My verandah is fringed with an ornamental grape vine, in full summer bright green leaf at present, its stems twining and curving and constantly reaching out to new holds.

Last week a familiar and faster twiner and curver was using it as camouflage.

I have seen this Green Tree Snake each summer here, but on those two past occasions it was extremely UNcamouflaged, on my tank and my ladder (see here and here). I could see the full length then of this slender snake, when it appeared about two metres long.

During this visit, it wound in and out of railings and vine stems so intricately that I could never see its whole body.

‘Green’ is a generalisation in its name as it has a range of colours, but I’d know that pretty head anywhere. Whether as Tank Snake or Ladder Snake or Vine Snake, I loved that it had returned.
 
And is it smiling ’hello’ back?

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This gorgeous Green Tree Frog is probably the best known frog in Australia, but no less special for that. He’s the source of the very deep and monotonous ‘wark-wark-wark’  that I hear at the bottom of a nearby downpipe, presumably when he reckons rain is coming.

This one was quiet, post-rain and dozing on a rhubarb leaf, for which he was really too heavy as he’d bent it almost to the ground. They can grow up to 15 cm long, so this one is a relative lightweight.

Such a baleful look he gave me as I went closer to take his photo. These plump green beauties are also known as White’s Tree Frogs. I was more familiar with the much smaller Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, also a green gem of a creature. I welcome all frogs!

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A second Willy Wagtail decided to start a family on my other verandah. She made such a messy job of nest building, compared to the neat cylinder of my usual family, that I decided she must be a novice nester. Not only was it sloppy and sprawling untidily over the edge, but it seemed as if she’d made two attempts.

The eggs were laid in the first attempt, where the three babies barely fitted. The weather was heating up.

The mother had trouble fitting there herself, let alone reaching over to make deposits into the gaping orange beaks.

Their heads were indeed touching the eaves lining as the temperature rose. I was expecting tragedy.

But no, they just moved out to the lower annexe, the patio, where they were cool enough until they took off next day.

Mum was smarter than I’d given her credit for.

This is the climate chaos nest adaptation design.

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The last full moon of 2016 first signalled its rising by an eerie backlighting of the many dark clouds that night. Then its round face appeared over the ridge, a glow through thin cloud.

Very soon dark riders and winged demons raced across to begin to quell the growing light.

Woven ropes of clouds were flung across the pale orb until heavier clouds could be brought in to put a total end to such interference with whatever dark deeds were afoot that night.

And yes, I am a fan of Tolkien as well as Creedence Clearwater…

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The unmistakable rusty and incessant whinging of a young Yellow-tailed Cockatoo came floating in my kitchen window.

I followed the sound to a twin stump, where the ‘baby’ was atop one and the mother was at work in the fork of the other, ripping away bark with her beak.

The young of these big Black Cockatoos resemble the females, and I could tell the demolisher was a female from its pale coloured beak.

The father was keeping watch from a high branch of a nearby casuarina; you can see his distinguishing dark bill and brighter eye ring. Both sexes have that broad pale yellow band across the tail. This tail is almost half their total body length, so very noticeable in flight.

The mum was clearly finding something tasty, likely grubs of some sort, amidst the wreckage of the bark, stopping now and then to eat them, but at no time did I see her feed the whining young. Serve him right!

He got bored and flew about a bit, but not too far away, which made Dad move closer to keep guard.

Then the kid got the idea and began ripping at bark himself; unfortunately not the right sort of old bark, but at least he had the idea. Maybe Mum rewarded him with a grub after that, but when I next looked they had all three taken off to the creek.

This is the very efficient stump demolition achieved by one very strong beak, in about 20 minutes!

I get so few visits from more than one wandering wallaby that I was delighted to see this little trio of game boys venture in right near the house one early evening after rain.

They are the same Eastern Red-necked Wallabies that I lived with — in such great numbers — at my old Mountain home. As I have now been here two years, I had hoped that the word would have got around that no dogs lived here any more.

This gang of young males were not afraid, didn’t mind me opening the verandah door to take these shots, but were wary, as is only right.

But I miss my old familiars, the mothers and joeys always hanging about the yard. Patiently, hopefully, I await their discovery of my sanctuary. There is a sign on the gate; maybe they are less educated over here?

Drivers along the Lakes Way just south of Forster have been doing doubletakes as they pass this aerial edifice.

After watching my Willy Wagtails’ teeny effort, this massive pile of branches seemed hardly birdlike.

I only had time to zoom in on the remaining parent. I’d been thinking a White-breasted (or White-bellied) Sea Eagle, but this has to be an Osprey. They are raptors like Eagles, Kites, Harriers and Goshawks, but are a class of their own.

No doubt the absent parent was off patrolling the nearby waterways. Ospreys are highly specialised fish hunters, having spines on the soles of their feet to help hold a slippery fish, as well as needle-sharp talons.

I haven’t seen it but they are also spectacular fishers, plunging into water feet first to seize a fish, sometimes going right under.

One of my bird books (‘Australia — Land of Birds’,Trounson) reckons their eggs are considered amongst the most beautiful of all — ‘cream, boldly blotched and dotted with rich brown and chocolate’ —  and much prized by collectors in the past.

So it is not surprising that Ospreys choose to build beyond collector or little boy climbing height — with the extra security of a high-voltage hit to the daring.

North of Mudgee, Wollar village is littered with evidence of the progress and prosperity that original owner Excel promised would come to the community once the Wilpinjong mine was under way.

Peabody, ’The Big American’, bought it, the mine began in 2006, and Wollar soon felt the impact indeed…

Noise, both audible and low frequency, air pollution from blasting, ‘dust’ and spontaneous combustion.

