From the far side

For once I am looking down on cloudland instead of up or across. Only it’s not my cloudland, for I’ve flown to far north Queensland for a four-day holiday, to keep my friend Emily company. The things you do for friends!

Once my nervous system settled down from the take-off, I could kid myself it was all just a passing panoramic picture and I wasn’t really up here in a man-made, man-maintained, flimsy, fallible metal thing, pretending to be a bird.

Then I could marvel at the extraordinary topsy-turvy cloud world below.

There were flat cloud lakes, fields of clouds raked like Japanese pebble gardens, with now and then a tall cloud ridge rising above them. Rarely did the world below intrude, like this dark mountain ridge like a man waving – ‘Hey mountain woman, what you doin’ up there?’

mountain cloud

Once we were nearing the Whitsundays, the sea blues changed to aquas and greens as the coral reefs appeared.

It seemed as if every island of any size had developments on it, and the tiny white darts of boat wakes were plentiful.

Barrier Reef island

I was spared the Qantas idea of vegetarian food because we forgot to tell them about my inability to eat the beef or chicken options. I could at least have the coffee, but since I didn’t put my glasses on to open the sugar sachet, I flavoured it with black pepper and had to ask for another. Darn nuisances, these vegos!

Landing at Cairns was as scary as landing anywhere else: I hate the feeling of uncontrolled speed after the bump of re-connection.

Cairns felt warm and looked overdeveloped, but we only saw it through the windows of our airconditioned limo as the driver whisked us off along the narrow coast road to Port Douglas. Life can be very hard at times.

Ratbag review

There have been many articles written about The Woman on the Mountain, but none so quirky or comprehensive as the one by Fred Baker, editor, journalist, reviewer, publisher and upholder of standards grammatical.

Deliciously entitled ‘Didactic Pastoral and the Authentic Australian Ratbag’, you’ll find it at his Knocklofty Press website.

Talking books

The Woman on the Mountain is coming down to the coast to go on tour in early September.

The north coast of NSW is familiar territory as I have had sun- and surf-loving family and friends scattered along its length for many decades.

The Pacific Highway used to be a winding single-lane road where you became intimate with the back windows of caravans and the idiosyncratic signs of the businesses in small coastal towns.

Now it increasingly ignores the towns and roars flat chat over 4 lanes or more wherever it can. But I’ll be slowing down and turning off, into the bigger towns at least, to talk at their libraries. Perhaps you live near one of these and can come along and hear me have a rave and do bird calls and try to sum up in 20 minutes what it took me nine months to write?

You get to quiz me afterwards and if you tell me how much you loved the talk or the book I’ll write nice things in your copy of it.

Monday 3 September
Forster 1.30pm
Taree 5.30pm

Tuesday 4 September
Port Macquarie 10 am
Kempsey  2 pm
Wednesday 5 September
Coffs Harbour 2 pm

Thursday 6 September
Grafton 2 pm
Friday 7 September
Lismore 10 am
Monday 10 September
Ballina 10.30 am

Then I’m leaving the coast and heading back to mountain country and down the New England Highway to home.
Tuesday 11 September
Armidale 5.30 pm
Wednesday 12 September
Tamworth  11 am

The perversity of nature

This piece was recently broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program:

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Being hopeless with machinery, and living a long way from town, I treat any mechanically-minded visitor as a precious opportunity. There’s always some collection of moving metal parts that’s refusing to function. This time it was my pump.

I’d excused it slowing down a bit, given that the old Ajax and its partner, the Lister diesel engine, were getting on.

For nearly 30 years they’ve squatted over by my dam, ready to be cranked into action at three monthly intervals, and pump steadily up to my cement tanks on the ridge — 200 feet of head. The faithful pair would work continuously for 24 hours without complaint.

The Lister had been overhauled once, and the Ajax had its leather seals replaced once — but not by me.

Read moreThe perversity of nature

March against Coal

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On Tuesday 31st July I got all dressed up to join a street march organised by Rising Tide, a Newcastle-based grassroots climate change action group.

While they constantly use their considerable pool of brains to campaign aginst any new coal mines or increased coal exports in the Hunter in conventional ways like submissions, they equally win my admiration with such creative and energetic actions as this march.

Headed by giant puppets of Peter Garrett and Kevin Rudd, chained to Coal as they are, with a troupe of ashen skeletons in floating funeral raiment carrying coal to local MPs, the parade stopped traffic and chanted ‘No New Coal’ until it was hoarse.

Grannies like me and a phalanx of stroller-pushing mums joined the dreadlocked young in a parade of around 200 people protesting the insanity of increasing coal mining and coal exports.

Given that the giant Pasha Bulka carrier had been washed up on the local Nobbys Beach by just such an ‘extreme weather event’ as is predicted from increasing climate chaos, how can the Iemma government claim to be dealing with climate change when they have approved the huge Anvil Hill mine and the expansion of the Newcastle coal loader?

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I reckoned it was worth donning a bikini years after I swore I never would again. Pretty fetching, eh? At least I was ready for any weather event.

After the fires

Five years after our last bad fire, the eucalypt forest has recovered. On the rough and furrowed trunks of the stringybark trees, bunches of dead stems fan out like whiskers, or bony-fingered hands.

When all their normal mop heads of gum leaves were burnt, these emergency feeder leaves sprouted straight out of the blackened trunks, all the way up to the top and along the branches. The forest became an alien one of upraised claws, presenting an increasingly furry silhouette as the suckers emerge.

It was a transitional landscape, for now the mop heads are back and doing their job. The interim sucker leaves are dead and fallen, and eventually their dry stems will break off too.  The blackened bark will remain so.

After fire

In the more rainforest areas, where the trees do not have this special survival tactic, normality is far slower to return — if ever.

