Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Virtually Sunny Christmas

It is raining.

I am staying on Queenslands sunny Gold Coast but the last two days have been one long shower of light patter on the roof interspersed by short bursts of thunderous rain that looks bizarrely like a thousand bead curtains have burst their strings and let millions of tiny shining beads fall from the sky at once.

Water fills all the gutters and gullies and droplets bounce lightly off the water in the backyard pool.

What a way to spend a Christmas.

And yet ..... I have sunshine where it counts.

I am living in a comfortable house arranged to make the most of the outdoor space. There is a big screen tv with lots of new movies and WII dance and sports. I have plenty of food in my cupboard and gifts under my tree.

But the best thing is my family. On Christmas day I spent time with two of my boys and had chatty phone calls with two of the others. My youngest son and I went swimming in the pool, and lay on our backs letting the rain fall on our faces. I also spoke to several far away friends.

I am so lucky.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I wish for you a spectacularly successful new year.

Best Wishes


Monday, October 11, 2010

Paint the Town Pretty

These pictures could be decorating a preschool but they on the walls of my local railway subway.

Around the corner there are many more works of art.

And designs that wouldn't be out of place in a child's bedroom.

I am fascinated with the way Australians decorate their facilities. Everything from buildings to roadside motorway barriers is made decorative as well as practical; every large concrete retaining wall, every long line of motorway fencing, every extended length of building. Surfaces are given texture, colour or murals that catch the eye. There is everything from a few leaf shaped indents to enormous extended portraits of local people, plants and animals. I am impressed. Someone has gone to some trouble to make things look nice as well as functional.

This toilet block was front and centre and right in the middle of four fields and playing areas in the middle of Brisbane. Recent renovations by hoodlums had left rubbish all over the inside floor, including the dismantled toilet seat, but the outside was a bright glittering work of tiled art. I am used to dismal grey toilet blocks huddled in a dark corner of the park.

Things are decorated on a grand scale. This is part of the wall of a city building and is presumably glass and concrete.

There are so many like it including a landmark building on the Brisbane skyline that has long and sloping blocks of window in four different colours. Even the rubbish bins look like they were designed by artists.

Maybe it is because Australians spend so much time outdoors but they sure put some thought into the outdoor environment. I am impressed.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Birds and Bees

I woke up this morning in the soft blackness of the pre-dawn and have been listening to the magic sounds of the birds. There have been at least six different choruses since then. In the blurry state between dreaming and consciousness I thought I was listening to someone whistling a country music song. The back up music was a persistent and tuneless squeak.

Then a crow settled in with his desultory quwark and the music stopped. Not long after that, he was replaced by the more familiar chirping and tweeting of some smaller birds backed up by the lovely notes of a lone magpie.

I love it. It makes me think of forests and fields and all things natural. It also makes me think of the birds that used to wake me up in New Zealand.

Because we had six sons we lived on a one and a half acre hill top block in urban New Zealand. Over the years we had chickens, bees, several goats and an assortment of dogs and cats.

At one time we had several roosters. I thought they had a lovely country sound but obviously not everyone agreed. One day we came home to a note in the letterbox and a few less roosters in the chicken pen. Our three roosters had been confiscated by the city council after a neighbour complained. I couldn't understand it.

A few years later we had a feisty bantam rooster that used to locate himself under our bedroom window to crow, ……… at three in the morning. Suddenly I wasn't so keen on th sound of crowing any more and we decided he needed to become dinner.

My husband at the time had grown up in Samoa where killing a chicken for food was a weekly occurrence. In the years since he had softened somewhat and I had never aspired to be an animal murderer so we had a problem. Eventually I decided this was something I needed to do as a strong independent woman, so I caught the chicken and grabbed an axe. I set him up nicely on a strong board, raised the axe, closed my eyes and chopped down hard.

Opening my eyes I caught him running away in the opposite direction and the next morning he was back under the bedroom window crowing his heart out. We had to get my brother in law in to do the deed.

I made a very nice soup from him but none of our family enjoyed it.

I had fun with bees too. I thought it would be nice to have a productive beehive and read everything I could about it.

I was very proud of the few jars of honey I manhandled out of the combs and being able to give away a few jars of the beautiful golden liquid made up for the sticky mess it made of my kitchen for weeks.

Then one day I came home to men in white up on the roof of the garage playing inside my beehive. It seems the council needed to inspect all hives yearly in case any of them contracted a disease that wiped out the New Zealand honey industry. The pressure was immense. Since I was such a bee keeping amateur, I became concerned that I might be the reason NZ farmers lost millions in income and New Zealand kids could no longer have honey on their toast.

