At my old Mountain I was delighted as the White-headed Pigeon population that occasionally visited grew to eight. They would visit my ridge from the rainforest gullies that pleated my Mountain’s sides.

Here I am even more blessed. The remnant rainforest along the creek includes some large Camphor Laurels. No blessing, except that the White-headed Pigeons love these domineering pest trees.

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Large flocks of 30, 30, 50… wheel and bank overhead as they choose which tree to settle in. The flock splits in two.

They fly too fast for me to photograph them like this, and once they roost they are lost in the tree foliage.

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So, even in this light rain, I seized the chance of visibility when some alighted in a lichen-draped dead tree.

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The other Saturday night Nature gave us what used to be known as ‘a dump’: 150mm of rain in one storm.

The sight that greeted me in the morning showed we’d had a lot of rain even before I checked the rain gauge, which overflows after 150mm, so we may have had more.

The little creek had come up and over the flats, and on its way had cleaned out the brush to the extent of depositing logs and branches and greenery all along the fences, enough to render the fence horizontal in several places.

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I could see that the flood had risen higher before dropping, as the long grass on the whole creek flat had been levelled and raked — stangely, in rows — by the force.

The horse paddock had lost its bottom corner, but that was still under water; surely no horse would walk through a flood and over a four-wire-laid-down fence?

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Just in case,I checked; sensible Clancy was standing up near the stable on drier land. What a relief!

Ten minutes later I had a phone call asking if I’d lost a horse.

One answering to Clancy’s description had been sighted well down the road, munching by the roadside and chatting over a neighbour’s fence to their horse.

A rescue and recovery operation went into place with help from neighbours and Clancy spent the morning in a set of cattle yards until his owner, my daughter, could get here. Then, for his boldness, he spent the afternoon in the stable until she and her husband could re-erect the electric fence on slightly higher ground.

He had indeed done the unlikely, and a large tree trunk had lifted the bottom external gate off its hinge peg, so he saw Freedom.

Talk about seizing an opportunity.

I felt like he’d just waited for me to check – to call the roll – and then off he’d gone.

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The water has receded; the creek has been redesigned and redirected along much of its length. The sheets of galvanised iron that used to hang from the wire where the fence crossed the creek were lying in my paddock; we’ve just propped them up so the farmer can see to re-connect them.

The rationale for their visual blot on my view had been that they would float and not be broken by logs like wire would, hence allowing the cattle in…

An extra electric-fenced paddock below the house has now been created for Clancy, so he should be too busy eating to think of indulging his wanderlust. Or his Houdini talents.

But I keep checking — just in case.

Q. What’s black and yellow, clicks quietly and annoys politicians?
A. A Knitting Nanna Against Gas — a KNAG.

KNAGs also own to being Knitting Nannas Against Greed.

Never heard of the KNAGs? Well you’re about to be introduced, because I’ve just returned from the inaugural Internannanational Conference on the NSW north coast. 
My friend Christa from Kempsey also went, and took the following blog photos for me (except where noted otherwise). That’s Christa second from right, front line, in the group photo above, taken by Louise Somerville.

Imagine 80-odd women of a certain age and beyond, dressed to disarm and amuse, in a riot of Op-shop styles and shades of yellow, but nearly all wearing the trademark knitted KNAG beret, beanie or snood in yellow banded in black, or crocheted accessories like earrings and necklaces and hair or hat decorations.

To quote from their website, ‘KNAG draws on a broad history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism.’ 

…’We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities.’

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I was camping at Camp Liberty at Eltham courtesy of tireless and innovative anti-CSG warrior couple Judi and Gwilym Summers. Here the casual atmosphere, conversations, camp showers and loos, good food and river swimming brought such a great sense of Nanna camaraderie that I was glad I hadn’t chosen to be billeted.

I’d intended to take my own slide-on camper but it was too wet at home to get it on, so the Summers generously offered me their brillant mini-pod teardrop retro caravan that Gwilym had made: VIP accommodation indeed!

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We were bussed everywhere, carefree of getting lost or staying teetotal. The weekend started with dinner at the fabulous and friendly Eltham Pub, where the conference cake bearing the KNAG ‘coat of arms’ was cut.

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Here’s a trio of well-adorned Gloucester Nannas — Kate, Carol and Elizabeth — enjoying the night.

Then a full day Saturday at the Lismore Workers’ Club, where the programme was a well organised mix of facts and farce and KNAG history, as told by founding member Clare Twomey, in between three great speakers, whose presence I consider to be a mark of the respect in which the KNAGs are held.

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About to fill a bucket at the little overflow water tank, I just happened to see this little head poking out.

Not the sort of snake to make my heart leap, I knew — although quite what sort it was, I didn’t.

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With amazing liquidity it poured itself up and over my drink bottle and further; it seemed to keep coming forever.

