Light sabre

Ever been sunburned? Gone to bed with that awful, sweaty, stinging feeling of hot regret? Had little blisters form then pop? We pretty much all have haven’t we. Stupid bastards that we are! “Stupid” because that ol’ friend of ours, our nearest star, our planet’s parent and orbital centre, The Sun, puts out a lot of energy. Just how much; well obviously enough to broil your shoulders at some point!

As this picture clearly shows, you can work out the energy received at any given point using this simple formula:

\overline{Q}^{\mathrm{day}}, the theoretical daily-average insolation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth’s orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.”

Got that? Clearly though this formula doesn’t account for the various ways that the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters the energy as it travels from the outer edge of the atmosphere to ground level. That varies depending on cloud cover and other suspended moisture, suspended particulates, vegetation and so on. So lets just sum it all up and say that the sun puts out a lot of energy and on a hot, clear day you could fry an egg very, very quickly using just the sun’s heat.

Which brings us to this little conundrum; what do you do with an old satellite (internet) dish that has been superseded with a newer, faster model?

IMG_0623Do you;

  1. Give it to the dish-installer man to take away and dispose of?
  2. Turn it into a very large birdbath?
  3. Leave it forever behind the garage until the Missus yells “Clean that shitpile up!”
  4. Use it to make mischief (in a fun, harmless way of course)?

Guess which numbered box the money is in….you betcha….Number 4!

There are quite a few YouTube videos of people making reflector dishes out of old sat’ dishes. Many of them use the little, square mirrors, like off a disco mirror ball. All I can say is that they must be richer than me, or at least more willing to throw money at a simple, fun project. At the cheapest price I could find those mirror squares for sale the total cost for enough of them would have been $400-$500. No way José!!

Reflective Mylar film is another matter – a roll of that comes in about $40-$50. The overall reflective properties probably aren’t quite as good as a set of glass mirrors (Mylar film comes in at about 92-97% reflectivity, not too different than mirrors as the actual reflective material in a mirror is basically the same stuff; however the Mylar film is impossible to adhere to the dish without some imperfections resulting, such as ripples, bubbles and some areas of glue overspray) and of course the film won’t be weatherproof so the dish will have to be stored indoors. However these cons just pale into insignificance against the cost savings.

The film was cut into (roughly) triangular shapes to allow us to better shape it into the dish. To glue the film to the dish we used a spray adhesive, masking off each previously glued section to prevent (OK…minimise) overspray.

Here is the completed dish, mounted on the post, leg spars and roof brackets that were intended to actually put the original dish on a roof, and are here slightly modified to provide a stable, free-standing base.

IMG_0635It all looks very innocent. Looks can however be deceiving…

More mayhem….errrr….I mean “Scientific Experiments of an Educational Nature” videos to come. The video above was our first “experiment” which was performed at around 2:30pm mid September. Can’t wait for mid-Summer at between 11am and 1pm (solar time).

Warning – try this at home.

The Coffee Table Book (Part 4)

I admit it…I’ve been sulking for a little while. I’d thrown my safety goggles out of the pram. Downed tools. Generally turned my back on the Coffee Table project. You see….someone had been twisting my leg!

A while back I did a “finish sand” over all the surfaces of the first set of legs, dowelled them up, and braced and glued them. Here they are;

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One of the legs had a lovely, feature “bolt hole” for which this length of timber had been selected. All that remained to be done with this leg set was to give it a final finish-sand, especially to remove excess glue around the joints. All good!

Except….I’d put the legs on the wrong way! As you may see in the “middle” picture the leg timbers are rectangular, not square. In this leg-set I dowelled the crossbeam into the short side of the legs, not the wide side. This error is more than simply one with aesthetic implications, as it makes the overall leg set too wide for the table top.

Bugger-ation!!

No way to redeem this now – it just goes into the newly created “Collection of very nice H-shaped timber pieces that may one day be useful” pile. I’m rather hoping to not add too much more to that collection!

Oh well….after a little sulk it’s time to cut two more legs and start again!

<-Go to Part 3a …. Go to Part 5->

Coal Seam Gas

Amazingly even this little, quiet corner of the world is under the watchful eye of the petro’ industry. AGL holds a Petroleum Exploration License that extends from the Northern End of Murrays Run, South West to Camden. In and around Camden AGL is currently operating somewhere between 40 and 80 active wells (it seems more difficult than it should be to pin down the exact number).

While the possibility of AGL or indeed any other gas company coming sniffing around Bucketty seems remote on the surface, this document published in March 2013 by the NSW Planning Department indicates that the peace and quiet might just be a piece of quiet before the storm.

Screenshot of Page 35 of the documentRecently a community action group has formed, under the convening hand of John Edye. There are fourteen of us all up on the committee, and we are in the process of organising a community wide survey to gauge the community’s feelings towards the idea of their collective backyard being turned into a gas field. I’ve written more about what I think here.

We are well underway to performing the community survey, having held a fantastically powerful community meeting on June 19th. From basically a walking start only three months ago we have built amazing momentum and it is wonderful to be able to contribute to the community this way. Most of the reporting of this journey will be on the website we’ve set up. Stay tuned.

The Coffee Table Book (Part 1)

Down the side of the storage area for the trailer is a pile of shitty, old, nail spiked lengths of hardwood timber; the remnants of an old deck that was pulled down a while back. This pile represents the timbers that had a solid feel to them when they were removed, indicating that beneath their rotten exteriors a heartwood of strength beats still.

Before and afterThat there is a classic before and after photo, without the aid of coy staging or Photoshopping. The timbers the old piece is sitting on are ten or so lengths that have already been trimmed and planed.

About a year or so ago one of the lengths had already been through this process and proven its worthiness as a member of my “long solid bits of naily, seemingly rotten timber that might someday be useful for something” collection having been transformed into a rather awesome ceremonial staff-like object for a friend’s 50th birthday (“rather awesome” even if I do say so myself!).

The rest of the pile however just sat there with a dejected sort of expression that clearly meant “Hurry up and turn me into something you lazy, procrastinating bastard”. I could tell it all just was desperate to channel its inner coffee table – I dunno…sometimes you can just tell these things even if you can’t normally speak fluent Entish.

And so has begun the quite possibly long process of building a coffee table. Knowing as I do your intense curiosity as to the status of the project, here are some exciting action photos:

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Time for a coffee…if only I had somewhere to put it…

(The next part of the Story)

 

 

Burning man

Sometimes you just have to channel your inner Firestarter .

Fire season approaches and after a few years of rainy years the fuel load has built up everywhere. This year the ENSO cycle is swinging us towards a baking and rainless summer, and we’re therefore expecting a hot, dry, dangerous season of bush fires. Time to clear some wind fall and maintain what the NSW RFS terms the Asset Protection Zone (APZ).

Last year there were a few burn piles I had built but then ran out of time to light up before we hit the summer fire-permit season. As well as getting through those I have also a few more new piles to build – all up we’re probably looking at about 7 burn piles before the summer officially starts.

Burn pile

Burn pile

“Never start a fire you can’t put out” are wise words – so there is a bit of prep’ do before the matches come out. As the first pile is down the North East slope at the outer edge of the APZ this means setting up Davey as close to the pile as possible whilst still having a water feed handy, then running a hose down to the pile which is built about 50m from that pump location. Davey is being fed by the new header tank which has been filled as well, giving 10,000l of drenching ability should things go not-to-plan.

IMG_0152  Once the pump is ready the next step is to do a final clear around the pile with the fire rake, gear up in jeans, boots, wool jumper, leather hat, fire goggles, fire gloves and a protective wrap covering the face/neck/ears. That sounds very over he top until you’ve stood next to a burn pile at full fury – it’ll singe skin within seconds at distances less than 2 metres. The neighbours already having been warned to not panic at smoke columns it’s time to go. A little splash of diesel, flame introduced by way of gas powered, metre long fire wand….and….

And make a wish and blow it out...

And make a wish and blow it out…

Houston...we have ignition

Houston…we have ignition

 “I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter.
You’re the firestarter, twisted firestarter.
I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter”

Stairway to heaven (or at least the garage)

At the South Western corner of the house there is a bank rising about a metre and a half or so, sloped outward at 45 degrees. Its a natural shortcut when heading to the garage, though perhaps not when carrying things as the ground can be slippery when damp. A few metres to the right there are some rough stone steps, constructed I guess when the house was built some 30 years ago. The shortcut was so much used it had clearly proved worthy of being formalised and honoured with some steps of its own.