To add insult to injury, (or more correctly injury to insult,) the men checking the hive stirred up the bees and made them angry. As an innocent bystander, and the only one not wearing a protective suit, the bees made a beeline for me and I did a very unattractive and ineffective bee walloping dance until one of the men turned the hose on me. I ended up with ten stings on my head and a complete loss of dignity.

A few weeks later I sold my hives to a farmer with land out in the country.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magpies, Dogs and Pushbike Road Trips.

I miss my motorbike. 

I am still riding a pushbike and it is hard work around here. The shops are 4.5km over the hills and naturally I want to do more than just visit the local shops. I have been exploring. 

I love the exercise and I am getting fitter, but I am also taking risks.
The other day I was attacked by magpies. I was riding my pushbike when I heard them swoop and make threatening sounds. Luckily they didn’t connect. I assume my helmet would have protected me but I think the shock of an unexpected bonk on the head might have sent me into the oncoming traffic. Then the dogs got all excited.

I had decided to take a ride into the Wivenhoe dam area. It is scenic and picturesque and apparently the lake is bigger than the Sydney harbour. I was lucky to make it to the bottom corner to see the edge of the dam.

From Fernvale I had to ride on the narrow highway as there was no bike path. I tried riding on the grass for a bit but it has been raining and in places the bike got bogged and my shoes started to get wet. The road got even narrower in one place as it went through a small cutting but I found a detour through a rest area. Then there was road works at the bridge and traffic was stopped. There was still 5 kms to go and I was already tired from the long ride into town but I decided I could go a bit further. After one final uphill walk, I arrived at the beginning of the dam and turned off into one of the lovely parks that Australia does so well. 

It had shaded picnic seats, gas powered barbecues and playgrounds for the kids. With the recent rains, the grass was green and there were trees in the lake and it was looking gorgeous. There are at least eight to ten separate areas all spread out around the park and down to the edge of the lake, and facilities enough for a small town to have a picnic there. Today there were three men doing some kind of fight training on a mat, and a child on one of the slides. It must get busier on weekends. It is a fantastic resource.

It didn’t take quite as long to get back but by the time I got home I was happily exhausted and pleased that I had been brave enough to get back on the bike again.

On Saturday I took a ride to the neighbouring town of Lowood as it looked to be about 12kms. There wasn’t much open in Lowood on a Saturday afternoon, but I did get two geocaches, both on top of steep hills. 
The road in was more of the steep roller coaster road I have been used to since coming here, so I decided to go home another way … and it was worse. I could have got a nose bleed up there. 

The 12kms turned into about 15kms with twists turns and steep inclines. What was worse was when I climbed up the last particularly steep hill, I realised that I couldn’t even enjoy the ride down because it was too steep. With my dodgy noisy brakes I would either hit the bottom at 100kms an hour or hit the brakes and deafen the locals.  

All the long way down I kept telling myself I was lucky to have a bike, even if I had to walk it as often as ride it. Lucky too, that the two dogs who obviously wanted to attack me were behind fences, … and lucky that the magpies didn’t connect. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Giant Rabbits, Spiders and Shark Attacks

Last week while staying in the country, I saw an enormous rabbit on the front lawn. I thought it was some kind of deformed wallaby at first. It had the hind quarters of a small kangaroo and was bigger than some dogs. It was probably a hare but I am just impressed to see bunny ears on something that big.
I rushed straight for my camera, but sadly all I got through the window was a few blurry shots and one good shot of those enormous back legs. There was no way it was going to hang around while I went outside and set up a better angle.

I have only ever seen one hare and I didn’t know they grew that big. I get all excited when I see something I have never seen before. I have so many wonderful photos of Australian wildlife and I love it when they come right up close like that. When I came to Australia, I thought I would see many more koalas, snakes and kangaroos than I have. Those I have seen have mostly been in wildlife parks, except for the spiders. I saw some beauties in Maleny; big black furry looking things that could really move, especially with a broom chasing them.

But Australia also has some other animals I am glad I haven’t been close to.

Two weeks ago a family found a nest of pythons in their roof. One of them was 5 metres long and as I watched the men take it out of the roof it seemed very powerful. Pythons kill by constriction and I wondered how long the snakes would have waited before going into the house. There can’t be much food for a python in the roof space of a house and at some stage they would have gone looking for food. Perhaps a head peeking out of the covers would look small enough to attack.

On the same day, a surfer was killed by a shark attack. It seems there were seals in the area and the shark most likely thought his leg was a seal. Shark attacks are rare and I have heard that more people die from eating sharks than from shark attacks, but I am still nervous of sharks.

Guess who wants to go swimming with the sharks?