What was even more amazing was how it then threaded itself in and out of the netting rolled and stacked on the tank stand.

When it reached the top it searched for purchase on the plastic tank but kept slipping, so it gave up and reverse-threaded its way back down and away.

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It is, I learnt, a Green Tree Snake, which can grow up to two metres long. This one was long enough!

It’s handsome and harmless, but maybe not so smart, to mistake a green tank for a tree?

agl-1In mid-December last year, after AGL had fracked the four wells at their Waukivory Pilot CSG project at Gloucester, the Protectors Camp that I was visiting went into recess, but not before one intrepid protector followed the tankers carrying the contaminated wastewater to find out what they were doing with it, as AGL had not replied to questions about this. She followed them to Newcastle, where Hunter Water had forbidden AGL to bring the stuff.

Of course it wasn’t AGL’s fault that it got dumped in the Hunter sewerage system; it was the contractor’s.

Although Hunter Water had directed AGL not to even use a Hunter contractor…

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So began a lovely series of revelations as to how AGL run their show and how low is the standard of what this industry calls ‘world class regulation’.

I have often repeated what the industry admitted in 2011, that ‘good management could minimise the risks of water contamination, but never eliminate them’.

Here’s the latest run of reasons why Groundswell Gloucester’s 2014 pre-fracking 79-page advice to government, ‘Exposing the Risks’, ought to have been heeded. ‘Good management’ is NOT what has happened at Gloucester.

During the fracking, it was discovered that AGL was using a radioactive element, Caesium-137, to measure the density of fracturing fluid. This had not been part of the approval process. Trust us, we’re a gas company??

Then two fracking chemicals, Tolcide and Monoethanolamine, indicators of likely other chemicals, were found in groundwater.

AGL’s licence requires zero presence of these chemicals. AGL knew that zero limit was exceeded in November, yet they kept fracking and didn’t tell the EPA until Jan 15.

Professor Philip Pells has said all along that at Gloucester there is a high risk of an environmental disaster. He considered it likely that fracking would connect the coal seam’s polluted water with the beneficial shallow aquifers. ‘Adaptive management’ is what AGL was approved to use, to ‘suck it and see'; which always meant it would be too late to do anything after the disaster occurs, as it has.

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Then AGL admitted large fluctuations of groundwater levels at its monitoring bores; they don’t admit fracking is the fault but levels at one bore varied as much as 7.8 metres during the fracking and 3.5 metres after it.

Next they found toxic BTEX chemicals in flowback water at two of the wells and an above-ground storage tank. AGL discovered the chemicals on January 15, but only reported them to the EPA almost two weeks later.

Associate Professor Stuart Khan, from the University of NSW, says while the four main BTEX chemicals — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and three forms of xylene — occur naturally in coal seams no one wants them turning up in drinking water. Benzene is a known carcinogen and Australian drinking water guidelines restrict it to one part per billion. 

AGL denies using BTEX in its fracking. ‘The reported concentration of 555 [parts per billion of BTEX for one AGL sample] is very high and probably the highest concentration I have heard of in environmental water,” Dr Khan said.

After this avalanche of bad PR, AGL suspended the Waukivory Pilot Project, then the government did so too. Division of Resources and Energy investigators will inspect the four CSG wells with their counterparts from the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Just two months of world class management of four wells. Imagine 110, and then 330 wells?

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But don’t worry, there will be a ‘robust’ investigation and Minister Roberts has appointed Ms Lee Shearer to oversee it; Groundswell Gloucester doesn’t question her abilities, but her past role as a consultant to the mining industry, including ‘managing crisis situations’, does raise concerns about her total independence…

AGL’s new wastewater contractor was taking it to South Windsor; the Hawkesbury area was not too happy about it, and now that treatment plant will not accept AGL wastewater either. So what is their solution?

Local National Party candidate Stephen Bromhead has been saying that “If it is found that AGL cannot demonstrate that they can prevent BTEX escaping from the coal seam their license for the Gloucester Basin will be cancelled and no new applications will be approved.” 

Sadly people cannot hear such promises without looking for the post-election wriggle room. Who could forget O’Farrell’s ‘no ifs, no buts, a guarantee’ re mining in water catchments?

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I joined Gloucester folk on the first 2015 No Stopping Gloucester walk through town: we had about 100 there.

(These are held the second Saturday of each month to coincide with the local Growers’ Market; 9 am at Billabong Park.)

The next Tuesday I returned when Groundswell Gloucester publicly presented a new 600pp document, ‘Exposing the truth’, how AGL has failed to consult or report donations and has misled the community. It asks Minister Roberts to suspend AGL’s Licence and was delivered to him on 5th February.