Steps need to be solid, and solid means big rocks, and big rocks means “bloody hell…that’s heavy <insert sound here of the sound of the kurfuffle valve rupturing>”. The bottom step forms the base for all the others and of course needs to be biggest, heaviest, kurfuffle-valve-blowingest stone of all. Here it is weighting* to be placed in position.
IMG_0132
So you can appreciate it better here is another view. To get this stone to this point required dragging it with a chain on a steel drag sheet, using the Scooby Doo. Even it called for a plate of fresh Scooby Snacks afterwards.

Another view of what will be the bottom step - she's a monster

Another view of what will be the bottom step – she’s a monster

Getting the first stone into place basically involved two careful stages: firstly dig out a stone shaped hole; and secondly roll the stone off the slope and hope the best it landed roughly in the right place. Fortunately it did, and after just a little bit of juggling we were ready for the next.

IMG_0135

This photo is a bit blurry. I think my kurfuffle valve was still erupting at this point.

 

IMG_0137

IMG_0138

IMG_0139And we’re done. Phew. Just a bit of tidying up to do and we’re ready to take the next step. **

* Can you see what I’ve done there? Can you? Or did you think I made an accidental spelling error?

** Can you see what I’ve done there? Golly I’m funny.

 

A small journey into Lepidopterology

I have no idea which moths these little fellas are, but they’re certainly fine examples of Lepidopetra. Moth 2 Moth 1

Thanks for visiting us fellas, hope you get to mate before being eaten by a bird or a spider…

PS. I recall that when I was a little tyke the first time I heard the word “lepidoptera” was courtesy of Alice Cooper.

What a difference Oswald makes

On the back of a six month dry spell due to the ENSO cycle and a climate change intensified heat wave, the scorching heat of Sydney’s hottest ever recorded day evaporated away much of the water in the dam. With just a few inches left in the dam, no more was available to pump up to the irrigation header tank – all that was left was water too oozy and muddy to pump, and anyway the frogs needed something to keep their chorusing throats wet. The irrigation for the veggie patches got switched over to tank water supply, not ideal but better than having all the effort and resources put into the veggies going to waste because they’d dried out under the hot sun.

The tanks are our water supply for all domestic uses, plus fire fighting and general (non plant) garden use. If the tanks run dry we would have to buy water in; something we’ve never had to do in the past and hopefully won’t have to in the future. Water trucked in comes with a relatively high financial cost per litre (well, especially when you’re not paying anything for the water you collect yourself), a high environmental cost (processing and transport), and has the added taste disadvantage of being town, chlorinated water.

Just as the summer school holidays are coming to a close however Tropical Storm Oswald has hammered far North Queensland with rain and wind, flooded Brisbane and the surrounding suburbs, whipped up the oceans with shore battering energy, and is slowly making its way down South to share the joy before drizzling itself out somewhere South of Sydney in a few days time.

rain radar 11:30am 28-1-2013Just above the target’s bullseye of the rain radar map you can see Gosford labelled, whilst slightly up and left you can see Putty. ridgesong lies roughly halfway between these two markers and boy, are we appreciating Oswald’s legacy. Just before the first of the rain hit we did some water management, moving water from the garage tank to the (more heavily and regularly used) house tank, in order to ensure that both tanks had space to collect more rainfall. After all, there is no point getting rain if your tank is already full and it’s all just pouring down the side.

After spending the weekend boating on the Hawkesbury we returned home last night to find both tank’s overflowing and the dam level about 15cms higher than before. Not bad at all. This morning, with another 80mm to 100mm of rain due I groomed the slope leading to the dam with a hoe and shovel to ensure that we maximise the water flow from the drive at the top of the hill (in front of the neighbour’s house) into the dam. Meanwhile I pumped some water (approx. 10,000L) up from the house tank to the already full garage tank, causing it to then overflow into the dam. That put another 10cms or so of level into the dam. We expect that by tomorrow morning, once the storm has expending itself, the house tank will again be overflowing. To put all this into perspective, by the time this storm system passes us we will have collected approximately 25,000L of water. Lots of people are suffering because of Oswald’s fury, and at least one person has lost his life, but down here in our little patch of the Earth we are very grateful for the rain. Collecting your own water makes you exceedingly conscious of how much you use, and very mindful that rainy days are more than a reason to grumble and moan about being stuck inside. Climate predictions point to a drier future for Australia as a whole, so collecting water while the rain falls is not just a simple distraction from the grey drizzle on a rainy day, it is life and opportunity while we can enjoy it and something that will become only more important as time goes on.

Powerless

Last year I camped overnight in the bush, just off a logging trail in Olney State Forest during a climbing weekend with the Shrek Man. Far down below us from the valley floor the sounds of cattle lowing came, any sight of the vocalisers lost to us under the layer of morning mist. We headed off after breakfast to poke around the cliffs we had first spied from the other side of the valley on some previous adventure, before our exploration was unexpectedly cut short by the failure of a battery powered drill, required to affix climbing bolts to the cliff face.

It was in search of this makeshift camp site that I set out this morning, alone in the Scooby Doo as everyone else slept in. We hope to revisit it again soon, and before heading there with friends in tow it seemed sensible to make sure I could find it once more, without the guiding wisdom of my climbing buddy. With a camera to document my trip, and two water bottles ready to refresh me as the day’s expected heat built I wound my way through the valley, passing through the still awakening town of Wollombi. A few kilometres on the far side of the town I stopped to pick up a hitcher, standing on the side of the road with a 5 litre container each of water an oil. “Only going as far as Millfield” I warned as he got in. “Fine by me mate, f*ckin’ truck’s broke down there and that’s where I’m headed now to get the f*ckin’ thing back”. Billy was his name, and he talked a storm the whole way through a toothless mouth, with breath tinged with the morning tobacco; telling the story of his wife’s broken starter motor, her boot full of groceries wilting on a hot day in her stranded car, his trip to retrieve her and his truck’s subsequent breakdown. “To cap off the whole f*ckin’ thing I got a call from the taxation department Monday this week to say that they’re gonna audit me for the last six f*ckin’ years”. Life throws f*ckin’ challenges at us all at times and this was Billy’s f*ckin’ time apparently.

Millfield is a small town South of Cessnock named after the timber mill which processes timber sawn and drawn from the surrounding State Forests. The mill marked the point at which I swung right, off the sealed road and began to climb out of the bowl of the valley into the high hills. A thin snake of dust trailed behind me as the tyres chunked on hard packed clay and sharp gravel. Signs warned of logging trucks on the road, and occasionally bare areas of logged trees stood forlornly bereft of life. Halfway up the mountain I paused to allow two horse riders to pass me, rather than me passing them and risking skittering their rides. We exchanged words and wisdom of the road ahead in our respective paths. Allowing them to draw some distance behind me I continued on, taking always the left, uphill fork whenever a choice presented itself on the road.

Eventually I reached Flat Rock Lookout, a cliff-face immediately on the side of the road and high above the valley floor. At this point I knew I was close and stopped to take in the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlat Rock Lookout provides a fine view from the rim of the plateau, farms dotted amongst the cleared grassland in the Congewai valley, and the furthest sides of the plateau bowl lost in the blue oil haze of the eucalypt forests growing thickly up the slopes. The lookout is unfenced, save for a single section of rusted old cyclone fencing standing uselessly ahead of my parked vehicle. With the camera hanging by its strap around my neck I took a deliberate and careful step further out on the ledge, though here it began to slope down before dropping off precipitously some 4 metres ahead of me. In a moment my feet began to lose traction on the sharply sloping, dry, moss covered rock and all too quickly I found myself, alone in the midst of the forest, spread eagled on the rock and a metre further down and closer to the edge than safety called for. One hand clung to a small indentation above me, one foot with tentative purchase on the rock, one slowly slipping on the moss. For what seemed a long, long time I felt powerless to stop my continued slide to the edge and I considered the very real possibility that I would die here, today, probably before anyone else in the family was even awake. I stabilised myself for a moment, swore and thought frantically how to prevent myself sliding the remaining three metres or so down across the 35-40 degree slope of mossy rock to the edge – flipping uncontrollably and irrevocably over. In a short, unexpected moment I had slipped from the normal to the thin lipped edge of life itself. Slowly, gingerly, with great deliberation, transferring of weighting and adjustment of grip and balance I managed to make my way back up the half a body length that represented the long journey between this life and a bloodied ending below. One short crawl measured in heartbeats and breaths, punctuated with the desperate longing to have the time to properly berate myself for my stupidity.