Phil has been planning a shark dive for months and things keep getting in the way. First it was cancelled by bad weather and then he was unavailable. But he will be diving with them one day. And you know what? I don’t really mind. He will be diving with nurse sharks and they are a different creature from the man eating kind. If I can get the scuba diving thing sorted then I will be doing it myself. I just love to see wildlife up close. And it doesn’t get much closer than that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Artistic and Elegant and Deposits on the Stairs

It is my first morning house sitting in the beautiful old and leafy suburb of Sherwood in Brisbane. It is quite a change from the farm house I was just in. This home belongs to a New Zealand family that have gone to Europe and England. It is a modern boxlike building that takes up most of the small narrow block. There is just enough room at the front for a double garage and a small pool, and at the back for an outside dining room and a small garden that is artfully landscaped. Inside their home is beautiful; all modern angles, tasteful art and classic furniture.

All I have to do to deserve this luxury is to look after two adorable Siamese cats and water the garden. Unless of course it rains for days and I have to turn a few switches on the pool system or fill up the container of pool acid. I know, I know, I am very spoilt.

I just love house sitting. You get all the advantages of living in a home without the responsibility of mortgages, rates or even power, phone and electricity bills. It’s a wonderful way to live.

Inside the house I have a choice of 23 comfortable places to sit and work this morning, and that is just downstairs. Upstairs there is a whole other living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and the office. I might sit outside later. There are only four seats out there but the lady of the house told me before she left that she has plans to get two more for just outside the back doors. If I add them all up that makes 37 seats and I usually start work sitting up in bed. Hah… I didn’t dare stay there this morning.

The Siamese cats are very elegant and adorable. I got up this morning to feed them and opened up a can of tuna and whitebait that would have looked quite at home in a restaurant, it just needed a bed of salad.

I put on some classic French café music and settled into my elegant surroundings. Then the elegant stylish cats sat on the elegant stylish stairs and puked up their breakfast.

I have every sympathy for them. I have never been able to eat whitebait either.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bursting Backpacks, Big Boy Bikes and Small Thrills.

One of the things I like about being my age is that I am much less concerned with what people think of me. I used to be so self conscious and now I hardly worry at all.

I haven’t had a haircut in six months and my hair is long, blond and shapeless except for near to my head where there is a 2 inch undyed strip that is mousy brown and grey. I am wearing the clothes I wore yesterday to save washing and my only shoes are worn and now grey with tears in the fabric. There are scratches on my arms from hunting in the bushes at the cemetery and I have itchy red eyes that are not responding to their usual eye drops.

I am back at the information centre to use the Internet but the staff continue talking to each other and I got the impression they are hoping I will walk straight back out again.

I wonder if they saw me coming and decided a red eyed, limp haired, less than fresh woman who is remembered for getting emotional over not getting a little peace, is worth avoiding. I am not surprised when they keep their distance. I think the staff assume I am still fragile and don’t want to upset me again. It’s a bonus because I get so much more done than I did on my last visit.

On my way home, I am proud of myself. I have to use the lowest of low gears that most people reserve for an iron man event, but I stay on the bike longer and cycle up some of the shorter inclines. I lurch along, bent under the weight of a backpack full to bursting with a few essential groceries, and a shopping bag slung beneath the cross bar of my too big boys bike. It keeps getting in the way as I pedal giving me a bandy look, with my knees out wide.

There are no footpaths here on the country road and the edge of the road is a slippery scary place. I stick as close as I can to the edge and cars tend to give me a wide berth.

I do my best to look competent and in control as I walk up the hills so people won’t stop and ask if I want a lift and I love the downhill runs. I pick up a bit of speed and the wind in my hair reminds me ever so slightly of being on my motorbike. It is a small thrill, especially as there is an element of risk. I have the world’s noisiest bike brakes and they sound quite similar to truck engine breaks. I am reluctant to use them in a built up area. If I have to stop in a hurry, I might just have to jump ship and let the bike go.

I get home just as the sun fades into its usual beautiful golden orange glow along the horizon.

Taking off the backpack is like removing an anvil from my shoulders. I feel so light as I spend the last of the daylight feeding the dog and the pony and, as it hasn’t rained since I arrived, giving the garden a really good soaking.

That night it rains … and rains … all night, and all the next day. Isn’t that what always happens when you water the garden?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Road Works and Noisy Jets and Saved by Chocolate Biscuits

It has been a very noisy day. This morning I woke to a low humming sound that I assumed to be the water pump. I was totally wrong. There are trillions of miles of road around here but road workers have set up camp on the closest piece of road to my bedroom. As I look outside I see a man in a yellow jacket holding a road sign standing by my letterbox and as close as it is possible to get to the house. I briefly contemplate the possibility that he is spying on me. It seems so unlikely that he would choose the exact spot that is closest to my peaceful country hideaway

There are only two properties on this road and it isn’t even sealed, so I can’t believe the trucks and yellow graders have chosen today to vibrate the house with their incessant rolling back and forth past the property.

