Monday, October 7, 2013

Hide and Seek with a Bearded Dragon

He was a miniature dinosaur of a lizard, frozen in the middle of the road into the shape of a grey tree branch with legs. I slowed the deadly wildlife crusher that is my station wagon and pulled over to the side of the road. I grabbed for my camera under the seat as he crossed in a leisurely fashion to the relative safety of the road verge.

As I exited the car he changed tactics and ran over to a nearby tree. It sat at the base watching with its head at a strange angle as I got one quick photo and then obviously deciding I was not going away, it climbed the tree.

Not on my side. And not very far up. 

Oh no. It quickly ran around the tree and climbed up the back. Naturally I moved to the side to get a better photo. Then he did the strangest thing. He moved again to be behind the tree from me.
For several minutes we played hide and seek as I moved to one side and he moved away from me so all I saw were four little sets of toes on my side.He seemed more scared of the camera than of me or my car.

So, in the end all I got was this “spot the bearded tree dragon” “where’s wally” type of photo. He looks like a bump on a log.

It is the small moments like these that make every day travelling in Australia special.

I love the wildlife here. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Up Close and Personal with the Australian Bush

I grew up in New Zealand so the kangaroos of my childhood were two dimensional cartoon characters that wore boxing gloves and striped shorts.

Boxing Kangaroo

Today I saw two of the real kind in a nearby bush. Long, lean, and grey, they took off so quickly, I didn't get a photo. 

I love Australian animals but today I had a better look at some of the smaller things. The miniature yellow and black striped helicopter bug with pulsating blurs for wings and the crucifix spider with its shadow twin.

Thousands of spider webs from the traditional with a central twist

to some that were a sort of multi-level bundt pan shape. 

These scrolls of falling parchment, bleed from each limb as if they have been attacked by a huge potato peeler, but they fall naturally from a paper-bark tree.

And the squiggly bark tree lives up to its name.

I wrote about the blackboys recently. They are in full regalia with spears held high. 

And they look even better up close.

I “mapped my walk” with my phone app, and it was a very slow few kilometres but so totally worth it. After all you have to stop and smell the roses; even when those roses are tiny white start flowers or even shreds of curled up paper.

It’s all good.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bush Walking with Blackboys and Goannas

There are koalas in the trees and kangaroos hiding somewhere in the tall undergrowth, but I have no chance of seeing either because my eyes are firmly on the ground scanning ahead for snakes.

It has been raining and the grassy ground cover is tall and bushy. It could hide anything.

I pick up a stick that would give me precious moments of protection if I see a snake and then get attacked by an army of ants that have been using it as a super highway. I throw it back and take my chances with the unseen snake population. They can probably hear my big boots hit the ground and are slithering away from me as fast as they can.

This is the Freshwater forest very close to my home and as Australian forests go, it is not particularly memorable. It is mostly scrubby gum trees and it does not have great walking tracks, boasting only a rough dirt track dug in by tractor that becomes a muddy obstacle course of puddles after rain. I have never seen any of the reported eighteen koalas that live here, and only seen three kangaroos in a whole year.

What it does have is hundreds, or perhaps thousands of the curiously named Blackboys. They are short charcoal-black tree stumps topped with a mop of bushy green tendril hair and, depending on the time of year, a tall spike on top. Their real name is xanthorroea but they are also known as grass trees.

These plants love a good fire and thrive when burned regularly. The council obliges by setting fire to the forest every year and letting it burn through. It helps the forest regenerate and clears out the tall dry grass and most of the fallen branches. If there is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire, it will not be as dangerous because the most scrub most likely to catch fire by a stray cigarette butt or lightning spark, is already gone.

A myriad of birds live in this forest and return after the annual burn off. I have seen pink and grey galahs, silver throated kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, lyrical magpies, yellow crested cockatoos, black and white butcher birds and many more. They are hard to see in the forest but they fly across my home and often stop to visit.

There are also snakes that survive this clean out as well as goannas and other lizards. I know because I have had a snake cross the great tarmac divide and come into my house. I have also had several species of lizard in my pool area. The koalas have visited our trees and we have holes in our grass that suggest bandicoots make midnight visits. One thing I had not seen, until today, was a goanna.

I have wanted to see a goanna ever since my husband told me he used to have one living near his letterbox. Today, there is a speckled goanna in the rainforest trees at the end of my garden.