Later, back in the car and with just a small graze on my arm as a souvenir,  I continued on, and soon afterwards found the track to the camp site. Alighting from the parked vehicle a rapid rustle of leaves ahead of me announced the presence of a goanna, startled by my arrival it climbed in a furious scrabble up a nearby tree and remained, clinging there until I left some time later. Given my recent experience I envied it’s long, sharply curved claws.goanna up a tree

Having surveyed the campsite I headed back down the 13 some kilometres of dirt road until I eventually rejoined the tarmac at Millfield. By now the nascent heat of the day was at full bore and the black top of the road shimmered ahead of me. I pulled over at Wollombi to have a coffee and read some pages of Kerouac’s On the road. On the timbered balcony of the Wollombi Cafe I drank strong, black coffee, it’s thick beany aroma an affirmation of the life I had almost seen the end of just an hour or so before. A small skink clambered unconcerned across the square timber hand rail. Two tables ahead of me a local couple negotiated the guest list for their upcoming wedding and reception. Behind me a family of four tourists discussed the idea of a future “big family holiday” to Europe or the Americas. They described to their children the various places they could visit, many of them a revisit for the parents to those favoured locations they had seen together on their honeymoon years earlier. They settled on England and Europe over the USA, and before leaving I gave up the guilty secret of my eavesdropping by suggesting to them that they add Norway to their list, and that they  break from the roadtrip with a few days spent on a narrow boat on England’s canals. Buying a bunch of dried rosemary from the small shop at the cafe, I headed home. Normality had again asserted itself after the drama of earlier.

The road from Wollombi is a popular one for Sunday drivers and particularly bikers. The Wollombi Tavern regularly hosts several dozen bikes out front, a mix of Harley chrome, Ducati red and yellow, and a wide selection of Japanese road bikes. Near to ridgesong there is a notorious bend called Lemmings Corner which all too regularly finds a wannabe racer running out of talent and road and smearing him or herself along the tar, leaving shards of glass and fibreglass in a litter of violence along the edge. Approaching Lemmings an oncoming car flashed me a headlit warning, and soon enough a trio of bikers waved me to a halt. “There’s been an accident ahead – go slow and watch out. It isn’t pretty.” I fully expected that Lemmings had claimed another namesake. Instead however a falling branch had dropped the power line across the road, and soon after a pair of bikers had rounded the bend heading South. The lead bike had hit the fallen, live wire and the electrocuted rider had immediately dropped his bike. His companion paced the road in grief. I carefully and respectfully sidled past the fallen rider’s body, lying still in the middle of the road, his sightless eyes shrouded with a small blanket provided by a stopped motorist. Emergency services had already been called, and before I could reach the Bucketty RFS depot to dispatch a crew for traffic control an RFS Cat-9 approached, siren off and lights turning a grim red and blue salute to the rider’s demise.

At home the power was off, the supply cut by the fallen wire. My morning had been one of unexpected twists and turns. My own stupidity had nearly cost me my own life. I had later listened in on the hopeful plannings for lives ahead; a marriage and life together and a family vacation. Another man’s life had reached a sudden end through no fault of his own. I had come close to death twice today. The corners we see coming are those we prepare for and take in our stride, it is those that thrust themselves surprisingly into our path that cause us to lose our hold on the firmament and skid uncontrollably off, powerless to save ourselves. In one short morning I had been reminded of the tenuous grip we each have on this world and to the lives of those we love and live with. What had started with a light, unconcerned step into the morning in exploration now seemed a vastly different day. The hot sun baked the leaves dry on the ground, but somewhere today someone’s tears will dampen the earth.

 

 

Mercury rising

Screenshot from 2013-01-08 10:47:54

The colour palette on the RFS’s Current Fire Danger page is looking dangerously red today. Ridgesong is in area 3, in the Cessnock council local government area, though we are near to the border of area 4. Our area is classified as being at Severe fire danger rating today, with the more dangerous rating of Extreme being applied to the areas to our West and South. Our Fire Plan calls for some preparation during Severe conditions, to allow for faster response time in the event we need to evacuate (first option) or defend against a fire (second choice option). In the first hours after dawn, before the full heat of the sun baked the metal roof of the house and the garage to a breath sucking furnace, I cleared the roof and the gutters of fallen leaves. “Davey”, the trusty, yellow fire pump is parked by the side of the house, near to the main water control and supply manifold. The Scooby Doo is tucked into the garage to keep it from turning into a mobile sauna as the day progresses. The fire fighting apparel is to hand, and the browser has the RFS’s Current Incidents page open. The NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has stated that today is the worst day for fire danger across NSW in the State’s history. On some TV channel you can guarantee that a solemn faced announcer is saying “The State is a tinderbox today, as firefighters battle blazes across many areas”. If one starts nearby, we’re outta here and heading to the coast, though ironically that will take us into the Extreme rated Area 4. So far…so good. But it’s best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Christmas

Since about April we have been wishing for rain, as the ENSO cycle has brought an end to the wet of last year. December has been pretty much a zero rainfall flatline, however as the old saying goes “You need to be careful what you wish for”, because Santa brought us just a little more wetness than we would have liked: Screenshot from 2012-12-30 08:50:41

 

 

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The water tanks were happy. The frogs in the dam were happy. The garden was happy. The eleven of us sitting around the table on the deck outside having Christmas lunch…well…not so happy. Apparently this was the wettest Christmas Day on the East Coast of Australia in seventy years. See…you wish for rain…you get rain. Don’t say Santa never delivers.

In between dodging raindrops we exchanged gifts and bonhomie, and demonstrated our mutual affection by cooking up a storm. The Others ate various dead animals they had prepared elsewhere and brought along already cooked. Meanwhile we feasted on stuffing; roasted baby potatoes with garlic, pine nuts and dill; rose harissa tagine, Bevski beetroot; sweet potato salad; quinoa salad, and I don’t even remember what else. Afterwards, just to ensure we hadn’t missed filling any spare sections of intestine we had Bevski Pud, and chocolate self saucing pud. And then we all looked like our friend Monty, right after he’s eaten a large something.Monty pythonLike Monty we all wanted to just lay in the sun for a few days and digest everything. Alas, there wasn’t any sunshine to lie in. Well, not for a few days anyway.

Poly(1-phenylethane-1,2-diyl) and molluscs

Walking along The North Entrance beach today brought the sight of a dozen or so dolphins cruising through the waves heading North. Attempting to get a photo of them was simply an exercise in demonstrating that dolphins can more rapidly take breaths than phone cameras can take photos. We do have a lovely selection though of shots of what the water looked like a second or so after the pod submerged again.Its always a joy to catch the sight of our snouty aquatic friends, they’re so elusive it feels a privilege to be in the same place at the same time and to happen to be facing the right direction as they pass.

The beach is much eroded at present from recent storms, with the sand cut back right to the dune field. At the narrowest parts of the beach the water had at the last high tide washed up to the foot of a 5 metre tall cliff of sand that is held together by the roots of the dune grasses growing scraggily along the top. The sand cliff is a layering of different sand sedimentation, dark layers half way up indicating periods of organic material deposition.

The recent storms have also left a puffer fish stranded at the high wash mark, their bodies swelling to skin tightening proportions in the heat of the day. Woe betide the first seagull to take a peck at their gas filled corpses. Peck-peck-pop! Ain’t no seaside picnicker gunna welcome that little birdie afterwards.

Along the way some washed up blue mollusc shells caught our eye, their attachment points fringed with bright red filaments. A closer inspection revealed that these molluscs had anchored themselves to a lump of half decayed polystyrene. The ubiquitous plastic takes so long to break down that to all intents and purposes it is in the environment for ever. Floating in the open ocean it seems to be an ideal attachment point for a passing young bivalve mollusc. It’s craggy, it floats, and it doesn’t break down. Perhaps even after this particular set of molluscs have long since died and fallen off this piece of polystyrene, the plastic itself will remain still only to blown or washed back out to sea to become a  home again to another set of bivalves. The really bad thing about these shell creatures making a home upon this toxic substance is that it may make it a more attractive meal to some other creature. If you think trying to eat a puffer fish and ending up with a face full of exploded fish guts is a horrendous idea, try going for a snack of molluscs and ending up with gut full of poly(1-phenylethane-1,2-diyl).

Beach pools

At the Southern end of Ocean Beach about a hundred metres out along the rock platform lies the ruined remains of an ocean swimming pool. Its walls are long collapsed and the breaking waves are slowly filling it with sand and shells, like a walled midden. These ocean pools are a great asset and it is shame to see them left to decay – no doubt a victim of council budget cutting and the rising cost of liability insurance.

