The perversity of nature

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


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.

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March against Coal


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?


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?


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’


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


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.’




Before I lived on my mountain, on the same level as the sky, and with no need for curtains to hide it from my view at night, I thought sunsets were the big blockbuster event of the sky’s day.

Now I realise I rarely saw a sunrise except at the beach, when that enormous red orb popping out of the horizon is indeed amazing.

But in the city, my sleep ended by loud alarm clock rather than silent dawn, for decades I was deprived of this spectacular show.

The windows beside my bed here are set low, so from my morning pillow I can watch the first lightening of the sky beyond the black filigree of the treeline.

If there are clouds, their early grey begins to be edged, then flushed, with the softest rose pink; the grey becomes lilac.

There ought to be violins.

Within seconds that maiden blush has taken fire, a hectic gypsy tarantella of gold and orange. Fiddles do play, feet stamp and skirts swirl.

But it is so fleeting.

Soon dull daylight steps briskly into place, unimaginative, up front, to set the workaday world in action. Time to get up and go rake some horse manure, I suppose. But what a way to start the day!

And if I’m good, maybe they’ll put on another show tomorrow?


Return to Erina

In 1955 my family moved from Sydney’s west to a small farm at Erina on the central coast of NSW. Until I left to go to University in 1965, there was but one tiny post office/ shop at Erina, amidst a lot of chook sheds, orange orchards and untidy paddocks. The sole change, and a huge one for the district, had been the building of the Erina Drive-in Cinema.


This week I returned, to Erina Fair, the largest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere when built, I was told. It had been erected partly on the site of the long-defunct drive-in.

My Dad had sold the farm and moved north when the first set of traffic lights was installed in Gosford, the main town. It was getting too busy for him. He simply could not have believed there’d ever be lights at Erina itself, let alone continuous shops and industries, traffic jams and roundabouts.

I was there to visit the ABC Shop and hopefully sign books for hordes of eager readers. The shop’s manager, Alison Brown, had made such an impressive display window that I felt I ought to be more famous to deserve it!

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Rednecks — of a nicer sort


When the sun finally remembered how to shine after all that grey sky and sleety rain, the wallabies were out to make the most of it.

There was a small gang of young male Red-necked Wallabies basking on the grass just outside my house fence, so I walked up to the fence and snapped a few. They did look up, but were too sundrowsed to bother with me and my little black clicking thing.

They are a most attractive wallaby, with soft fur, subtly coloured to give perfect camouflage in my tussock-floored forest.

Apart from their more-muscled build, it’s easy to pick the males. Note their low-hanging testicles; they hang down even lower when they are aroused.

From Chapter 4 – ‘An introduction to society’ in my book:

The most memorable courtship was heralded by violent crashing through the bush and constant grunting, sounding more like wild pigs than wallabies. Going closer to the fence to see what all the commotion was about, I saw one female flying from the very pressing advances of a big male, with five other young blades also in hot pursuit! Someone, presumably the dominant male, was grunting very loudly and vehemently.

“She must have been on heat to attract such a crowd of panting males, all jostling to get close to her. Their tender crescent dicks were all exposed, their balls on strings hanging low — so vulnerable, I thought, with the blady grass and tussocks and fences they were belting through.”