Australia is famous for many things. One of which is the largest living organism in the world—The Great Barrier Reef—that sprawls across a large part of eastern Australia. And then there’s Ayers Rock or UluruAyers Rock in the north, Port Arthur way down in Tasmania, the Opera House, the Old Melbourne Gaol, and countless other convict houses that framed the history of this great country that remains a wondrous mystery to the rest of the world.
There’re so many cultural and monumental buildings and memories in this country that global history texts celebrate. And yet, there’re also so many iconic elements that go entirely unnoticed—even by Australians themselves. People talk more about the gorgeous wine regions* than about the more noteworthy things they ought to talk about.
Here’s an example.
I was chatting with some friends, who come from various parts of the country and have travelled and lived much around the world, and I learnt that the world’s oldest living thing is right here in Australia, an unknown fact to most people.
It’s not the Reef. That’s the largest.
The oldest is a natural phenomenon called stromatolite or stromatolith. My enthusiasm for geology makes up for my beyond pathetic knowledge of the science. Stromatolites are rock formations. They’re layers of sheet-like sediments of silt, limestone, and a single-celled microbe called cyanobacteria. The word’s root comes from Greek and translates to “stratum” or more loosely to “stony cushion.”
Stromatolites are common and occur in many places. However, in Western Australia’s North Pole (apparently, WA has a North Pole of its own. Who knew?), you’ll find stromatolites as old as 3.5 billion years. They’re officially the oldest in the record.
The most extensive collection of stromatolites is in a Hamlin Pool in Shark Bay, also in Western Australia. These are about 4500 years old. And you can just as easily walk up to them as you would to a tree in your back garden.
We seldom appreciate the greatness within our reach. As in a game of hide and seek, we seek the special all around us, sometimes even going far off in the wrong direction, only to have equally uninformed guides misguiding us under the false impression of finding the right spot. And we think we’ve found it too—until we see it for real, and realise, that it’s been sitting in silence right under our noses.
*Don’t get me wrong—Australia is home to some of the world’s best wine regions. And it’s critical to showcase them too. I only call for a more balanced distribution of paparazzi.