Beyond the skeletal remains of the pool, the rock platform continues around the headland, far below the S-bending road that winds its way from the Northern beaches of the headland around to Pearl Beach and Patonga. At the tip of the headland, the rock platform becomes unpassable and to continue onward to Pearl Beach it becomes necessary to clamber up a short way to a wide track that runs along the cliff face, some ten metres above the water. Half way along, Naomi had an attack of the munchies and fell hungrily to her knees to graze on a patch of Warrigal Greens that is growing from under a rock. “Hhmmm…a bit saltier than the one’s we’re growing in the garden”….which I am thinking will save us having the find a salt lick for her later on. Warrigal Greens, orTetragonia tetragonioides, to be precise, are also known as sea spinach – hence their tolerance of salty areas like a cliff face overlooking the ocean. They are also known as “Botany Bay spinach”, due to the fact that Captain James Cook used the greens to prevent scurvy among his men. The bright green, matte, diamond-shaped leaves look like a bit like normal baby  spinach, but come with a distinct flavour of their own

Sadly, upon reaching Pearl Beach we found the water brown and churned up as the waves dumped hard immediately on the edge of the sand. All thoughts of a mid-walk ocean swim disappeared from our minds as the incoming waves layered murky looking foam onto the wet sand.

Fortunately however, Pearl Beach is home to one of the few remaining ocean pools, at the beach’s Southern tip. A small sign proudly proclaims that this pool was erected in 1928, and remains an item of local cultural and historic importance. And long may it remain so. Celebrating the fact that this particular pool had remained unscathed through the night of the long budgetary knives called for some laps – twenty no less. Which is half a kilometre if the pool is 25m in length, and not quite so much if it less than that. In her haste to get out the door this morning Naomi had thoughtlessly neglected to pack the measuring tape and so we will forever remain unsure – but lets assume shall we that the pool is of the more impressive length so as to make my feat of swimming all the more spectacular.

A hundred flickering candles

It is there in many forms
Colourful, gay, radiant
Some drab and muted
Some luminous and elegant.

When the wind blows
It swings and dances
Sometimes frantic
Sometimes slow.

Its soft light is man’s wonder
Skillfully honed and mastered
To illuminate lovers
And guide the path
Of a lonely dreamer.

The Lantern is there once more
Lovingly giving warmth
Beaconing far and beyond
Like a whisper from a tomb
Praying for a lost soul to come home.

-Sheri C Uy

On the first weekend in November the small, nearby town of Wollombi holds its annual Country Fair. Stallholders spruik their wares – wines, beeswax candles, plants, local foods, clothing, and recycled goods. Others take the opportunity to educate locals on issues critical to their livelihoods, such as proposed zoning classification changes affecting farmland, property development proposals, and threats to the water table from coal seam gas extraction. The two small sandstone churches of Wollombi open their doors to the believers and condemned heathens alike so that all may enjoy the craftsmanship of the old buildings, multicoloured sunlight streaming in through the lead-light and stained glass windows, casting a warm glow across the buttock polished timbers of the solid benches arranged in devotional rows before the pew. A rhythmic thunk hammers out as burly men swing chromed axe heads in a race to cut through thick logs at the woodchop. In the pasture beyond the Wollombi Tavern cows chew cud and devote not a single spark of bovine thought at all the human twitterings taking place around them. Amongst the trees in the tavern’s rear field a few tents and caravans stand, home for the weekend to some of the stallholders, entertainers and booze-bus aware patrons. In the evening a band will play on the stage behind the pub, beer will flow and more than the usual number of bottles of Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice will be sold to the beer fuddled visitors.

At dusk, children gather in the parking area next the tennis courts holding a myriad of paper and bamboo lanterns, stars, obelisks, pyramids, and similar simple geometric shapes. Their parents hover and herd them, sharing gossip amongst themselves in small groups as they await the signal to strike matches and flick the wheels of lighters in order to ignite the lantern’s candles. Four children hold a handle each of the fabulously constructed lantern model of the Wollombi Primary School, complete with chimneys and water tanks. As the evening sky darkens the darkened shapes of the lanterns are en masse transformed into a gentle, golden glowing parade held aloft on hooked bamboo rods.We snake along from our ignition point around the grassed yard of Saint Micheal’s Church, and eventually gather, a hundred flickering candles held above our heads as we approach the funeral pyre of our creativity – a bonfire lit in the grounds of the tavern where our paper and bamboo vanities may be consumed in a growing roar of flame. The RFS brigade members watch over the children approaching the fire to hoist their lanterns into it, and we all give a silent thanks for the weather gracing us with dry skies and an absence of a total fire ban for the evening.

In a world of Wii’s, iPods, wall-sized 3D hi-def LCD TVs, and hyper-connected social exchange a small community gathers together in a candle lit moment of simple, quiet enjoyment. Paper, glue, bamboo, wax, wire and flame binding together for a moment the various trajectories of classmates, neighbours, friends and strangers, Athletes, celebrities, fame seekers and heroes carry the Olympic torch, but in one small town a hundred ordinary children keep a light shining on the importance of friendship and community.

 

Wednesday Cycle to Woy Woy

What a glorious day for a bike ride…..what a glorious, glorious day. Oh yes. We were dead keen. Due to the hilly nature of our current surrounds, cycling is sadly a thing of the past for Veghead and Spinneychick. Or so it was. We have turned over a new leaf. We’re bringing back the bikes. I personally think it is a Veghead ploy to stop me taking so many photos on our Wednesday Walks. The camera was not even present on the ride, so no photos for today’s post. But, back to the story. Spinneychick has not mounted her bike since leaving England, so that makes almost two years since my last cycle. Veghead has done little more, so it makes sense to start small. Additionally, the bikes were free as other people had no further use for them, so Veghead had done some work on them. Lots of WD40 and a pump….that’s all I know. Spinneychick’s bike had a significant amount of rust, but the wheels were turning without too many sounds, so that’s something I guess. Upon several laps of the visitor’s carpark, Veghead’s bike is given the go ahead. Spinneychick’s bike refuses to change to all available gears, which are now reduced in number from fifteen to five! Golly I hope there aren’t any hills. Veghead has eighteen gears. Spinneychick’s brakes are somewhat less than adequate. The front brake slows the bike if squeezed all the way to the handlebar, but does not stop it. The rear brake also slows the bike if squeezed slightly beyond the capacity of my left hand. Veghead’s brakes are fine. So we’re ready to head off then. Getting down the very steep hill from the apartment requires Spinneychick to dismount several times due to the untrustworthiness of the brakes. Once at the bottom though, its mostly flat sailing. The ride out to Woy Woy is quite lovely. Along the waterfront at Gosford, then out past the netball courts, and there is a cycle path the whole way. Once at Point Clare there are mangroves all along the waterfront, which to my way of thinking are a bit smelly, but a valuable habitat so I can appreciate that. Most of the rest of the ride goes all along the waterfront around the Brisbane Water which is really quite beautiful. After completing the ten kms to get there, we had our picnic lunch on the edge of the wharf across from Pelican Island (and yes, there are pelicans) and watched the Jellyfish go floating by. Sadly for our sitting bones, and for Spinneychick’s thighs, (now we’re wishing we had gotten on the bike at least once in the last two years), we could not rest for very long, as the end of the school day was looming. So butt cheeks back on to those phenomenally hard seats (I think mine was made of solid wood) and on to Gosford (ten kms return and that makes twenty altogether). Of course now we have to get back up the extremely steep hill…..pushing the bikes. Spinneychick is dying. Once back inside with the bikes safely stored on the balcony where they belong, she flops onto the floor in a stupor. Then a brilliant idea emerges from the blur which is currently her mind. Let’s go for a swim in the pool. Veghead thinks this is a bad idea, but relents. An unidentified male is sunbathing by the pool when we get there, but he says that he has no intention of going in. Well, why go to the pool if you’re not going in, I think to myself? Anyway, Spinneychick goes in first (she nearly always goes in first), and the water is breathtakingly cold. Much colder than the ocean at this time of year (and yes I have been in there too so I know). I swim straight to the ladder and get out so that I can breathe. Veghead is even less convinced that this is a good idea, but goes in anyway…..straight to the ladder…. whoop…. try to breathe…. now that…. was invigorating!

Norah Head

We had actually planned to go on a forest walk on this particular day, but alas, we awoke to a day which was rather bleak, to say the least. Grey, windy, drizzle….I thought I had been transported back to England. An obvious joke, I know. So we drove to Norah Head to walk around the lighthouse which was established in 1903. Veghead thought that we may get in a short walk if the sky cleared, but to no avail. The view over the ocean was awesome with all the white caps, and the spray over the rocks was pretty wild, but Spinneychick was getting damper by the minute and blustered about, which is really not great for the hair. I managed to collect some interesting bits that had been blown off the trees, and brought them home for a photo collage. Not much exercise today.