Yet another Aussie wildlife dream has been fulfilled. Now I wonder what can possibly be next. I wouldn’t mind a visit from a frill-necked and gangly-legged water dragon, or maybe a small mob of kangaroos. When I mention this to my husband he insists we might see and elephant cross our lawn one day. Who am I to argue?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hunting for Crocodile Steaks and Emu Fillets.

My son was visiting from New Zealand and I had promised him some uniquely Australian food. We had done some research and made bookings at the Tukka Restaurant in Brisbane City.

He was looking forward to vanilla cured crocodile with a nectarine and strawberry salad, and lemon myrtle dressing. I had my heart set on emu fillet, with celeriac remoulade and a raspberry and liquorice compote. I love liquorice and who serves it with meat? I had to see.

These will become handbags. Are they also destined to be dinner?

The GPS had been playing up all day but as we entered the city it failed completely for long minutes at a time. I headed in what I hoped was the right direction, watching the GPS as it locked in and out of our location. We parked in an unfamiliar part of town just as it turned five pm.

An hour later, we were still walking the winter dark streets looking for our restaurant.

We had started walking in what the GPS said was the right direction. The road disappeared into a huge busy intersection spanning more than two streets and then re-emerged as a narrow street on the other side of a large grassy park.

Negotiating the busy streets meant crossing up to five lanes of road, some of which did not have cross-walks. Impatient drivers heading home after a long day at work made it risky.

On the other side, the street numbers were too high but we walked further down, mostly because I could see the lights of the nearby Storey Bridge glowing prettily. I really hoped the restaurant would be set under it with magic views of the river.

It wasn’t looking good. I checked the GPS again.

If I went by the street address, it should have been in the triangular shaped leafy park between the adjacent streets. I had seen a picture of the building on the Internet. It was a tall white building with a large obvious sign. I ruled out the possibility of it being underground, and wondered what made it so difficult to see.

To make things even more complicated, we looked over a barrier next to the footpath and there was a lower level. That too seemed to head off in the wrong direction.

In frustration, I called the restaurant and a staff member told us it was right across from the Suncorp Bank. I turned to the GPS again and it said there was one just five hundred metres away. We had wandered quite far from where the GPS had originally directed us so we wandered back and found ourselves outside a huge, curved, multi-storied office building topped by a Suncorp sign.

Ten minutes later we had done a circumnavigation of the building and were still lost.

After over an hour of criss-crossing the busy streets, we gave up and went to dinner at a local Chinese, vegetarian, sushi, and noodle restaurant where we ordered a stir-fry and soup. To spice things up, I ordered canned drinks in guava, pomegranate, and lychee.

I called the restaurant with the last eight per cent of battery life on my now ailing GPS enabled phone and apologised. He asked where I was then said “Who told you that address?”

It seems we were in Boundary Road and we should have been in Boundary Street. That certainly explained a few things.

The next day I apologised again to my son and thanked him for his patience. He said it was okay. “It will make a good story” he said.

I can hear the laughter now as he tells his brothers how mum has really lost her marbles. I only hope he goes easy on words like “senility,” “Alzheimer’s” and “Is it too soon to put her in a home?”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fish in the Bush?

As I walked down the sandy path, a black lizard slithered into the spiked grass and under the leaves. Birds flew between the canopies of nearby trees and called out in musical tones. The huge jagged gashes of tree branches torn from their trunks suggested a recent storm had damaged the area.

Beneath one of the shattered trees, was a large square concrete tub on legs, split into two pieces. More concrete shapes hulked nearby and a metal rail surrounded it all.

A sign told me what I wanted to know. Fifty years ago it was an aquarium.

The concrete tanks used to have glass fronts and they held seawater piped in from the local bay. Wooden huts sheltered the tanks from the sometimes fierce sun and tidy paths led from one building to another.

In 1962, Bill Stewart obviously thought it was an attraction that Bribie Island needed. The government was offering incentives to local businesses in anticipation of the new bridge to be built the next year. He decided to set up the aquarium using the latest technology from a Sydney based research group.

Bill collected the fish himself. The sign says he spent all his time diving for fish to fill the tanks. Perhaps he should have spent more time on marketing and promotion. His aquarium closed less than a year after it opened and has sat quietly disintegrating ever since.

