A little adventure for Suzi and me

I reached my mountain range about 6 pm, after driving for over 11 hours from sunny Ballina. Desperate to get home after 8 days away, I’d expected my mountains to have dried out a little.

Assuming the torrential nine inches we’d had before I Ieft would have washed away the short road, I headed round the long ridge way through the national park. After about 10 kms, I stopped: a gumtree had fallen, its top covering the road, very firmly joined to its downhill trunk, so immovable, and no way around it.

The short way it would have to be, no matter how rough. Back the 10 kms, then gingerly easing over ruts and washouts and slides down to the creek crossing, another 5 kms. Lucky the Suzi and I are a seasoned 4WD team.

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But no way here either.

I backed up to a friend’s house nearby. They said big 4WDs had been getting through, but my Suzuki is very small, and light. Marg insisted I eat while Barrie put on his armpit-high waders – took a flashlight – and waded. It was flowing very strongly, mid-thigh deep. Suzi and I do not like challenges, especially where it involves cold and wet and maybe swift passage downstream.

Read moreA little adventure for Suzi and me

Golden gifts

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As Autumn nears its end, my verandah view is no longer filtered through the pink and burgundy curtain of the ornamental grape vine leaves, for they have all fallen, leaving long lost woody stems that reproach me as I pass, waving bony arms and begging to be pruned.

Now I look through to the darker native forest via a tracery of gold and butter yellow, from the wisteria. Grown from a cutting, this wisteria has never flowered, but I don’t care, for I love its summer gift of shading green and its autumn golden glory.

Read moreGolden gifts

Extreme weather

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Sometime during the night the silence woke me: no rain on the tin roof, after three continuous days of bombardment, eight inches in all.

I stumbled out on to the verandah at about 6.45 a.m., feet fumbling for the thongs, eyes peering at the thermometer – 4 degrees – then the ritual glance into the distance. Blink. Wow!

The first snowfalls on my opposite ridge, which is about 5,300 feet high. No matter how light the dusting of white, the sight is always a bonus gift, since it is no colder here than in many snowless places.

I feed the horses and check their rugs: they are warm and dry under there. Ready for more rain, or snow.

I am marooned on my mountain, but safe, as we have not had the big winds that went with the rain nearer the coast. Newcastle certainly had an ‘extreme weather event’, more of which have been forecast as global warming increases.

Which it certainly will if Mr Sartor keeps fuelling it with more coalmines – like Anvil Hill.

Read moreExtreme weather

After the rain

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In the 24 hours to 10 o’clock this morning, 5 inches of rain fell – very heavily – on my mountain. I received a call from my daughter to say that she’d heard that the creek was nearly up to the bridge down on the tar road and I’d better hurry if I wanted to get out. Well, I did, but tomorrow had been the plan.

However, I didn’t want to be stuck for days, so I threw a few essentials together – toothbrush, computer, Drizabone, camera – stepped into my ever-ready gum boots and raced off. The creek on my usual route would definitely be up, so I drove the long way, 25 kms extra, through the National Park.

Half way round I met a local coming the other way. ‘It’s three feet over’, he said, looking down at me from the height of his big Toyota, ‘No way I’d risk it.’

Read moreAfter the rain

Salvation Sunday at Anvil Hill

Several hundred people from all over NSW had made their way to the property near Anvil Hill by Saturday’s nightfall. Faces by firelight, beanie-topped, scarf-swathed, hard to recognise. Wood smoke and cooking smells – the Hare Krishnas’ curry competing with the steak sandwiches.

Music and talk with passionate folk from Canberra to Byron Bay: the mood is optimistic. We CAN save Anvil Hill!

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Next morning is foggy, the hundreds of small dome tents like brightly coloured fungi emerging from the grey ground cover of sticks and bark, where the vicious tiger pear leaves await the unwary. Some try to migrate, hitch a ride on my tyres.

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As the fog lifts and the sun warms our bodies, hundreds more people arrive, in vans and cars and buses big and small. Their blue-clad numbers warm our hearts.

Read moreSalvation Sunday at Anvil Hill

Chatting with Charles

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Early in May Charles Wooley interviewed me for his national radio program, ‘Across Australia’, about my book, The Woman on the Mountain. He was in Tasmania, I was on my NSW mountain, with only the still-incomprehensible wonder of the telephone linking us.

Yet he was so in tune with my book’s many layers and main themes, and so warm and funny, that it felt like we were sitting here on my verandah – just chatting. Sympatico – must be the Scottish connection!

NB: We’re having a few technical problems with the download below. Will be back with a fix asap.

You can download an MP3 audio of the interview here [1.6Mb].

You will need Quicktime to listen. It is free and downloadable here.

High Noon at Anvil Hill

Don’t let them turn this

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into this

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Next weekend, June 2 and 3, I’ll be heading to Anvil Hill near Wybong in the Upper Hunter Valley.

Centennial Coal wants to turn it into a monster open cut coal mine, 2000 hectares of it, destroying precious remnant valley floor woodlands.

I’ve seen it, and still can’t believe anyone would contemplate approving a mine in a place called ‘The Ark of the Hunter’ because of its rich biodiversity. But, having postponed his decision until after the election, NSW Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor, will be delivering it soon.

Local winemakers and horsebreeders don’t want this mine any more than the farmers or the environmentalists do. Lots of people from all over the state will be there this weekend too, to draw a metaphoric line in the sand and say to Mr Sartor, ‘No new coalmines’.