Katandra Circuit

Good day to you. This week’s walk was to a place called the Katandra Reserve. What a lovely spot. The reserve is connected to the Rumbalara Reserve (which is basically our back yard) via the Mouat Walk, which Veghead has done, but Spinneychick has not. So this week we are quite close to home. The walk was filled with strangler figs. Some of them grow up trees or around boulders, and some, like this one on the left, grow around fallen logs. The log has rotted away and one is left with the ‘Strangler Fig Tube’, which is listed as one of the things to watch out for on the walk. We had experienced quite a lot of rain recently, so some of the walk was a bit muddy. Lucky we were wearing our hiking boots so this was not a problem. There were plenty of the gorgeous Angophora trees. So gnarly some of them, with smooth bark and twisted branches, and a pinkish-purple tinge to them. Spectacular. In the middle of the reserve is Seymour Pond, where many a pond dipping school excursion is undertaken, and indeed so was one on this day. LeStrange and KarateKid’s primary school in Datchet took a minibeast hunt at Braywick Nature Reserve every year. It was great fun. Spinneychick always volunteered for this excursion because you get to scoop waterboatmen out of the pond with a net.

Strickland Falls and Cabbage Tree Loop

This week we headed off to Strickland State Forest, which is quite near home. The waterfall is pretty small but it gives you somewhere to walk to. This area of forest is filled with banksias, and in the wetter areas, cabbage-tree palms, hence the name of this week’s glorious loop walk. Sometimes I take a lot of photos on our walks. Veghead doesn’t seem to mind, although I worry that sometimes he must be thinking “there’s not a lot of walking happening on this walk” but Spinneychick must have visual evidence to go along with the story. That yellow corally-looking thing is actually a fungus which was growing on the forest floor. I couldn’t describe it with words. Awesome, isn’t it. And those gnarly-barked banksias too. They’re so lumpy. They need to be seen to be believed. Anyway, enough of that and on to something else. The scribbly bark trees for instance, which always remind me of snugglepot and cuddlepie. Apparently the scribbles are made by a bug crawling around under the bark of the tree before it falls off, but I prefer May Gibbs’ idea that its the newspaper for the gumnet people. And have a gander at that tiny treelet growing straight out of the rock. Now if I didn’t have a photo, you just wouldn’t believe me, would you?

Ice Skating

Today is the last day of the school holidays, hence no Wednesday Walk for the last two weeks. It is also our daughter LeStrange’s Birthday, and she has chosen to go iceskating with her brother, KarateKid, and her pseudocousin FrenchHorn. Veghead and Spinneychick have decided on the viewing only option to minimise injury and embarrassment. The session went for three hours, and after about the first hour, Veghead went for a walk due to the extreme cold inside the rink. We were forewarned as quite recently LeStrange and KarateKid had been iceskating with Grandma, who also chose the viewing only option, although if she hadn’t I probably would have tagged along for the entertainment value. Anyway, even though wearing a coat, hat, scarf and gloves, Spinneychick caved in eventually when she could no longer feel her hands and feet, and the shivering became so bad that people were beginning to stare, retreating to the viewing area outside. It was a cool day, but felt toasty warm after the arctic temperatures we had just been subjected to. The atmosphere doesn’t compare of course to the Windsor outdoor skating rink at Christmastime, but LeStrange had a great birthday.

Rumbalara Reserve

This week the forecast was for rain, so Veghead and Spinneychick were prepared for a picnic on the balcony, but we had a backup plan just in case the weather did not turn foul….and it didn’t, so we went with the plan. From our balcony we have a luscious view of an area of bushland called the Rumbalara Reserve, so we can pop in for a short walk at our convenience. We didn’t take the camera so the photos in this post were taken at various times from our balcony or in the reserve. We ate our lunch on a rock platform with an extensive view over Gosford and a rather large population of mosquitos. So we ate rather quickly and made our way back to the trail. The walk was called the Flannel Flower walk, so I chose this one because they are my favourite flower, but sadly it was the wrong time of year so there were no flowers to be seen, well not the flannel ones anyway. We’ll be back in the springtime.

Song’s Ridge Valley Loop Walk

Ha, ha, ha. You’re going to love this one. Veghead did. He was grinning from ear to ear when he pulled this ruse off, and anyone who knows Veghead, knows he loves a good ruse. But I am ahead of myself. Back to the beginning. This week Veghead proudly pronounced the discovery of a great walk. “It’s one from the Wildwalks website”, which I have mentioned before and we get many of our walks from there. The subterfuge begins when Veghead prints off the track notes, all beautifully laid out as per all of Wildwalk’s walks. “Oh, I’ve just looked up that walk again, and its quite near Bucketty, so we should just pop in to drop off that large, heavy piece of bush art that we’ve just acquired”, he says. “OK”, says I being sucked in even further. So off we go to Bucketty, and on the car journey Spinneychick is reading the track notes. “Oooo, this sounds lovely”. “Oh, yes”, Veghead replies. So we arrive and unpack the large thing from the back of the car, when Veghead starts unloading all of his walking gear. The waves of confusion are starting to wash over poor Spinneychick, who still has no idea what’s going on. Then she takes another look at the tracknotes….. “Hang on a minute! Did you write these notes? Is the walk here?” Veghead answers with a cheesy grin, turns on his heels and asks for the first segment of the track notes to be read out. I must admit, he did a good job. We followed the route as per the track notes and it was all spot on routewise, although there was no mention of the sticky green things on the valley floor that were going to require handpicking one by one off Spinneychick’s jeans and shoelaces. And even more importantly, no mention of the leach infestation which on this particular day was phenomenal. Veghead managed to complete the entire walk with I believe only one leach removing experience. Spinneychick, on the other hand, had a dismal time as far as leaches were concerned. I stopped counting after twenty. Did I mention that I have an extreme dislike for leaches. I have written a limerick to mark the occasion.

There once was a god awful leach,
From my sock to my leg he did reach.
So I gave it some strife
With Simon’s Great knife,
When its slimy, hard skin I did breach.

Pure poetry! On a happier note, we did see some beautiful paperbark trees, and a humungus fungus. There are quite a number of small caves and plenty of wombat warrens. In fact, Veghead may have stepped in one. In the photo on the left, you can see him traipsing along the valley floor. Just after I took this photograph, Veghead completely disappeared from view. I immediately heard a muffled voice in the distance cry out “I’m okay”. It was a great walk……except for the leaches.

Copacabana Rock Platform

At the Copa…..Copacabana…..You’ve gotta love Barry Manilow. Or perhaps not. Anyway, there is a lovely beach nearby called (you guessed it) Copacabana Beach, or Copa if you’re a local. There is a rugged rock platform leading off one end of the beach which is great for clambering, and so for this week’s Wednesday Walk. It was a gorgeous sunny day as you can see from the photographs, and the waves were pounding against the rocks. We had our lunch right next to crashing waves and a fine ocean spray floated over us. This luckily did not effect our picnic. Afterwards we moved to a sheltered spot, as it was rather blustery on this particular Wednesday and the wind was a little cool. It was on a small rock ledge very close to the water. Some of the waves were coming quite close to us across the rock platform, but Veghead assured me that we were quite safe, and that the waves would never come up this far. Well of course you can see where this is heading. No sooner had this pronouncement been made, when a massive wave came hurtling towards us. Veghead grabs his own bag as his reflexes bolt into action, moving in a millisecond to higher ground, leaving Spinneychick with her bag and the camera, which luckily has a padded bag to offer premium protection from many a hazard such as a wave unexpectedly creeping over a rock platform. Spinneychick collected pretty shells and rocks because you just have to do beach collage on a rock platform. Later.

Piles Creek Loop

Welcome to this week’s episode of the Wednesday Walk. This week we journey to Piles Creek. The walk begins at Girrakool which is an aboriginal word meaning ‘place of still waters’. There were plenty of lookouts on this walk with views all through the valley. Halfway through the walk there is a suspension bridge over Piles Creek, hence the name of the walk, which we walked over prior to resting for our standard picnic fare. Veghead decided to go swimming, and there were some rather large mullet in the water. This fact was pointed out by some serious ramblers, recognisable by their titanium walking sticks. Spinneychick did not bring her bathing suit, so had to settle for watching her manly man frolicking about on his own. There were plenty of small sandstone caves on this walk which were lovely to rest in, so we did on several occasions, and even sat by a pool with a bicycle in it. We pondered for a short time how said bicycle managed to get into the pond, then carried on. Spinneychick loves to take photos of the wildflowers, and there were some particularly delightful specimens out today. Also many, many spiderwebs. Spinneychick insisted upon being the rear walker, whilst Veghead braved it up front with a “Spider Stick”. He is so brave.