Fifty years later, people like me occasionally come to gawk. It is not Macchu Picchu but I like it all the same. It is a charming ruin of broken concrete, squares, and chunks, collapsed into messy piles. It tells a story of creativity unrewarded and hopes dashed. It is not that old, but it is history, and unlike the more popular South American ruins, I can have it all to myself. There are no crowds here.

I followed the track around to another ruin looking much like the first and then past it through a strangely quiet section of closed in forest.

It just needed a low grey mist swirling across the ground to make it the stuff of horror movies. Instead the sun spread heat and light across the tops of the remaining trees, where it filtered down into quite an acceptable morning walk.

After the second structure, the path continued on to grassy sand dunes and then a deserted stretch of beach, but I didn’t go that far. I was in unsuitable shoes and an orange boat racing across the near horizon felt like an intrusion into my peace. In any case the ruins were more interesting.

I love something unusual and unexpected. A dilapidated aquarium in a remote piece of bush is certainly that. Add to that an island setting, and one that, thanks to the bridge built in 1963, I can drive to, and I am very happy indeed.

I was surprised that there was nothing to advertise the spot until I reached it. The road was unsealed and the car park was churned up with mud. Further back along the road there was another car park, and as I left I noticed there were two dogs and their owners starting off for walks of a second track.

I thought it odd, given that there were at least three signs requesting no dogs be walked in the area.

I wondered if they had plans to disregard the other prominent signs too. Signs that said “No Nude bathing.”

I decided it was time I left.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stained Glass Bugs

I had been working hard delivering pamphlets on my motorbike all morning and I was tired and hot. I stopped by the seaside for a break. The sky was briliant blue, the sea sparkled and there were flowers still on the poinciana trees, but the brightest thing of all was the tiniest.

The first one I saw was electric blue and if it is not called the“Stained Glass Bug” then it should be. It crawled along the trunk of a tree near me. I took lots of photos and then I sat on a bench by the sea to eat my lunch.
I caught a flash of colour from the corner of my eye and found that it had followed me. Even more surprising was that two others had joined us, one orange and one yellow.

Insects love me and I am often covered in enough mossie bites to look like a well pinned voodoo doll. This time I was covered in enough extra strength insect repellant to discourage a full sized rhino, but somehow the bugs found me anyway.

Every day I find new things to amaze. If you know what they are called, please share. It is the first time I have seen these, and I hope not the last.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Of Castle Doors and Kangaroo Letterboxes

Let me set a scene for you.

It is a peaceful leafy Brisbane neighbourhood on a quiet weekday morning. The morning sun shines through the orange Poinciana trees, and the frangipanis are still pretty, even though the paths beneath them are littered with their fallen flowers.

Into this beauty and stillness I arrive on a little red Honda postie motorbike that sounds like an overgrown lawnmower with undertones of whipper-snipper. When I rev the engine in first gear, it sounds like there is a posse of speedway bikes racing in the distance.

My job is to deliver a single black and white pamphlet advertising tree cutting and stump removal, to every letterbox in Brisbane. I have started here in Redcliffe precisely because there are plenty of trees here and perhaps someone will need the service of the landscape company that employ me.

I have a postie bike with a plastic basket zip tied to the front, and a heavy wooden box held onto the back with three wood screws that let it bounce up and down on uneven ground.

I like to think that everyone is up and buttering their breakfast toast as they wonder why the mailperson came early today and I refuse to worry about anyone that might be having a lie in. The Queensland sun has been up since four thirty and this is the best part of the day.

It doesn’t sound like the world’s most desirable vocation but it is the job of my dreams. I get to ride a motorbike all over Brisbane and see different places every day. I set my own hours, plan my own routes, and get paid from the time I leave home until I return. It is so flexible that I can spend more time at home when Phil is here and do more work when he is away. I get lots of thinking time to plan my writing and I am not micro-managed.

This last is important to me because I have had some disappointing bosses. I used to be a middle level manager and managed up to one hundred and twenty people. I loved the managing part, but hated being managed.

One manager threw tantrums and tried to make me write up all my processes before I left because she really did not know how to do her job. Another claimed my work as her own and her failures were sometimes attributed to me.

In contrast there is nothing to think about in my new job except, where is the next letterbox and does it accept ‘junk mail.’ And of course, what will I discover next?

So far I have seen an ordinary house with a castle door, a concrete Viking frolicking with a concrete maiden, yards populated with gnomes, elves, and other whimsical features, and of course lots of funky letterboxes.

This is another wonderful way to explore Australia; one house at a time.