Then I had to call Telstra about an error on my account. Twice. The first time I got that annoying machine you have to speak to, and it passed me on to another annoying machine until I got lost in the system and had to call back. When I finally got through to a person he was the usual robot voiced foreigner that seems to be reading from a script. It took half an hour for what should have been a simple request.

In the afternoon I went out to ride to town to post some mail, buy some groceries and use the Internet at the information centre. It is about 5km’s to town and all up and down hills. By the first hill I was already tired and within 5 minutes I was off the bike and walking. It was like some sort of bizarre triathlon where the downhill is a bike ride and the uphill is a slow walk up the hill. Thirty minutes later I was hot, tired and, although I didn’t know it at the time, stressed and wound up.

Even though I called ahead getting my computer online proved tricky for the two ladies at the info centre who thought that if I plugged my laptop in, it might overload their system and blow it up. After some discussion I finally settled into the middle seat of the computer desk.

I was looking forward to time to catch up on about 130 emails that had arrived since I was last online and to the other work that I usually have all day to do. Then one of the two ladies came over and started to chat. She was a lovely friendly country woman, so I was happy to talk for a bit. Then the second lady came and did some photocopying on the machine on the other side of me and they began to talk across me.

Then a teenage boy replaced the first woman and started chatting with his mum, who was still noisily photocopying right next to my ear. Again I was piggy in the middle as the mother kept telling him how much he smelled and should buy deodorant. It was all a bit much and I told the lady I wasn’t worried about any smell when the noise of the photocopier was bothering me more.

I didn’t notice the woman leave until the man came over to tell me that when staff needed to use the photocopier, they had priority. I was embarrassed and annoyed and I acted in my usual calm and collected manner and insisted I had never meant for her to stop and then dissolved into tears of frustration.

The man was apologetic and the women were concerned. I tried to insist I was okay but it was quite obvious I wasn’t, so I got to use the computer alone while the staff huddled in the office for safety and probably wondered which loony bin I had escaped from. At least it kept the noisy woman away while I did the most urgent things I needed to, and after a bit of PR work and apologies all around I left feeling that it would be okay to come back again.

At the grocery store I was still feeling very sorry for myself. I had very little money but I made good use of it. I bought green vegetables for health and well being and chocolate biscuits and sarsaparilla for my soul.

I am so thankful that I have a bike to ride, but my bottom hurts, my legs are tired and my hands are sore. In addition I don’t look good on a too big boy’s bike and wearing a helmet that looks like a horse helmet in army green. I tell myself all the way back that at least I have a bike, …… over and over again.

For a poor non domestic type single woman, dinner was very good. I had my vegetables with chicken, and followed it with a home made apple crumble I had made earlier in the day. I also had the complete packet of chocolate biscuits and two glasses of fizzy. After all that I was feeling much better, at least until I spoke to Phil and found out he had peanut butter on toast for dinner. Now I feel guilty again. I thought I got over that when I turned 40 but I guess it is always there ready to pop up its little green head in times of stress. I wish I was there to make him dinner.

The day ended as it began with noisy machines, as an unusually loud jet passed overhead back and forth for a bit. Phil says there is an air force base near here; so much for the peace and quiet of the country.

I hope tomorrow is less stressful. I can’t afford to use the chocolate biscuit prescription too often.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Curious Cows, Flat Pears and Buzz Saw Insects

I woke this morning in time to watch a beautiful buttery yellow horizon turn to pink and then to the clear blue that stayed all day. I am in Queensland and it’s like a different country. It’s warmer and clearer and even the birds sound different. As I watch the dawn I try to count the species of birds I can hear and there are just too many. I can hear the familiar squeaky toy sounds I have heard before but it is backed up by scores of little staccato tweets and chirps and twitters of smaller birds. It is a marvellous way to wake up and helps set the tone for the day. After the disappointments of the day before I begin to feel much more positive about what is really just going to be an extended holiday. Even better I find my phone charger so if I get a little credit I might be able to use it to go online

It was so hard to say goodbye to Phil this morning, especially since I probably won’t see him for another six weeks, so I went for a ride up the road with him to get the last few minutes together. I then spent almost three hours walking the five kms back because I kept stopping to take scores of beautiful photos. The trees are twisty and wild looking and it has been raining so there is water in the streams and in puddles next to the road. Along with the many bird calls there is the insistent drone of buzzing insects that sound like intermittent and muffled chain saws.