Gap Creek Falls

Welcome to the second Wednesday Walk. This week Veghead has chosen a bit of a drive and then a bit of a walk. This time in the Watagans National Park. The walk was about 1.5kms, but this is a return, so failing a helicopter to extract us from the base of the waterfall, we also had to walk back. And there was quite a bit of steep uphill walking on the return journey. We were prepared for this though because we’d already done the downhill part beforehand. I read somewhere that the waterfall is arguably the best waterfall in the Hunter region. I couldn’t possibly argue seeing that its the only waterfall in the Hunter that I’ve seen, but it was quite lovely. Not all that much water; not much more than a trickle really as there hadn’t been much rain, but lovely nonetheless. Maybe we’ll come back another time after a deluge. So it was a nice easy walk down to the bottom, stopping along the way to explore inside a tree, and taking care to avoid the triffid, which is actually a strangler vine which has strangled a rock….nasty. We had our picnic on the rocks at the bottom of the falls and then made our way back to the top. I was panting heavily on some of the steeper parts of the ascent, but Veghead is quite accustomed to trekking uphill, and normally carrying a large log to boot. This was nothin’. Upon returning to the car, we spotted a goanna on a tree. What a treat.

Maitland Bay

Destination for this week’s Wednesday Walk is Maitland Bay, which is named after a ship which was wrecked there in 1898 during a tempest. This walk was about 2km in length and we set forth from the National Parks car park which as per the standard contains a map of the park, descriptions of the local flora and fauna, details of the wondrous sights to be seen and which probably brought you here in the first place, and my favourite….public toilets, an underrated but crucial requirement for a day of walking in the bush. Of course one can always squat but Spinneychick prefers to use the facilities when available. Veghead cares not. We also have track notes, courtesy of a marvellous website discovered by Veghead. The site has a glorious variety of walks to suit all abilities and time constraints. We mostly stick to the walks of a few hours only, as the loinfruits need to be transported to the local Olympic pool for their weekly swimming lesson on Wednesdays, which just so happens to be the same pool where I did my squad training many moons ago. Aah….memories…. Anyway, the walk was lovely. We took the optional side track which took us to a lovely viewpoint up on the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, where apparently whales can be seen at the right time of year, which of course it wasn’t. Perhaps we shall return at the right time. Veghead then took us along a track which didn’t really look like a track at all. Spinneychick was a little apprehensive to begin with, but the painted arrows on the rocks were reassuring, and we soon connected with the coastal track. There were some fantastic gnarly trees along the walk. Ones that grow over and around the rocks, great pink giants some of them. There were flannel flowers, my favourites. Such delicate beauties with a velvety feel to them. And some strange sort of fruiting plant, where the fruit looks like a pineapple at first, but they came apart in bright red segments, which the brush turkeys had clearly had a good go at, as they were strewn all over the forest floor. We made our way down to Maitland Beach to have our picnic lunch. A group of rambling retirees arrived to share the beach with us, but other than that we had the beach to ourselves. Spinneychick braved the elements to go swimming in the ocean whilst Veghead rested his weary bones on the beach. Why is Veghead not partaking of the swimming I hear you ask? And this is a very valid question. Firstly, even though the beginning of March is early Spring, it isn’t always hot. Secondly, Veghead, whilst being a keen ocean swimmer, prefers the water to be refreshing but not too breathtaking. Spinneychick on the other hand, will frolic in the cooler waters if she really wants to go in…except for that time in Mwnt. By golly that water was cold. After several failed attempts she had to admit defeat on that occasion. Afterwards Spinneychick engaged in one of her favourite beach activities, other than swimming of course, beach collage. No photo of the masterpiece is available due to the camera deciding that it had done enough recording of the events of the day. What a memorable first Wednesday Walk.

Wednesday Walk

Well, no posts for an extraordinarily long time, so I thought I may as well. Veghead and I were just the other day discussing the demise of our fitness. Gone are the days when the car was only used on shopping day and to transport the loinfruits to their chosen non-school forms of education. No longer do we spontaneously jump on to the bicycles to pop down to the shops, or to get to school. You’d think with all this sunshine we’d be out and about on a daily basis, cycling ourselves into a buttock-firming frenzy, but not the case. Where we live now can be most adequately described by the words ‘rather hilly’. The apartment block lies on the top of a hill a mere 500m from the delightful Brisbane Water, and a lofty 70m above it which makes for a breathtakingly steep walk home. I just don’t feel as compelled to cycle anymore. I really enjoy it, but Datchet is far more suitable to the leisurely ride to which I am drawn, so there you have it. And so the birth of the Wednesday Walk, which I am looking forward to enjoying immensely…tomorrow.

Journey’s end

One journey’s end is another’s beginning.

It’s hard not to look back at the last eleven years and wonder how else it might have all been if we had not flown out of this wide, red land to foreign shores. What fortunes we might have made and lost? What friendships deepened by eleven years of shared experiences in this adopted land I choose again as my home? What tears shed and soaked into the dry soil and what laughter might have shaken our bellies and wet our eyes around a campfire amongst the gum trees.

We are formed by the hammering and grind of life’s forge. Polished and shaped by the delicate brush of unexpected friendships, wherever we find them.We know not what we choose each instance, only what each turn we make leaves within us afterward.

It is only within the laugh lines etched around our eyes, the small scars of adventure left cut into our hands, and the conversations and half remembered voices from around the fires in campsites and backyards half a world away that we can begin to chart the course we have taken on the way to what we each are at this moment.

I don’t remember each detail in crystal clarity, but the overall impression is an artwork that I would not go back and recommission. It is as perfect as it could have been made, whether we like the end result or not.

Perhaps the last eleven years are my own personal Blue Poles. A wide expanse of many hues, expensive yet rich in all its colourful and splattered wealth. Sometimes we are unsure if we ought to have made the decision to “go for it”, but the decision made together some yesterday long ago it hangs there now iconically influencing what we represent today.

On the final miles to this journey’s end there lies behind us not a closing of a chapter nor a turning of a new page. There lies ahead only the continuation of the building of the final person we will each be when we take our last breath.

Behind us is only fluffy, white clouds. Ahead lies one more step in the next excellent adventure.

Are we nearly there yet?

Yes Dear, we are nearly there now.

NSW has sped by since Broken Hill. The relative nearness of Sydney has found us contemplating an ever more familiar vista beyond the windscreen, and the camera has remained in the boot. Perhaps we are bored with photography with the destination and all it means only a day or so driving away.

Posted in NSW

Trend setting


Days of blazing sun have left me with the peculiar raccoonish look that comes from wearing sunglasses all the time. It is one that ought to be very familiar to any snow skiers and boaty types.

It has become necessary to adopt a new approach so as to avoid further selective tanning.

Stylin’

The catwalks of New York, Paris and London – take note.

The Living Desert



Just outside of Broken Hill lies the sculptor garden called The Living Desert. Here, elevated spectacularly above the plain, are eight huge artworks cut by hand into boulders that weigh up to 8 tonnes. The sculptors were completed over the course of a month or so by an international group of artists, all of whom camped out on the mountain top from the start of the project to the finish.

Nature too has its sculptors amongst the stone monoliths. Branches stark against the blistering sky, while roots hug sinuously around the rock below, holding fast against the mountain wind.

Bajo el Sol Jaguar (Under the Jaguar Sun) is an apt description for the feeling as you stand looking down on the desert that stretches below from Broken Hill, back across to Adelaide and beyond. Ahead of us lies yet more sun scorched earth, before we reach the green belt of the coast line. The artist inspired to create this carving must have felt much the same; his creation captures well the challenge and beauty of the Broken Hill plain.

It was hard not to leave the garden without adding something. Now the Lady in the rock, and the other hand wrought forms stand together with an Inuksuk el Finn, baking together under a Jaguar Sun.

3 days to go, and 30+ blog entries to backdatedly post

Cobar tomorrow, and then perhaps Dubbo, and then I think we’ll be there. Meanwhile, there are a lot of posts and photos to upload and backdate. However if I stay much longer enjoying the generously provided wireless access of the Brokem Hill Junction Hotel, along with its fine cold beer, I will perhaps be unable to type very well anyway.

More later..

“Wireless you say?”

First internet access since we left Hamelin Bay, almost the breadth of a sea girted land ago. Lots of entries to catch up on, but before then I just wanted to make a quick comment about the apparent digital divide in Outback Australia.

More accurately I should say the “Accessible Outback” – this being how Broken Hill, NSW describes itself. It is here, in The Junction Hotel in Broken Hill that I type this entry. The beer is cold, the wireless is fast and free, the barman has a sense of humor, the bar stools are comfortable and the tables clean. What more could you ask for? So, if you are in Broken Hill, and you are looking for wireless access, may I recommend heartily the Junction Hotel at 560 Argent Street.

