For about a week I have had a constant hum in my ears. Given I was recently diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, nothing would surprise me.

But then a visitor heard it too, and sensibly wondered where the bees were. Not many plants are flowering right now, so I was at a loss.

Until I really listened to where the humming was coming from — the large Casuarina on the bank behind the house. Too high for me to see its flowers without the camera’s magnification; and they don’t look much like flowers anyway. The tree just looked a bit rusty from afar.

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But on going closer, this big She-oak is covered in golden flowers, its branches visibly vibrating with hundreds of busy bees. I would not have imagined these tiny flowers to be so bee-beloved.

I am always grateful that such a majestic tree survives within my watching area.

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Black Cockatoos love its nuts/seeds, all the bigger birds love to perch in its branches and sing, and now I know that bees love it too. Somewhere there is a hive full of Casuarina honey.

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The coal train rumbled past behind Tarwyn Park, as it often does on its route to and from Newcastle’s coal port and the Western Coalfields, where the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong mines are busy trashing other valleys, other villages. But on this last day of July 2016, it seemed an unwarranted rubbing in of salt to the wound that has been inflicted here in the Bylong Valley. 

Kepco is the Korean coal company that has imposed its ambition for a coal mine onto a lush farming valley, in a natural setting as stunning as Gloucester’s. The Bylong Way is a renowned scenic drive or bike ride.

And, like Gloucester, it ought to have been unthinkable to propose a coalmine here.

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Kepco’s plans have harmed the hopes and histories of many Bylong families, but today we are here to celebrate, honour and mourn in particular Tarwyn Park, birthplace and home of Natural Sequence Farming — and of the Andrews family.

Peter Andrews developed his internationally respected system here, slowing the natural flows of water through this landscape so it became water retentive, as it would have been before Europeans cleared and interfered.

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Photo of Peter Andrews by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

His son Stuart, wife Megan, and their sons Hamish and Lachlan were living here when I chose it as the Rich Land of the cover of my book, Rich Land, Wasteland.

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Photo by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

After today they no longer will be in residence; Kepco will. The fact that Kepco had set up their headquarters right next door (once a farm) always struck me as intimidating, a constant red rag, a reminder to this stressed family that ’we are bigger; we will win in the end’.

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Many came to this Open Day, to see the place and hear how the system works, to sign the petitions to have Tarwyn Park heritage listed — visit the website here — to meet Peter Andrews, to show support, express sympathy…

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The old sheds and stables, where champions like Rainmaker were housed, reeked of history, as did the homestead. People came in from the paddocks to the homestead steps to hear Peter, Joanne McCarthy and myself speak.

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The extraordinarily persevering Craig Shaw, driver of BVPA, Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, a person for whom I have great affection, admiration (and concern), brought us up to speed on the heritage listing campaign.

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Photo of Sharyn Munro (left) by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

I saw many familar faces there, fellow fighters for a fair go, as these industries especially impact on rural areas like Bulga, and nearby Wollar. For example, perennial battler Bev Smiles from Wollar and some really dangerous extremists like Di O’Mara.

Di is holding a green ribbon; as we left we tied these to the row of olive trees outside the gate, to flutter in the breeze for the weeks to come and remind Kepco that we care, that we do not forget. How many rich lands must we lose to wastelands — for the dying industry of coal?

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It was an emotional day for many, as we felt for the Andrews family and railed at the injustice and stupidity of any government allowing this to happen.

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Please follow the ongoing battle and progress of negotiations for heritage listing on Facebook. 

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On the creek flat paddock both birds and beasts feed together amicably. Clancy the horse is the boss and keeps the two dairy steers, Salt and Pepper, in line. As usual there is a pecking order, so the smaller steer, Pepper, comes last.

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Why do Cattle Egrets prefer cattle to horses? Clancy does often have a Willy Wagtail riding on his back, but no Egrets at his feet… or hooves.

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Pepper is not sure he wants them at his feet — I mean hooves — at all.

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From the higher vantage points on the house hill, the Magpies and Butcher Birds keep an eye on the goings-on below. Just in case their intervention is needed… or something tasty is turned up.

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As I’ve never been one for expensive jewellery, the ephemeral gems that nature offers now and then are quite enough to send me into raptures. They are only visible when the night dew has been caught by them, the sun’s light catches them in turn, and I awake in time to catch the sight of the fleeting treat of strings of tiny diamonds.

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They are especially welcome because they appear to decorate the wintry bare of twigs and vines, to interlink the sticks about to be pruned and set wheels of wonder amongst them. This triple display demonstrates that they’re available in a range of sizes.

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Set amongst the lichened arms, while the sun is behind them, the intricacy of the night’s work in these webs is clear for the moment. Stunning engineering and art.

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And then there’s the slings, the hammocks of gossamer, stronger, more layers, to catch…?