Check out the Anvil Hill Alliance for details like directions, special buses from Sydney and Newcastle on the Sunday, and bookings.

Coal is proven to be toxic for the planet: how insane is it to be helping fuel global warming, to the tune of around 25 million tonnes of C02 per annum??!!

Read moreHigh Noon at Anvil Hill

Cloud dunes

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Autumn is noted for its winds here. They’ve been a little late this year, but then everything about the weather has been out of whack.

Because the mountains I face are so high, clouds often get hooked there. The wind then appears to flow over them, sculpts them into an upper mountain range.

But very early the other morning, the wind instead formed the clouds into a mighty dune, super smooth, backlit by the rising sun so it held a silver edge for about a quarter of an hour.

Other small clouds, unreliable bits of fluff, promenaded about and skylarked, ski-ing down the slope while the going was good.

I looked for my local wedge-tailed eagles. I’ll bet they were checking out the wind waves from somewhere out there – ‘Great day for a surf, eh?’

I wished for wings – but instead I grabbed the camera. There’s a lot to be said for getting up early – at least when you live somewhere like this. More clouds to come…

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A rosey day

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Yesterday it rained all day on the mountain, cold and lashing and miserable-making.  23mm. worth of it. From my desk window the autumn leaves of the verandah vines were dull shadows of themselves without their sunny backlighting.

Then a flash of rich red refocused the scene. A crimson rosella had landed on the birdfeeder there and was skulking amongst the dripping leaves, pecking at sodden seeds and keeping a watchful eye out for a currawong or magpie.

She flew off when a strong gust sent a cane chair flat on its face and skittering along the boards. When the rain stopped, she — or a cousin — was back, less startlingly exotic now as the vine reclaimed a little colour, though still missing the sun.

These ‘rosies’ are my main — red and blue and black, with green on the young. My flying jewels, my singing stars.

The vines are wisteria, now turning butter yellow; ornamental grape, almost bare of its pinks and reds; and Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa) which is not a jasmine, is not invasive, and has the most beautifully perfumed bunches of slenderly furled white trumpet flowers in summer.

They produce the elegant long seed pods, joined in twin arcs, that you see by the rosella in the photos. Leave a comment if you’d like some seeds from it!

Of love and death

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Watching someone you love dying slowly, even if painlessly, is hard. I’ve been away from the Mountain for five days, keeping my friend Emily company at her husband Ken’s deathbedside as he shrank to a pale husk, incredibly breathing on, despite running on empty.

Talk about Aussie battlers!

I’d known Ken Donald for 40 years, had been at their first wedding in 1970 – Miss Sunshine marries dour Scot. Yes, I said ‘first’, because the marrriage didn’t last very long that time, despite each declaring ever after that they never stopped loving the other.

Life happened to them separately for 30 years, but they re-found each other recently. When they came to my Mountain for a weekend, as a couple they were the most romantic I’d ever seen, despite being well into what many would consider as advanced years (70s & 60s).

They re-married in December 2006, in an extremely poignant ‘shotgun’ wedding. For Ken had been diagnosed with cancer.

They had no idea just how very advanced it was, but they only managed a week of married life at home before he was hospitalised. And there he stayed. He’d given up smoking a decade ago, but those bloody Rothmans had done their work by then.

Read moreOf love and death

A question of territory

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Last week Charles Wooley interviewed me from Tasmania for his radio show, which goes out to 50 regional stations across Australia.

Clearly a discerning and intelligent man, since he loved my book – he proved to be warm, funny and empathetic as well. He especially loved the stories about the Spotted-tailed Quoll who lives and breeds in my shed.

When I put the phone down I was still chuckling at his offer to play the quoll in the unlikely event of a TV show of the book.

Not two hours later a movement about a metre inside the sunlit open doorway of the cabin caught my eye. There she was, as bold and spotty as you please, walking into my kitchen in the middle of the day!

I uttered a small squeal – not the clichéd mouse-sighting kind – just a shocked involuntary ‘What-the …!’ She glanced at me, turned, and unhurriedly waddled back out the door, her long tail held straight out behind. I got up from the desk and followed her, grabbing the camera as I went.

She hadn’t gone far. From the doorway I watched as she jumped into my ‘burnables’ bin, fossicked about, then leapt back out on to the verandah with a potential but unproductive piece of scrunched up printer paper.

I could have told her that story was no good, but it must have smelt of the buttered slice of pumpkin and walnut loaf that had sat on my desk papers at morning tea.

Read moreA question of territory

I ought to be planting trees…

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It’s a glorious autumn on the Mountain. The Woman ought to be out there planting trees but is spending too much time indoors right now, doing interviews, preparing talks, because her book is out!

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The Woman on the Mountain is now in any bookshop worthy of the name. Published by Exisle Publishing, (ISBN 978 090 898 8709) and distributed by Pan Macmillan, it’s a candid meander through my life up here alone on my remote mountain wildlife refuge – answering the oft-asked question, ‘Why do you live way out there?’

The horses and the quolls and the wallabies have as large a role in the book as I do, although the defiant machines on which I depend for my self-sufficient lifestyle take up quite a few pages too.

There’s always something new and unexpected happening here in the busy natural world in which I dwell, so this site can be my ongoing notebook.

Catch what the critters got up to lately or my most recent saga of mechanical ineptitude.

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