Apart from The Junction however, a search in Broken Hill for accessible broadband is not without challenges. It goes something like this:

Me – “Hi. I saw your sign that says you have internet access.”
“Yeah mate.”
Me – “Great. Do you have wireless?
Wireless? Yeah mate, we’ve got both AM and FM wireless out here.”
Me – “Eerr…I mean wireless internet access. Do you have a wireless network?”
Oh. No. Just those couple of machines over there you can use for $5 a minute. The Internet is down anyway.”
Me – (Thinking – Oh no….must be those evil Russian hackers causing chaos. There must be mayhem out there as a generation goes Twitterless and students everywhere have to try to use an encyclopedia to finish their homework. And here I am in Broken Hill missing it all.) “Do you know anywhere in town that has access?”
“Ummmm…..you could try insert-name-here-of-business

Then you could walk to said business, and have the whole conversation again. Five attempts later: Bingo. The Junction.

Gotta love it.

And what to make of Broken Hill’s moniker as “The Accessible Outback”. I figure it is sort of like “The outback that isn’t quite the outback, but at least it is a bit easier to get to”. Marketing genius. Pure, unadulterated marketing genius.

A red wind blows no good


Approaching Broken Hill from South Australia a dust storm brews above the desert. This one did nothing but boil itself out above the plains. Whilst Sydney still remembers with awe the red dawn of The Great Dust Storm of 2009, this daily lifting of the topsoil into the air serves as a daily reminder of the thinness of the soil and the sparseness of any roots to hold it. It is a thin crust upon which we travel and tread.

Humbled by Eucalyptus camaldulensis


There is nothing like a 500 year old Red Gum to make you appreciate your relative significance. There aren’t many left if this age and size. This one stands alone, spared from the loggers saw by who knows what twist of luck.


If trees think, this one probably wonders “Where has everyone gone?” Our small twittering is probably a blur of destructive activity between the slow beats of the heartwood and the infinitesimal bend of a 10.89 round trunk.

In another 500 years we will all be recycled fertilizer, but perhaps this Giant Red Gum will still stand. Assuming of course we have not managed to turn everything into a globe wide bowl of silent sterility.

Posted in SA

Purple Hearts beyond Adelaide

Beyond the spectacular folds of the Flinders Ranges lies some charming old, sleepy country towns, set amongst fields of purple that stretch to the horizon.

A rare radio signal found us listening to The Herd’s remix of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, the iconic and powerful song about the Vietnam war. As the signal blew behind us to static we swapped to the iPod and listened to a long ago recorded podcast that told the story of the original version by John Schuman, together with the story of The Herd’s revisiting and reworking of the lyrics.

Redgum was a soundtrack to many roadtrips back when I was nineteen or so. Now I’m not. The nineteen year old soldiers are still dying though for conflicted, confused and constructed reasons in lands they would have struggled to find on a High School geography lesson map. The whump of the Huey’s blades have been replaced by the thunderous scream of an F-16, and the ladders of falling explosives by laser guided missiles. Agent Orange might not be needed in the already defoliated hills of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq, but we are still blowing up wedding parties and creating one legged orphans.

In the back the kids are bored and have lost interest for now in looking out the window. May they remain so, with all their limbs attached.


Outside this small circle of quiet there is a purple bloom for each spill of unnecessary blood. Lest we forget.

Fowlers Bay

Leaving behind Western Australia after four days of driving we hit South Australia and headed for our first night in the Central Australian time zone. Fowlers Bay is a small and sleepy township situated under the gritty shadow of an extensive dune field. The wind was thumping through the town’s wind generator blades and covering the car in a fine layer of grit by morning.

The sand of the dune field is so fine, dry and loose that it flows down the slope of the dunes like liquid when disturbed by your passing footprints. Each step is tiresome as your feet sink deeply in – a stark reminder of some of the reasons why the efforts of early European explorers just ended in bones and a lonely, torturous death.

The dune field quickly turns cold as the falling sun turns the sky an eerie blood red. Under the corpuscular skies your gritted eyes begin playing tricks, and soon you begin to see strange silhouettes stalking the dune lip as the wind blows the fine sand up and off into the sky.

Posted in SA

Fruit and vegetable entrepreneurship

At the border between WA and SA is a quarantine station for travellers heading West. No fruit and veg’ must be carried into Western Australia, due to the risk of importing fruit fly into the West of the country. For travellers heading East there is a fruit fly exclusion zone starting at Ceduna. While it is tempting to smuggle that lovely banana or apple across, it is very important for the agricultural economy to follow the rules. Eat it, dispose of it, and declare it.

Just West of the SA/WA border we stopped for a photo opportunity overlooking the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. Thoughtfully provided for travellers were a number of rubbish bins, many of which had been scrawled on by those making the crossing in an “I was here – 2007” kind of way.

However amongst the marker pen scrawl one thing caught my eye and my curiosity tweaked I crossed the 15 metres or so to the bin for a closer look – a small note had been taped to the side of the bin.

Now that is entrepreneurship!

Unfortunately, we’d already eaten the last banana, and cooked our last spuds on the BBQ at Eucla.

Bight me

Between Eucla and the South Australian state border lies the Head of the Bight. In the protected waters of the Bight are ancient whale carving and nursing areas. Here the mothers stay with the calves until they are strong enough to manage the migration South to the waters of Antarctica, where they can check out how much of the ice-field has melted this year. This mother whale is teaching her calf the correct way to float upside down and wave your fins in the air. Perhaps they are looking at the shells on the bottom and watching the fish swim by.

Unfortunately it was a hazy day when we passed through and the otherwise spectacular views of the sheer cliffs of the Bight were somewhat limited by the poor visibility. Nevertheless, the cliff faces are a suicide-by-jumping person’s idea of Heaven.

The wind blows relentlessly across the edges of the cliff. On the day we visited the wind was blowing in from the Southern Ocean. This was a good thing from the perspective of being able to get fairly close to the edges of the cliff. When the wind is blowing in from the desert you can unexpectedly find yourself airborne. This is not a good thing at all. Beware, keep young children close, and make sure that the person who has the car keys leaves you a spare if they plan to go close to the cliff edge.

The searing wind leaves only stubby and hardy bushes growing on the open plain leading up to the land’s end. Many of the gnarled shrubs have died under the hot sun and stand in mute and dramatic knots, their wood crisply dried.

Posted in SA

Of Eucla, frogs and Triumphs

Eucla has much to recommend it. For a start, it is not Caiguna. The Eucla roadhouse is spacious, clean, nicely appointed and sits up on the high ridge overlooking the distant dunes and the Southern Ocean.

Though the meals cost much the same (not much change from $10 for a vegie-burger) you at least get a few slices of beetroot along with the tomato and lettuce as a salad with the burger. There is also nice sit-down restuarant for the more well heeled traveller ($28 for “Seasonal char-grilled vegetables in a tomato sauce, with penne pasta).

Behind the bar/restaurant/take-away is a beautiful garden decked out with nice outdoor table and chair settings. Even better from the point of view of dinner, there is a gas BBQ and a few wood burning BBQs available for free use. The wood fires are not able to be used this time of year due to the blanket ban on the lighting of fires outdoors. The gas BBQ on the other hand needed just a clean up and we were ready to roll. Ask at the bar for a damp cloth to wipe down the tables, some paper napkins to wipe down the BBQ plate, crank on the BBQ to get the plate nice and hot, and then sacrifice half a bottle of your beer and wipe it all off with the paper napkins and “Bob’s ya uncle – looks just like a bought one.” Behind the BBQ pit is a pool, though we failed to notice that until it was too late for a swim anyway.

As Eucla was our last stop before hitting the quarantine zone, the BBQ was a handy resource indeed. We fried up the last of our potatoes, onion and garlic, which made a nice side dish to our burgers. Canny travellers i.e. those that have visited Eucla before, will take full advantage of these BBQs as you’d be able to cook yourself a great meal without spending a small fortune in the restaurant. Note that no BBQ tools are provided, but the bar will happily loan you cutlery and plates.

From the point of view of the kids, the best aspect of the garden surrounding the BBQ pit was the frog pools. The gardens include half a dozen landscaped ponds, heavy with lush water plants and home to a trillion, million, zillion frogs. Brown frogs, green frogs, spotty frogs, big frogs, little frogs and ones that might be a Prince in disguise. They hopped across our feet and sang us a lovely froggy chorus as we ate.

An entirely unexpected sight as we climbed back over the sand dunes from the beach, below the Eucla roadhouse was half a dozen lovely old Triumph cars. Stags, TR6s, TR8s and GTs. As it turned out, the Triumph car club was having a huge rally in Perth, and these drivers were on their way across the same route we had just travelled, on their way West. I hope they made it safely, Triumph Stags in particular are infamous for overheating.

ZZZZZZZZZ….splat!

This is going to take a lot of washing of the car.

I guess that my vegan karma is somewhat diminished by the trillion bug deaths I have caused on this crossing (and the two blue-tongue lizards I could not avoid who were warming themselves on the road, and the Notched Pigeon that flew into the roof box – I tried to avoid them I really did).

