Now I am living on the mid-north coast hinterland, virtually in the subtropics, I am becoming used to high humidity and rapid changes in cloud behaviour and weather results.

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Thunder and lightning and stupendous short cloudbursts of rain…

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The ephemeral always fascinates me and there’s nothing so fleeting as clouds.

As in my previous home, mountains are critical for creating the varying special effects I love.

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Of course I love the fine blue-sky days too, but my attention is earthbound, not on the skyline. There are not enough eucalypts left here to make a forest but I am very grateful for what remains. Several of these tall, rough-barked fellows suddenly burst into blossom last week.

The show only lasted about a week, but what a display!

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Even more fleeting than the cloud movements are the appearances of the larger wildlife, like these two Eastern Red-necked wallaby males, spotted grazing amongst my weeds. Note the larger weed beyond them: the attractive but ubiquitous Camphor Laurel tree, and unfortunately not ephemeral.

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I’ve been going to Gloucester twice a week lately, reaching the camp in time for the daily camp meeting and to catch grand sunsets like this one, joining whatever action is decided for the next early morning, helping ‘man’ the vigil info site. 

Since the Halliburton fracking team snuck out at 4 am last week, having done their foul deed on the designated four wells, there’s been a change in tone and focus.

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Some token healing happened last Saturday. We get up early at camp, and the mood was high that day, as were the camp numbers, for the seventh Walk down Fairbairns Road to the frack site gates. That’s my slide-on Gypsy on the right, with her awning rolled up against the previous night’s wind.

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This Walk was different, as about 150 from the centre of the long chain of walkers simply climbed through a fence and reclaimed the site. A mass walk-on!

For once security and police were outnumbered and outstrategised. No harm, no damage, but it did our hearts good after the weeks of feeling helpless with the Halliburton heavies in charge.

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We had more people walking than ever before, of all ages; maybe the fact that actor Michael Caton (the tall one in the hat, towards the left) walked with us attracted some newcomers. Having a celebrity take up the cause is invaluable: thank you, Michael Caton!

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As the Gloucester Protectors camp — but not the campaign! — considers a recess and the next steps, this week we held a small vigil outside the AGL office in town. 

It’s opposite the Country Lodge Motel, where some of their workers have stayed, but there is no sign, front or back, on the AGL HQ to announce their presence. High fences and security warning signs is all. Are they ashamed of of what they are doing here?

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Well, there was one sign on its fence temporarily…

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We had our full array of signs, including a banner that identifies this place as  ‘AGL Fracking HQ’. Here are local longterm battlers, Ed Robinson, Rod Besier, Tina Robinson and Karen from the Herb Farm at the top of Fairbairns Rd. All deserve medals as local heroes – and for AGL to leave forever and let them go back to their lives. 

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But that day we also had a beautiful yellow winged creature in the form of the crinkle-caped Shaz, who I’m sure caught the attention of many in the on-the way to work or school vehicles that passed. 

One driver certainly noticed, as she took the time to open the window and scream abuse of the four-letter kind at us.

Despite this gorgeous addition to the scenery, apparently the owner of the motel was not happy about our silent stance across the road. I wonder why…

I’m not allowed on my front verandah at present. Two sets of protective parents say so.

The Welcome Swallows have hatched a second set of babies in the original nest. I have spotted three sets of panting baby beaks so far.

Perhaps being second time parents on my verandah in one season has made them more relaxed around me.

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But the Willy Wagtails frantically circle and flit above me, chittering incessantly, even when I keep my distance or stand inside at my bedroom window to watch the babies. I wish they’d accept my assurances and spend more time feeding and watering the babies.

So I don’t go as close to take the photo as the Swallows permit.

I am feeling anxious myself for all the nestlings as the days heat up; 38 degrees on that verandah yesterday, and their parents have built the nests right up under the tin roof, which is lined but not insulated.

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Conversely, I have just spent a week in icy airconditioning. I’ve been in way-too-crowded Sydney with four bush and bird loving ladies: L to R, Sheena Gillman, Patricia Julien, me, Paola Cassoni and Lee Curtis. We were on the Bimblebox/Protect the Bush Alliance stand at the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Parks Congress.

This Congress has been 10 years in the planning. People have whispered to us that the IUCN would never have chosen Australia as the venue for this Congress had they known what our government would be like in 2014: anti-environment and anti-action on climate change. And stupidly pro-coal. There are about 2000 people here but apparently others had opted out in disgust. Everyone knew about the Reef. 

People were actually commiserating with us for having such an embarrassingly regressive prime minister. I offered to swap him several times but there were no takers.

For my part, I have been apologising to all for our coal fuelling their climate chaos pain. 

Unfortunately the IUCN did not acknowledge the current and threatened impacts from coal to our ‘protected’ places like the Reef and Bimblebox. We know Bimblebox is home to 154 bird species… and counting. Worth far more than a coal mine for Clive Palmer.

As the only stand that mentioned mining, we did our best to arouse the very large elephant in the Dome. We made sure overseas delegates knew that our governments put Coal before Conservation every time.