There are termite mounds and duck ponds and little muddy creeks and fields of tall dry grasses. There is a farmer on a tractor ploughing his field while about twenty crows circle and land as he passes. There are tree studded paddocks with cows of muddy brown or patchy black and they all turn to watch me as I pass, and there are two steer on the property where I stay. I am happy to see them as they are part of my stewardship here at the farm but they are less than happy to see me walking along the dusty road towards them.

They watch suspiciously and turn and run off when I get too close. At one point they attempt to hide behind a few trees. They have to weigh four hundred kg’s each, it beats me why I should look so scary to them; or how they can think I will not see them behind a coupe of scraggy old trees.

I have one more look in the cemetery but the only thing I find is an unusual tree that seems to be hung with pictures of pears. They seemed far too flat and shiny to be real, but on closer inspection, turn out to be pairs of green seed pods. What an amazing country.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gulgong - The Town on the Old Ten Dollar Bill

The place was a shambles of old rusty bits of machinery, broken down structures and what was left of some old burnt out railway hand cars. We loved it.

My partner and I had come with a friend and his two children to a park on the edge of Gulgong, near Mudgee. We loved exploring almost as much as the kids did. There were small holes in the ground surrounded by broken concrete walls and the deep dark depth of a steep sided mine hole that was just visible under a metal trellis that seemed less strong than I would have expected. Towering above it, an old wooden a-framed pylon with a small wheel at the top and nearby, next to the blackened rail cars, a huge yellow rusty specimen of a mining conveyor belt. It looks heavy and must have been very noisy when operating, not to mention a hazard for fingers and loose clothing.

Our favourite was the large old crushing machine, which we all spent some time climbing. The central point of the park is a large spiral shaped structure to commemorate mining families in the region and the whole park is optimistically labeled as a mining museum.
It’s not like any museum I have seen before but it has two very great advantages; we could touch everything and be as noisy as we wanted. We explored all the little holes, tried all the levers and climbed over everything that seemed stable enough. We also discovered lots of sharp edged white quartz stones with shiny flecks on the ground.

It is a nice change from the usual playgrounds, even if it is rather burnt, damaged and rusty in places. It reminds me of the fun I used to have scouring the local rubbish dump with my dad in the days before work site safety made it illegal.

Gulgong has a lot to offer for such a small town of just over 2,000 people. It was apparently one of the last places where poor people could set up a camp and try their luck at gold mining and before that, it was home to a large aborigine tribe that named it “Deep water”.

Gulgong is probably most famous as the place where the poet Henry Lawson spent much of his childhood. Henry Lawson’s poems and short stories are a reminder of regional Australia in times past. He writes about every day life including a somber poem about his time in jail called “One hundred and three”. You can hear it on Youtube and it weaves an atmosphere that certainly fits with the visit I had to an old jail in the area.

Gulgong is one of the most unique towns I have visited. The town center is narrow and the original old two story balconied buildings close in on a narrow street with a few cars. There are many beautiful old buildings here, including some of historical significance. Gulgong is well worth a visit and if you need one more reason to call by. It is the town that was featured on the ten dollar note until 1991 when the notes were all replaced with new designs printed on polymer instead of paper. Now that is quite something.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rain, Rocks and Aboriginal Art

It’s raining and it has been all day. The sky is grey and damp and to make it worse it is cold. How did this happen? I came to Oz for the better weather. At least it is 2010 and I can put on my woolly jumper and fluffy slippers and sit in front of the heater.

I am still in Mudgee, three hours from Sydney and between the two are the beautiful Blue Mountains. There are some marvellous Rocky Outcrops in the Blue Mountains and some beautiful views over the great canyon like chasms. There is also an exquisite collection of cathedral like caves about an hour from Katoomba. These caves are one of Australia’s biggest tour attractions and house a thriving industry. Each cave costs at least $20 to visit and there are day tours of underground caves that cost $200, but even for the cheapskate like me it is worth a visit. Earlier this year, I explored the surrounding ponds and walkways and marvelled at the road that runs through a natural cave like tunnel under the mountain. It is an unusual feature of the attraction, and quite breath-taking.

Last week I found out that Mudgee has some lovely features of its own and went exploring with my partner. About thirty minutes out of town there is a huge curved wall of damp and striated rock called The Drip and nearby another rock wall of Aboriginal art called “Hands on Rock”.