The desert wave

It became apparent that there is a Code of Conduct to be followed when driving through the empty expanse of the desert.

Namely, the Nullabor Desert Driver’s Wave.

The N.D.D.W. requires a simple lift of the right hand off the steering wheel in greeting to a driver coming in the opposite direction. If feeling particularly laconic, it is acceptable to just lift two fingers of the right hand.

There are subtle rules to the Official N.D.D.W. Protocol.
1. Always perform the N.D.D.W. to a driver towing a caravan, a trailer that looks like it is full of camping gear, or in a car with a roof box on it. They are likely to be fellow travellers.
2. It is not necessary to perform the N.D.D.W. to the driver of an oncoming 4WD, if the vehicle has no van, trailer behind, nor roof box, and the driver is wearing a wide brimmed hat whilst driving. Said driver is likely a local. They may or may no return your greeting. They are in fact probably going pig or roo shooting, or looking for left over bits of Skylab.
3. N.D.D.W’s should also be given to oncoming motorcyclists. Your greeting will usually be returned by way of a subtle nod of the helmet, though some may wave back with their left hands. See Protocol Rule 4 for exceptions.
4. Don’t bother waving to a motorcyclist on a Harley. They are too bad-assed to acknowledge the N.D.D.W. and are probably members of an Outlaw Biker Gang.
5. It is not necessary to greet the drivers of Road Trains with the N.D.D.W. You’ll be too busy getting the hell out of the blast of air that slams into you at 240 kms/h in their wake to take any part of either hand off the steering wheel.
6. If you see a cyclist do not perform the N.D.D.W. in greeting. Instead, pull over and prostrate yourself in total respect and bow your nose into the desert dust until they pass into the shimmering distance.

RESPECT!

Just before departing the UK I did the Palace to Palace with my good friends Tim and Dave. 46 miles (in just a few minutes over 3 hours) and a good time had by all of us. It was a particularly special bit of male bonding from my point of view to do this with a couple of mates just before leaving Blighty for ever.

The Palace to Palace ride sort of pales into insignificance however compared to the idea of cycling across the Australian Outback. I’d already had a brief chat with a young Chinese couple at Balladonia roadhouse (did I mention how lovely Balladonia roadhouse is? They have a museum. And a pool) who were on their way from Adelaide to Perth, a distance of approximately 2700 kms, or 1682 miles. Which is more than 36 times the petty distance of the P-to-P ride.

Those two intrepid adventurers where planning to take 23 days to complete the journey. Awesome, that is a lot of riding every day for three weeks solid. Parts of my body that shall remain unmentioned here are aching at the thought. That said, part of me is thinking about this….you only live once.

Tim, Dave, if you’re reading this start training and ask the wives if you can go for a little ride. You’ll be back in a month or so.

Here’s another fella doing the crossing the hard way.

What you can’t see on this photo is that there was a Danish flag stuck on the back of the trailer. What a great motivator – you’ve bought an air ticket into Perth and then one back home to Denmark from Adelaide. It’s a fixed ticket and therefore set for a particular day. You just gotta keep going, churning those pedals every day.

And I just set up a play list on the iPod to keep me pedaling for 3 and a bit hours.

Desert airstrip

If you have a medical emergency in the Australian Outback, say like getting bitten by a Desert Death Adder, your only chance of survival is rescue by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. As the name suggests, this is an emergency medical service that operates a small fleet of prop’ aircraft. Most roadhouses have a little charity jar to collect funds to keep the RFDS going. They are the Australian Outback’s equivalent of the dedication and total respect yaghties have toward the coast guard. They are heroes. Hard working. Life saving. Under supported.

More information can be found about them here.

If they need to fly in to save your sorry snake bitten life they land where they can. There are no handy airports out in the outback. So its clear the highway and landing gear down.

Esperance to Caiguna

Traveling East from Esperance,it is first necessary to leave the coast behind and head North toward Norseman, “The Gateway to the East”. Here we turned right, and into the desert proper. Just prior to the longest stretch of straight road in Australia (all 146.6 kms of it) we refueled in Balladonia.

Balladonia, like many “towns” in the desert is really just a roadhouse with attached accomodation. Balladonia’s particular claim to qurky fame is that a large piece of Skylab crashed to Earth in 1979, after streaking spectacularly across the Western Australian sky above Esperance. The recovered junk (and yes, it os fairly large) is on display in the lovely little museum that is part of the Balladonia roadhouse complex (free to enter).

My favourite part is that apparently then President Jimmy Carter rang the manager of the roadhouse to apologise for the near miss and the inconvenience. Balladonia it should be stressed is in the middle of nowhere. Here in 2009 there is no mobile phone signal, no internet connectivity (the internet booth, which kind of looked like a computer built into a Space Invaders game console, was broken), and runs on diesel powered generators. What it would have been like in 1979 boggles the mind.

The image of President Carter sitting in the Oval Office talking to the manager of the roadhouse kept me amused for quite a while as I headed down the straight stretch of road heading toward our destination for the evening; Caiguna. I could only begin to imagine how All the President’s Men even managed to obtain the number for the roadhouse, let alone get patched through – 1979 obviously being before the days of the globally accessible information sources we now rely upon ubiquitously.

Ah….and then we have Caiguna.

*LANGUAGE WARNING FOR MINORS*

Caiguna is a shithole.

Caiguna, like Balladonia, consist of no more than a petrol station with attached few rooms and a take-away style eatery. However, whilst Balladonia has capitalised on its 1979 brush with disaster and fame by building a quaint museum, Caiguna roadhouse looks like it hasn’t even been dusted off let alone painted since 1979.

Gee, I wish we had stayed back in Balladonia for the night (did I mention they have a swimming pool at the Balladonia roadhouse?). It was so bad it was sorely tempting to drive the 146 kms back along the road to Balladonia again on the off chance they’d have a room for the night. Caiguna roadhouse has to be the worst place I have ever paid large amounts of money to stay at and eat crappy food at. Just to cap off what was a thoroughly ordinary and dreary place, greeting us at the doorway of our (tiny, horrible, grubby, old, worn out, mean, ugly, single) room was a snake.


But it turns out that this was no less than an Acanthophis pyrrhus, or more commonly known as the Desert death adder.

DEATH!

ADDER!

Also known as the LIFE SUBTRACTOR.

www.toxinology.com has this to say:

“As with other venomous snakes causing snakebite in humans, death adders have complex venoms with many components. Overall death adder venom is highly potent. About 60% of death adder snake bites result in significant envenoming, requiring antivenom therapy, and envenoming is often severe and potentially lethal.”

Our friend slithered away after having its photo taken. Fortunately we did not cross paths again.

My advice is – do not go to Caiguna if you can help it.

PS. Apparently the town of Esperance fined the US government $400 for littering after Skylab scattered its myriad bits and pieces across Western Australia. Wahahahaha….

Posted in WA

Esperance

Whilst in the coast town of Esperance the need to decompress and clear the mind after a day at the wheel compelled me to flick on the TV that was in the room. One particular news story caught my attention – the results of a recently completed survey of bird population in the country’s South East state of Victoria. The survey was led by the Deakin University, and the for our feathered friends news isn’t good. More than 80 species of native birds are seriously threatened. Many, including the kookaburra are facing extinction. At this point in the newscast I was becoming twitteringly interested.

Kookaburras.
Extinct?
I just couldn’t wrap my laughing gear around the idea of putting those words in the same sentence.

Since landing in Australia the sound of the Kookaburra had soon sounded out from the branches of a tree in Perth’s King Park. It is an iconic and bone chillingly familiar sound. It is one of the natural tunes that instantly grounds me as being in this wide, brown, sea girt land.

Extinct?

After the Deakin professor has said his bit, the interview then turned for reaction to a bald bloke who looked a lot like Peter Garrett – ex lead singer of Midnight Oil. However I realised as soon as he opened his mouth and started spouting off nonsensical drivel to the effect that the Federal Government was of course concerned and that it was already thinking of setting up an investigatory group to look at establishing a working committee to review the findings and that was anyway all a fault of the previous Howard Government due to their Eggs Overbird policy and blah, blah, blah, that he was in fact not Peter Garrett at all. At this stage I had to run into the kitchen to retrieve the fire extinguisher as my bed was burning, so I missed the rest of what the Peter Garrett clone had to say.

A newspaper report from The Age on the report’s findings is here.

Kookaburras extinct, along with 79 other species. No-one’s laughing Pete.

What happens when you overfarm an arid land

When you try to draw too much water out of the arid landscape of the desert in order to water crops and farm animals, you stuff up the levels of the underlying artesian water table.

The result is a salt lake like this one, and a lot of salted up dead land surrounding it.

And a broken dream.

The unforgiving desert is full of broken dreams like this one.