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But if I miss the diamonds, as the sun’s heat intensifies I am given the spectacle of the ground steaming as if I have hot springs just over my garden edge.

Never a dull moment when you live with nature on even a small scale — so long as you take the time to notice it.

Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive.

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The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied.

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I was surprised to see some wildflowers out, but they couldn’t compete with the spectacular Banksias, glowing amber in their rugged trees like lit lanterns, fringed with shining burgundy.

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Nearer the ground the dainty bells of Correa and the pale sunlit puffs of Wattle caught my eye. Both had spiky hard leaves, as befits the tough rocky environment in which they grew.

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At the base of the gully a creek had sculpted the sandstone over eons, the damp shade fostering a whole other world of plants.

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Whether ghostly green with moss, sheltering ti-tree liquid gold, or striking white with lichen, lapping at the edges, the rocks were wonderful.

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Wet or dry, it was the details that drew me: the bright leaves trapped against the rock like flies in amber, or the bush-fire limned bark flakes of an old tree up the slope, badges of survival.

April ended in soft showers and wild storms, sunshowers and sunny patches, gentle grey drizzle and roof-rattling torrents.

We needed the actual water to fill the tanks and keep the creek flowing happily — and to fill my new pond.

But we also received bonuses with this mix of elements. The most striking were the rainbows.

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This one had an echo, a fainter twin following it across the greyness of the watery sky, seemingly separated by a band of darker sky. Or is that an illusion?

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The other bounty is what I have been waiting for all Autumn — the arrival of fungi. Only one so far — and a spectacularly beautiful fungus.

It’s large (that’s my gumboot next to it) a lacy ladies’ parasol, frilled and flocked, white with cream and caramel appliqués on top. I have seen this one before, although not here: Macrolepiota dolichaula.

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Welcome!

Now the rain has passed on and the sun is out, I expect more varieties to pop up. I have my eyes on fungi alert from now on…

I had treated myself to a plain terracotta bird bath for my 2015 birthday; then I was given a green glazed one for this year’s birthday.

I couldn’t resist adding some bling with these iridescent stick-on glass beads. They didn’t all stick but nevertheless look pretty.

Not sure yet whether the birds like their bathing Bollywood-style…

The bird baths are for little birds, and lots of those come to drink and splash. But I want to attract waterbirds nearer to the house than the creek.

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So a few ponds joined by a moat have been dug. We pumped from the creek to fill them at first, to see if they hold water.

Sadly, as you can see by the dropping water level, they don’t. I’ll need to add Bentonite and see if that helps the obvious clay particles to merge and seal.

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Then I’ll add rocks to the edges and plant or stand pots on the ledges that ought to be under water.

This will give some cover for shy ducks and water hens.

I’m sure frogs and water bugs will find it very quickly. 

I can’t wait — I’m already imagining a solar fountain, a waterfall…

I am used to seeing splashes and dashes of black and white at a distance, in the tall trees along the creek, for the White-headed Pigeons feed there often.

Near the house I am used to the Magpies and Butcherbirds strutting about in their dapper black and white outfits and singing their own praises.

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I am not used to seeing a flock of large unknown black and white birds feeding on the creek flat. I counted 22! From the house they looked as big as pelicans, but clearly weren’t.

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They were keeping their heads down, their beaks poked well into the grass, which was also long enough to hide their legs, so I was at a loss to work out what they might be.

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The camera zoom finally found me a couple who had ventured into shorter grass. Long beak, long legs.

Ibis of a sort, but which?

They had to be Straw-necked Ibis, the most common in Australia. I could see the greenish sheen on their backs, and even if I couldn’t really see straw-coloured tufts on their chests, there were tufts.

Being vagrants, they were gone by evening.

But I am always grateful for even fleeting visits from wild creatures.

Weavers

April 21, 2016

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the dearth of blog posts lately. The website has been in process of transferring servers and this has been more of a prolonged nightmare than imagined, with many unexpected side effects and hiccups. Hopefully we can now get back into a routine of weekly posts, where I snap and […]

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Beethoven and butcher-birds

March 25, 2016

I have always envied people who have butcher-bIrds in their environs. I never have, despite them being distributed over most of Australia. My magpies are handsome and dapper enough to cover the visual advantages of black and white birds, and I do love their songs… But they cannot compete with the songs of butcher-birds. And […]

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The size of the beak…

March 10, 2016

My friend Christa lives by a river and keeps her camera handy for whatever wildlife may visit. Her rotary clothesline gets used as a perch by various odd birds. Sometimes she spots and snaps them and shares them with me. This little sequence is so good that with Christa’s permission I am sharing her photos […]

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Moody mountain

February 22, 2016

One of the reasons I just have to live near mountains is that they never look the same. Sunlit or moonglowed, gaily golden, broodingly black or morning misted, their interaction with the sky and the light makes for a perpetually changing visual feast. As at my old Mountain home, I can never decide which I […]

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