A few months ago, some necessary clearing of shrub weeds like lantana was undertaken along the fence line. A few weeks ago, the burning of the large pile of rubbish from that clearing was finally possible.

What it revealed was a Satin Bower-bird’s ‘bower’ — the grass U-shaped ‘avenue’ surrounded by a mat of grass and decorative items in shades of blue, from pegs to bottle tops to flowers.

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I see and hear the females often here, but this last week I have seen the glossy violet-black male as he has patiently relocated his bower.

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First he flattened the avenue of grass and then, one by blue one, he has picked up the decorations in his beak and flown off.

There is barely a flash of blue left.

I have not yet found where the new bower is located, but when I do, I’ll be sure to leave it well protected by shrubbery — even if it’s lantana.

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Here’s a great offer from my publisher, Exisle — The Woman on the Mountain and Mountain Tails at just $A14.99 for the two.

You can order direct from Exisle here, but be quick because stocks are limited.

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Hadyn Wilson is a friend of mine from the Hunter Valley — south of the coal wasteland, but he’s deeply aware of it. He is also a fabulous painter, a deep thinker and a sincere environmentalist. 

Recently I saw an exhibition of his work at the Frances Keevil Gallery in Double Bay, Sydney. Hadyn describes this exhibition, entitled ‘Incidental Landscapes’, as representing “a particular approach to ‘landscape’ which looks at the way this genre has changed and the cultural shifts that have occurred, particularly in relation to concepts of nature and land use within Australia.

 “The paintings therefore sometimes borrow imagery from that tradition and comment playfully on the way these references have perhaps changed in their reception over a century or more and particularly in relation to environmental considerations today.”

The painting above is called ‘Hunter Valley Landscape’. At 200 x 150 cm, it’s a big work, but then this is a big topic.

Knowing how the once-rural landscape between Singleton and Muswellbrook has been drastically changed for the worse by runaway coal mining, I find this work tragically moving, because so true and yet also highly symbolic.

I reckon this painting ought to be owned and publicly and permanently exhibited by a Hunter regional gallery, like the Newcastle or the Muswellbrook galleries.

 Perhaps the state authorities who have allowed this destruction should buy it as a token of their abject apologies to us and future generations – who may actually need farmland more than coal – for the harm they have done. 

And not only in the Hunter. Look at what is being proposed on the Liverpool Plains.
Even if the mines don’t wreck the precious water sources, the coal and overburden dust will contaminate the crops nearby. Would our customers like their wheat leaded or unleaded?

There’s a great video of Hadyn on the exhibition’s website, a precursor for a film. (link)

I sometimes call myself a literary activist, modelling on the amazing Arundhati Roy. I write books to spread the word.

At Bimblebox Nature Refuge (link) they hold artists’ camps with participants from multiple disciplines, with ensuing illuminating exhibitions. 

Here’s an extract from Hadyn’s essay on the role of artists in activism:

“Artists have throughout history stood with others against those who would destroy the natural and aesthetic realms to appease the gods of progress.”…

“At a time when this country is making decisions which will effect generations long after we have gone, what role can the artist play and how can that role effect any sort of broader cultural shift towards considering more seriously, our environment, our landscape and our future?.

“Charles Dickens, a man who lived through the industrial revolution and witnessed the excesses of that period, famously said “self preservation is the first law of Nature”. The measure of what we do next will be determined to a large extent by our ability to creatively respond to the incontestable reality that our environment, our landscape is what we are. If we look after that, then Dickens first law of nature will be taken care of.” 

See more here.

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No painting, but tragic realism nevertheless. This my photo of cattle co-existing with coal, somewhere near Clermont in Queensland. Apart from the cattle grazing on coal-contaminated grass, look at the trees dying in the background. That’s from the longwall mine strip underneath.

Dead trees, poisoned grass — happy cows — and happy consumers?

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I have reluctantly become a grazier.

These two Friesian dairy steer calves are now our permanent resident lawnmowers, and company for Clancy the horse.

This block is cursed with setaria grass, introduced for cattle, but harmful for horses. That’s it towering over them on the right.

It depletes horses’ calcium, so Clancy needs supplementary calcium, even though he doesn’t prefer the setaria over the kikuyu and couch grasses.