The walk to The Drip is one of the prettiest I have ever seen. It follows the channel made by a small river over many years. The rocks are stunning all along the way and in several spots it seems like huge blocks have been hewn from the rock by giants and thrown down in a fit of temper. There are amazing patterns rippled through the rock and one wall is deeply pockmarked like a giant Swiss cheese. We wondered if it is where small crustaceans were buried in ancient times leaving a softer spot that dissolved over the centuries.

The drip itself is a long curved wall of rock and damp with a green tinge from the some sort of moss. There is greenish water in ponds at the base but friends tell us then when it has been raining, the pools get much larger and more beautiful.

It takes a while for the GPS to kick in, but when it does we find the small round container hidden on top of a nearby rock that we came to find. I love finding these little treasures. It feels like I am in on a secret. Although many thousands of them are placed across Australia, most people are totally unaware that they even exist and walk right on by. Looking for them is also a marvellous excuse to visit these wonderful areas. I wouldn’t even have known about these beautiful formations if I wasn’t hunting for geocaches.

The walk into the Hands on Rock is shorter and although it is only a few kilometres away the scenery is very different. As we arrive I glimpse a large grey kangaroo and a marvellous formation of rocks like a collection of castle turrets. The path wanders through a bush area full of those marvellous straggly looking trees with crooked limbs and woody undergrowth. It had a silent sort of sombre feel and I am deeply affected. Apparently the dry and tangled bush here is, much as it would have been when the original artists lived here.

The pictures were made by the Wiradjuri people by spraying a mixture of ochre and liquid over their hands as a record of their visit. It is not known how long ago this artwork was made but it is very old. Barriers have been erected to keep people back but I wonder whether it will be enough to protect it. The Maori rock carving I saw in New Zealand had little neon graffiti marks in amongst the art.

On the way home we find Frog Rock. This is a feature I have wanted to see since I arrived in Mudgee as it is a well known landmark. It turns out I have passed it several times without realising it was there. It was just on dusk when we arrived so the photo does not do it justice but it does look a bit like a frog if you squint your eyes… and if you have a good imagination. I put the photo together with another unusual rock formation we have christened Hippo Rock.

I am amazed by the wonderful features tucked away in the Australian bush and the small unobtrusive signs that point the way. Phil has lived in Australia all his life and says that there are many places as beautiful.

It is my lifes goal to see as many as I can.

To see my Unique Mudgee T-Shirt that you can buy online, check out my Australia Blue Store Here

Buy yourself a Mudgee Rocks T-Shirt Today

T-shirt available at the Australia Blue Store

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mary St. Clair - A Bizarre Story from Mudgees History

I am enjoying Mudgee, and while reading about its rich history I found the following strange tale of robbery, accusations and intrigue.

In 1874 Mary was a middle aged woman living in a nice home in Gulgong near Mudgee. Marys husband had deserted her; so she went to work for other people and in five years had managed to save up £60 which was a large sum of money in those days.

Subsequently, her husband returned to the neighbourhood and, Mary came home one day and found that all her money had been stolen.

Mary must have been very angry. Possibly swearing, shouting and tear your hair out angry.

The local constable was called. She tried to explain what had happened but he didn’t believe her story and arrested her for swearing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things got even worse. The constable then decided from her attitude, that she was mentally ill. He believed she was suffering an attack of “Lunacy “ and from a “disordered intellect” and sent her off to Mudgee Gaol.

Mudgee Gaol has been dismantled but I have seen the nearby Dubbo Gaol. It is dark, damp and depressing and the amenities in those days were sparse. The bed was a mat on a board with one blanket, and the cell was cramped and dark with one tiny window up high and a peephole in the door. There is also a padded cell, with no windows. I suspect you could develop a mental disorder if you spent any time in there.

Mary spent several weeks in Gaol, but fortunately, the gaol medical officer and another “medical gentleman” were sent to examine her and when she was finally seen by the magistrate she was declared sane and able to go home.
It was only then that the authorities finally listened to her story and found her money. It had been deposited in a bank in the nearby town of Dubbo but the bank manager would not say who had banked it. It sounds like it was never recovered.

I can only imagine the disruption this was to her life. Perhaps she was a woman with a history of causing trouble and the officer was an unsympathetic and harsh man who was quick to judge and slow to listen. She could also have been a decent woman who had a perfectly justified fit of anger over losing money and the constable was trying to do his best to resolve the situation.

One thing is for sure, I am so glad I didn’t live in those days. In the late 1800’s the law was harsh and unyeilding. The constables, magistrates and prison warders had a lot of power and prisoners could be flogged, isolated in black cells, chained or beaten and for many years, hangings were held in the gaol grounds.
Luckily for Mary her story didn’t end there.
In a final bizarre twist, while Mary was at court before her release, the magistrate pulled her aside and asked her if she knew that she had inherited £1,000 from a relative who had passed away in England. From the reports it seems that Mary was not surprised and continued to press for the return of her money.
I would like to know what happened to Mary. She sounds like quite a character.
You can find the original newspaper account by clicking the link below

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When is a Cemetery not a Cemetery?

