Welcome Swallows

A pair of Welcome Swallows has turned up for the annual nesting adventure.  They took a few weeks to decide just where, but as usual, they have chosen poorly.

They’ve begun their mud dab nest on a rafter of my unlined verandah roof, up against the mud wall. It’s good adhesion, but bad positioning.

Far too close to the tin so it will be far too hot for the baby birds as the weather heats up. I’ll have to get up on the roof and weigh down a piece of plywood or something to give them some extra insulation.

The extensive verandah strings of fairy lights are providing them with circus type swings, from which they can more widely spatter their white and black droppings.

Sandals especially must now be checked first before allowing bare feet to make contact.

I do like these handsome little swallows and I look forward to the nestling stage, now that they didn’t choose to nest outside my bedroom window!

Mighty roo boys

Through the mist-swathed forest I saw three large dark rounded shapes, like rocks that were slowly moving.

As they grazed down the hill towards my gate, they suddenly sat up, erect  and on the alert.

They were unmistakably kangaroos, male Eastern Greys, the biggest native animals on my wildife refuge.

Strong featured, broad-chested, well-muscled, with powerful back legs and a tail to match.

I admire these grand animals, and I love the fact that they rule here — and that they let me watch from my verandah!

Where land and sky meet

High mountains belong as much to the sky as to the land.  They often meet with clouds in secrecy, their intercourse hidden from us land-dwellers.

I can see the lower edge of the clouds almost boiling up the deep upper gullies, frothing and rolling, but I can’t see inside.

The ridge and its peaks remain under dense white cover, in an otherwise cloudless sky.

No wonder moss forests and Antarctic Beech live up there in this dedicated Wilderness Area, and it seems clear to me that it’s not a place for humans. Gods, maybe.

My redneck neighbours

The perimeter of my house yard fence is patrolled by small groups of Eastern rednecked wallabies. From my verandah I watch them nibble their way along the fence, stopping for a sunbake or a scratch, as this fellow is doing.

Older joeys like this one are still carried in the mother’s pouch, and still drinking from her, but when she leans down to graze, it has a munch as well. Free rides and free lunch!

Rosemary rosellas

Woody narrow-leaved Mediterranean shrubs like rosemary are happy in drier and poorer soils, and grow well from cuttings.

Hence I have poked rosemary bushes into the least fertile places in my yard, such as the clay patches by the track.

And just look how they repay me! Pale blue blossoms absolutely festoon the branches in winter.

Bees love them. So, it seems, do the crimson rosellas, at least on this occasion.

I’m not sure what they would have been eating on the rosemary, but their richly-coloured plumage was such a contrast that they made the bushes appear snowy.

They have’t been back since, but then so many of the special sights here are only fleetingly fabulous.

Wild purple

Even before Spring had officially sprung, the forest began to deck itself in royal purple.

Twining up saplings, threading through the spiky clumps of Lomandra and Dianella, or just running for glory through the grass — the Purple Coral Pea, Hardenbergia Violacea.

It’s also called False Sarsparilla, which doesn’t seem fair, as it’s just being itself, as if that isn’t gorgeous enough. The tough, heavily-veined leaves you can see here belong to it.

Much less showy, in fact so shy that it takes a lot of careful and close looking to find it, is the Wild Violet, Viola betonicifolia.

It’s also called the Purple Violet, which seemed a bit silly to me, but then they could hardly say the Violet Violet, could they?

It has distinctive long sword-shaped serrated leaves at the base of the single stem, if you’re looking out of season: you can see two in this photo, at roughly 12 and 3 o’clock.

Farmers say ‘NO!’ to mining

Gunnedah is the main town of the fertile, well-watered NSW Liverpool Plains, which grow much of our grain and seed crops, such as wheat, canola, sunflower and sorghum.

These flat lands are dependent on their underground aquifers and their even surface drainage. Longwall mining will wreck both.

It would be madness to mine there, so why should companies like BHP Billiton explore there?

BHP’s plans came to a halt when local farmer Tim Duddy simply wouldn’t let them onto his property at Caroona.

The court ordered him not to obstruct them, so all his neighbours did instead. They’ve been doing so for 6 weeks and they don’t intend to stop.