But there are a few protected pockets where isolated offspring of the fallen are growing strongly. In the lee of one dead wattle, as its bark cracks and peels off, a Native Bleeding Heart tree (Omalanthus populifolius) and a Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa) reach for the sky.

In fact, both have heart-shaped leaves. My mind leapfrogs to connections, connotations — to Richard the Lionheart, Braveheart, to ‘coeur’ — courage, to courage under fire — and after fire?

After fire2

Meet my neighbours

Kookaburra winter

Moist ground, short grass, worms a-popping, birds a-watching – snap!

Kookaburras decorate my fenceposts and the bare wintry branches of my stone fruit trees.  For ages they stare intensely at a spot in the apparently motionless paddock.

The cold wind causes them to fluff up their feathers  – white, elegantly speckled and striped in brown, with those surprising azure dabs and dashes on the wings. Their flat tops ruffle and peak like punks, but they are not distracted from their task.

Their beaks are big and tough and capacious, hooked at the end. Good for catching and dismembering much bigger prey than worms, but that’s what on the menu today. Just a snack in between the morning and evening song sessions.

kookaburra magpie

Below his branch a magpie struts, keen to beat the kooka to that worm. Maggies rule here. It’s not the size of the beak that counts…

I don’t see who wins this time but they are always equally quick to react when a worm appears. Zoom!  I rarely see them disappointed – not many worms get away.

kookaburra wallaby

Just beyond them a red-necked wallaby grazes steadily across the paddock outside the fence, laden pouch seeming to skim the ground as she does.

Going about her daily business, like my feathered neighbours, and not bothering about me or mine. It’s a good neighbourhood that way – and no barking dogs, whining mowers and hedgetrimmers, nor thumping music as son-of-house-four-doors-up washes family car under duress.

Fairy fungi?

Delicate yet rubbery, translucently flesh-coloured, looking more like fairy breast enhancers than fungi, these odd little cups appeared on my shadehouse ‘floor’ over a week ago and have sat there, unchanged, ever since.

Breast enhancer fungi

I love the way fungi just pop up where they’ve never been seen before, prop for a while to propagate in slow, strange and secret ways, then simply wizen and disappear.

Not so unlike human lives, I suppose.

So if the fairies are trying to look like Barbies, maybe this fungi, that came up in my orchard last Autumn, belonged to Ken?

Kenfungus

If anyone can identify these sexy fungi please leave me a comment . My fungi book is old and short on colour illustrations (Common Australian Fungi, Tony Young, NSW University Press, 1983).  I need a better one – any recommendations?

Icy records

This morning broke several winter records at my place. They won’t impress some of you hardy Tableland and Tassie types, but their rarity here sure impressed me.

At 7am, the sunlight not yet having found us, it was zero degrees on my verandah, which we have had on rare occasions before. What struck me was the whiteness beyond.

I am in the habit of saying ‘Oh, we don’t really get frosts; too high up, you know. Just a little on the mulch now and then.’ I can say that no longer. I don’t know what is normal weather to ‘get’ any more.

Frozen birdbath

The whole yard was iced: the solar panels, grass, rocks, small shrubs. The birdbath water was frozen solid, the horse tub had an 8mm icy crust.

Frozen dam

But what caught my eye was a strange texture down on the little dam. In disbelief I approached, still in my slippers, so treading gingerly, with childhood memories of frosty slips and bruised bottoms.

Out the gate and crunching over frozen mud decorated with delicately ice-edged hoof prints – equine Brandy Alexanders.

The whole dam was iced over. Not thick enough for skating, but too thick to break with a tap of my foot.

Sharyn Munro’s dam at noon

In fact, it was still frozen at noon, when the sun had long been sparkling over its criss-cross crystal patterns.

Today, plants went down with frostbite that have been here for decades.

Today, I thought of a future like this, with ongoing unpredictable extremes, as has already been happening—unseasonable snow, heatwaves, bushfires, floods. How will farmers cope?

Mountain ‘roads’

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Up here the rain falls long and hard; the trees grow tall and the ruts in our clay roads grow ever deeper.

The Council classes them as ‘Unmaintained Roads’ and that they surely are.

The 13-16 inches we received in those June downpours have just about rendered this 3.5 km section of my primary access road as ineligible for the term ‘road’.

My little Suzi can just squeeze beside some of the worst ruts – when the road is dry and smoothed out a bit.

Mountain Road

In the wet times she has to straddle the chasm as we edge our way down the steep hill. One slip and I’d be either stuck in thick clay churned up by other struggling vehicles, or do an axle.

I keep telling myself it could be worse: I could be battling to get home in three lanes of endless and almost stationary traffic.

Sun ray revelation

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My mountain was enveloped in cloud when I got home late this afternoon. Everything was damp and dripping, shrouded in white mystery.

I’d just unpacked the car and lit the fire when the phone rang. It was an old friend in Victoria. We’d chatted for a while, when, very abruptly, I said, ‘Gotta go. I’ll call you back!’ and hung up.

In a corner of the window in front of my desk, I’d caught a glimpse of a very special roseate colour filtering through the thin cloud mist in the forest. I knew what that meant and how briefly it would exist – and I didn’t want to miss it.

No doubt she thought I was struck down with some violent tummy bug, but in fact it was a rare event that I’ve only seen three times in thirty years.

I describe it in the ‘Wet and wild’ chapter of my book:

The cloud might visit me for a morning, a day or a week. …. ‘As the cloud rises, its leave-taking has occasionally coincided with the sun setting through the tree rim on the western edge, creating some breathtaking special effects of refracted fiery light, fanning out like rays of revelation. If the gods had anything to say to us mortals they’d say it then, or if there were a mythmaker about, she’d make one.’

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