Greg Hunt gave a backpatting closing ceremony talk that made me want to throw up. Conservation starts at home, Mr Hunt.

Later a young Indigenous man dared to let the elephant roar in his speech: extractive industries must not be allowed to harm the Reef any further, any longer.

On my new place, in typical farm fashion, trees have mostly only been left around the edges, but in the middle of the bare creekflat there are three big trees.

The kookaburras like them as good vantage points from which to spot their lunch. I like them because I can watch them from my verandah — and hence all the drama that attends bird life, such as Willy Wagtails divebombing Kookas to stop them coming any closer to their nest.

But also because I just like trees.

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Now the two large and arching Melaleucas (stypheloides, I think) are a mass of blossoms: tiny white bottle brushes held in place with little green stars.

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Bees like them too.

I hope this means they will set many seeds to raise many more Melaleucas to plant. Imagine a creekflat of these beauties!

I stayed at the Gloucester Protectors Camp for three days last week. Set in farmer Ed Robinson’s mown paddock, with cows grazing beyond the fence and the mountains framing the valley views, it’s a scenic spot.  

The camp is evolving daily; it has portaloos and fresh water and an embryonic kitchen. They need lots of people to help build it … and to help use it for its purpose of stopping AGL from turning this beautiful valley into a CSG industrial pincushion.

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After a wild wet evening arrival, the weather stayed fine but variable, offering hot days, cold nights, damply dewy mornings and some beautiful sunrises as they competed with the fog rising from the valley floor.

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Starts were early, to get to the AGL gate in time to welcome the convoy of the Halliburton fracking crew to start their ‘work’ and to have ‘breakfast with the police’ who were making that start possible. Being legal doesn’t make it right, but the police have no choice here; it’s up to us to get the laws changed.

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We bicycled in our own convoy — ’Tour de Gloucester’ — from the Fairbairns Road corner to the site on two mornings, reminding me how insufficiently padded were both my derriere and the bike seat.

But on the second morning our biking distraction was more than worthwhile when we heard that Ned Haughton had quietly locked on to an unguarded rig further away.  He remained there for almost 5 hours before being freed.

Quite a few of us rode down the narrow dirt road to where he was; I’d have to say I wobbled precariously along the edges as police car after police car passed.

(I cadged a lift back for me and the bike.)

Bill Ryan came too and joked about him being in all the photos, like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ series.

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Saturday morning dawned in dense fog.  A short ‘breakfast with the police’ this day before heading into town for the Gloucester community walk through the main street. Absolutely inspiring, as it was the biggest turnout yet — almost 200. Lots of locals, young and old.

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There were some terrific signs; our PM copped it on some. I had to laugh at the one held by gentle Linda, who greets the frackers each morning by meditating across the road from the gate.

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So please come out to the camp and see what’s on. Gloucester folk are getting very tired from the battle and the daily stretch to fill the rosters; they desperately need — and deserve — our help.

The Protect Gloucester website

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) recently held its annual conference. This growing umbrella association is the key voice for nature in NSW, and now has over 120 member groups and about 60,000 supporters, including individuals like myself.

One of the things they do at the conference is announce and give out awards to groups and individuals for their work for the natural world.

See all the awards on the About page of the NCC website.

I was overwhelmed to receive the 2014 Dunphy Award for ‘the most outstanding environmental effort of an individual’. The Greens leader Christine Milne presented it, seen above with NCC Chair Don White.

Many of you will know the name ‘Dunphy’, as Milo and Myles Dunphy worked tirelessly to protect our natural environment in many ways, not least to secure our national parks.

I am honoured to have my name even distantly assocated with theirs.

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The Nature Conservation Council has been in operation for over 50 years. Its current CEO is Kate Smolski, whose enthusiasm and optimism gives us all hope in the many prolonged battles in which NCC members are involved.

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Other awards were given (some seen above), and I was especially pleased to see that the Lithgow Environment Group received the Member Group Award and that Frontline Action on Coal shared the Community Action Award.

Congratulations to both these inspiring and persevering groups, with whom I have personal connection and experience of their work.

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I was used to sharing my old home with the wildlife. Here I am discovering that I mainly share with birds.

First there were the swallows nesting on the verandah.

Their babies left the nest soon after I came here but the whole family comes back to roost near it … and of course to decorate the decking below as well as verandah rafters.

The most noticeable bird here is the Willy Wagtail; a noisy exhibitionist who delights me with sashaying and twirling that seems irrepressible.

They flit everywhere, from rail to gutter, pecking the magpies on the head if they dare to walk across the grass in front of the verandah.

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Then I noticed a fresh patch of ‘decoration’ further along the verandah. No wonder they are so territorial; they are making a nest up there.

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There seem to be a few Willy Wagtails but no one bird is still for long. Then I was given a treat: the sight of a pair sitting together for at least two minutes!

The prospective parents?

I am happy sharing with little nesting birds instead of little marsupials who want to move inside closer than the verandah.  Willy Wagtails and Blue Wrens and certain honeyeaters are beautifully numerous, but so far no rosellas or other parrots.

