hunt the insects and frogs. But the frosts always return.