It seemed ridiculously unsustainable to keep paying to have the paddock slashed.

Hence the live solution of pet cows. Handreared, they are gradually getting used to me as I feed them their calf pellets.

My granddaughters have named them Salt and Pepper, given their colourings.

As their owner quipped when he delivered them: ‘At least you’ve saved them from being salted and peppered!’

For they’d have ended up as someone’s weiner schnitzel.

Male dairy calves aren’t good for anything else…

As a vegetarian, I would not have used beef breeds, despite all the advice as to how many quid I could make.

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Pepper has the prettiest heart-shaped blaze. Salty is the pushiest, which is no doubt why he’s bigger. 

Today they let me stroke them, for the first time since they came a week ago. Very cute!

The NSW Gloucester Valley is stunningly beautiful. As I drove there on Saturday, I thought yet again how crazy it was to consider a gas field and a coal mine here.

Tourism is what Gloucester is about, for itself and as the gateway to Barrington Tops. Industrialisation and the attendant pollution is the last thing it needs. 

Which is why the chapter in my book, Rich Land, Wasteland on Gloucester and Margaret River is called ‘Allowing the unthinkable’.

The NSW government is blowing its trumpet for buying back PELs (Petroleum Exploration Licences). As in the Blue Mountains, and most recently in the Hunter, where the Broke/Fordwich vineyard area has fought AGL for years, and in Sydney suburbs where the 2km residential exclusion zone would make it impossible for AGL to expand there anyway. Many of the PELs are ones that have been found to offer little CSG.

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However, at Gloucester, because the AGL project there was already approved, albeit hastily and very misguidedly, the 2km exclusion zone was not applied.

Not because Gloucester folk are immune to the harmful health impacts of living in and near gas fields — especially so for children.

Apparently the state government just doesn’t care about them or their children when the interests of AGL dictate otherwise.

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The disastrous record of stuff-ups and cover-ups from AGL’s first four pilot wells at Waukivory here should have been enough to call an end to this project.

AGL would be wise to do that sooner rather than later, because the opposition to it and the bad PR is not going away.

If anything, it will increase, as folk who’ve been fighting to save their own patches from CSG can now focus on helping Gloucester — like Derek Finter (above), who’d left home in the Blue Mountains at 4 am to get here for this Walk.

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Every second Saturday, on the Growers’ Market Day, folk gather in Gloucester’s Billabong Park at 9am to walk peacefully through the streets, dressed in bright colours, especially the yellow and black of Lock the Gate and the Knitting Nannas Against Gas, and carrying placards, mostly handwritten and heartfelt.

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Kids in strollers, dogs on leads, babies in backpacks and the very elderly and not-so-able join in.

Afterwards we have a cuppa, cake and much conversation. This is a great community fighting for survival and healing, given the harm and disunity caused here by the AGL project.

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Usually we chant, but today we walked in silence, in memory of the clever and caring E. V. Phillips, founding member of the Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud-Preservation-Alliance.

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Many people wore tape with ‘Gas field free’ across their mouths, or — less painfully — on their clothing.

The silent walk was very powerful.

The next major event in Gloucester is the No CSG Summit on Saturday 25th July, hosted by Groundswell Gloucester and Manning Clean Water Action Group.

Find out the latest, become involved, contribute to the discussion and so much more. There will be a great line-up of speakers and lots of time for discussion.

Date: Saturday 25th July 2015

Time: 9.30am to 4pm

Place: Gloucester Uniting Church Hall, 7 Cowper Street, Gloucester

Cost: Free

Email enquiries here: 

Bring: Your lunch or purchase from one of Gloucester’s wonderful cafés.

* Morning/afternoon tea available with gold coin donation.

The White-headed Pigeons fly like jet planes towards their favourite highest trees, landing with abrupt but sure precision even in the mist, and often on what looks like a ridiculous choice of perch. I mean, this one must have its feet crossed to be able to clutch on to a vertical twig. Why?

Well, if impressing is the aim, it did.

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This more immature one flew like the rest, way too fast and too low towards my house roof, only he didn’t manage to veer up and over in time.

Bang! Mad flapping and rolling, shedding small feathers, fluttering and staggering off the verandah to rest on the grass.