On Tuesday 16th September myself and 8 other coal-inflicted Hunter people went up to support the locals in a rally organised by the Caroona Coal Action Group.

They held it outside the Civic Centre where the Gunnedah Basin Coal Conference was being held.

As we were there from 8 am, most delegates must have gone in the back way, as we saw very few, although I later spotted some peeping through the glass front doors at the apparently scary protestors.

The rally was not your usual activist gathering; not a dreadlock in sight. Here we had conservatively covered books holding highly effective radical activism between their covers.

There were establishment farmers in their best moleskins and Akubras, their elegant wives equally adamant in their protest; there were worried rural families who’d thought they had a future here; there were babies and dogs and little old ladies bristling with No Mine stickers.

It was clearly a community sticking together, standing their ground against the Big Multi-national, saying ‘No’ with all the authority of People Power.

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Hardy and rewarding lavenders

While the forest flashes purple, the tough garden lavenders are blooming too. Some lavenders do well here, beautiful to see and to smell, needing little attention beyond the occasional prune, appealing to neither possums nor horses, but adored by bees.

My most prolific is the French Lavender, Angustifolia dentata (see the finely ‘toothed’ leaves), which grows very easily from cuttings and doesn’t care how poor the soil I stick it in. The colour of the small flowers on the spikes is truly lavender, not purple.

The other one that flourishes here is the Italian Lavender, Lavendula stoechas, much darker and stranger in shape.

The petals on the spikes are very small, very deep purple, but the the tall lavender bracts on top remain like feather head-dresses even after the petals are finished. It makes a most impressive bush.

How generous such plants are, to flower like this every year and demand so little of me.

Final winter flurry

As August came to an end, the season decided to show a bit of properly wintry snow.

Not at my place, unfortunately, although I’m just high enough at about 1000 metres, but opposite me in the Wilderness Area, where the range is about 1500 metres.

It was cold, 2 degrees, which is about as low as it gets here here, 4 or 5 degrees being the average on a cold morning.

I love to see some snow each year, and I was cosy, with the slow combustion wood fire banked right down, gently beaming fire glow and warmth day and night.

When the snow clouds lifted, all of the upper southern faces had patches of snow, which isn’t unusual.

The surprise was that they stayed there, brightly, whitely visible, although this range is quite a long way off, for the next 4 days. It was sunny down here and not snowing up there, but clearly a lot colder.

Yet the very next week I saw my first red-bellied black snake in my yard!

Why I live ‘way out here’

This post is extracted from Chapter 1 of The Woman on the Mountain, with the kind permission of my publisher, Exisle.

Wherever you live you need to feel safe, and in tune with your surroundings. I do.

Yet my place is a 90-minute drive from a post box, police station, shop or mechanic, let alone a Big M or a Big W or whatever other letter is considered crucial to modern survival.

Half of that drive is over a dirt road, partly through a national park which verges on wilderness. I have no neighbours within sight, sound or coo-ee, or not in the accepted sense. My neighbours are the wild creatures who live in the national park.

…if I were forced to live again in a city, town or suburb, I certainly wouldn’t feel safe, or in tune with my surroundings. I’d be nervous, draw my curtains at night, lock my doors, lower my voice — and I’d feel like a fish out of water.

I’d pine for the tree-clad mountains stretching forever into the distance, the blue gums and stringybarks and sheoaks just beyond my house fence, the hundreds of infant rainforest trees I’ve planted in the gullies, the wild creatures that are my neighbours — the wallabies and birds, the quolls and koalas, the snakes and lizards — I’d even include the leeches.

I’d miss the sounds of cicada, mad wattlebird and bleating frog chorus, or me yelling ‘Feedo!’ at the top of my voice for the horses to come. When could I yell anything at the top of my voice again?…

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Rainbow rays

I’m being given the gift of many rainbows this winter, but they’re not in the sky. On my mountain, low cloud rising and and low sun setting makes for some spectacular combinations.

This striped beauty lasted only seconds before the last fine drifts of misty cloud dissipated. Being stuck too much at my desk at present, I was extremely lucky to have looked up at just the right time.

I’m not sure whom I’m addressing, but I have to say ‘Thanks!’ for such gifts.