Yet from afar I have seen waterbirds down in the creek: too far to properly identify, but I think a pair of Black Ducks, and some sort of long-legged wader, a heron? And I was surprised to catch a glimpse of lavish purply blue as a large-ish bird scuttled up into the shrubbery behind the house tank: a Swamp Hen!

I can’t wait to see what waterbirds come for longer stays when I have my billabong put in.

Last Thursday I got up at 3 am and set out for Gloucester, to join a 5.30 bus heading to the AGL AGM in Sydney.

In case you don’t know, AGL snuck in the first CSG fracking rig last week and have set up a screen to do it in secret in the once-rural paddocks on Fairbairns Road.

This AGL project was hastily approved and inadequately researched, and is inappropriately sited in the beautiful, scenic and historic Vale of Gloucester, gateway to Barrington Tops, from whence their clean rushing rivers come. These waters and the aquifers beneath are also the supply source for the Manning Valley downstream.

Hydrologist Professor Phillip Pells, not an opponent of CSG extraction per se, has said that Gloucester is the wrong place for it. The locals want the project stopped until the proof of this or otherwise is shown; until the fracking chemicals are tested, despite AGL assuring us they’re much like what’s in salad dressing; until the disposal of its wastewater with all its nasties, not ‘just salt’, is sorted; and until the 2-kilometre CSG exclusion zone that applies to Sydney suburbs is bestowed on the people of Gloucester.

Last time I looked, their bodies were the same, so the health impacts will be. Not fair, Minister Roberts.

Outside the AGM, after rallying talks, we cheered in the shareholders and waited to cheer them out, hoping that by then they would have learnt more about the damage their company is about to do from CSG, when it could instead be full on into renewables.

Six or so Groundswell Gloucester and Manning Clean Water Action Group members — respectably suited up — used proxy votes to address the meeting with facts that AGL does not give. In fact, they emerged gobsmacked at ‘the lies’ given out instead. Shareholders were advised by our locals to think about the potential liability from harm caused by this CSG project.

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Here I am resting in the gutter alongside Ken Johnson of the Gloucester Project, which plans for Gloucester as a future regional food bowl. Ken’s 80, I’m 66, and the indefatigable Bill Ryan, only 90, was there too. Back in Gloucester, Ken’s wife Marnie was being cut out of her neck lock on the AGL main access gate as we spoke.

Dan Lanzini, meanwhile, was inside and locked on underneath the actual fracking rig. I’d met Dan up at the first Pilliga camp, when he and Dayne Pratzky visited to help kick things off against Santos.

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My offer to ‘do’ something to show support was accepted, as was that of my bus seatmate and newfound friend, Alison. The bus got back about 7pm and Alison’s friends Brad and Thomas (Brad had been one of those addressing the AGM) generously put us up for the night and we set our alarms for another early start, 4 am.

After the last three days of protest action, there was a large police and security presence in the area and waiting at the main gate. For some reason, the frack rig workers didn’t arrive that day: results already?

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So I had to quickly lock on to the next gate, right under the ‘eye’ of the security camera, but no burly security personnel. My ‘buddy’ Alison and about 14 locals stayed with me in support. The second round of police to visit issued me with a notice to appear in court — and left me to stew — or fry, advising that they would not be sending for the rescue team to cut me off.

After a morning of media — interviews from within the neck lock are pretty effective! — eventually the locals’ opinion was that no more could be achieved there that day.

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If you want to know more and to help this community in any capacity — you don’t have to lock yourself to a gate! — please visit the Groundswell site — One example was the Knitting Nannas’ Lantern Walk (of Shame) on Friday. As you can see, non-nanna blokes and fairies are welcome!

An approved protectors’ camp on farmer Ed Robinson’s property just up the road is at last in operation as of today, Monday 27th, making it easier for visiting supporters like me to help out. (Ed also addressed the AGM.)

Please spend some time there to help swell the numbers and stop the fracking.

All photos courtesy of Groundswell Gloucester.

Creekside beauties

October 16, 2014
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There are many small birds here but they do NOT stay still for photos for me to share them with you. Swallows, Willy Wagtails, honeyeaters, finches… I will have to take to sitting outside and waiting, with camera poised. I think that’s called birdwatching. Thankfully the flora here is slower moving. Alongside the small creek […]

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Mountain moods

October 8, 2014
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I am probably irrevocably hooked on mountains and their moods. The facing mountains are closer here than they were on my previous Mountain, but are similarly on my north-east, so also flaunt their moods most of a morning. Their moods are partnered with the clouds descending from above and the mists drifting up from the […]

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Morning treats

September 29, 2014
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I am waking up around 5.30 a.m. here, and I am realising that, just as on my other mountain, I will be rewarded with ephemeral treats like this one when I do so. There is so much to do that I don’t even want to stay in bed! This house is built on a cut-and-fill […]

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Moving mountains

September 19, 2014
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As you see, I have moved from what was my mountain and its range to a new set of mountains. This is what I woke up to the very first morning. So I (and you) can look forward to many good sunrises. I am tucked into the side of the hill in this mountain-ringed narrow […]

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