He did not look well.

Up so close, the stunning iridescence of his ‘black’ back was evident.

Lacking the full white head and chest he will have when grown, he nevertheless had the daredevil nature down pat already. Had to be a speed-loving, risk-taking juvenile male.

But would he survive?

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Thnakfully he hadn’t broken his neck, but he must have been in shock.

Meanwhile, the rest of the flock were blithely wheeling about and showing off across the creek flat.

After about half an hour’s rest, body not moving at all, beak open, eyes mostly closed, I feared I would soon see him keel over.

Was the pink blood? No, I read, beaks and eye surround are reddish.

I began to think of where I could bury him.

Then, without even trying out his wings, he simply took off. Up and away, no obvious harm.

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All that was left were the few breast feathers from first impact.

When you step out of your ute in a Macdonalds carpark (yes, I confess: a rare last resort!) you don’t expect to be eye-to-eye with a prehistoric creature like this.

It was most uncomfortably perched on top of a harshly pruned hedge, as spiky as itself.

I think it’s a water dragon but there was none of that substance about. It, like the dragons, is usually found at ground level.

Maybe it was waiting to be fed leftovers from Maccas?

By the way, at least I learnt that Maccas still doesn’t cater for vegetarians.

Coffee with fries, please.

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Meanwhile at home, I have two far more smooth and docile creatures in residence.

The Gramma couple are snuggling up in a corner while I consider how best to use these gifts from a neighbour. I’ve done the Gramma Pie they requested. Very nice too, but it was more an exercise in disguising the Gramma than making the most of its flavour (?).

Anything could have provided the bulk.

Anyway, I’m not sure I can bear to break up this loving pair. Well, he seems a bit uppity, but she clearly adores him.

Back in my old Mountain home, the verandah grew a living green blind each summer, blazed red and pink in autumn, and leaflessly let in the sunshine all winter.

Naturally, I took cuttings of this Ornamental Grape to bring with me.

They survived the trip and the transplant and here they are flagging their first autumn on their new verandah home.

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The other decoration on this verandah are the intricate spiderwebs between the uprights, only visible when delineated by a fine morning mist.

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The spiders do other useful work, such as binding the leaves of the little Nagami Cumquat into a neat parcel.

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With great difficulty I also brought with me my Dad’s Place. It was built by me and my sisters to house his ashes.

Not having been designed to be mobile, it weighed a ton.

But here it is, resettled, its lavender and wormwood plant settings fast making it look less newly transplanted. My grandkids have decorated the steps and verandah for him.

Fittingly, behind it is a terracotta chimneypot from my childhood farm, Dad’s orchard venture. I never saw it on a chimney, but I always loved it and I have carted it about for over 50 years. It lived in the rockery at the Mountain for the last 35.

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Here the southern face of its ferro-cement roof has grown a velvety green moss. I consider this makes up for the ridgeline crack it suffered in the move.

Ladder snake

May 30, 2015
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I have seen a tree snake trying to climb a water tank here. I suspect this is the same slender Green Tree Snake, made smarter by that experience. Now it uses the ladder. My book says that this snake will inflate the fore part of its body when threatened; I’m not sure if it was […]

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Penthouse wildlife

May 23, 2015
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I have become so accustomed to the flock of White-headed Pigeons landing in the tallest branches of the tallest Camphor Laurel by the creek that I don’t rush for the camera. Just the usual penthouse residents again. Luckily, this time I paid more attention. These birds looked different. Without the camera zoom I couldn’t see […]

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Autumn mornings

May 13, 2015
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It’s mid-Autumn; at last the nights and mornings have turned cold. The slow combustion fire warms me at night; the sight of Autumn mists rising from the valley warms my spirit of a morning. The dew and the sunshine cause even the electric fence and the wretched Setaria grass to take on beauty. I am […]

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Nature rewards

May 4, 2015
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Last year the Nature Conservation Council awarded me their Dunphy Award (link to ‘Nature wins’). With it came a prize donated by Crystal Creek Meadows of a two-night stay in their beautiful Kangaroo Valley eco-resort.  It has many laudable and genuine eco aspects and projects, and from the guest books, many appreciative and loyal fans.  I […]

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