This is a cemetery

And this is a park

But there is no one buried in the first, it is just a display of headstones, and there are graves under the grass in the park.

The first is the memorial cemetery I found in Mudgee yesterday. The headstones were removed from the park area so it would be a neighbourhood rest area.

It is now a large flat "rest area" bordered by unremarkable homes. It is one of the less attractive parks I have seen and there is nothing there but a few pieces of play equipment, some rather ordinary looking trees and one large concrete memorial surrounded by an unfriendly looking fence.

James Blackman is believed to be the first European Settler to find the land around Mudgee, so his family memorial has not been removed out of respect. If I was him I would rather have had my memorial removed.

The new memorial is clean, orderly and clearly a cemetery, even though there are no graves here, just headstones and memorials.

The reclaimed park area seems desolate. It has too many trees to be a sports ground, and too few to be a nice picnic or play area. The trees are unremarkable, even straggly and the grass doesn’t seem healthy. Knowing that the Blackman family is buried here, and that other bones must lie under the ground I am walking on, seems creepy. Isn’t it still a cemetery even though most of the headstones have been removed?

I think they should have left the stones where they were. The memorial is only a few streets from where the stones used to lie. It seems like an unnecessary intrusion for little gain.

What do you think?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Padded Swords and Goat Skulls

Recently I took a ferry trip down the beautiful Brisbane river to New Farm, a riverside suburb between the city and the airport.

I stepped off the ferry to the sound of a band playing “singing in the rain” and people absolutely everywhere. The winter sky was overcast and threatened a little rain, but mild temperatures mean people here can enjoy the outdoors all year around. There were people picnicking, relaxing, smelling the roses, celebrating birthdays, sleeping and hundreds more playing sports from Frisbee to soccer and rugby, and in a small field at the back where the trees are ringed by fences, they were trying to place a goat skull on a stick.

I have never seen this game before and found it on the Internet. It is called “Jugger” and is a medieval game where two teams of five battle it out with padded weapons and a plastic ball on a chain and try to get their goat head onto a stake at the other end of the field to score a point.

It looks like a lot of fun.

The hits are intended to be touches (not great wallops) and the game lasts as long as it takes for someone to throw 100 stones against a gong. When players are hit they then kneel down for a predetermined number of gong hits.

Apparently it has been played in four major Australian cities since 2001, we sent teams to Berlin in 2008 and the team will return to Germany this year to play the Germans, Spanish, Irish, Americans and Dutch. . How cool is that?

Once I could tear myself away from the people whacking each other with great big padded weapons, I continued to explore the surrounding park and found;
A huge fenced area just for dogs. (The land here has to be worth million dollars easy)

A wonderful, (and fun for kids), way to show the river flood level.

An Ibis looking for a cigarette butt.

And a notice worth noticing

It’s a wonderful and magnificent world with still so much to learn.

If you haven’t subscribed to my blog yet, please do so because I can bet you anything there are many, many more surprising things for me to write about yet. Or leave a comment. I would love to hear about your most surprising find.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Highways in the Sky and Fluffy Toys that Attack

I look after two little Maltese Terriers and we go walking twice each day. They look like little fluffy toys but they are very fierce little fluffy toys. They have that mighty dog attitude common to little terriers that makes them feel invincible, particularly with dogs behind fences. When we go the park, the owners of big dogs have to put their animals on a leash, presumably to stop them tearing my dogs to pieces. I have some sympathy. My little girls race in like they own the place, all excited and yapping loudly. Last time we went into the dog park, there were four dogs in the park when we arrived, and they were all gone within five minutes.

But I like taking the dogs when I go walking, particularly if it is after dark. I might be more prone to a dog attack but I feel less likely to be bothered by smaller animals. The other night I saw a lump on the power line. It was too solid and low to be a bird. It looked like a rat. I stared for some minutes and it didn’t move so I decided it was one of those lumpy things that seem to connect the power lines in places. Only the next night it wasn’t there.

I found out why tonight.

There are no footpaths here and the trees hang over the road. They look pretty in the day time and like something from a horror movie at night. Something bulky rustles the trees as I go by and makes me jump. They are probably crows but I wish I had the dogs with me.