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Stage Two made the village almost unliveable and better houses in the village were bought by the mine and rented to mine employees, who can’t complain. People left, the community was decimated, and the surrounding farms lost their focus.

The one-stop shop offered less and less. The mine owns this church, and only a handful of kids still attend the school — for how long?

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The Queensland town of Acland was emptied in advance of a stage 3 approval. In the Rich Land, Wasteland chapter about this area –Cumbo Valley, Wollar, Ulan and Bylong – in 2012 I wrote, ‘Wollar is Acland-in-progress’. That chapter is all-too-aptly called ‘Clearing out the country’ and the truth in 2016 is heart-wrenching. 

Now, as the remaining villagers and outliers await Stage 3 here, Wollar is looking more and more like Acland.

Some homes have been demolished but many are being left to fall down, with the security signs the only new things around. Echoes of Wybong.

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Eerily, as at Acland, the grass verges are still mowed.

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The large Wollar Hall is still as hale as ever, but the community that once filled it for dances is not. 

Residents told of feeling nauseous of a morning from the spontaneous combustion from the mine, of the coal dust on everything, of the vibrations from the heavy coal trains, of the ‘hum’ waking them in the early hours of the morning, of the sadness as neighbours left, of all the work that has been put into their places over decades, of those memories created, of their still strong desire to remain. 

Those outliers who will be impacted — and left stranded without a village — told of the lack of any offers to be compensated or bought out.

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I went back up the Wollar/Ulan road to see how far the mine had come since my last visit. It has crept a lot closer to the village but it’s a hard mine to see from the road, as it’s flat country, and the coal deposits are near the surface, so the overburden heaps are not as high as in the Hunter. 

It’s very poor quality coal so the overburden heaps have coal visibly mixed in them, which is not usual. This coal is contracted for Bayswater Power Station, where it has to be mixed with better coal to be burnt.

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On the evening of Monday 28th November the few locals hosted a few supporters like me, Steve from Lock the Gate, the O’Laughlins from Bulga and the four fabulous ladies from East Maitland to the sort of country hospitality Wollar was known for. A BBQ, fresh salads and cakes — and many sad stories and wishes for Peabody to stop, to leave them and their remnant village be.

Wollar Progress association has been revived, to fight on for real progress, not Peabody’s.

For this community is not dead yet; it could be revived if Peabody is denied their expansion and made to minimise the existing noise impacts regardless of the cost.

Another 11 years of Peabody’s disregard for the community’s health is more than enough; if Peabody is bankrupt, and can’t afford to operate even within inadequate conditions, why consider allowing them to continue the actual harm longer?

When did Profit get to hold such sway in our Planning Dept.? When did People and Planet get to count for nothing?

To ‘Save Wollar’ is the aim of the villagers and supporters.

It is clearly not that of the state government, who sent the project to a PAC hearing last Tuesday, removing any public right of appeal to a decision. ICAC recommended these merits appeal rights be restored for coal mine approvals.
Who is listening?

Sick of this farce of a process, it was decided to boycott the PAC; to make written submissions but not to attend or speak. After all, what use is just five minutes to plead for survival?

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Boycott rallies were held in Mudgee, outside the hearing, and in Sydney.

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Justifiably, passions were high. The indomitable Bev Smiles, a Wollar area local, told us straight how the government now admit — in print — that they got it wrong about the social impacts that Wollar would suffer, but they reckon it’s irreversible, so Peabody may as well wipe put the rest.

Local Seamus Duffy tugged at our heartstrings as he sang a rewritten John Pryne song, originally about mountaintop mining. We joined in the chorus as a son asks to be taken back to Wilpinjong Valley, and the father replies,’Sorry my son, you’re too late in asking, for Peabody’s coal trains have hauled it away’.

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We heard speeches about the impacts on water, indigenous heritage and climate change, and songs from Mick Fetch, whose roots lie deep in Wollar, whose family lie in Wollar cemetery. Mick had tried to buy that church above, but they refused and sold it to the mine.

I avoid the coal-Hunter as much as I can; my heartsickness is too great.

After I spoke at Tarwyn Park’s last day I came back to the Manning via Lithgow and Sydney to avoid it. Ridiculous, I know.

This time I took the Golden Highway. 

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Jerry’s Plains, horse country, under threat.

Another village to be pushed to the verge of extinction?

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And off to the west towards Bulga and east towards Muswellbrook, glimpses of the all-too-familiar clean country air and picturesque overburden mountains of the coal-trashed Hunter.

And still Planning pushes for more…

Wagtail babies

November 14, 2016
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As expected, when I returned from a few days away, the Willy Wagtails’ chicks were hatched and hungry. Silent though, unlike the demanding magpie baby in the tree near my bedroom. It was soon clear there were three little mouths to be stuffed, and given that they were constantly opening and shutting, I was amazed […]

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Incoming birds

October 26, 2016
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It being Spring, the Willy Wagtail mum has been busily readying last year’s nest for the 2016 brood. The nest had looked perfectly serviceable, as it was as neat and symmetrical as she had originally made it. However she seemed driven to add another layer, which brings it alarmingly close to the verandah roof. While […]

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Sky mimics

October 17, 2016
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As at my old Mountain, the sky here is as important for my visual delectation as the land. And I am as fanciful about what it offers. Like this sunrise, where the billowing white foreground cloud looked so like bushfire smoke, unlikely as that was, that I had to go out and sniff the air […]

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Kookaburra pair

October 2, 2016
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I have a lot of Kookaburras here — often called more fully Laughing Kookaburras, rarely called by their scientific name, Dacelo gigas. As they do live in family groups, comprising several generations, that’s not surprising. There are enough big trees left along the creek sides that they must have found enough nesting hollows to keep […]

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