AGL has now admitted what I was quoting BHP Petroleum as saying several years ago: there’s enough LPG in the Bass Strait reserves to avoid gas shortages in NSW. There goes the doomsday scenario justification for rushing to open up more risky unconventional gas fields for LNG. We don’t need to poison or dewater Gloucester and the Manning — or the Pilliga and the GAB, or anywhere.

AGL wants to start three test wells at Wards River south of Gloucester next. Gloucester Council has withdrawn from the dialogue with AGL and has asked the Minister to cancel its licence.

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Meanwhile, the new CEO of AGL has foreshadowed  a ‘comprehensive review’ of AGL’s upstream gas operations, and Citibank has warned that  ‘negative connotations’ around AGL’s Gloucester coal seam gas project risk harming the company’s brand, and says the company should consider ‘walking away’’ if public perception doesn’t improve.

Citibank said that while the introduction of a new CEO meant it was a ‘good time to try and change public’s perception’ of AGL and Gloucester, ‘given the strength of local opposition, this will be a very difficult task’.

Citibank is spot on there. Take a look at this latest in Groundswell Gloucester’s series of short films of Voices from Gloucester (by David Lowe).

In the four months I have been here I had not seen a snake of any sort.

Given how many red-bellied blacks I shared my last mountain home with, and that here is equally wet and welcoming for such inhabitants, I have been on the alert, expecting to see their coastal cousins in the back garden or cruising across the grass.

Last week, I pulled up in the ute to see this handsome python digesting its lump of lunch in the sun. I was very pleased that this was my introduction to the local reptilia, and I am still on the lookout for that telltale flash of shiny black.

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There is a tall grandfather casuarina on the bank above the house, and from here the magpies have a fine view and a fine stage for projecting their glorious songs each morning.

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Now that the baby maggie’s most unmusical whinging has ceased, the adults’ carolling is uninterrupted, a joyful accompaniment to my breakfast.

Before the current deluge began, the small birds appreciated my three-tier insulator bird bath.

Two yellow robins, so numerous here, were happily taking turns at dips in the penthouse pool when a bigger contender landed nearby.

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It was clearly a honeyeater, but which of the umpteen and only slightly varied choices? Typically, the one I thought it most resembled in the bird book turned out to be confined to somewhere impossibly far away, like Cape York. 

So my guess is a Lewin’s Honeyeater, even though it seems less olive than the book’s picture. It is apparently ’fiercely competitive’ and it certainly was very effective in breaking up the robins’ party.

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The little wren who had just landed will be at the bottom of the pecking order.

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The robins gave up hope of a second turn but the dainty wren kept her (or young his) distance to wait it out.

Washed and fluffed and cooled, the honeyeater was still in possession when the phone rang, I moved, and they both took off.

I aim to have several bird baths in more salubrious and safer positions, now that I know that this is such a rich birdland.

Here on the mid north coast hinterland of New South Wales it’s been feeling like the subtropics: storms, showers, searingly hot spells and perpetually high humidity. Not pleasant, unless you are plant life, for whom it’s boom time.

To beat the heat, I get up very early — and so often begin the day with beauty like this.

Apart from what I’ve planted here, birds have distributed seeds and amongst the most noticeable of their crops are the scattered tall sunflowers.

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This King Parrot spotted one whose flowerhead was nicely drying out to seed. It must have been too awkward to eat in situ so it yanked out a chunk as takeaway and found a more comfy perch.

I haven’t seen any parrots new to me, but I keep on seeing birds that are nothing like any I have ever struck before.

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This one literally ran into my view as I sat at my desk. It ran across the grass in the rain, halted, turned and ran back again out of sight.

I need help with this one; the closest I can find is a female Chestnut Quail-thrush, but the patterns and the body shape don’t quite match. Any ideas, birdwise readers?

Protecting our wildlife

January 15, 2015
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As many of you know, my last place of 165 acres was a gazetted Wildlife Refuge and protected on my deeds (from all but mining!) under a Voluntary Conservation Agreement with the Office of Environment and Heritage.  My new place is only 5 acres so not eligible for these. However, I was also a member […]

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Sky specials

January 8, 2015
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January is always a time for sales and specials but I’ve been getting the best specials of all, as they’re free. Plus they are self-generating — no batteries! —  and ever-changing, so I never tire of them. Just as at my old Mountain, I arise early, rewarded by this sort of sunrise. Delivered in this […]

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New Year feathers

January 1, 2015
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The first feathered visitor of the New Year was an Azure Kingfisher, a beautiful little bird, a visitor that sadly will not be leaving. I found it lying on the back verandah, presumedly killed when it flew into the glass doors. If this is to be a problem I will have to hang feathers all […]

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Doves for Christmas

December 26, 2014
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I knew I was blessed with many bird species here that are new to me, but I’d forgotten how exciting it is to meet them! This pair were poking about amongst the palm litter. They are Bar-shouldered Doves and they solve the mystery of the repetitive calls I keep hearing. My book reckons they say […]

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