I am walking in the middle of the road to avoid the tree things and watching the sky for the lump things and suddenly I see a long dark shape on the power lines and this time it is definitely moving. There is more light than last night and I can not only see clearly that it is a rat, but I can see the light shine off its fur. I try desperately to make out that it is something more acceptable, like a squirrel (do they have those here?) or even a possum, but the animal in question definitely has the shape and long tail of a rat.
I grab my phone camera and try to get evidence. The rat like thing takes its time and meanders along as if I am not there, but by the time I have taken the camera off video mode, taken a flash photo of the air half way up to the power lines, turned off the flash and then decided video would be best after all, the rat has disappeared out of sight and I have no evidence.

I am disturbed by the fact that the power lines must be a sort of highway in the sky for wandering rat like things; and they lead into every home in the neighbourhood, including mine. I only hope that should a rat invade my place, the little dogs will treat it the way they treat big dogs and annoy it to death.

And next time I go out after dark, I am taking the dogs.

New - Now available a mouse pad featuring the attack dogs themselves. It makes a great present for Maltese Terrier owners (or those who wish they were). :-)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Microwave Birds and Tap Dancing Dogs? It sounds like Australia.

Australia has some wonderful and distinctive bird life. The other morning I woke to a neighbouring house alarm. Only, it wasn’t a house alarm at all, it was a bird that sounds like a house alarm, and like a house alarm, it went on all morning.

I love the birds here, they have such interesting calls. If birds were classified by their sounds there would be the Microwave Bird, the Rat Bird and the 60’s Theme Tune Bird. There is one that echoes as if it is calling through a long tunnel and one that brings to mind an angry duck.

There are colourful parrots with colourful calls and musical magpies which are a favourite that remind me of the New Zealand bush. The laughing kookaburra is an Australian icon, as are the chattering pink and grey Galahs, who gather in colourful flocks and play noisy games.

I remember a woman in the remote countryside of the organic farm where I stayed who complained about the cat that called all night; probably a bat that I would like to rename the cat bird. Then there are the birds that sound like chattering monkeys and others that bring to mind a child’s squeaky toy.

This morning I woke up to the more gentle sound of a flock of cooing pigeons outside my window, ..... and the sound of tap dancing dogs in my room. The floor here is polished wood and one of the little Maltese Terriers I am looking after is already busy. She paces the floor under and around the bed, her little toes pattering on the floorboards like some sort of Fred Astaire impersonation.

Did I mention I love Australia? You bet I do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Turkeys in the garden, carpet in the bush and sausage trees

I am house-sitting for the next few weeks in a lovely neighbourhood near Brisbane. I look after two little white fluffy puffballs and take them for walks in the local area. I love to explore Australian parks and the local one is quite surprising.

As well as a children’s playground and a very nice little bridge, it has its own small flock of wild turkeys. They forage in the bush and add some charm to an otherwise insignificant park.

The bridge spans a small ravine which is a shortcut from one street to another. I decided to explore under the bridge the other day and imagine my amazement when I found that they had laid pieces of carpet along the track. It looked like it even had underlay in places.

At one end it is gold and at the other it looks like grey loop pile. It’s hard to tell because it is worn and rotting. The photos didn’t come out too well but they do show the texture.

I did wonder if it was laid by the same person that left an old armchair behind a nearby tree.

As if that wasn’t enough I walked a bit further yesterday and found a group of what can only be called sausage trees. They are covered in long dangly strings with bulbous sausage like pods hanging on them.

Every day is another reminder that the world is full of interesting things. What have you discovered?

Feel free to share your most surprising discoveries in the comments section.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ants in my Pants - Brisbane South

Somewhere in Brisbane there is a green bike helmet strapped to a tree with a plastic egg inside. It is also home to several earwigs and a colony of big black ants that bite. I know this from personal experience, because after finding this particular geocache* I still had an ant climbing around under my jeans ten minutes later.

I am house sitting two adorable little Maltese Terriers that look like little balls of fluff on legs, so I took them for a long walk to a local park this morning. I was trying to look inconspicuous while poking around under the park trees searching for the geocache, and they were barking up a storm because there were birds nearby. And dogs. And people. And puffs of wind. Lovely dogs and so easily excited.

We walked back past the adjacent complex that houses hundreds of animals the SPCA has up for adoption and a paddock of horses. The dogs went wild and I had to carry one of them for a bit to let her calm down.

I love Australia.

Where else can you hear a house alarm screech all morning before you realise it is just the annoying sound one of the local birds makes?

Where else can you watch crows devour the insides of an enormous dead rat like marsupial?

Where else can you find ants that are big enough to wander off with a loaf of bread?

Okay maybe not that big …. but big enough. I never tire of the amazing wildlife here.

*Read my blog about Geocaching to learn more